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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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.”

 

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. 

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.”

 

 

Russian Forces Possibly Begin Withdrawal from Ukrainian Border

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Russian military forces appear to possibly have begun withdrawing from its shared border with Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen told reporters at Montenegro on Thursday.

“Late yesterday, we have seen limited Russian troop activity in the vicinity of the border with Ukraine that may suggest that some of these forces are preparing to withdraw,” General Rasmussen said.  “It is too early to say what this means, but I hope this is the start of a full and genuine withdrawal,” he added.

Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered for the withdraw of military forces from its border along Ukraine.

Moscow has twice before called for the withdrawal of soldiers from the Russian-Ukrainian border, with NATO stating each time that they had seen no withdraw.

On Wednesday, President Putin said that Russian forces “were not on the border” but were “quite close” to it.

“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 said.

Mr. Putin added that “there is quite a large number of forces” along the border, and that withdrawing all of them “requires some serious preparation in itself, including organizing their transportation.”  He believes though, “that with good weather, they [NATO] soon will be able to see all of this from space.”

However, “most of the previously deployed Russian force remains near the Ukrainian border and we [NATO] see continued Russian exercises in the same area,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

He said though, that if Russia conducted “any meaningful, comprehensive, and verifiable withdrawal,” he “would be the first to welcome it,” and that the move would be “a first step” by Moscow towards “living up to its international commitment, especially as Ukraine is preparing to hold important presidential elections on Sunday.”

Ukraine’s first presidential elections since the ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovych in late February are planned to be held on May 25.

Currently, an interim government has been in office to help keep stability and prepare for the new path towards a greater Ukraine.

Amid the bloody violence in Ukraine that has left dozens of people dead, Mr Rasmussen concluded: “I hope we will see a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine.”