Protesters shutdown Interstate 170

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Protests are ongoing at the Mobil at Berkeley, Missouri where a young black man was shot by a white officer on Tuesday.

Protesters initially shutdown Interstate 170 before being moved by police officers down the highway as long lines of cars remained backed up.

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The demonstrators chanted several slogans as they shutdown the Interstate, as they walked to gas station, and while at the gas station. “Hands up, don’t shoot!”, “You can’t stop the revolution,” and “FTP, F*** the police!” were just a few slogans chanted by the protesters.

Some protesters said they were maced by officers while on Interstate 170 but so far the protests have remained peaceful.

Residents in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities across the U.S. have been protesting following the killings of several African Americans by white Police Officers.

As protesters expressed their anger and frustration to officers outside of the Mobil gas station, Bassem Masri, a known activist and livestreamer of the protests said, “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” referring the police.

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Multinational Military Exercises to be held in Ukraine

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The Supreme Council of Ukraine has announced plans to admit international military forces to participate in military exercises in Ukraine, Colonel General Mykhailo Koval said.

Speaking at a briefing for mass media after the Meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Committee, Gen. Koval said: “Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine [The Supreme Council of Ukraine] adopted the Act of Ukraine ‘On admission of units of armed forces of other states to the territory of Ukraine in 2014 for participation in exercises’ and approved the Plan of Multinational Exercises.

“We didn’t stop any action and we are ready to conduct them; the necessary resources have been allocated.”

The general’s announcement comes amid recent fighting between anti-Kiev separatists and Ukrainian military forces in eastern Ukraine that has resulted in scores of deaths in recent months.

On Monday, a Ukrainian fighter jet bombed strike the city of Luhansk’s main regional building, resulting in several deaths and injuries.

Ukrainian Diplomat Yuriy Sergeyev denied claims of the airstrike, saying that the explosion had come from the misuse of a grenade by separatists.  However, videos on Youtube showing the airstrike contradicted Mr. Sergeyev’s claims.

Other videos showed the bloody aftermath of the airstrike.  Several dead and injured laid around the regional building. Those alive were in critical condition, some drenched in their own blood and or mutilated, while the dead laid in pools of blood.

One particular video shows a white car just barely avoiding the airstrike.

The airstrike came during an attack by pro-Russian militants on a border command center outside of Luhansk.

Reports from the Border Guard Service of Ukraine say that a “great number” of armed separatists have surrounded the center for a second day in a row, but have not yet attacked.  The service added that the guards maintain high moral and will stand their ground against any further attacks.

The gunmen used small-arms, machine-guns, mortars, sniper fire and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) during their attack on Monday.

NATO To Amp its Defense Measures

On Tuesday, NATO Defense Ministers reviewed collective defense in wake of the current Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Ever since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, Moscow and Ukraine have continuously insulted each other and accused the other of fueling the fighting between Ukrainian military forces and anti-Kiev separatists.

The Kiev authorities have accused Russia of “supporting terrorism” in eastern and southern Ukraine, a claim which Russia has repeatedly denied.

In recent weeks, the West has strengthened its support for the Ukrainian government, and shown its disapproval of Moscow’s actions by applying sanctions against top ranking Russian officials.

“We are facing a new security landscape because of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen said on Tuesday during the first day of a two-day Ministerial.  “We have already taken immediate steps.  In a strong show of solidarity, every single Ally, from both sides of the Atlantic, contributes to bolstering our collective defense, including deployments of ships, aircraft and troops,  It really is all for one and one for all,” he added.

Mr. Rasmussen also said that the Ukraine crisis has shown that the security threats NATO is facing is increasing and becoming more unpredictable.

The current conflict in Ukraine erupted back in February when protesters in Kiev clashed with police, resulting in over 100 deaths and the ousting of the president at the time, Viktor Yanukovych.

Shortly later, Crimea held a referendum on secession from Ukraine, and was then annexed by Russia in March, an act that Kiev and the West declared illegitimate.

Following the annexation, pro-Russian activists in east and south Ukraine rose up against the Kiev authorities and demanded for greater autonomy from the Ukrainian government.

When their requests were denied, the activists took up arms, leading to clashes with the Ukrainian military that have since resulted in scores of deaths.

Fighting has amplified in recent weeks.

Roughly a week ago, over 50 separatists were killed in fighting with the Ukrainian military at the Donetsk International Airport.

Last week, 14 Ukrainian soldiers, including a top ranking general, were killed when the helicopter they were travelling in was shot down by separatists.

Moscow has repeatedly called for an immediate end to the bloodshed, and on Monday, called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security council to seek a cease-fire.

Mr. Sergeyev claimed Moscow’s resolution for an end to the fighting was “immoral”, and accused Russia of backing the separatists.  He demanded that the Kremlin use its power to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine as promised in the Geneva convention in April.

The Kiev authorities have deemed the anti-Kiev activists of being “terrorists” because of their violent actions taken against the Ukrainian government and military.

 

Compromise for Ukrainian $2.237 Billion Gas Debt

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In a Trilateral consultation between Russia, the EU and Ukraine on May 26, a compromise was made to allow Naftogaz to divide a $2.237 billion debt payment into two, Russia’s Energy Minister and Gazprom told the Russian President during a meeting on Wednesday.

Naftogaz, Ukraine’s oil and gas company, will be allowed to pay the first $2 billion to Russian state owned gas company Gazprom by May 30, and then the second payment of $500 million by June 7.

The payment is for a debt that accumulated from November 2013 to April 2014.

The $500 million will also be a partial advance payment since the deadline for the May payment falls on June 7, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said.

Gazprom and Mr. Novak have agreed to hold continued talks with Naftogaz after the first payment is received.  Mr. Novak said that they plan to meet on May 30 to discuss further steps, including possible options for future gas payments, with the possibility of a discount, “but not a revision of the terms and conditions of the 2009 contract [Kharkiv Pact].”

The Kharkiv Pact was a 2010 agreement between Moscow and Kiev that allowed Russia to continue to use Naval facilities in Crimea for an additional 25 years in exchange for a discount on natural gas for Ukraine.

The treaty was later used by Moscow to legitimize its invasion of Crimea in March of this year.

Chairman of Gazprom Management Committee Alexei Miller told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Naftogaz had been given the preliminary bill for gas supplies for June, and that if Ukraine did not pay the money, then on June 3, at 10 a.m., gas supplies to Ukraine will be restricted.

“Ukraine has been taking maximum daily volumes allowed by the contract throughout May,” Mr. Miller said.  He added that by June 7, Ukraine’s gas debt will have accumulated to over $5.2 billion.

In conclusion to the meeting, President Putin said: “I think it is clear to any objective observer that Russia’s position with regard to our energy contracts and energy cooperation with Ukraine is not just that of a partner but more than friendly.”  He added that he hopes the gas situation does not end up with Russia being forced “to move over to advance payments.”

On Tuesday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk challenged Gazprom’s claims, saying that Russia actually owed Ukraine $1 billion in compensation for natural gas seized in the annexation of Crimea.

The next round of consultations between Russia, the EU and Ukraine are scheduled to take place on May 30. 

A Civil War

“It’s war, it’s civil war.”  That’s what an agonized, middle-aged man and resident of Donetsk described the situation in his home city as to BBC.

And his claims appear to be at least partially true.

Recent fighting at Donetsk International Airport has left over 100 pro-Russian gunmen dead, separatists say.

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian Military said that they had gained control of the airport, but sporadic gunfire was reported by journalists.

Scores more have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian soldiers and anti-Kiev gunmen in recent months.

Newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has promised to intensify the military operations being conducted against separatists in eastern and southern Ukraine, a promise which may very well lead to even bloodier violence in an already tormented country.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday called on the Kiev authorities to end its military operations.

“The number one task for the Kiev authorities, and the test of their strength given the result of the [presidential] election, is to bring an immediate end to the use of the army against the public, and an end to any violence on all sides,” he said.

In Donetsk, barricades and road blocks have been set up throughout the city as gunmen and residents prepare for a highly possible invasion by Ukrainian military forces.

“History is repeating itself,” another resident of Donetsk compared the current crisis to the invasion of Ukraine by Nazi German during WWII.

Meanwhile, more members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SSM) were detained on Wednesday.

Four other SSM members went missing on Monday and have not been heard from since.

In April, a group of International observers were detained by pro-Russian activists in Slovyansk, the separatists strong hold, for a week before being released.

As the violence continues to tear apart Ukraine, citizens have cried out in anger, frustration and fear.  While some believe the Kiev government is doing all they can to bring an end to this alleged “civil war”, some have lashed out against them.

One woman expressed her fear and frustration of the Ukrainian government and military’s recent actions to RT News Agency, saying: “We are simply horrified – you see? Horrified that our ‘brave army,’ which we pay taxes to maintain, is [doing] nothing else but destroying us. And our president, who must protect the civilian population – he is determined to exterminate us.”

 

More OSCE Monitors Detained in Ukraine

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Pro-Russian Separatists in Donetsk prepare for fighting against Ukrainian military forces. Photo by Reuters.

Eleven members of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine were detained on Wednesday, the OSCE reports.

The group was on its way to Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine’s fourth largest city with a population of roughly one million, from Donetsk city when they were stopped at a road block in Marinka.

Contact with the monitors was then lost for several hours before being reestablished when the group returned to Donetsk.

The nationalities of the group are American, Austrian, Bulgarian, Dutch, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Russian and Slovak.

The OSCE lost contact with another SMM group, consisting of four members, on Monday and has not heard from them since.

In April, a separate team of observers were detained for a week by pro-Russian activists in Slovyansk, the separatists stronghold in Donetsk region, before being released.

“It’s war, it’s civil war.”

Ukraine has been in a crisis for nearly eight months that threatens to tear the country in half.

In November of 2013, pro-EU activists took to the streets in Kiev to protests against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych against a deal he favored for closer ties to Russia.

The protest turned violent when the former president passed an anti-protest law which led to clashes between the protesters and police officers in and around Maidan, Kiev’s Independent Square, that resulted in over 100 deaths and the ousting of Mr. Yanukovych.

Shortly later, Russian soldiers, referred to as “little green men” because of the green uniforms they wore that bore no insignia, invaded Crimea, raising fears that Russia would repeat in Ukraine what it did to Georgia in 2008.

In March, Moscow annexed the peninsula after referendums on joining the Kremlin were held in the region.

Kiev and the West refused to recognized the referendum and annexation as legitimate but there was little the Ukrainian government could do.  Majority of the population in Crimea are ethnic Russians and are in favor of being apart of Russia.

After the annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin continued to stress its right to intervene in Ukraine if it felt the rights of the Russian-speaking population were violated, leading to fears that Moscow would order a military invasion.

The support pro-Russian activists were receiving from Moscow led to separatists uprisings throughout eastern Ukraine.

The Kiev authorities then ordered for “anti-terror” military operations to squash the rebellion.

On May 11, pro-Russian leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk held referendums for greater self-rule and then declared a “People’s Republic”.

Just two hours later, Denis Pushilin, the leader of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” asked for the region to be annexed by Russia.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin declined Mr. Pushilin’s request and seemed to have flip-flopped from his previous aggressive position.

In recent weeks, Mr. Putin has stressed his desire for peace and stability in Ukraine and has said that Moscow will work with the Ukrainian government to make his desires a reality.

Meanwhile, the military operations conducted by Kiev authorities have continued and resulted in the deaths of dozens of people.

Newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has promised to crush the separatists uprising in the east of the country “within hours”, suggesting that the “anti-terrorists” operations will escalate into further, bloodier violence.

Moscow, however, has demanded that Ukraine end its military operations.

Over 100 people have been killed at Donetsk Sergey Prokofiev International Airport in the past three days in the bloodiest fighting between Ukrainian military forces and anti-Kiev separatists.

One agonized and tormented middle-aged man that is a resident of Donetsk described the situation in Ukraine to BBC, saying: “It’s war, it’s civil war.”

 

 

Ukrainian MFA Criticizes Russia for backing “terrorists”

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Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement on Tuesday demanding Russia to stop backing “terrorists” in the eastern part of the country.

The statement comes amid fighting between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian gunmen at Donetsk airport that has left over 50 dead in the past two days.

On May 27, at around 04:00, a convoy of several trucks and passenger cars containing armed personnel attempted to enter into Ukraine from Russia, the statement says.

Apparently, Ukraine knew of the the move in advance and warned Moscow to stop the convoy from crossing the Ukrainian-Russian border.

But, Russia ignored the warning and allowed the vehicles to pass anyways.

“Despite warnings passed on by Ukraine through diplomatic channels regarding concentration of up to 40 trucks with armed people on the border with Ukraine, Russia did not assume any measures to prevent their breakthroughs into the territory of Ukraine,” the statement reads.

Kiev claims that the invasion of “terrorists” into Ukraine “is being organized and financed under [the] Kremlin and Russian intelligence agencies’ control.”

These claims have been repeated numerous times in the past by the West and Ukraine, and Russia has repeatedly denied them.

In recent weeks, Russian President Vladimir Putin has stressed his desire for peace and stability in Ukraine and Russia’s willingness to cooperate with the new Ukrainian government to make his desires a reality.

Kiev also accused Moscow of “exporting Russian terrorism” into Ukraine and the separatist of being mercenaries hired by the Kremlin.

“At present our law enforcement officers in Eastern regions of Ukraine stand against skill armed Russian mercenaries, who are ready to plunder, intimidate, torture and murder Ukrainian citizens,” the Ministry of Foreign affairs said.

The ministry also said that Russia’s claims that the conflict in eastern Ukraine is the fault of the Ukrainian government are “false and cynical propaganda.”

“We call upon the international community to take urgent and drastic measures to stop Russian aggression against Ukraine and global order… Concentrated efforts are needed to make [the] Kremlin stop terrorists and weapons supply into the territory of our state, [and] withdraw Russian subversives from Ukraine in order to renew peace and stability in our country and the region,” the statement concluded. 

Election in Ukraine Largely Successful, says Observers

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Members of the election commission empty ballot boxes in a polling station in Kiev May 25, 2014. Photo by Reuters

The presidential elections on Sunday were largely successful and inline with international standards, despite recent violence and threats towards the Ukrainian people and authorities, said international observers.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, heads of the organizations apart of the observation mission of the presidential election in Ukraine stated that despite “numerous difficulties”, the presidential elections were highly successful and inline with international standards.

Joaos Soars, the Special Co-ordinator appointed to lead the short term observer mission, said that the people and of authorities of Ukraine had showed great “courage” in going through with the voting, despite threats from separatists.

Head of the NATO PA delegation, Karl Lamers, said: “I am glad to say that the Ukraine people and authorities have made this election a success.”  He said that people had said before the election, that “it would be important and difficult”, but he was proud of the vote’s turnout.

“Voting in large numbers have demonstrated once again that they [the Ukrainian people] want to be the masters of their own destiny… and want a united Ukraine,” Mr. Lamers said.

Andreas Gross, Head of the PACE delegation, said that the elections were “high quality”, as well as the “best answers to all aggression and those harmed in recent weeks.” 

Illkka Kanerva, head OSCE PA delegation, said: “The Ukrainian authorities carried out the election in line with international standards.”  And that the “people and authorities of Ukraine were very open” to the OSCE observers monitoring the election.

The heads stressed that dialogue between the newly elected Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, and the pro-Russian separatists is vital for a “Democratic state” as well as a solution for the internal turmoil that is tearing the country apart.

“Those who belong together can only come together through dialogue, mutual understanding, social reforms and greater fairness,” Mr. Gross said.

Mr. Gross believes that the Mr. Poroshenko knows what is required to restore order to Ukraine, and “that’s why he was elected.”

Mr. Kanerva promised “continued support” from OSCE for dialogue.

There was an “impressive turnout” with over 60% of eligible voters casting their ballots.  

This statistic is significantly higher than the turnout in the simultaneous EU parliament vote that took place in 25 of 27 countries throughout Europe.

Mr. Soars said that the large turnout was a “rebuke to those who would challenge Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

He berated efforts by pro-Russian separatist to disrupt the election, saying that the turnout showed the separatist that they “can not win by breaking the rules”.  

Mr. Kanerva said the election turnout shows the Ukrainian people’s “common goal to live in a free and populous Democracy,” and “clear determination of the Ukrainian people to choose their destiny.” 

He also said that Sunday “was critical and so is tomorrow,” and that efforts towards stabilizing Ukraine must continue.

Majority of citizens in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where pro-Russian separatists have declared a “People’s Republic”, were “prevented from voting”.

Mr. Lamers said that the residents of these regions had been “deprived” of their “constitutional rights to vote.”

Many citizens had been threatened–some, held at gunpoint–by masked gunmen.

Tana de Zulueta,head of the OSCE ODIHR long-term election observation mission, described the actions of these masked gunmen as “cowardly”.

The OSCE ODIHR “condemned” the voting violation.

Mr. Soars said the the separatists’ actions proved that their recent referendum on greater autonomy from Ukraine was “illegitimate”.

In Crimea, they was no voting at all.

The separatists had previously declared that they would prevent voting in Donetsk and Luhansk following their declaration of independence from Ukraine on May 11.

Mr. Soars stated that Russian observers had been invited to join in the mission but that they had declined.

However, he said that he had seen two Russian observers in Ukraine, which was a “positive” sign.

Ms. Zulueta said that OSCE observers will stay in Ukraine until the the procedures are over and will then leave sometime in June.

“These elections are a significant step forwards to a united Ukraine,” Mr Lamers said.  And “all Ukrainians should be proud.”

 

 

 

International Observers to Present Post-Election Statement

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Members of the international observers monitoring the Ukrainian presidential election on May 25 will present their preliminary post-election statement in Kiev on Monday.

The international observation is made up of: the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR); the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA); the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE); the European Parliament (EP); and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA).

“The statement will be delivered by Joao Soars, the Special Co-ordinator appointed to lead the short-term OSCE observer mission, followed by Andreas Gross, Head of the PACE delegation, Illka Kanerva, Head of the OSCE PA delegation, Goran Farm, Head of the EP delegation, Karl Lamers, Head of the NATO PA delegation, and Tana de Zulueta, Head of the OSCE/ODIHR long-term election observation mission,” the OSCE said on Saturday.

The upcoming presidential elections follows the ousting of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in late February which led to the annexation of the country’s peninsula region, Crimea, by Russia in March, and violent clashes between the Ukraine military and pro-Russian militants throughout eastern and southern Ukraine over the last two or so months.

In April, several members of the OSCE observation team in Ukraine were detained by pro-Russian separatists in Slovyansk, the stronghold of the separatists in the eastern party of the country, along with several Ukrainian military personnel.

The OSCE members were later released, reportedly unharmed.

Ukrainian Presidential Election Technically Illegal

At a meeting with heads of leading international news agencies in St. Petersburg on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated his statement that the upcoming presidential election in Ukraine is technically illegal with the former president still legally being in office under the Constitution of Ukraine.

“Take the Ukrainian Constitution and read it.  It says there are four legitimate reasons when an incumbent president has to go.

“They are: death, a serious health condition, impeachment–and there was no constitution-based impeachment–and resignation, when the president hands in his resignation to the Parliament.”

Mr. Putin stated that the Ukraine and the international community “either stick to the [Ukrainian] constitution or dismiss it.”

He believes that the Kiev government “should have dealt with these issues first” but instead they “had a different plan.”

The president also expressed his beliefs that the political situation in Ukraine could be better resolved by first “hold[ing] a referendum, then adopt[ing] a constitution and then hold[ing] elections based on the new fundamental law.”

“However, the current authorities in Kiev and these people who control the power have decided to follow a different course,” President Putin said.  “They want to stage the election first and then deal with the constitutional amendments.”

Over the past couple weeks, Mr. Putin has seemed to have shifted from his previous position of political attacks against the interim government in Kiev and right to intervene in Ukraine to protect the rights of the Russian-speaking population, to a more peaceful stance, one that is willing to work towards establishing peace and stability in the divided Ukraine.

Moscow had previously accused the government in Kiev of being “fascist” and “neo-Nazis”, and illegitimate.  

But, Mr. Putin said on Saturday that it is possible the Ukrainian government is interested in the upcoming president being “completely legitimate.”

Ultimately, Russia “will by all means respect the choice of the Ukrainian people and will cooperate with the authorities that will come to power as a result of the election.”