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 Supports Political Talk to Deescalate the Crisis in Ukraine

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed the importance of political talks to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine during a meeting on Tuesday.

Mr. Putin and Ki-moon discussed the current crisis in Ukraine and Syria today at the Fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA).

“The Secretary-General and President Putin agreed that the crisis [in Ukrinae] can only be resolved politically and through an inclusive dialogue,” a UN spokesperson said.

The UN chief said that the upcoming Ukraine presidential election on May 25 is an important move “towards long-term peace and stability” in the country.

Ukraine has suffered internal turmoil for the last few months as the country begins its journey towards becoming a greater nation.

Starting with the protest in the country’s capital, Kiev, which led to the ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovych, followed by the annexation of the country’s peninsula region, Crimea, by Russia in March, Ukraine has faced difficult challenges.

Since April, pro-Russian separatist, who desire greater autonomy from Ukraine, have revolted against the Kiev government by taking government and administrative buildings in dozens of cities throughout the eastern part of the country, fighting Ukrainian military forces, and recently in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, holding referendums on May 11 for independence.

In the last two weeks, pro-Unity activist, who support a united Ukraine, have risen up against the pro-Russians.  In the city of Mariupol, steel workers took to the streets to begin establishing order in a region that is in turmoil and confusion because of the current crisis.

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.”

 

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.