NATO General Believes Poroshenko Will Bring Stability to Ukraine

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Newly elect-President Petro Poroshenko was inaugurated on Saturday.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has congratulated the newly elected Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, on his inauguration on Saturday.

Mr. Poroshenko, 45, won the presidential election on May 25.  His inauguration brings much needed hope for the restoration of peace and stability in Ukraine after months of internal turmoil has torn the country apart and devastated numerous lives.

In late February, former President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted after months of protests in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, which resulted in over 100 people dead.  An interim president, and government, took over until a democratically elected president was elected.

The new president brings hope of peace not just to the people of Ukraine, but leaders, organizations and officials across Europe and the West.

After months of fighting between the Ukrainian military and independence fighters–also labeled as separatists, pro-Russians, and “terrorists” by Kiev authorities–President Poroshenko has said he has a plan to bring peace.

Mr. Rasmussen welcomed Mr. Poroshenko’s inauguration on Saturday and wished him “success in carrying forward this new position of responsibility at a defining time in Ukraine’s history.

“The presidential elections were an important milestone for Ukraine,” Mr. Rasmussen said.  “In holding transparent and democratic elections despite significant challenges, the people of Ukraine showed their commitment to a united, independent and sovereign country.”

During the elections in May, separatists in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions disrupted voting.  Out of the twelve poling districts in Donetsk, 10 did not take place.  In Luhansk, fourteen out of the 22 polling districts did not take place either.  Only eight-hundred out of 3,908 polling stations were open.

Reasons for the disruption ranged from fear, to direct threats against voters by separatists.

But despite these problems, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) stated that the elections were largely successful.  Voting took place normally in other parts of Ukraine, with voting assessed positively in 98% of polling stations independently observed.

Secretary Gen. Rasmussen stated that he is confident that Mr. Poroshenko’s “leadership will contribute to the stabilization of the country, building on the inclusive political dialogue launched ahead of the elections.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that Moscow will respect the will of the Ukrainian people and work with the newly elected president to help bring peace and stability to Ukraine.

NATO remains committed to supporting Ukraine within the framework of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, Mr. Rasmussen said.

The NATO-Ukraine Commission is a decision-making body that is responsible for developing the NATO-Ukraine relationship.  Talks include a number of things such as strengthening defense following the annexation of Crimea by Russian in March.

NATO is finalizing “further comprehensive measures to assist Ukraine and support reforms in the country’s security and defense sector,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

Mr. Ruasmussen concluded his statement with the promise of further support for Ukraine, saying: “Ukraine is a long-standing and active NATO partner, and we look forward to working with President Poroshenko.  NATO Allies stand firm in their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”

In other Developments in Ukraine:

  • OSCE SMM Observers observed anti-government rallies in Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk.  Both rallies were small and non-violent.
  • Self-declared Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Donestk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin survived an attempted assassination on Saturday.  A passing car reportedly fired at Mr. Pushilin, who was not hit.  His assistant, Maxim Petruhin, was, however, killed.

 

NATO To Expand Partnership in a ‘post-Crimean World’

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NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow discussed NATO's new partnership policies in Poland on Friday

NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow discussed NATO’s new partnership policies in Poland on Friday

NATO has promised that the transatlantic security partnership must focus not only on collective defense in its immediate region, but global partners as well, in a “post-Crimean world”.

The statement came from NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershblow on Friday at Wrocław Global Forum in Poland.

“Our Strategic Concept sets out collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security as three essential core tasks for NATO,” Mr. Vershblow said.  “Although Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has changed the strategic environment in a fundamental way, all three core tasks remain essential, valid and vital for our security.”

Mr. Vershblow went on to accuse Russia of changing borders “through force”, continuing to subvert a sovereign state [Ukraine] through covert means and a cynical disinformation campaign,” ripping “up the international rule book”, and seeking to “recreate a sphere of influence based on a dangerous new doctrine of limited sovereignty for countries that form part of the so-called ‘Russian World’.”

Following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in March, NATO has heavily criticized and rebuked Russia’s “aggressive” actions in Ukraine, which the Alliance believes are bent on expanding the Kremlin’s power.

Since the Ukraine-crisis began, NATO has taken steps to meet the crisis and strengthen collective defense from the Baltic to the Black Sea, Mr. Vershblow said.

Every NATO member is contributing in one way or another; either with aircraft, naval ships, ground troops and/or commanders and planners, he added.

NATO is also “considering the longer-term implications of Russia’s actions for our Alliance.”

Over the last few months, Western countries have applied sanctions against Russia–allegedly damaging its already crippled economy–in consequence for Moscow’s supposed backing of anti-Kiev separatists in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.

In light of the conflict between the EU and the US and Russia over Ukraine, NATO Defense Ministers discussed earlier this week about a “Readiness Action Plan”, which includes improving NATO’s reaction time, enhancing its intelligence and awareness capabilities, pre-positioning equipment and supplies further East, “and carrying out more high-intensity military exercises in more demanding scenarios.”

NATO is also working towards filling “capability gaps” that exist within the alliance, Mr. Vershblow said.  These gaps include drones, transport aircraft, Special Forces and deployable C2, all of which are needed to be able to “react quickly, together, and effectively to all threats, whether here in Europe or out of area.”

Ambassador Vershblow stated that developing these capabilities “puts a premium on our ‘Smart Defense’ multinational capability projects, and on further regional cooperation.”  He added that “Poland and its Višegrad partners continue to demonstrate that this is a pragmatic and cost-effective way to build greater security together, and in a way that makes both NATO and the European Union stronger.”

Mr. Vershblow challenged NATO members who do not spend the required 2% of their GDP on defense, to raise their defense spending to the expected percent.

Order Descending NATO Members’ GDP Defense Spending According to WorldBank 

  1. U.S. 4.2%
  2. Greece 2.6%
  3. U.K. 2.4%
  4. France 2.3%
  5. Turkey 2.3%
  6. Estonia 1.9%
  7. Poland 1.9%
  8. Portugal 1.8%
  9. Croatia 1.7%
  10. Italy 1.7%
  11. Albania 1.5%
  12. Bulgaria 1.5%
  13. Denmark 1.4%
  14. Norway 1.4%
  15. Canada 1.3%
  16. Germany 1.3%
  17. Netherlands 1.3%
  18. Romania 1.3%
  19. Slovenia 1.2%
  20. Belgium 1.1%
  21. Czech Republic 1.1%
  22. Slovakia 1.1%
  23. Lithuania 1.0%
  24. Latvia 0.9%
  25. Spain 0.9%
  26. Hungary 0.8%
  27. Luxembourg 0.6%
  28. Iceland 0.1%

“The crisis in Ukraine has made us go ‘back to basics’ and focus more on collective defense,” Mr. Vershblow said.  But it must not “lead to a self-centered, inward-locking Alliance,” he added.  The Alliance must focus on the “Future NATO” that is needed to meet the “evolving 21st century security needs.”

Dialogue and cooperation with partner countries is “vital” to fulfill NATO’s vision of the future, the ambassador said.  This applies to NATO members, and Ukraine and “other Eastern neighbors whose sovereignty is being challenged by Russia.”

Mr. Vershblow stated that partnership is crucial for keeping Europe free, stable, and peaceful, and NATO must keep its doors open for European partners who wish to join the Alliance.

He also added that NATO, in coordination with the EU, the UN, and regional organizations such as the African Union, must do what they can to help countries in the Middle East and North Africa develop their own defense capacity.

In conclusion to his speech, Mr. Vershblow summarized NATO’s new policies: “when it comes to shaping transatlantic security and defense in a post-Crimean world, we should avoid false choices.  NATO’s duty is to defend all 28 Allies against any possible risk or threat to their security, whenever and wherever it may occur.  This means we not only need the right capabilities, but also the right connections, so that we can deter aggression at home and project stability abroad.”

A Plan to Bring Peace to Ukraine

While responding to journalists on Friday at the 70th Anniversary of D-Day in Northern France, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the newly-elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had mentioned to him a “plan” to bring an immediate cease-fire between Ukraine military forces and separatists in Ukraine.

In recent weeks, Moscow has condemned Ukraine’s military operations against separatists in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, and demanded an immediate end to them.

Fighting between the Ukrainian military forces and separatists in the last few months has left over 100 dead–soldiers, militants and civilians.  Kiev authorities have accused the Kremlin of backing and supporting the armed separatists–who are deemed as terrorists by the authorities–and demanded that Russia use its power to convince the gunmen to lay down their arms.

In April, at Geneva, Moscow had agreed to use its influence to bring an end to the fighting, but their promises never came about.

Fighting has drastically intensified since and threatens to divide the country in two if it does not end soon.  Many citizens of Ukraine believe the country is already in a civil-war.

The situation took a turn for the worse on May 11 when separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared independence after holding referendums on self-rule.  The Ukrainian government has refused to recognize the referendums as legitimate–including the one in Crimea–and has been conducting what they call “anti-terrorists” military operations against the separatists.

The partial aftermath of some of the fighting between separatists and Ukrainian soldiers at BCP at Marynivka.  Photo by Konstantin Tabakayev/State Border Guard Service of Ukraine

The partial aftermath of some of the fighting between separatists and Ukrainian soldiers.  Location, BCP at Marynivka. Photo by Konstantin Tabakayev/State Border Guard Service of Ukraine

And amid all of this, the West and Russia have continuously accused each other of fueling the fire and doing nothing to extinguish the growing flame.

President Putin said that he does not know if Mr. Poroshenko’s plan will be implemented and carried out, but he “thought the general attitude seems right; I like it.”

He added that if the plan does go-through, Russia will work towards developing relations on other areas, “including economic relations.”

Moscow has stated that they will “respect” the will of the Ukrainian people, and work with authorities to bring stabilization and peace to the agonized Ukraine.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has challenged the U.S. to present its proof of Russian intervention in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has challenged the U.S. to present its proof of Russian intervention in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has challenged the United States’ claim of possessing proof of Russian intervention in Ukraine.

During an interview with Radio Europe 1 news and TF1 TV channel, Mr. Putin was asked about claims by the U.S. that they had proof of Russian intervention in Ukraine. President Putin’s response was: “Proof?  Why don’t they show it?”

He went on to discredit the the alleged proof by recalling the United States’ claim of evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, only to find out after U.S. troops invaded Iraq and Saddam Hussein was hung that there was, in fact, no WMDs.

“The entire world remembers the U.S. Secretary of State demonstrating the evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, waving around some test tube with washing powder in the U.N. Security Council,” Mr. Putin said.  “You know, it’s one thing to say things and another to actually have evidence,” he added.

The Ukrainian Government and Western leaders have repeatedly accused Russia of supporting the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine that are fighting for independence, a claim which Moscow denies.

When asked about Russian troops annexing Crimea in March, Mr. Putin clarified the soldiers’ roles, saying that they didn’t annex the region.

“It’s a delusion that Russian troops annexed Crimea,” he said.  “Russian troops were in Crimea under the international treaty on the deployment of the Russian military bases.  It’s true that Russian troops helped Crimeans hold a referendum on their (a) independence and (b) desire to join the Russian Federation.  No one can prevent these people from exercising a right that is stipulated in Article 1 of the U.N. Charter, the right of nations to self-determination.”

The contents of Article 1 of the U.N. Charter:

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

  1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
  2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
  3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
  4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

Mr. Putin has repeatedly stressed that Ukrainian citizens have “certain rights, political, humanitarian rights, and they must have a chance to exercise those rights.”

NATO and Kiev have refused to recognize the annexation as legitimate and have stressed that Crimea is still part of Ukraine.   NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Wednesday that “NATO allies do not, and will not, recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.”

When asked if Russia will return Crimea to Ukraine, Mr. Putin said that “In accordance with the expression of the will of people who live there, Crimea is part of the Russian Federation and its constituent entity.”

President Putin stated that with the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO, Moscow “could not allow a historical part of the Russian territory with a predominantly ethnic Russian population to be incorporated into an international military alliance, especially because Crimeans wanted to be part of Russia.  I’m sorry, but we couldn’t act differently.”

Known as “little green men” these Russian troops abruptly began appearing in Crimea following the ousting of Ukraine’s former president. Photo by AP.

Following the annexation, pro-Russian activists in eastern and southern Ukraine took up arms against the Kiev authorities, leading to clashes with the Ukrainian military that have resulted in scores of deaths in recent months.  The Ukrainian government has accused Moscow of supporting and supplying the separatists, a claim which the Kremlin denies.

Mr. Putin and other top ranking Russian officials have criticized Ukraine for allegedly attacking its own citizens and denying its people their rights.

It is “vital” to hold talks with the separatists “instead of sending tanks” to deal with them and “firing missiles at civilians from the air and bombing non-military targets,” the president said, adding that the Kiev authorities must hold talks with the militants to deescalate the crisis.

Fighting in recent weeks has resulted in dozens of deaths.  Clashes between the Ukrainian military and armed separatists at the Donetsk International Airport last week left over 50 militants dead, separatists leader said.  On Monday, an estimated 500 separatists began a three-day attack on a border center near the city of Luhansk. Today, the guards left the center.  Also on Monday, a Ukrainian fighter jet bombed Luhansk’s main regional building, resulting in the deaths and injuries of several citizens.

lugansk-3

Russia has demanded that Kiev bring an immediate end to its military operations against the separatists, and expressed its will to work with the Ukrainian government to deescalate the crisis.

In response to Westerners’ claims of Russia wishing to restore the Soviet Union and destroy Ukraine, Mr. Putin said that Moscow recognizes Ukraine as sovereign state and respects the country’s choices, but wishes that it would not join NATO because it would mean “NATO’s infrastructure will move directly towards the Russian border, which cannot leave us indifferent.”

President Putin also responded to accusation against the Kremlin by U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton that Russia’s recent actions resembles Hitler’s during the 1930’s: “when I hear such extreme statements, to me it only means that they don’t have any valid arguments.”

He also said that the U.S. takes the “most aggressive and toughest policy to defend their own interests… and they do it persistently.”

Mr. Putin concluded his statement by scoffing the United States’ disapproval of Russia’s recent “aggressive” actions, saying:  “There are basically no Russian troops abroad while U.S. troops are everywhere.  There are U.S. military bases everywhere around the world and they are always involved in the fate of other countries even though they are thousands of kilometers away from U.S. borders.”

 

 

 

 

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Russian President Says Ukrainian Presidential Election not legally possible

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Russian President Vladimir Putin  said on Wednesday that the Ukraine presidential election on May 25 is not technically, legally possible.

He added though, “that any political process is… better than armed confrontation”, referring to the “anti-terror” operations against pro-Russian activists in eastern Ukraine.

President Putin stated that the Ukrainian constitution does not allow for the upcoming presidential election.

“In this context, in my view, given that the Ukrainian constitution still legally in force at this moment does not make it possible to hold an election when the country has a president, President Yanukovych, still legally in office–and I stress that in legal terms he is still the president in office–“.

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from office back in February following months of protest in the country’s capital, Kiev, that resulted in over 100 deaths.

An interim government then took over, but Russia has refused to recognize it as legitimate.

Mr. Putin said that given the current situation in Ukraine, “it would seem easier… to first hold a referendum on all the basic issues, hold a referendum on the constitution and adopt it, and then on the basis of the new constitution elect a president and a parliament and form a government.”

The president believes that his idea “would be a lot more logical and would bring greater stability” in Ukraine, but the Ukrainian government has already decided, with the support of the EU and US, to hold its presidential elections.

However, he said that “what is important is not the election itself, but to organize relations with all of Ukraine’s regions so that people, whether in the west, south, east, or north of the country all feel that they are full-fledged citizens, and so that ethnic minorities have full rights as citizens, including the right to use their native language.”

The interim Ukrainian government had previously banned the use of Russian language.  Moscow then stepped in and stated its right to intervene in Ukraine to protect the rights of the Russian speaking population there, which led to the annexation of Crimea by Russian in March.

Either way, “the political processes underway, including on legitimizing the current authorities, are a positive steps”, but “it will be very difficult for us [the Russian Federation] to build relations with those came to power with punitive operations still underway in southeast Ukraine, and who obstruct the media’s work,” Mr. Putin said.

His remarks are in reference to the recent “anti-terror” military operations issued by Kiev against gunmen in eastern Ukraine, as well as the detainment of two Russian journalist, who allegedly were transporting weapons, and a British reporter, who was freelancing for Russia Today, by Ukrainian military forces.

President Putin stated that the Kiev government is “not just obstructing the press but they are behaving more and more aggressively.”  And that “What is happening now with journalists in unacceptable.”

He hopes that “the Ukrainian authorities will take the necessary steps to at least humanize the political process unfolding in Ukraine now.”

Mr. Putin also stressed Russia’s goal towards helping to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine, saying: “Our position at the moment is to establish direct contacts with the current authorities in Kiev and in southeast Ukraine.”  He added, “we have done everything we can to establish these direct contacts.”

Russian Troops along its shared border with Ukraine

Earlier this week, President Putin ordered the withdraw of Russian forces from its border with Ukraine.

Moscow has twice before called for the withdraw of its forces from the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Mr. Putin told reporters: “Our forces were not on the border anyway.  They were indeed quite close to the border, as you probably heard.  Some time ago, I gave the Defense Ministry the order to withdraw them to the training sites, the test grounds.  These sites are also in neighboring regions, in Rostov Region, quite near the border.  But now the Defense Ministry has received a new order to withdraw them from these test grounds too.”

He stressed that Russia is “not doing this because we do not dare to keep our forces in those regions” but “as an additional step” to help make the upcoming Ukrainian presidential election “a more favorable environment”.

Putin countered a statement by NATO that it had seen no withdraw of Russian forces along the Ukrainian-Russian border, saying: “If someone cannot see what is happening there, perhaps they should take a closer look.  The fact of the matter is that there is quite a large number of forces there [along the border], quite a lot of hardware.  Just withdrawing all of them requires some serious preparation in itself, including organizing their transportation.  But I think that with good weather, they soon will be able to see all of this from space.”

Preventing a Repeat of the Odessa Violence

In response to the final question by reporters, the Russian President stated his belief “that the nightmare and horror that we saw on our TV screens, the events we know well that took place in Odessa, have not yet received adequate assessment from the international community.”

Over 40 were killed when violent clashes broke out between pro-Unity and pro-Russian activists in the seaside port city of Odessa a few weeks ago.

Majority of those who were killed died when pro-Unity activist lit on fire the Trade Union building that pro-Russians were taking cover inside of.

President Putin warned the international community that “if we do not make an adequate assessment of events, it is possible that similar crimes could happen again.

“I want to draw this to the attention of the media, the Russian public, and our human rights organisations too.  There should without question be a thorough investigations and the criminals should be caught and punished.

“We should all work towards this results, because if this not done, as I said, we could see a repeat of the horror and nightmare we saw in Odessa, and this would create fertile soil for terrorism to emerge.”

10,000 Ukrainians Internally Displaced

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An estimated 10,000 Ukrainians are internally displaced as a result of the current conflict in the country, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday, and the number is rising.

“A needs assessment has recently been completed and we are working closely with local authorities, other UN agencies, and NGO partners to help those who are most affected,” UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva.  “So far this includes providing legal assistance, integration grants for 150 families, cash assistance for 2,000 people, and improved shelters for 50 families.”

The displacement in Ukraine started before Crimea held its referendum in March on separating from the Kiev government and then being annexed by Russia, and has been rising since.

Some of those affected have been displaced twice, first in Crimea and then again in eastern Ukraine.

Ethnic Tatars make up majority of the internally displaced people (IDP), but local authorities say that there has been a recent increase in registrations of ethnic Ukrainians, Russians, and mixed families.

At least a third of displaced people are children.

Most IDP families are moving to western (26%) and central Ukraine (45%).  Some however, are located in the southern and eastern regions.

The number of Ukrainian asylum-seekers in other countries has remained low.

The displaced people “have left either because of direct threats or out of fear of insecurity or persecution,” Mr. Edwards said.

“People cite fear of persecution because of ethnicity or religious beliefs or, in the case of journalists, human rights activists and among intellectuals, due to their activities or professions/  Others say they could no longer keep their businesses open.”

Some even “received personal threats over the phone,” and “via social media” or found “threatening messages left on their property.”

The main challenges displaced people are facing are access to social services, long-term shelter, transferring residence registration so that they can access their economic and social rights access to documentation, and access to livelihoods.

Help for them is mostly being organized by regional governments, community-based organizations, and through voluntary contributions by citizens.

Some people are being accommodated in shelters provided by local authorities, and others are staying in privately owned spaces, such as hotels, sanatoriums, or houses.

Mr. Edwards said UNHCR welcomes a newly adopted by Ukraine that will allow free movement of its citizens between Crimea and the rest of the country.  The law also allows identity cards to be restored, and covers voting rights.

As for the fate of the IDPs, the spokesman warned: “The capacity of host communities to support people is fast becoming exhausted.”  He stressed the need for “more permanent shelter, more employment opportunities, and support for community-based and local organizations in developing long-term solutions for people have have become internally displaced.”

 

Ukrainian Military has raised $10.4 million

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The Ukrainian Military has raised $10.4 million (124.7 million hryvnia) through its fundraiser campaign, the Defense Ministry reports.

$9.8 million (117.5 million hryvnia) will be used towards medical support for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Businesses and private individuals have donated to the “Support the Ukrainian army” campaign over the last month and a half.

People can call a “565” mobile number to donate 50 cents to the Ukraine military.  Meanwhile, Children have held fairs and bake sales to help raise money,  and adults have been bringing essentials, such as food, water, and clothing to soldiers at military bases.

The U.S. recently donated $42 thousand (557.1 thousand hryvnia) and 21.6 thousand euros (332,000 hryvnia) to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.

An under-financed military

When the new interim government took over on February 27, they were shocked to find that the treasury was empty.

An investigation found that the defense factory had been stealing $81 of every $100 order.

Ukraine’s military budget was $5.3 billion last year, the Sockholm International Peace Research Institute reported in March.  That means about $4.293 billion had been stolen from Ukraine’s military funding.

“If the stolen money had been used for modernization of the Ukrainian army, there would not be a problem,” Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema said last month.

Ukraine’s army has suffered heavily in the recent months because of its extreme lack of funding.

In an article by The Washington Post, 26-year-old Pavlo Podobied said: “The army became impoverished from the inside–money and materiel were stolen.  They didn’t have equipment, and meals were cheap macaroni and a small piece of tough meat.”

During the invasion of Crimea by Russian soldiers in March, the Ukrainian military was too starved of essential equipment to put up much of a resistance to the foreign forces, and became dependent on the local residents to supply them.

“Local people started bringing them [the Ukrainian soldiers] food, water, SIM cards,” Podobied said.  “The soldiers were depending on them.”

Heroika, an organization that Podobied helped found, had previously been tending to the graves of Ukrainians who fought for independence in the 1917 Russian Revolution, but has now turned its attention towards helping the country’s present-day army.

“We began collecting money to buy uniforms and ammunition,” Podobied said.  “Soldiers at one checkpoint had only one radio, and it broke after the second day.”

He described the reaction of some Ukrainian soldiers who received 30 pairs of safety  glasses from Heroika: “When we brought them [the glasses] to the base, it was like Christmas.  They had only seen them in ads.”

Those in charge of Ukraine’s military not only stole, but young men routinely paid bribes to avoid service, which left the ranks under-filled and consisting mostly of the poor, Podobied told The Washing Post.

Western countries have sent supplies to the impoverished military in the recent months.  In March, France donate body armor to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, something which it lacks.  The U.S. then donated $3.5 million worth of equipment–consisting of helmets, sleeping mats, water purification kits, generators, medical supplies, and 300,000 MREs (Meals Ready to Eat).

Last month, the Ukraine’s Defense Ministry deputy supply chief said that the army had only about 30 to 40% of what it needed.  But in light of the recent, selfless donations by individuals, businesses, and countries, the Ukrainian military seems to be heading along the right path towards a long and difficult journey to recovery.

 

 

Summary of the UN’s Human Rights Situation in Ukraine Report

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On Thursday, the UN released a 37 page report on Human Rights in Ukraine, stating: the Ukrainian Government’s steps towards the implantation of the April 17 Geneva Agreement; the crimes committed by armed groups throughout Ukraine; harassment towards Crimean Tatars following the annexation of the region by Russia in March; the necessity of investigations by the Kiev government on the violent events that have occurred in Odessa and other cities throughout the eastern party of the country; the many peaceful protest, many of which have turned violent, resulting in “numerous deaths and injuries”; the threats towards journalist and media outlets; and the critical role of a fair and free Presidential election on May 25 to deescalate the country’s crisis.

Aftermath of Protest in Kiev’s Independent Square

Over 120 people, consisting of protesters and police officers, were killed in the violent protest from February 18-20 in Kiev’s–Ukraine’s Capital–Independent Square which led to the ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovych.  Hundreds more were wounded.

Seventy-five of the 120 were killed by firearms from February 19-20.  Many more were wounded.

Forty-six people were killed by the Berkut special police force.  As of April 24, 2014, three Berkut officers have been arrested and officially charged with murder. 

The report states that the Office of the General Prosecutor is currently verifying claims that foreigners participated in the crimes committed during the protest in late February.

According to the NGO EuroMaiden SOS, as of May 5, 2014, 83 demonstrators from the protest remain unaccounted for.  Initially after the protest ended, 314 people were reported missing, but many have since been found; others have been reported killed or dead.

“It is critical to identify the whereabouts and fate of those who remain missing from Maidan [Kiev’s Independent Square],” the report adds. 

Greater self-power, and amnesty in Ukraine

The report discussed the Ukrainian government’s plan to distributed more self-power to local governments throughout the country, as well as amnesty for, minors, pregnant women, individuals having children under the age of 18 or children with disabilities, persons with disabilities and people infected with tuberculosis or with an oncological disease, those who have reached the age of retirement, war veterans, combatants and invalids of war, liquidators of the accident at Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and people with parents over the age of 70 or with disabilities.  

Between 23,000 to 25,000 convicts could be eligible for an amnesty, the Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Support of Law Enforcement estimates.

There have been five drafts submitted to the Parliament by different political parties, all of which consisted of seeking amnesty legislation that covers: actions to overthrow the legal government; organization of riots; and seizure of administrative and public buildings.  All five of the drafts consider that cases of “separatism” should fall within the scope of an adopted amnesty.  The drafts aim to give amnesty to those who have participated in protest following the ones in late February, as well as ease tensions and resolve the crisis in Ukraine, particularly in the east and south of the country.

Protest in Ukraine

The ongoing events in Ukraine have led to an increase in violence and crimes.

From observations by the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), as well as reports they have received, there has been numerous peaceful protest by pro-Unity and pro-Russian Ukrainians.  However, a large number of these protest have resulted in violence, leading to injuries and deaths.

The clash between pro-Unity and pro-Russian activists two weeks ago in Odessa, a seaside port city along the Blacksea and the country’s largest city, resulted in roughly 40 deaths.

The HRMMU reports that majority of clashes between pro-Unity and pro-Russian activist have been initiated by the latter.

In many cases, the local police forces have been unable and inadequate to “ensure law and order.”  There has even been times when the police have openly cooperated with the attackers in the protest.

These violent protest have also result in larger numbers of bitterness and resistance towards the Kiev government.

Crimes by Armed Groups

Armed groups in Ukraine, especially the eastern part of the country, have been accused of increasing numbers of human rights abuses, including abductions, torture and ill treatment, unlawful detentions, and killings, as well as the seizing of and occupying of public buildings.

There has been numerous and credible reports that these armed groups have been growing in numbers.  The groups are very well trained, organized, and heavily armed, and have even taken down several Ukrainian military helicopters.

These armed groups, which call themselves “self defense” units, have increased in presence and power in eastern Ukraine, specifically Donetsk where a “People’s Republic” has recently been formed.  Throughout the eastern part of the country, they seize administrative and public buildings, and are blamed for the rise in violence and crimes throughout the eastern regions.

In some cities and towns, there has been a shift from political power to armed groups power as these self defense units have taken the responsibility of establishing their own order and laws.

The HRMMU says that the occupation of administrative buildings has disrupted day-to-day life for many throughout eastern Ukraine.

There have been numerous reports of these armed groups in eastern Ukraine unlawfully detaining journalist, as well as beating some.

May 25 Presidential Election

The report states the critical importance of a free, fair, democratic presidential election on May 25 to deescalate the situation in Ukraine.

Several candidates have reported facing arbitrary restrictions, hate speech, intimidation, and violent attacks during their election campaigning.

Internally Displaced Ukrainians 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that as of April 29, there are at least 7,207 internally displaced persons (IDPs) registered in all 24 regions of Ukraine.  The numbers is feared to be much higher however, because not all IDPs register with local authorities.

Most IDPs have gone to Kiev; some plan to leave to other countries such as Turkey.

Russian Citizenship for Crimea Residents

The Russian Federation and Crimean authorities have agreed that permanent residents of Crimea that have been residing in the region as of March 18, 2014, shall be recognized as Russian citizens, except for those, who within a month after the mentioned date, declared a desire to maintain their or their minor children’s active citizenship, or to remain a stateless person.  

After April 18, Crimean residents were no longer allowed to apply to refuse Russian citizenship.

Ukrainian law states that forced acquirement of Russian citizenship by its residents in Crimea is illegal and an illegitimate means of withdrawing a Ukrainian citizenship.

There are reports that those who did not apply for Russian citizenship are now facing harassment and intimidation.  

Those who do no apply for Russian citizenship by January 2015–the period when Crimea’s transition into the Russian Federation ends–could be deported from Crimea.

Harassment Towards Crimean Tatars

Some Churches and religious groups in Crimea have reported facing persecution and discrimination.

Most notably, members of the Islamic political party Hizb ut-Tahrir, declared an extremist group by Moscow, has seen many of its members flee Crimea in fear of prosecution by the Russian Federation based on charges of terrorism.  Many Crimean Tatars who openly practice Islam have said they fear that Russian authorities will consider them members of the group and thus prosecute them.

Crimean Tatars and residents who do not support the referendum held in March on joining Russia have suffered frequent harassment too.

Legislation of the Russian Federation is being enforced in Crimea and it will have a significant impact on human rights, posing in particular limitations on the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion, the report says.

Conclusions and Recommendations by the OHCHR

  1. Establish human rights concerns in line with international standards, and within the framework of the UN General Assembly resolution, and the Geneva Agreement of April 17, 2014.
  2. The violence in eastern Ukraine is the primary cause of human rights violations in the country.  Investigations by the Kiev government should be undertaken into the events and violence in the eastern party of the country.
  3. All armed groups must lay down their arms and stop their unlawful acts, vacate occupied public and administrative buildings as laid out in the April 17, Geneva Agreement, and release all those who are being unlawfully detained.
  4. Security and law enforcement operations must be in line with international standards and guarantee the protection of all individuals at all times.
  5. Acts of hate speech must be publicly condemned and deterred.  Political leaders should refrain from using messages of intolerance or expressions which may incite hostility or discrimination; but they also have a crucial role to play in speaking out firmly and promptly against intolerance, discriminatory stereotyping, and instances of hate speech. 
  6. Journalist need to be allowed freedom and protection “to carry out their work objectively.”
  7. Opposing groups must learn to respect and honor each others’ differing views.
  8. Measures to ensure equal rights and values and respect towards others is important for easing tension in the Ukrainian society.
  9. Free and fair presidential elections are crucial towards deescalating the crisis in Ukraine.
  10. The rights of Crimea must be respected and discrimination towards Crimean Tatars must stop immediately.