Crimea returns to Mother Russia (2014)

For the past several months the world's attention has been fixated on events unraveling in Ukraine. The past several weeks in particular have been a whirlwind of historic developments that have once again brought the world to the precipice of a world war. The reader most probably may have already heard a lot about the crisis in Ukraine. For the past several weeks there have been a steady stream of so-called experts, analysts and political pundits throughout Western news media expressing their views. With very few exceptions, men such as Patrick Buchanan, Stephen Cohen and Stephen Walt, the analysis put forth by a vast majority of the talking-heads have been utterly simplistic, hypocritical, dangerous, hysterical, misleading, false, biased and Russophobic. For what it's worth, on the eve of a very historic referendum in  Crimea and growing tensions in eastern Ukraine, the following is my take on the worst crisis we have seen between Moscow and the West since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

When the Soviet Union began showing signs that it was collapsing in the late 1980s, Washington was already looking forward to being the world's one and only superpower. There was even some discussion in Washington at the time on how to stop the rise of a "new Byzantium" (union of Christian Orthodox states) from the ashes of the Soviet Union. Needless to say, undermining the Russian nation was their main focus. Simply put, nations that made up the Soviet Union were simply unprepared for what awaited them in the post-Soviet world. With their world entirely shattered a second time in seventy years, not only did the promises of democracy and capitalism prove illusive, it was soon discovered that the new world order led by Anglo-American-Jews did not in fact look favorably upon most of the nations that emerged out of the Soviet Union's demise. There was not going to be an age of brotherhood among nations, naively believed by many in former Soviet society. Russians as well as other former Soviet nations soon discovered that political ideologies, social engineering and economic models fiendishly peddled by the victorious West were in fact toxic for their newly independent homelands. Russians in particular were among the hardest hit by the post-Soviet chaos. 
Simply put, with the Soviet Union no longer around to stop them, Western powers have felt free to pursue an imperial agenda across the world for over twenty years. It should therefore come as no surprise that Western powers have been actively conspiring against the Russian Federation ever since its creation back in 1991.

It is now well known that Western powers (via their proxies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) had a hand in the Islamic insurgency in Russia's vulnerable underbelly. It is now well known that Western-backed Jewish oligarchs in Russia plundered the nation's wealth and national assets throughout much of the 1990s. It is now well known that Western powers have been actively pushing NATO and EU deeper-and-deeper into Russian zones of interest after initially promising Moscow they would not do so. It is now well known that Western meddling fomented color revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Moreover, Western powers have been trying to make inroads into Armenia and Azerbaijan. Western powers have been surrounding Russia with military installations. Western powers in Europe have been attempting to setup missile defense stations against Russia. Western powers have been persistently ridiculing, chastising and slandering the Russian nation and President Vladimir Putin. Finally, Western powers have been funding all kinds of subversive groups throughout the Russian Federation.  

The West's long-term agenda has been to push military assets via NATO deep into zones traditionally considered part of Russia; weaken Russian authority west of the Urals by promoting sociopolitical unrest and encouraging separatist movements; force Russian officials to engage in economic activity within a Western economic structure and under Western terms; and sabotage the Customs Union and CSTO, Russia's answer to the European Union and NATO respectively.

Moscow put up with a lot of this during the 1990s - including the NATO bombing and subsequent partitioning of an allied Serbia - simply because it was too weak to resist. But things had already begun to change by the first few years of the new century. Soon after coming to power in 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin was able to rein in Russia's Western-backed Jewish oligarchs, crush the Islamic rebellion in Chechnya and nationalize Russia's number one source of revenue: its strategic oil and gas production and distribution. With money thereafter flowing into Russian state coffers, President Putin embarked upon an ambitious plan to modernize the Russian state, rearm the Russian military and reclaim territories thought to be Russian zones of influence. Therefore, when Western powers brought Tbilisi close to joining NATO in 2008, thereby crossing a Kremlin red line, Moscow showed the world that it was now willing to resort to violence to protect its national interests. Moscow's unexpected response in Georgia came as a shock to the West, but Western designs against Russia nevertheless continued.

A new threshold was crossed several months ago when Ukrainian President Yanukovych announced his decision to abandon Kiev's Western course and join Russia's Eurasian Union. As expected, western Ukrainians reacted harshly to the unexpected pivot and took to the streets in substantial numbers. Seeing an irresistible opportunity to manipulate events, Western powers began actively encouraging political unrest. The intention was to shift Ukraine, the historic cradle of the Russian nation and a nation that hosted the Russian Black Sea fleet, back away from Russia. Faced with a growing opposition and violence in the streets, President Yanukovych proved weak and incompetent. He was eventually forced to flee Kiev in late February, abandoning political power to radically pro-Western activists. Now, a new and more critical red line was thereby crossed by the West. For more information on the crisis in Ukraine, please revisit my previous two commentaries -
Western powers have done their best for the past twenty years to provoke Moscow, with the latest one in Ukraine being the most audacious in my opinion. But the major difference between this Western push into Russian zones of influence and previous ones was essentially the timing. This isn't the 1990s. This isn't 2004. This is coming at a time when Russian power and influence has been on the rise throughout former Soviet space and beyond. They have provoked Moscow right on Russia's doorstep, in a nation that Russians consider a historic part of Russia, and during a time when the Bear has been awake.

What did they expect Russia to do?

To better understand the mindset in the Kremlin these days, just ask yourselves this question: How would Washington have reacted, if foreign powers (say Russia or China) were provoking serious political unrest and organizing anti-US movements in Mexico or Canada? Give the above some serious consideration and then consider this: When they used Western money, Western mass media, Western organizations and assassins (probably also Western) to assist anti-Russian thugs to take power in a strategically important nation long recognized to be within the Russian zone, what did they expect Russia to do?

They surely knew that Ukraine was a very strategic piece of real-estate that Russia would not give up without a major fight. They surely knew that Russia held all the cards - financial, economic and military - in the region to make Western provocations very costly for them. They surely knew this was no longer the 1990s. They surely recalled what Moscow did in Georgia back in 2008. They surely recall how hard Moscow fought to have Yanukovych elected president in 2010. They surely saw in Syria how seriously Moscow has been taking geostrategic matters. Therefore, what they should have known - but they somehow didn't - was that this was an opportunity the kind of which Moscow understood comes around only once in a long while. 

Faced with open aggression and growing audacity by Western powers on its doorstep, Russia had to make a grand stand. Moscow had to make a big show if only to discourage further Western inroads into its space. Now, one of the most beautiful sights I have seen in recent years has been balaclava wearing Russian troops gracing the Crimean peninsula.

A historic day in Russia

As of this writing, the Crimean peninsula has been placed fully under Russian protection by large numbers of very disciplined yet unidentified military units. Like a finely-tuned machine, thousands of "pro-Russian forces" have methodically secured vital national infrastructure, military installations and border crossing points throughout the peninsula. Ukrainian troops stationed in the region have either switched sides, been evicted or confined to their bases or ships. Ukrainian military assets have been confiscated. A number of self-defense units pledging allegiance to Russia have come into existence. Russian flags have replaced Ukrainian ones.

After a sixty year separation, and despite ambiguous threats from the West, on March 16, 2014, Crimeans overwhelmingly voted for reunification with the Russian Federation. And merely two days later, on March 18, Moscow officially recognized the Crimean people's wish for reunification with Mother Russia -
Putin: Crimea similar to Kosovo, West is rewriting its own rule book (FULL SPEECH):

Signed! Crimea, Sevastopol ink historic treaty to join Russia:
The historic speech President Putin gave on March 18 in the Kremlin is arguably his most pivotal, but not because it heralded the start of a new rivalry between Russia and the West as claimed by some Western political observers. It can be argued that Cold War II began back in 2007 when President Putin spoke these words at a public appearance in Germany -
“Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. As a result we do not have sufficient strength to find a comprehensive solution to any one of these conflicts. Finding a political settlement also becomes impossible. We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way.”
President Vladimir Putin at the Munich Conference on Security Policy (February 11, 2007)
Sooner thereafter this speech in Germany, we began seeing Moscow become more proactive in international affairs as a counterbalance to the political West. In my opinion, President Putin's historic speech in the Kremlin on March 18, 2014 was significant precisely because it signaled the birth of a new world order. Coming on the heals of Russia's historic defense of Syria, during which political observers noted Russia's leadership role, events in Ukraine and President Putin's biting words in the Kremlin on March 18 have vividly revealed to the global community that the Anglo-American-Jews are no longer omnipotent.

Finally, after over two decades of unipolarity in global affairs, a multipolar world is born. Finally, after over two decades of ultra-liberal decadence and a global cultural decline as a result of Americanization, Globalization and Western pop culture, a traditional Christian power is back on the world stage. 

Needless to say, faced with a new political reality that profoundly troubles them, warpigs are squealing on Wall Street.

Nevertheless, Crimea's reunification with the Russian Federation has happened without a single shot fired in anger. This fact alone is astounding and speaks volumes about the professionalism and efficiency of Russian statecraft. Even prominent Westerners have begun noting Russia's surprisingly impressive show of force. Having learned many costly lessons in recent decades, the Russian Bear is back and seems to be better than ever. As the world watched, a new reality in Crimea was meticulously and masterfully crafted. Even mother nature seemed to have accepted Crimea's historic transformation and reunification with Mother Russia.

Brilliant display of statecraft

Recent weeks have seen an absolutely brilliant display of Russian diplomacy, military might and realpolitik. In case the point was missed by the West, there has been a number of large scale military exercises on the border of Ukraine as well as an ICBM test lunch. We are privileged to be witnessing this exhibition. Mankind can also take heart in knowing that there exists today a world power that is ready, willing and fully capable of standing-up to the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance and their friends. Russia has proven once again that it is the last front against American imperialism, Western Globalism, NATO expansionism, Islamic extremism, Zionism and pan-Turkism. Russia has given the world community a desperately needed multi-polarity in international affairs. Moscow has indeed made Ukraine a very toxic pill for the West to swallow. 

In my opinion, these are the historic times President Vladimir Putin was born for.

Crimea is a done deal. Even former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recognizes this. The rest of Ukraine is not going anywhere either. Even if Moscow ultimately decides it won't make a move into eastern Ukraine, Kiev will not be able to enter the EU nor will be be accepted into NATO - not with the kind of baggage it now has. At the end of the day, Ukrainian economic and energy needs will continue being dependent on Mother Russia. Moreover, the West will not allocate the tens-of-billions of dollars needed to keep Ukrainians from starving. In other words, thanks to EuroMaidan freaks and their Washingtonian pushers, Ukraine is now screwed no matter how one looks at it, and the West will now have what is essentially a failed state on their hands. And the biggest and funniest irony in all this will be to see Western aid money to Kiev going to Russia to pay for Ukraine's growing energy bills.

President Putin will have the last laugh.

Perhaps it was their imperial hubris that blinded them, perhaps desperation. Regardless of why they did what they did, the West will now have a rude awakening for this is not 1853, this is not the 1990s nor is it 2004. The Russian Bear has come out of its hibernation and he is hungry and angry. What do we feed it to help placate it? At the very least, Crimea: Preferably, Crimea, southern Ukraine and regions east of the river Dnieper. 

And, yes folks, those mysterious soldiers we see in Crimea are from Russia and they do operate under Russian military command. By sending into Crimea thousands of highly trained troops and telling Western powers that the troops in question are not under Russian command - Moscow is essentially giving the West the middle finger. [As far as it being a lie is concerned: It's no bigger lie than American officials crying about respecting the "territorial integrity" of nations. Western criminals need to be reminded of their lies and war crimes against Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Grenada, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Panama, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Egypt and Iran] There is yet another twist to this: Had Moscow openly sent troops into Crimea, it would have been considered an invasion, legally speaking. Since Moscow wants to be at least perceived as upholding international law - at the same time not pass up a historic opportunity to liberate Crimea and rub Western noses in some shit in the process - it is having Russian troops take off their insignias. With no Russian military unit positively identified, Western analysts and journalists have been forced to calling them "pro-Russian forces" and not "troops from Russia". Moreover, by not officially having troops on the ground in Crimea, Moscow may be signaling that it is leaving a door open for negotiations.

Simply put, it's genius.

If it all, however, comes down to a shooting war between Ukrainians and Russians, there is no doubt that the Russian military will crush their Ukrainian opponents. Russia's armed forces have the weaponry to sink every opposing warship within the entire Black Sea basin within the first few days of the war's outbreak. Russia's armed forces will have the air and ground superiority throughout eastern Ukraine also within the first few days of the war. Moreover, there is also the real possibility that Ukrainian military units will be severely handicapped by divisions along ethnic and ideological lines and may even begin fighting each other. At the end of the day, there is little doubt that Russia will make short work out of the Ukrainian military and there is very little doubt that the West will remain on the sidelines.

This is a historic opportunity that the Kremlin cannot pass up. Moscow has to place its chess pieces correctly. Moscow has to speak in the only language that Western powers understand. It's retribution time.

If the Kremlin truly wants to make an impressive show of force, exact revenge and sow fear in the Western world, as it should, it would be wise for them to inform Washington, Berlin, Ankara, Paris and London - in very unambiguous terms - that if any of them dare enter a possible war between Russia and Ukraine in any capacity, Moscow will be forced to stop energy deliveries to EU nations and that the Russian military will establish a land link with Armenia as a measure to secure its southern flank and cut-off Azeri oil and gas deliveries to Turkey. In other words, additional rearranging of borders may be necessary.

Moscow does not need to wage a shooting war with the West to hurt them very bad. 

I am not a financial or economics expert, but I'd like to float these ideas: Let's say the US/EU pushes Moscow to the point where it feels has no choice but to cut-off gas shipments to the EU. This will utterly cripple the EU economy in a matter of days or weeks. Yes, this action will also see a lose of significant revenue for Moscow. But, faced with such extraordinary circumstance, cant the Central Bank in Russia simply print more money to make up for the financial lose? Isn't this more-or-less how the US been making a living in recent years? Moscow can also seek to make deals with energy hungry nations such as China, Japan and India to increase their purchases of Russian energy. What's more, what if Moscow responds by freezing the assets of Western mega-corporation such as BP and Exxon-Mobile operating throughout Russia? What if Moscow responds by demanding anyone that trade with it or purchases energy from it does so in the Russian Ruble? What if Moscow responds by pulling Russian money out of the City of London and Wall Street? What if Moscow responds by cashing in its US Treasury bonds? What if Moscow responds by helping Iran and Venezuela build oil refinery plants? Let's also recall that the West also needs Russia's cooperation on Syria, Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan.

Russia is not Iraq or Libya

There are a number of things that Moscow can do to cripple the West. If they have the foresight and the courage to do so, Kremlin officials can bring the entire Western world to its knees. Russia is perhaps the most self-sufficient major nation-state on earth today. Unlike traditional powers like Russia where national institutions and a professional diplomatic corps are tasked with formulating and executing state policy, the Western political establishment operates essentially under "market principles". If therefore Western actions against Russia begin hurting the Western economy, or if the West is faced with losing the US Dollar's status as a global hegemon, the West will stand down. After all, Russia is not Iraq or Libya.

As previously mentioned, the Russian Federation is self-sustaining. More specifically, it does not need the West to survive economically. While it cooperates with the Western world's "globalized economy", it is not subject to it's dictates. Militarily, economically and financially, Russia is to a significant degree immune to Western machinations. Western powers have little, if any, influence over Moscow. Notice how even the most bloodthirsty warmongers in Washington are going out of their way to point out that the military option against Moscow is off the table. Notice how London and Berlin are in a panic and strongly advising against economic and financial sanctions. 

While many pro-Russian observers throughout the years were worried that Moscow was dealing too closely with Western financial and trade institutions, I was reminding them that it is always better to keep your enemies close. As we have now seen, Russian integration into Western economic/financial structures in recent years has proven to be one of Moscow's strategic advantages in its fight against the West. Every single "action" or "measure" Washington threatens to take against Russia, Moscow will respond symmetrically. While Western sanctions may or may not have a negative effect on the Russian economy overall, Russian sanctions against the West has the real potential to collapse or severely cripple the EU economy. 

Moscow should not be too concerned about Western sanctions.

Other than going nuclear, which is not going to happen, what can the West really do against Russia? What is the only course of action the West has? A Visa ban for presidents Yanukovych and Putin?! I'm pretty sure they weren't dying to spend their holidays in the US.

The point is, in reality, the West is powerless against Russia. If Moscow is not flaunting all this, it's simply because Russian officials are still trying very hard to remain clearheaded and responsible on the global stage.

I am nevertheless glad that Moscow has hit back, and hit back hard. Had Moscow been passive or tolerant, the fire stoked by the West in Ukraine would have sooner-or-later spread into Russia. Had Western actions in Ukraine not been responded to in a forceful way, similar uprising would have been exported to Belarus, Armenia and eventually into the Russian heartland itself. Like the highly skilled grossmeister that he has proven himself to be, President Putin has turned what seemed like a major political defeat into a major geostrategic victory. Faced with a serious political setback in Kiev, he has responded with a major victory in Crimea. With Crimea now reunited with Mother Russia, Moscow will now use its economic and financial levers to make sure that Ukraine will be beholden to Mother Russia. Russia's response has once more shocked the Western world into reality. More importantly, recent events have awakened nationalism and anti-West sentiments throughout Russia. Recent events will also most probably result in closer relations between Moscow and Beijing.

We are privileged in the sense that we are watching history in the making. The arrogant West has once again made a reckless/haphazard move by foolishly pushing their EuroMaidan pawns into the fire, now it's Russia's turn to make a move on the grand Eurasian chessboard. The Bear has roared, the West, as predicted, has cowered. When the dust settles, at the very least, recent events will see the liberation - de facto or otherwise - of Crimea and certain regions in eastern Ukraine. For this, we can all thank freaks in Kiev and their masters in the West. Moscow couldn't have done it without them. Let's hope that western Ukrainians in particular will now enjoy the fruits of bending-over to the West just as much as Greeks have. And let's also hope the illegitimate regime in Kiev is at least smart enough to use their Western aid to stay up-to-date with their Gazprom bills. 

At the end of the day, the Olympic winter games at Sochi will not be the only astounding Russian success in the region.

Operation Barbarossa by other means

As noted in the opening of this commentary and in previous commentaries, control over Ukraine is key to isolating, containing, undermining and weakening the Russian Federation west of the Urals.  In its historic bid to defeat Bolshevism, even Nazi Germany recognized the strategic importance of occupying Ukraine. It should therefore not surprise anyone that Nazi Germany's successors, the Anglo-American-Zionist order, has sought to pursue the same strategy against Russia.

It would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that Operation Barbarossa by other means is what we have been witnessing Western powers carry-out in eastern Europe in recent years. In fact, those who partook in the original operation back in 1941 are partaking in the modern version: Western Ukrainians as well as regional Turks (Tatars), those at the tip of the Western spear attempting to pierce Russia today, greeted invading Wehrmacht troops in 1941 with kisses and flowers. [At the risk of confusing the reader, I'd like to make a brief point about Ukraine's wannabe-Nazis: I think those who have a realistic understanding of what the Third Reich was all about would agree that had Nazi Germany still been around today, chances are, they would have been on the side of the Russian Federation and Vladimir Putin.] With that said, it can be argued whether western Ukraine's Russophobia at the time was justified or not, but the reality of the matter is that their hatred of Russians is still around and it is this ethnic hatred that is being meticulously exploited by Anglo-American-Jewish interests for the past twenty years.

In the big picture, the crisis in Ukraine can be accurately characterized as a Western drive - via EU and NATO - into territories that have traditionally been under Russian control. It's all part of a systematic campaign to weaken Russian power and influence west of the Urals by creating a string of allied buffer states. 

With Baltic nations and former Warsaw-Pact nations mostly absorbed into NATO and EU and with Georgia and Azerbaijan ready and willing to follow suit - this geostrategic campaign to encircle, contain and weaken the Russian Federation will not be complete until Belarus and Armenia are also severed away from Moscow as well. There is also the constant fear that Western intelligence may once more attempt to inflame Muslims in the north Caucasus or even try to stoke the flames of pan-Turkism amongst Tatars in the very heart of Russia.

Russia had no choice but to respond very forcefully inn Ukraine. 

The need for defensive depth

We need to put aside the silly notion that Russia is somehow trying to recreate the "Soviet Union". This type of fearmongering against Russia is the by-product of professional Russophobes such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, warmongering psychopaths like John McCain and opportunistic reptiles like Hillary Clinton.

What Moscow has been doing in its "near abroad" (i.e. former Soviet territory) is much less ambitious than what they want us to believe. In fact, what Moscow is doing is what all nation-states do to preserve themselves. For military planers in charge of securing national borders, securing something that is know as defensive depth and buffer zones are an essential part of a comprehensive national defense formula. This is especially the case with major nation-states who have historically had serious problems with neighbors.

Western European powers have the Atlantic Ocean and allied buffer states in eastern Europe for their defensive depth. The United States has two natural barriers: Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and two allied buffer states, Canada and Mexico for its security. On the other hand, the Russia Federation, a vast tract of land that stretches from Europe to the Far East, does not have the luxury of its peers in the Western world. Be it in central Europe, the Baltics, Scandinavia, the Arctic region, the Black Sea region, the Caucasus (north and south), central Asia, Chinese border or Alaska, Russian officials are constantly on the watch. It's not an enviable responsibility, but it is admirable how successful Russian leaders have been for the most part during the past several hundred years.

Russia's geography has for ages dictated Russian political policy and has given Russians themselves their unique characteristics. 

Ruling over a multi-ethnic land that is vast in size and wealth, and links Europe, Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East is simply put a gargantuan task. Russian officials have no choice but to remain vigilant and not shy away from resorting to violence to ensure the security of Russia's borders. This is why Russians historically crave strongmen. This is why President Vladimir Putin has been so popular in Russia.

When it comes to being militarily aggressive and geostrategically proactive: Russia has no choice, if it is to preserve itself.

During the early post-Soviet years Moscow reluctantly tolerated Western inroads into former communist regions of eastern-Europe because it was in no shape to react in any meaningful ways. With that said, Western policymakers knew very well that Ukraine, Belarus and greater Caucasus region would be Moscow's red lines for these were strategic buffer regions that Russia could not afford to give up to NATO.

Let's recall that when Moscow's red line in the south Caucasus was crossed by NATO and Georgian officials back in 2008, the Russian Bear reacted ferociously. Therefore, I do not understand why people are so surprised that the Russian Bear has reacted similarly in a nation that is even more important to Russians. When Ukraine, a strategic buffer nation that also happened to be a brotherly Slavic nation - and a region where the Russian nation itself had its birth one thousand years ago - was infiltrated by Western interest, Russia had no choice but to react.

It has to be emphasized that if Moscow stops in Crimea, the West will have won because eastern Ukraine pushes deep into European Russia. This will also place Belarus and Armenia at heightened risk. Moscow therefore needs to escalate albeit systematically and in a well calculated manner. Moscow needs to do everything it can to put Russian speaking regions east of the river Dniepre under Russian control, direct or otherwise. Moscow needs to do everything it can economically and financially to put pressure on the illegitimate regime now in power in Kiev to make them realize that they need Russia more than the EU.

With that said, now that Western powers have gotten western Ukrainians to destroy their nation, let's see now helpful the West will be towards them. Let's also see how democratic and not-corrupt the new regime will be. I have a strong feeling that so-called EuroMaidan activists will sooner-than-later come to the sober realization that they desperately need Mother Russia for survival. But it will be too late.

Incompetent or evil, or both?

Now, that the West's agenda has reach the very doorstep of Russia, many political observers are wondering what is the West's end game in Europe. In the traditional sense, Western provocations against Russia seem quite ill conceived and wrought with many dangers not only for central Europe but also for the West itself.

Why therefore go down this path?

There is an explanation, albeit not a pleasant one: Getting two brotherly nations to start killing each other may be a part of the overall Western agenda in Ukraine. If there is a shooting war between western Ukrainians and pro-Russian forces in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Western powers will have sown fear in Europe, given new life to NATO, militarized pacifistic European powers and rallied them all behind the American flag for decades to come. This way they will have a better pretext to move Western military installation further east onto the doorstep of Russia and of course increase military spending in Washington at a time when policymakers in the US are thinking of historic cuts. Moreover, the agenda may also be seeking to derail the Moscow-led Eurasian Union and weaken Russia's expanding economy by breaking Moscow's oil/gas strangle hold over Europe. That in doing so Anglo-American-Jews are risking a new prolonged cold war, a serious blow-back or a third world war is altogether another topic and reveals yet again the character of people we are dealing with. Which begs the question: Are these people this incompetent or just evil? Perhaps both?

The answer may actually lie in the recognition that they are worried, desperate, blinded by arrogance and led by a false sense of superiority, megalomania and gluttony.

Allow me to explain:

Western powers are bloated with several centuries of plundered wealth and nearly a century of near total dominance over global affairs. Western powers have come to control global trade routs and the commodities exchange. They set the world's political, financial and cultural trends. The US Dollar is the world's reserve currency. Western power and influence is unprecedented - but it has been wanning in recent years. With dwindling natural resources under their direct possession and the emergence of competitive powers around the world, their near total control of the political and financial life of the world is slowly being challenged.

I think the fundamental danger lies in the fact that Western powers are doing their best to secure their hegemony in a new century when emerging powers are poised to become their global competitor. In other words, the Western elite is deeply worried about maintaining its opulent lifestyle. The tens-of-millions of Westerners that live in mansions, gated communities and on vast estates - and the elite that preside over them - want to maintain their standard of living and not surrender it to Asiatic, backward upstarts in Russia or China.

The worrying part here for me is that they will go to great lengths - including bringing the world to the very brink of catastrophe - simply to ensure their global supremacy and money flow. Another worrying things is that Western powers feel immune, and in the particular case of Washingtonians, they feel destined to rule the world as evidenced by a peculiar psychosis infamously known as "American Exceptionalism".

The Western world's world view has been cultivated by centuries of easy money and a safe geography. Western nations such as the US and Britain have historically provoked wars around the world knowing well that due to their safe distances from the killing fields, their respective nations could weather such crisis and then simply come in at the end to exploit the spoils in the aftermath. Thus, from a distance they destroy, they destabilize... they then come in to gather the spoils of war, rebuild and lead. Of course there is also the added benefit of selling weapons to warring factions and purchasing assets and/or commodities in troubled nations at rock bottom prices. Another benefit to sowing unrest around the world is enjoying the acquisition of hard currency. The more nations they destabilize, the more money pours into their coffers by wealthy individuals and firms taking their money out of those troubled nations and placing it into the perceived security of Western banks. Immense amounts of wealth have in fact been poured into London and New York in recent years from all over the world in this very manner. Where did many of Russia's Jewish oligarchs flee to with their plundered wealth after Putin chased them out? The so-called "City of London"!

This imperial arrogance, megalomania, opulence and gluttony coupled with money worries and the strong sense that nothing will happen to them regardless of what they do overseas, lies at the root of their political thinking and world view. It also lies at the root of their blood-thirst.

As long as the Anglo-American-Jewish world is not made to suffer serious consequences for actions overseas, they will continue their volatile sociopolitical experiments and militaristic aggression around the world regardless of the amount of misery and carnage they cause. At the end of the day, when it comes to international relations, Russians are playing chess while Western cowboys are playing poker. Sooner or later the gambler's luck will run out.

The Western gamble in Ukraine will backfire, as all gambles against Russia have. Russians will rally behind their flag as they tend to do in such times. With Crimea back under its rule, Moscow will pursue securing its near-abroad more aggressively than ever before. Russian nationalists and hardliners in Moscow will gain the upper hand in Russian politics. Pro-Western/liberal Russians will become more marginalized. Russian money will become more concentrated within Russia. And, no, liquified natural gas (LNG) is not the West's magic answer for it will cost too much to produce and transport to the EU, not to mention the fact that it will come at a terrible ecological price. At the end of the day, Europe will remain largely reliant on Russian energy for the foreseeable future. Moreover, this all has the potential of bringing Moscow and Beijing closer. Russia will therefore not be "isolated" nor will be be brought to their knees. Those standing to lose terribly from all this is the US, Europe, Turkey and Ukraine.

What's with all the Washingtonian blunders?

Senior career diplomats in the US have been criticizing the way Washington has been pursuing political agendas overseas. Senior retired US officials have been criticizing Washington's actions overseas. Senior retired US military officers have been criticizing the way Washington has been handling military matters overseas. With so many seasoned experts sounding the alarm about Washington's foolish actions, what's with all the blunders? 

I have a strong feeling I know why Washington continues to make what seems like serious geopolitical mistakes on the world stage.

Once more we may be seeing the hand of Democracy (pandering to special groups) and Capitalism (monetary profit being the main political goal) at play. Having willingly shed itself of its traditional identity and true nationalism as a result of multiculturalism and ultra-Liberalism, Washington's world view today has come to be tainted merely by financial pursuits around the world. For American officials, the world is a open market and the US is its headquarters.

The delusionary approach to international relations is vividly seen in how American news commentators, pundits and politicians alike have been assessing President Putin's actions in Crimea. The most popular "analysis" I keep hearing lately is that Putin will back down once his oligarchs start losing money and they begin putting pressure on him. So, Russia's oligarchs will rein in Putin? Are these people serious? This is absolute hogwash!

Having preserved Russian nationalism despite the corrosive effects of Globalism during the past two decades, the Kremlin is able to formulate a foreign policy that is based on nationalistic considerations and not financial pursuits. This is because from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, Moscow has borders to protect. And nutjobs posing as "experts" in the West think Kremlin officials are going to change their minds simply because of money concerns? How idiotic. It's very scary how out-of-touch these people are from reality and it's even scarier that these people actually represent a global empire who's power is unprecedented in human history.

Nevertheless, Ukraine was not the first geostrategic miscalculation by the West. There have been similar miscalculations in recent years and they may all be a direct result of allowing non-governmental groups and moneymen to have a say in policy formulation. Political observers have noted for many years that Washington, as a political institution, has been hijacked by the thing known as "special interests". Powerful non-governmental groups have used immense sums of money and influence to basically buy elections and officials. This is more-or-less where the American axiom "the best government money can buy" comes from. A similar situation is seen within the financial system of the US where the gargantuan task of regulating the American empire's finances is trusted to the privately owned Federal Reserve. Therefore, when it comes to politics and economics, US policy is merely a reflection of the wishes of its private sector financial/political elite.

Is this a prudent approach in governing a global empire? Of course not. It is in fact this factor in Washingtonian politics that is taking the US down the path of self-destruction, for American policies around the world, as well as those in the US, no longer reflect sound logic nor do they actually reflect American interests. Due to arrogance, ignorance and a world view tainted by a stock-market mentality, Americans are once more terribly misreading events and the US will suffer long-term consequences as a result.

In my opinion, the special interest factor in Western politics is the main difference between the foreign policies formulated by Western powers and foreign policies formulated by traditional national institutions as in Russia. In traditional nation-states, national institutions, high ranking military officials, state-funded think tanks and a state control central bank formulate policies, both foreign and domestic. In such a traditional approach, risks of making serious mistakes is significantly reduced. We see Moscow following a traditional model. Moscow is executing politics as devised by its veteran political analysts, military officials, career politicians and economists - while Washington has no choice but to follow the wishes of its special interests groups. This is yet another sign of American decline. 

Observers will sooner-or-later understand that unlike in the West, where money is the only god and money determines much of Western policy formulations, for traditional powers such as Russia, national interests will always trump financial considerations. 

Nonetheless, all this silly talk about expelling Russia from the G-8, placing sanctions on Russia, barring Russian officials from traveling to the "civilized world" and freezing Russian assets underscores the very urgent need  to wrestle away international finance and trade from Anglo-American-Jewish control. Moscow needs to give the West the middle finger and simply do what it needs to do to protect its western frontier from further Western incursion.

Phony pretext? 19th century? Really, Kerry?

American officials are all of a sudden concerned about "false pretexts", "international law", "human rights" and "national sovereignty"?!?!?! Russia is behaving as if it's the 19th century?!?!?! There is bullshit and then there is bullshit but this kind of bullshit, coming after years of Western war crimes around the world is a joke! But nobody is laughing.

During the past twenty three years Washington did its best to set exactly this kind of a precedence in international affairs. Remember Kosovo? Washington did its best to convince the world that might makes right. Remember Iraq? Washington did its best to show complete and utter disregard for international law and human suffering. Remember Afghanistan? Remember Libya? Remember Syria? Now, Washingtonian reptiles need to understand that they will reap what they have sown. With that said, how does horse face John Kohen Kerry utter the following nonsense without snickering? I am surprised he did not get an Oscar for his impeccable acting. You gotta love "American Exceptionalism" at its ugliest -

Seriously? Kerry tells Russia 'one doesn't invade country on phony pretext':

Phony pretext? 19 century? Really, Kerry? If I may ask: What century was Iraq invaded, and by who's false pretext? By the way, what happened to Democracy in Iraq? 

War criminals in Washington have no right in rebuking Russia about anything. What's phony about Moscow wanting to protect a historically Russian region with a Russian population from anti-Russian thugs that with Western help overthrew the pro-Russian president and took over the country? What's phony about Crimea being one of the most important strategic military points for the Russian Federation?

Speaking of phony pretexts that have led to military and/or economic aggression against nations: Yes, there have been quite a few in recent decades, but they have not involved the Russian Federation. Let's look at them one more time: Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Panama, Granada, Venezuela, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Egypt and Iran. These nations have been molested by Washington and friends in one form or another for decades. Some 21 century Western targets, like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, have suffered utter destruction and hundreds-of-thousands of deaths.

Regarding that silly thing called "international law": Once Western-backed insurgents in western Ukraine resorted to violence to overthrow the legitimately elected president of Ukraine, all legal considerations were thrown out the window and the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine was fair game for Russian intervention. With an illegitimate government now in power in Kiev, Moscow reserves the right to protect Russian-Ukrainians and in doing so right the wrongs of history by liberating Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Other than blowing a lot of hot air, and public displays of childish temper-tantrums, the West is capable of doing nothing.

In a very feeble attempt to discredit Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton and a host of other politicians and political "experts" in the US have recently begun stating that the political pretext President Putin used to militarily secure Crimea was historically similar to what German Chancellor Adolph Hitler did in the Sudetenland back in 1938. Well, folks, no need to go that far back in history. There is a much better comparison, and it's much closer to Washington. I'd like to remind the Whore of Babylon and her interlocutors throughout the US that little over thirty years ago the US military invaded the tiny island nation of Grenada because American officials at the time were claiming that the leadership of that strategic island in the Caribbean Sea had been taken over by Communist Cubans in a coup-detat. If that wasn't geopolitically similar enough to the recent crisis in the Ukraine, then hear this: The US excuse at the time, the political pretext used to militarily invade the tiny, defenseless nation was the "protection" of a few hundred American medical students stuck on the island. I was a teenager back then, but I followed the events very closely. I remember cheering when it was finally reported that American Rangers and Marines had liberated the students, defeated the Cubans and taken over the island. I was ecstatic that under President Ronald Reagan's leadership we in the US were finally able to put the "Vietnam syndrome" behind us.

If I can remember Grenada, I am pretty sure so can Clinton, so can Kerry, so can McCain, so can Obama and so can every single news executive in the US. I find it therefore very hypocritical and even underhanded that this bit of American history is totally absent from the airwaves in the West. With that said, what Russia is doing in Crimea today is incomparably more legitimate than what Washington did in Grenada back in 1983.

Russia's fight is Armenia's fight

Bringing Crimea back to Mother Russia has been a wonderful event for all self-respecting Russians worldwide. I would like to add that by correcting the mistakes of Communism, Moscow has also set a wonderful precedence for Armenians of Artsakh. Armenia has taken the right step by becoming the first political entity after the Russian Federation to officially recognize Crimea's right to self-determination. Needless to say, Washingtonian reptiles are upset. It is my opinion that as long as Yerevan preserves its strategic ties with Moscow and works to cultivate better Russo-Armenian relations, we Armenians will sooner-or-later also see a similar reunification of Artsakh with Armenia - with full Russian backing.

But, first thing's first: Before we expect Russians to assist us in such a manner, we as a people need to rid ourselves of our Asiatic ways, Russophobia, political ignorance and Western agents. In other words, as long as Armenia flirts with the political West and continues to host an army of Western operative and organizations, Moscow will keep Armenia vulnerable, dependent and on a very short leash. Consider the following scenario:

Armenian, Azeri, Turkish, Georgian, Ukrainian and American soldiers, side-by-side, practicing military maneuvers against Russia?

Is this some kind of a terrible dream? Is this perhaps a Paruyr Hayrikian fantasy? No folks, this is reality and it's an inevitable by-product of an absurdity in Yerevan known as "complimentary politics". A recent NATO military exercise indeed saw Armenian troops side-by-side with Turkish, Azeri, Ukrainian and American troops practicing war games against none other than Russia -
NATO, Ukraine join military exercise in Bulgaria:
Apparently, Armenian officials did not have the self-respect to say no to NATO and instead send Armenian troops to Syria to help beleaguered Armenians there organize their self-defense - against NATO supported Al Qaeda terrorists nonetheless. Apparently, Armenian officials did not have the decency or the courage to inform Western officials that Armenia will not participate in this particular exercise essentially because it is being carried out against Yerevan's strategic partner - with two nations that are openly hostile to Armenia nonetheless. Armenian officials did not have the balls to tell Western officials that Armenia will not participate in this particular program essentially because it is being carried out against a people's right to self-determination.

Just think: Joining Turks, Azeris, Ukrainians, Georgians and Americans in military maneuvers designed to be a show of force against Russia - Armenia's only lifeline, Armenia's only strategic partner and Armenia's only hope for Artsakh? Just think: Participating in a military show of force essentially against a people's right to self-determination? Just think: Armenians war-gaming with a bunch or people who are currently in the process of destroying the Armenian community of Syria? Are Armenian officials out of their minds? Are Armenians really this self-destructive when it comes to politics?

How much lower are our money hungry whores willing to go for Western bribes? How long will our chobans flirt with political disaster and national suicide? How long will Armenia have to endure being stuck in the middle with no place to go? How long will Armenians continue insulting and antagonizing Armenia's only ally in the world?

Although I am all for evolution and not revolution, being that Western assets have set deep roots throughout Armenia, I'm afraid we may need a Moscow sponsored revolution in Yerevan to rid ourselves of our Captain Americas as well as our chobans-in-Armani-suits posing as government officials. We need Moscow to help us start with a clean slate.

Today, Armenia's "complimentary politics" is a serious liability for Armenia. This is no longer the 1990s. The West is in a decline. For the foreseeable future, we will have to live with a resurgent Bear. The good news for us here is that Russian and Armenian interests align for the most part. Moscow needs Armenia as a southern fortress protecting Russia's vulnerable underbelly from Western inroads, pan-Turkism and Islam. Armenia needs Russia to protect it from all her neighbors. Our enemies and their enemies are essentially the same. What we have between Russia and Armenia is a true strategic alliance. From an Armenian perspective, Armenia today has a strategic partner that is a global superpower, and one that is the alpha and the omega of Caucasian politics. Armenians need to exploit this historic opportunity for Armenia's long term benefit. If we want Armenia to prosper one day, we need to stop our pursuit of Western fantasies (democracy, liberalism, free speech, civil society, gay rights, feminism, globalism, etc) and begin to better understand the nuances of geopolitics and Armenia's place in it.

For once let's stop admiring Jews and let's start acting like them. Instead of fearmongering about the growth of Russian power, let's realize that Armenians can be in Russia what Jews are in America.

And if we cant do any of the above and we continue our traditional self-destructive path in politics, I much rather see Armenia get incorporated into the Russian Federation. At the end of the day, it's better to live with Russians (similar to Ossetians or Abkhazians) than live like a bunch of endangered gypsies under Turco-Western rule. At the end of the day, Armenian independence from Russia means Armenian dependence on Turkey. No Russia in the south Caucasus means no Armenia in the south Caucasus. It's all that simple. We all need to wake up from our Qaj Nazar fantasies and EUrotic dreams and realize that there are no alternatives to this reality.

Due to the recent Ukraine crisis, Western news media has been rife with news stories about the plight of Crimean Tatars both past and present. For all intents and purposes, Tatars, Azeris and Turks are half-brothers and they make up the very foundation of pan-Turkism in Eurasia. Tension between Russians and Tatar-Turks would serve Armenian interests. In fact, such a thing would also serve Russian interests for Turkic-Muslims are like cancerous tumors within the Russian mainland. Kremlin officials would do well to conclude that as long as Russia hosts large numbers of these types of people, Russians will never truly be secure in their homelands. Therefore, I really hope the Western world takes it upon itself now to champion the Tatar question.

Hypothetically speaking, if the absolute worst case scenario happens - i.e. NATO gets involved and Russia is somehow defeated in Ukraine - there will most probably be a full-scale Azeri attack against Armenia and/or Artsakh. Even without the worst the case scenario, any scenario that sees Russia backing off for any reason and allowing Ukraine to fall fully into Western hands will have a very adverse geostrategic impact on Russia, Belarus and Armenia. Any weakening of Russia will see an immediate strengthening of Western, Turkic and Islamic interests throughout the region. If Russia fails in the Ukraine and Western powers succeed in pushing right onto Russia's south-western borders, Armenians can expect Turks, Azeris, Tatars, Caucasian Muslims and Wahhabi Islamists to eventually come knocking at Armenia's door. And when that day comes, all our Western activists in Armenia will be on the first flight out.

Turks, Wahhabi Islamists and Western powers have been in a tight embrace due to serious geostrategic factors. This situation will not change as long as Russians, Iranians and pan-Arab nationalism are political factors within the region. Therefore, one must be deaf, dumb and blind to assume that Western powers are genuinely concerned about Democracy and human rights in Armenia, or that they will help defend Armenia against Turks.

Need I remind the reader of the twenty year old economic blockade of a landlocked and poor Armenia by NATO member Turkey? Need I reminded the reader of the threats NATO member Turkey has made against Armenia during the past twenty years? Need I remind the reader that it was a NATO member state that shamelessly released an Azeri barbarian accused of using an axe to murder a sleeping Armenian soldier? Need I remind the reader that it is NATO that supported Islamic Bosnians and Albanians against Christian Serbs? Need I remind the reader that is was NATO that recently tried to invade Syria to help Islamic terrorists to come to power in Damascus? Need I remind the reader of the billions being invested into Azerbaijan by Western powers? Need I remind the reader of the arms and training Western powers and Israel are providing to Azerbaijan? Need I remind the reader that the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance is plotting Iran's destruction? Need I remind the reader that Washington has a large arsenal of nuclear bombs stationed in Turkey? Need I remind the reader that the only thing our annual ass kissing in Washington will do for us is give us all a brown nose? A better look at Western-Turkish relations as compared to Russian-Armenian relations -
A Russian defeat in eastern Europe or in the Caucasus will prove catastrophic not only for Russia but particularly for Armenia. Any form of Russian victory on the other hand will bring the entire region that much closer to Pax Russica. It has been the Pax Russica of the past two hundred years that has allowed Armenians to flourish in the region previously inhabited by an assortment of Turkic and Islamic tribes.

Now, in Ukraine, we are once again seeing just how Western and Turkish interests are closely aligned in the region. During the winter Olympic games in Sochi, the Western press took every opportunity to spread awareness of the so-called Circassian genocide, the same press mind you that does its utmost to ignore or call into question the historic validity of the Armenian Genocide. Now, the same press is raising the alarm out the plight of Turkic-Tatars. No surprise there. Our sheeple need to take their heads out of their asses and come to the recognition that their beloved "democratic" leaders in the West are strategically allied to Turkic peoples and Wahhabi Muslims and this geostrategic calculus will not change for the foreseeable future.

For the Russian Federation, Armenia is a crucially important geostrategic asset in the south Caucasus. For the West, Armenia, with all its problems with Turks and Azeris, is a nuisance. In other words, despite the best efforts of our idiots to bring "Democracy" into Armenia, Western powers will continue seeing Armenia as a geopolitical obstacle.

Being that the south Caucasus is one major event away from turning back into being a Turkic-Islamic cesspool, our nationalistic chobans need to put aside their Qaj Nazar mentalities and realize that Armenia is in no shape to even dream about fighting its enemies alone. In other words, no Russia in the south Caucasus means no Armenia in the south Caucasus. Therefore, no matter how one looks at it, Russia's fight in Ukraine is Armenia's fight.

If our Western-backed, self-destructive peasantry of the political opposition in Armenia somehow managed to topple the regime in Yerevan and country was forced to sever its ties to Moscow, I would be the first one beseeching the Russian President to send Russian troops into Armenia (with or without insignias) and I would be the fist one out, with a Russian flag in my hand, cheering their arrival. As I said: If our people continue to show incompetence and suicidal tendencies in politics, I would much rather Armenia enter the Russian Federation and be done with it.

For Armenia's sake Russia has to be successful. For Russia to be successful, Moscow has to take some form of permanent control over Crimea. Moscow has to make sure regions east of the Dnipere are culturally, financially and economically tied to it. The Western-backed regime in Kiev has to be brought to its knees through economic warfare. This is a very serious situation not only for Russia but also for Armenia. If Russia is not able to stop Western inroads into the south-western border regions of Russia, the Western campaign will soon spread to the south Caucasus. If that happens, Armenia will eventually be faced with a bloody uprising.

Is an Armenian “Maidan” possible?

Why does Washington engineer revolutions around the world? Because it can. Why can it? Because we the sheeple allow them. Washington has in recent years become the leader of self-destructive peasantry worldwide. While our silly and hopelessly naive compatriots, both in the Diaspora and Armenia, were gleefully busying themselves with utter nonsense such as begging Washingtonian reptiles to say the "G" word, democracy, fair elections, transparency, freedom of speech, gay rights, civil society, oligarchs and corruption, their financial and spiritual leaders in Washington were gradually turning the entire region where Armenia is located into a volatile powder keg. In other words, as Western officials were pursuing an imperial agenda in the south Caucasus, they were having Armenians chase their tails with Western fairytales.

Once more: Armenia's primary problem is the geopolitical climate in the south Caucasus. Armenia's primary problem is the Great Games being played in the region between Russia and the Western world. Armenia's other serious problem is its now counterproductive approach to international relations known as complimentary politics. With that said, Yerevan needs to stop giving Western agents such as Civilitas, Nakhakhorhrdaran, Raffi Hovannisian and Paruyr Hayrikian a political platform to spew their toxic venom. Yerevan has to stop providing Western trained officials such as the IMF trained Tigran Sargsyan positions within the government. Yerevan has to stop allowing subversive Western institutions such as USAID and the IMF any footprint inside Armenia. Yerevan also needs to curb the operations of some of its Western funded NGOs and news organizations.

As long as this unstable and potential volatile situation continues, that is as long as Yerevan continues to flirt with Western powers (often times for personal gain) and Pax Russica is not realized in the south Caucasus, Armenia will continue suffering severe sociopolitical and socioeconomic malaise - even if Armenia's so called oligarchs turned into angles overnight. In the meanwhile, Washington will use all its levers both in-and-out of the Armenian republic to rally the disgruntled peasantry and societal freaks against their state. Washington will exploit every single contentious issue within Armenia to foment unrest.

Although I can't say I am surprised, it's been disturbing nonetheless to watch Armenian flags and Armenian activists side-by-side with Turkish, Tatar and Azeri flags and activists in Kiev's Maidan. It's even more disturbing that even after seeing Ukraine descend into chaos and bloodshed as a result of Western provocations, certain sectors within Armenia's political opposition are somehow feeling emboldened. In my opinion, regardless of their lofty rhetoric and stated intentions, Armenia's Western-funded/Western-inspired opposition freaks are fast becoming dangerous fifth columns in the country.

Will there be a Ukraine type uprising in Armenia? The short answer is, no. With that said, I hope clowns in the tacky circus called the so-called "political opposition" in Armenia are closely watching events as they unravel in Ukraine. I hope they are closely watching the country plunge into economic collapse, chaos, bloodshed and division as a result of their political illiteracy, Russophobia and pursuit of Western fairytales. One way or another, "EuroMaidan" activists will sooner-than-later go crawling back to Mother Russia. Nonetheless, and regardless of what happens in Kiev now, Crimea has been liberated. The Kremlin has indeed made Ukraine a very hard pill for the West to swallow, and it's not over yet. Are we ready to allow our West-leaning "political opposition" to create a similar situation in Armenia?
Although Ukraine and Armenia are not very much alike as nations, their sociopolitical situations, however, do have a lot of similarities. EuroMaidan activists, those who have brought their nation to the brink of calamity due to their political illiteracy and hate, are the equivalent of Armenia's political opposition. The Armenian and Ukrainian political oppositions are vivid examples of just how ignorant the masses are and why they can  never be trusted in political matters. At the end of the day, the crisis in the Ukraine may yet prove to be a very good lesson for our opposition idiots. Main lessons being:

  • The recognition of the paramount importance of Pax Russica on the southern periphery of Eurasia, stretching from eastern Europe to central Asia
  • The recognition of the paramount importance of Russian hegemony in the Caucasus and having Russian boots on the ground in Armenia 
  • The recognition of the paramount importance of Slavic-Orthodox Christian nationalism in Russia 
  • The recognition that Turks and Muslims have an instinctual fear of Russians
  • The realization that Western aid, Western-leaning politicians and political activists, Western-funded NGOs, think tanks, rights advocates and news outlets pose a serious threat to Armenia
  • The realization that Western powers do not really care about democracy, peace, stability, human rights or prosperity in non-Western nations
  • The realization that even an attempted political shift away from Russia will at the very least result in Armenia losing Artsakh
  • The realization that Western and Turkish interests throughout the region compliment each other due to their shared interest to weaken Russian power and influence 
  • The realization that the Armenian opposition's political designs for Armenia and Turkish/Azeri desires for Armenia share many similarities
  • The realization that Armenia's political opposition activists, whether they realize it or not, are serving Western imperial interests 
  • The realization that Armenia does not need a political system that is as toxic and as unstable as democracy
  • The realization that Armenia's so-called oligarchs are the least of the problems facing Armenia today 
  • The realization that the entire Caucasus region is utterly saturated by Turks, Azeris, Tatars, Caucasian Muslims, Western imperial designs and international energy interests
  • The realization that Armenia needs sociopolitical evolution not a Western sponsored revolution 
  • The realization that foreign inspired revolutions don't lead to anything good and only results  the replacement of one corrupt government with another 
  • The realization that those waiting on the sidelines in Yerevan to take advantage of any political unrest in Armenia are Armenia's enemies 
  • The recognition that without Russian energy supplies, trade, investments and military aid, Armenia will collapse as a nation-state
It is said that revolutions are dreamed of by romantics, carried-out by adventurists and exploited by scoundrels. We saw this more-or-less play out in Kiev recently. Washington promised the sheeple of western Ukraine their "moment", but what they ended up getting is screwed - as so many who believed in Western promises have in the past.

After seeing all we have been seeing, will our political opposition freaks in and out of the homeland still be seeking closer relations with the West? Will they still be seeking EU membership? Will they still be seeking to shift Armenia away from Russia? Will they still be collaborating with Western powers? Will they still be seeking to topple President Serj Sargsyan at all costs? Will Washington-backed opportunist like Raffi Hovanissian still be demanding that Moscow for pay rent for its use of the 102nd military base in Gyumri? Will Armenia's longest serving Western agent Paruyr Hayrikian still be demanding that Russia pull its troops out of Armenia? In other words, will Uncle Sam's street whores in Armenia still act as stupid and as suicidal as before? I'm afraid they will -
Ինքնիշխանության օտարերկրյա խոչընդոտը:
The good news is that despite Uncle Sam's best efforts, a Ukraine-type uprising will not succeed in Armenia. Let's recall that even when the political opposition had a lot of momentum back in 2008, when Levon Petrosian's gang incited thousand of our sheeple to riot, they proved unable to unseat the government. After several of the rioters were shot dead by interior ministry troops, all the rest fled back to their homes. At the end of the day, Armenians are not as violent, aggressive, disciplined, organized or political as Europeans. Moreover, unlike western Ukrainians, Armenians generally speaking are not Russophobic and Armenia is not a multi-ethnic society with any discernible divisions to be exploited.

As repugnant as the political opposition is in Armenia, they are no way near as dangerous as the one in Ukraine. If, however, freaks in the political opposition do the unthinkable and take to the streets, they deserve absolutely no mercy anymore. I know there is a joint Armenian-Russian contingency plan to deal with such an attempt. There will not be a repeat of events in Kiev in Yerevan. I have many concerns about Armenia, but a Ukraine-type uprising is not one of them at this time. But I do have to confess however that a part of me does want to see such an attempt by the political opposition. As much as I long for political stability, a part of me wants to see the streets of Yerevan awash in their blood. With the gloves now off in Moscow, this would be a very good opportunity to rid ourselves of Washington's street whores at last.

We are living in historic times

As far as its Western antagonists are concerned, Russia is too large, too independent, too powerful and simply possesses too much natural wealth. For Western political masterminds, Russia is either a source of easily exploited wealth or a potential competitor on the global stage. Therefore, Russia has to be either subjugated and exploited (similar to what occurred throughout much of the 1990s) or contained, isolated or, if possible, fragmented. This is essentially how the Western world has been viewing the Russian nation for the past two hundred years. The importation of Marxism into the Russian Empire a century ago was in fact a by-product of this kind of political culture that has been so prevalent throughout the Western world. Bolshevism was the sociopolitical and ideological tool that foreign interests as far away as in Wall Street, New York used to drive a wedge between the ruler and the ruled in Russia. The intent geostrategic was to destroy the Czarist empire. It's not much different today.

History repeats itself. More things change the more they stay the same. While the names and titles have changed, the essence remains the same. Western powers have figured out once more that when it comes to dealing with an uncooperative government, it's much better to by-pass its officials and go straight to the gullible masses. The following will help the reader better understand how Western powers manipulate targeted societies across the world -

The Truthseeker: NGO documents plan Ukraine war:

Does the US engineering revolutions?:

Coups for export: US has history of supporting anti-govt upheavals: 

Documents Leaked by WikiLeaks Show an Organization Training Opposition Around the World: 

How to Start a Revolution: 

Revolution Engineering: US know-how and 'colourful' technology: 

South of the Border: 

NGOs, an extension of US foreign policy: 

Washington on the War Path: Civil Society as Battering-Ram: 

US NGO uncovered in Ukraine protest:

The name of the game is who can best manipulate the sheeple. Western power in this regard is unprecedented. They have the powerful tools - psychological, financial and organizational - to manipulate and exploit. They have mainstream news media to disseminated propaganda under the guise of independent journalism. They have a whole range of well funded NGOs championing all kinds of causes. They have the financial means to bribe officials and enslave nations through trade and/or loans. They have a great multitude of brainwashed activists to organize opposition groups and take to the streets. They have the provocateurs to incite unrest when needed. They have the professional agents who work covertly behind the scenes. More importantly, they have the cultural tools like Hollywood and MTV to mesmerize, stupefy and create an alternative reality for the global sheeple.  

Similar to what Bolshevism was one hundred years ago, so-called "Democracy" movements we are seeing spring-up around the world today appeal to the basic/primitive instincts of mankind. Let it surprise no one therefore that advocates of such movements in developing or underdeveloped nations tend to be those on the fringes of normal society. Similar to what Bolshevism represented one hundred years ago, Western instigated Democracy movements today appeal to the disgruntled masses of the world with false promises of a better life. They say: "Look at how developed our lands are". But they fail to say that "Democracy" was not how the Western world got so wealthy. They say: "Look at how free our citizens are". But they don't tell us that the freedom in Western lands is mostly illusionary, a perception they have crafted through mass psy-ops. They also don't tell us that the Western political system is based on institutionalized corruption. They similarly do not tell us that the Western world is administered not by the people but by an elite. Similar to what Bolshevism was, Democracy movements today are weaponized and exported to targeted nation (i.e. nations that are not subjugated by Western financial institutions or under Western boots).

On the eve of the one hundredth anniversary of the First World War, Russian lands are once again being attacked by corrosive ideological movements formulated and promoted in Western lands. In the larger picture, this is not only Russia's fight - this is humanity's fight. This is indeed a fight between good against evil. In closing, I would like to say that I hope my next blog commentary will not have to be about a new European war. I pray for peace - but I hope Kremlin officials are getting their big guns ready just in case. We simply cannot afford a replay of 1917. I'm confident that this time around we won't.

March, 2014


Crimea, Sevastopol officially join Russia as Putin signs final decree,_Sergey_Aksyonov_and_Alexey_Chaly_4.jpeg

Russia has finalized the legal process of taking Crimea under its sovereignty, as President Putin signed a law amending the Russian constitution to reflect the transition. Earlier Russian lawmakers ratified both the amendment and an international treaty with Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, which was legally required for the incorporation. Following the signing of the law, Putin thanked lawmakers and everyone involved in the historic change of European borders for their efforts to make it happen.

“I ask lawmakers of both chambers to work actively and do everything we can, to make the transition process not only painless, but also beneficial for all Russia and the people of Crimea,” Putin said.

The treaty and the bill were submitted for the approval of Russian lawmakers on Tuesday by Putin, following last week’s referendum in Crimea, which showed the overwhelming support of the peninsula’s residents for joining Russia. The actual transition of Crimea to existing under Russian laws and regulations may take until next year. Local rules in the new Russian region will be changed to adopt the ruble, social benefits, tax requirements and other Russian legislation.

As was promised by the Crimean authorities, the treaty includes preferences for the region’s ethnic minorities, particularly Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians. Their languages would be official in Crimea, on par with Russian. Russia pledged to make the process as smooth as possible by offering funding and recognizing various Ukrainian documents, which were in force in Crimea before it declared its independence last week.

Moscow will retain military ranks and academic levels for Ukrainian troops who choose to serve Russia, give preference to Ukrainian officials who want to keep their positions in Crimea, and expedite the issuance of Russian citizenship to all residents of Crimea who want it. Citizenship would be given automatically to all except those who explicitly opt out of it no later than one month’s time. The current interim authorities of Crimea will be replaced with new ones after elections, which will be held in September 2015.

Crimea’s rejoining Russia was triggered by an armed coup in Kiev, which ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanokovich from power. The new authorities took some alarming steps, including parliament passing a law revoking the regional status of the Russian language, which caused the predominantly Russian region to defy Kiev.

 The public uprising in Crimea culminated in a referendum, in which an overwhelming majority of over 96 percent voted in favor of asking for reunification with Russia. Moscow agreed, citing the will of the people and the historic justice of the move as its motives.

Kiev and Western countries deemed Crimea’s secession and Russia’s acceptance of the peninsula illegal, a notion that Moscow denies. The US and the EU issued sanctions against some Russian officials and businessmen in a bid to put pressure on Russia over its stance on the Ukrainian crisis. Russian authorities mostly mocked the sanctions. 

‘Crimea is now part of Russia, the West has to come to terms with that’

Claiming that Crimea is part of Ukraine is the same as Serbia arguing that Kosovo is not really separated from it, Gregory Copley, editor of Defense & Foreign Affairs, told RT.

“Crimea is now part of Russia, the West will come to terms with that, the question is how much longer they’ll perpetuate the crisis in the rest of Ukraine and whether they will escalate the problem, which I think will be unwise for the US and Western European interests,” Copley said.

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's Chief of Staff, goes further, saying that as long as Crimea belongs to Russia, Ukraine should be made a buffer zone between the West and Russia.

“This is a serious situation that will be alleviated with recognition that Russia and Crimea are going to be together, a recognition that the Ukraine should be a buffer state between let it say NATO, the West, and Russia, and a recognition on the Russian side that that’s the case and Ukraine is left alone, and the same thing on the Western side,” Wilkerson argued.

He blames the US for the creation of the artificial crisis, which resulted in downgrading relations between great world powers whereas their cooperation in other spheres is so needed.

“Obviously it’s not working the way we were trying to make it work, which is largely the US’s fault that they try to extend NATO well beyond NATO's proprietary distance, and its ability to handle an alliance that was spread all the way to Kiev, to Tbilisi. This is absurd. We started this mess, we knew (we should have known if we had a brain) that Russia would react to it, now Russia has reacted, let’s come down, let’s handle it like the great powers we’re supposed to be,” Lawrence Wilkerson told RT.

Gregory Copley also highlights another aspect of this issue, namely US financial programs aimed at boosting color revolutions. He claims that the 2004 Orange revolution was one of the examples of these programs.

“What the US and the EU have done over the past decade or more has been to fund the color revolution in Ukraine in 2004, etc., and the subsequent outbreaks recently, which have led to this present situation. And if they had the ability to act more overtly, they would have done so. They’ve instead chosen to act through street protests and indirect sociological warfare to mobilize the Western Ukrainians to seize power when they were not able to do so electorally,” he said.

Copley also added that there is “an indication that the US and the EU have had no way to go and they say they don’t wish to engage Russia militarily.”

“It’s not to say that they could prevail ultimately in a military confrontation with Russia, that’s not the point. The point is why do you want to do it over a prize which is perhaps not worth having if you are NATO or the EU or the US?” he told RT. 

Putin's Long Game

Anyone with good knowledge of the post-Soviet neighborhood and time to think things through should have guessed that Russia would have acted to prevent the interim government of Ukraine from decisively anchoring their country to the West. The separation of Crimea could be just the Kremlin’s first move in what Vladimir Putin rightly sees as a long game.

Disastrous Lack of Foresight

It goes without saying that leaders both in Kiev and Western capitals must have displayed an astounding lack of foresight if they thought that Ukraine’s interim government could steer the country toward the West and Vladimir Putin would do little in response, other than impose sanctions and rattle his sabre.

It was also short-sighted on the part of the interim government in Kiev to hope that of the Russian-speaking population of eastern and southeastern Ukraine would happily accept an outcome, in which a victorious coalition excludes their representatives, but includes ultranationalists; fires their governors, and passes a bill to cancel the status of their mother tongue.

The leaders of the interim government also failed to anticipate that Moscow would respond to ramblings in the south and east in ways that they would not be able to neutralize with or without support from Ukraine’s Western partners.

Russian diplomats have been lately criticized for restoring the Soviet habit of “whataboutism,” but I too cannot help wondering what would have been the reaction of Western governments if protesters had built barricades in downtown Brussels or Berlin or Washington and stayed there for months, battling police, throwing Molotov cocktails and shooting. Would Western leaders have recognized an outcome in which a legitimately elected president of a West European country is ousted by [3]what some describe [3] as “rebels-protesters” rather than voted out or impeached? I guess these are all rhetorical questions.

I was also surprised how quickly some of the Western governments embraced the interim government after the deal that they themselves brokered between Viktor Yanukovych and opposition on February 21 collapsed, forcing the Ukrainian president (who, by the way, came to power in 2010 elections that observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found to be [4]transparent and honest [4]) to flee out of fear for his life.

I am not saying Yanukovych didn't discredit and incriminate himself through massive corruption, abuses and, use of deadly force against the protesters. And precisely because of these abuses he would have probably lost internationally observed early elections stipulated by the February 21 agreement and faced prosecution. As a result, the moderate opposition could have come to power peacefully in a democratic process that not only Western governments, but also Russia could live with. As I [5]warned [5] hours after the deal was sealed, it should be honored because the alternative could be ensuing chaos that would lead to disintegration of Ukraine.

But as much as the Western support encouraged Yanukovych's opponents, it is the latter that are ultimately responsible for prompting Russia’s leadership to spring into action. Vladimir Putin had remained observant as long as the most likely scenario was that there would be an early election in which Viktor Yanukovych would compete against Yulia Tymoshenko. But once that scenario became improbable—after Yanukovych was forced out by a coalition, which excluded representatives of pro-Russian regions, but included anti-Russian ultranationalists—Putin felt compelled to act.

And the interim government’s very first steps gave him an excuse, if not a plausible reason, to intervene. These steps did a lot to stoke worries of the Russian-speaking population of the eastern and southern provinces and nothing to alleviate Moscow's worries that Ukraine might first integrate first into West's economic structures, and then eventually enter into a political-military alliance with the West.

Military Intervention Can Not Be Justified and Will Not Be Without Cost for Russia

Of course, only a few expected that Russia would respond to developments in Kiev with a covert military intervention in Crimea that allowed the pro-Russian majority in Crimea to vote on secession from Ukraine. I did [6]acknowledge [6] such a possibility, but I didn't quite expect it to happen. I also thought then and continue to think now that a military intervention cannot be justified in absence of flagrant and massive violation of human rights.

I have no doubts that Crimea’s ethnic Russian majority wants to be part of Russia and so do many Russians, given the blood Russian soldiers spilled conquering and defending the peninsula over the course of many centuries. It is no accident that Putin’s popularity has soared in the aftermath of the recent events. But any surge in popularity might prove to be short-lived while longer-term economic and political costs of taking over Crimea could be significant.

If the current stand-off escalates into a Cold War redux between Russia and West, then the latter will still continue to buy Russian resources as it did during the original Cold War. But Western governments can also revive some of the Cold War era restrictions on exports of equipment and technologies Russia needs to modernize and diversify its economy.

Such measures could have a formidable negative impact on the Russian economy, which is already stagnating, and it won’t be easy for Russia to import such technologies from somewhere else. As I have written [7] earlier, if sanctioned economically and isolated politically from the West, Russia might have little choice other than to enter a political-economic partnership with China [8]. And that won't be a partnership of equals, I am afraid.

China has made impressive strides in many technological fields, leading the world in manufacturing of solar cells and wind turbines. But, overall, the Middle Kingdom continues to lag behind the West technologically. Therefore, Beijing won't be able to compensate if West restricts exports of technologies and equipment to Russia. Nor should Russia count for China’s full support in the case of Crimea, given Beijing’s own problems with separatism. Beijing’s ambivalent attitude became clear last weekend when [9]China abstained during a vote at the United Nations Security Council [9] on a resolution introduced by its Western members to declare the referendum in Crimea unlawful.

Crimea’s separation and its integration into Russia must have also impressed Moscow’s own post-Soviet partners and not in a good way, albeit some of them, such as Kazakhstan and Armenia may simply have no other integration options, given Moscow’s enormous leverage vis-à-vis them. (In fact, Armenia’s Serzh Sargsyan may be now congratulating himself privately for displaying foresight. We all now have a better idea of how Russia could have responded if Sargsyan had not decided last fall to suspend negotiating the association and free trade deals with EU and to agree enter Armenia in the Moscow-led Customs Union instead [10].)

As for post-Soviet republics that have decided to distance themselves from Russia, NATO would now have less qualms about accepting Moldova and Georgia. (Georgia’s membership in the alliance would partially negate whatever advantages Russian strategists see in solidifying control of the naval facilities in Crimea.) And, of course, violation of Russia's own commitments in the 1994 Budapest memorandum on security assurances for Ukraine undermines the supremacy of international law that Russia had been championing for so many years. More importantly, it sets yet another precedent of secession, which Russia may come to face if it weakens, reducing the cost of secession for some of its ethnic republics.

Russia Still Has Aces to Play, Even Against a Crimea-Less Ukraine

Nevertheless, Moscow was bound to respond to developments in Kiev one way or another. And it should not have taken a rocket scientist to calculate that Russia has huge overt and covert leverage of nonmilitary nature vis-a-vis Ukraine, which it wouldn’t hesitate to use it if antagonized.

Leonid Kuchma (who, by the way, was a rocket scientist) had his own serious flaws, but at least he understood the need to balance between Moscow, Brussels, and Washington without committing to any of them, and he did so rather skillfully. Yanukovych at least tried to follow the same policy. He did it less skilfully than his mentor Kuchma (if only because he was blinded by his and his retinue’s greed), but at least he tried. As for the leaders of the opposition that topped Yanukovych, they didn't even try to pursue a balanced policy, antagonizing Moscow. So they should not be that surprised that the Crimea has slipped out of their hands.

And if these leaders think Russia would stop after separation of the Crimea, then they might be wrong. Yes, Putin did pledge in his Tuesday speech that Russia doesn’t plan to further split up Ukraine. But he also vowed to defend Russian speakers in Ukraine’s east, if needed.

And Putin still has some aces, including pro-Russian moods in eastern and southeastern Ukraine and Kiev’s dependence on trade with Russia, that he can play against a Crimea-less Ukraine, if given a reason (or an plausible excuse) to intervene. For instance, if repeated on a larger scale and with greater violence, the recent clashes between locals and pro-Western activists in the eastern provinces can prompt Russia to intervene there.

Russia can also curtail trade with Ukraine on a scale no hikes in trade with EU would able to compensate for. Russia supplies more than 60 percent of Ukraine's gas and is the source of half of raw materials that Ukraine imports. Russia is also by far the largest importer of goods and services from Ukraine. Putin would be more likely to play these cards if he concludes that a new Cold War is unavoidable and Russia won't lose much more from pursuing an even more expansive policy vis-a-vis Ukraine.

Time for Kiev to Display Foresight

Leaders of the interim government in Kiev should finally start exercising some badly needed foresight to anticipate what disruptive moves Moscow can make next and how they can realistically preempt such moves. Or they will risk losing de facto control over parts of eastern Ukraine.

Such a loss would, of course, would be condemned by Western countries and their allies. But by now Kiev probably knows that condemnations don’t stop Russia and that neither the United States nor its allies would enter a military conflict with Russian forces to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity (there was a reason why the Budapest memorandum contains assurances rather than guarantees of Ukraine’s security).

Taking and holding a high moral ground in international affairs is important, but not as important as holding one’s ground literally.

Now, of course, some argue that membership in NATO represents a shortcut to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but chances are that the republic may lose some of parts of eastern and southeastern provinces before Article 5 of the Washington Treaty could be applied to Kiev. And I myself held the view that Ukraine’s membership in NATO was not improbable. But that was in the early 2000s, when Vladimir Putin was himself making inquiries whether Russia could be invited into NATO. That opportunity has been lost.

Yet, there are a number of steps that Ukrainians can take to hold their home ground even outside NATO. [11]Codifying Ukraine’s military-political neutrality [11] and status of the Russian language in the Constitution in short-term and strengthening Ukraine’s statehood, increasing independence of its economy and reinforcing capabilities of its military in the longer-term could be among those steps.

It would be as important for the Ukrainian elites and public both in the short and long term to stick to defeating their political opponents at polling stations rather than on the streets. The revolution (this is the third attempt to stage a revolution in post-Communist Ukraine) must make way for a politically cohesive, economically viable, stable and neutral (but military capable) state, one whose neighbors have neither reason nor excuse to intervene against.

Simon Saradzhyan is assistant director of the U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism and a research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. His research interests include international arms control, counter-terrorism, foreign, defense, and security policies of Russia and other post-Soviet states and their relations with great powers.


From Now On, No Compromises Are Possible For Russia

When, on February 21st, Washington decided to default on the agreement signed between Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and the so-called “democratic opposition,” including Neo-Nazis, it finally crossed the red line. 

Washington has defaulted on all of its key agreements made with USSR/Russia during the last 30 years. Gorbachev was promised that Eastern Europe would not be taken into NATO. Country by country, it became part of NATO, and Yugoslavia was dismantled despite Russia’s objections. The US acted as the winner of the Cold War and guided its policies by the famous principle of “Vae victis!” Woe to the vanquished! 

The “hawks” in Washington think they can push Russia around indefinitely, that Russia, in order to become an “accepted partner” in the West, would still try to negotiate, be diplomatic and peaceful. Washington’s defaulting on an explicit agreement regarding Ukraine’s future and the prospect of NATO troops on the ground in Ukraine finally convinced Vladimir Putin and a big part of the Russian elite that there is no point in negotiating with the US. It means that from now on, no compromises are possible. 

For America, the situation in Ukraine is a geopolitical game, another opportunity to hurt Russia’s interests. For Russia, it’s not a geopolitical game. It’s a matter of national identity, it’s an ethnic matter. Almost every Russian I know has relatives in Ukraine. Roughly a third of Russian senators and members of the government were born in Ukraine. 

Dmitry Yarosh, the leader of the biggest neo-Nazi group in Ukraine, issued a statement in which he called on Russia’s most wanted Chechen terrorist, Doku Umarov, to commit acts of terrorism in Russia. “Many Ukrainians with arms in the hands” had supported Chechen militants in their fight against Russians, the statement said, but “it is time to support Ukraine now.” 

What would have happened to a warlord somewhere who called on Al-Qaeda to commit acts of terrorism in the US? He would have been killed by a drone strike without international warrant or court decision. If the US does this, then other countries are entitled to act in a similar manner. 

The fact that the neo-Nazi leaders and their soldiers haven’t been disarmed despite the EU-brokered agreement signed on February 21st proves that they and not the “official government” are actually in control of the situation. But the US doesn’t care about the fate of the Russians who don’t want to live in a neo-Nazi-led state. The US wants to dislodge Russia from the region, and nothing else matters. 

There are rumors circulating in the expert community in Moscow – and I have strong reasons to believe they’re true – that the decision to tackle the Crimean issue was taken by Putin personally. He has full support from a number of top officials, especially from the army and the secret services, who have no assets and no business abroad that can be seized by the US. Also, in 2013, the Parliament passed a law barring Russian officials from owning assets, except real estate, outside Russia. So, the officials whose assets will be frozen by the US sanctions are criminals under Russian law anyway – and Putin might even welcome the move. 

The hard-liners in the Kremlin have received a tremendous boost from the US. Now, everyone who advocates for a softer stance on Ukraine and everyone who advocates for an “agreement with the US” is looked upon as too stupid to understand that Washington won’t honor its end of the bargain or as paid by Washington to lead Russia into another agreement that will once again be broken. America has lost most if not all of its ranking sympathizers or allies in Russia because they are either actively shunned or because they have to be silent. 

Putin’s ratings are at two-year highs. Even his fiercest critics understand that his involvement in Ukraine has tremendous popular support. He will no longer have to cater to the needs of the pro-Western community. He is now supported not only by his usual conservative electorate, but also by the communists and nationalists who like his decisive actions and his disregard for America’s objections.

From the economic point of view, everyone should get ready for tough actions from Moscow. Sergei Glazyev, the most hardline of Putin’s advisors, sketched the retaliation strategy: Drop the dollar, sell US Treasuries, encourage Russian companies to default on their dollar-denominated debts, and create an alternative currency system (reference currency) with the BRICS and hydrocarbon producers like Venezuela and Iran.

Of course, some “anonymous sources” told RIA Novosti and Reuters that Glazyev was speaking “as an academic” and not in his official capacity, but it must be pointed out that those sources didn’t dare identify themselves. On the other hand, Glaziev’s projects more often than not become the cornerstone of Putin’s external policy, including the Customs Union and the Eurasian Union.

The Western media ignore another key supporter of hardline economic measures, Putin’s ally and trusted friend, Rosneft president Igor Sechin. At last October’s World Energy Congress in Daegu, South Korea, Sechin suggested that it was “advisable to create an international stock-exchange for the participating countries, where transactions could be registered with the use of regional currencies.”

Until February 21st, Moscow was content with the slow expansion of its economic sphere of influence. Now, the hard-liners have the possibility to go all in and pursue their radical projects and strategies. Here, in Moscow, almost everyone is certain that we’ll see a rerun of the “Georgian war” and that Crimea will be attacked by Ukrainian army at some point before March 16th. If you’re a trader, sitting on the fence for a week or putting on some hedges may be a very good idea. 

By Valentin Mândrăşescu, Editor of The Voice of Russia’s Reality Check. Former commodity trader, economist, journalist. Nomadic lifestyle. When not in Moscow, he can be found travelling across Eastern Europe. 


West, Did You Really Expect Russia to Ignore Ukraine Chaos?

Lots of stern-faced Western politicians and so-called experts have been asking: what is Russian President Vladimir Putin's endgame in Ukraine? The presence of Russian troops in Crimea has sent alarm bells ringing in Western capitals, with some people predicting that it is basically a prelude to a full-blown invasion of predominantly Russian speaking eastern parts of the country, with Russian tanks rolling in.

Calls were also made for the "world community," whatever that means these days, to punish Russia economically and diplomatically, although no one is talking about any military response.

Very hard to see though how Western countries can exert serious economic pressure on Russia, considering the state of their economies and possible huge losses they will incur. Symbolically, yes, they can, say, cancel some business conferences and maybe even refuse to sign a deal or two. But that would be all. We have already found out the British government is not considering any military options or trade sanctions after a cunning cameramen picked up an official carrying a policy document near 10 Downing Street, zooming in on the relevant paragraph.

Although, as a former Kremlin adviser, I can tell you that such things don't happen by accident and usually have all to do with sending out a signal to those who are watching carefully. Other countries have also signaled their lack of any desire to resort to sanctions.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been warning Russia about costs and punishments, if it does not withdraw its troops back to the Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol. The White House has been saying that economic sanctions against Russia are in the making and that all military programs between the two countries are on hold. Other suggested punishments being looked at include boycotting the G8 summits in Sochi in June and even banning Russia altogether from this gathering, which, incidentally, has been losing its relevance in the past decade or so. I mean, who is going to treat seriously the supposed group of the biggest industrial nations if it doesn't include China and India but has Canada and Italy in it, no offence to these two great nations.

The thing about the crisis in Ukraine is that the West has greatly misjudged the way Russia would respond to the possibility of its neighbor sliding into chaos and anarchy, with the so-called interim unity government in Kiev failing to establish its authority in the east and south of the country. Not to mention that the children of the Orange revolution of 2004, which, by the way, eventually ended in tears for most of them, have swallowed more than they can chew when they toppled President Viktor Yanukovich, and then made a crucial mistake of making all the wrong noises from day one, demonstrating open hostility to Russia and to the ethnic Russians living in Ukraine.

And when the dust began to settle in Kiev and news emerged that out of the 98 people who died, at least 16 were police officers, the image of a glorious people's revolution somehow lost its initial appeal. And with the failed attempts by some extremists to spread the influence of the interim government to the east and south, using intimidation and violence, it became clear that a prospect of a civil war looked very real indeed.

So here's the deal then: as Ukraine was slipping into anarchy and chaos, with all sorts of radicals causing mayhem, President Putin's endgame became obvious. He needed to do anything in his power to prevent Ukraine from becoming another Iraq, with a possibility of a civil war breaking out and violence spreading to Russia at some point.

We should learn the lessons of Iraq where the delicate balance, which had existed there before the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, was undermined and no one now knows how to resolve it. The same outcome happened as a result of the so-called revolution in Kiev that has now opened up old wounds and awoken historical animosities that had been kept in check.

So Putin has chosen to use the 25,000 Russian troops based at Sevastopol, reinforcing them with another 16,000 soldiers, to prevent clashes between radicals on all sides erupting and provide stability in Crimea where about 60% of the population are ethnic Russians. Without a shot being fired, so unlike the rest of the country, law and order have been established. All the Ukrainian military installations in Crimes were surrounded by Russian troops with one purpose: to prevent undesirables arming themselves, like it happened in Lviv and some other cities, with disastrous circumstances. Up to now the plan has worked.

But any suggestions that the Kremlin is actually ready to start a full-blown invasion of Ukraine are way, way off the mark. This would be very dangerous for Russia itself, considering it close links with Ukraine on all levels. So the hysteria surrounding the Russian involvement in Crimea at the moment is either caused by ignorance or is a result of the deep suspicions that the West still has about Russia, Cold War or no Cold War.

A sudden regime change that has happened in Ukraine could never result in a swift and peaceful resolution. We saw that during the Arab Spring and, less recently, in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. That is why all sides in the Ukrainian crisis need to keep a cool head and refrain from one-sided propaganda and provocative, inflammatory statements. If one thing that we have learned for history it's that it doesn't take a lot for a big war to erupt in Europe, dragging the rest of the world in it.

Obama gambled that U.S. power would trump Russia's interests in Ukraine. He was wrong

The Obama administration was clearly taken by surprise when Russia decided to seize Crimea by force. The real question, however, is why Obama and his advisors thought the United States and the European Union could help engineer the ouster of a democratically elected and pro-Russian leader in Ukraine and expect Vladimir Putin to go along with it? This remarkable combination of hubris and naiveté is even more striking when one considers that Washington has few, if any, options to counter Putin's move.

To be sure, ousted president Viktor Yanukovych was corrupt and incompetent and the United States and the European Union didn't create the protests that rose up against him. But instead of encouraging the protestors to stand down and wait for unhappy Ukrainians to vote Yanukovych out of office, the European Union and the United States decided to speed up the timetable and tacitly support the anti-Yanukovych forces. When the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs is on the streets of Kiev handing out pastries to anti-government protestors, it's a sign that Washington is not exactly neutral. Unfortunately, enthusiastic supporters of "Western" values never stopped to ask themselves what they would do if Russia objected.

There's plenty of room for finger-pointing and blame casting here, but the taproot of the debacle in Ukraine was a failure to distinguish between power and interests. Power is a useful thing to have in international politics, but any serious student of foreign policy knows that the stronger side does not always win. If it did, the United States would have won in Vietnam, would have persuaded India, Pakistan, and North Korea not to test nuclear weapons, and would have Afghan President Hamid Karzai dancing to our tune. In the real world, however, weaker states often care more about the outcome than stronger states do and are therefore willing to run more risks and incur larger costs to get what they want.

Unfortunately, U.S. leaders have repeatedly lost sight of this fact since the end of the Cold War. Because the United States is so powerful and so secure, it can meddle in lots of places without putting its own security at risk. United States officials tend to think they have the answer to every problem, and they reflexively assume that helping other societies become more like us is always the "right thing to do." Because we've become accustomed to our self-appointed role as Leader of the Free World, Washington is quick to proclaim redlines and issue high-minded demands, convinced that others will do its bidding -- if it barks loudly enough. 

Unfortunately, America's remarkably favorable geopolitical position also means that the outcome of many global disputes don't matter all that much to Washington, and still less to the American people. The result is a paradox: primacy allows the United States to interfere in lots of global disputes, but many of the issues it gets involved in are of secondary importance and not worth much risk, blood, or treasure. Why? Because the United States will be fine no matter how things turn out. It has the power to act almost anywhere, but its vital interests are rarely fully engaged. 

That is certainly the case in Ukraine, a country whose entire economy is about the size of Kentucky's. Last year, total U.S. trade with Ukraine was a measly $3 billion, less than the city budget of Philadelphia and about .00018 percent of America's gross domestic product (GDP). Ukraine's political system has been a mess ever since independence in 1991 and its economy is nearly bankrupt and needs massive outside assistance. It would be nice if Ukraine developed effective political institutions, but neither the security nor prosperity of the United States depend on that happening, either now or in the foreseeable future. Put simply: Ukraine is not an arena on which America's future depends in the slightest.

For Russia, however, the situation vis-à-vis Ukraine is quite different. Russia is much, much weaker than the United States -- in every significant dimension of national power -- and its long-term demographic and economic prospects are not bright. That is why any prudent Russian leader would want friendly regimes on its borders and would be sensitive about any area where ethnic Russians are a significant fraction of the population. Ukraine is right next door, there are deep historical ties between the two countries, and ethnic Russians account for about 20 percent of Ukraine's population and nearly 60 percent of the population in Crimea. Add to that mix Russia's naval base in Sevastopol and you can see why Putin sees the retention of Russian influence there as a vital interest indeed.

Moreover, Russia has spent the last 20-plus years watching the United States and its European allies expand NATO eastward and deploy ballistic missile defenses there, to boot, with near-total disregard for Russian interests and complaints. Because Americans never see themselves as potential aggressors and haven't had a great power in their own hemisphere for over a century, they have trouble imagining how these acts looked from Moscow's vantage point. But any good realist could have told you that Russia would regard these developments as a long-term security challenge. Imagine how Washington would react if a powerful China were one day to cultivate close security ties with Canada or Mexico, and you'll appreciate Putin's perspective a bit more.

Not only is Ukraine much more important to Moscow, its geographic proximity made it easy for Putin to act as he did and makes it hard for us to do anything about it. News flash: Ukraine and Russia share a long border, and Crimea is thousands of miles from the United States. Russia may not be a global military power (its defense spending is about one-sixth the size of the U.S. defense budget), but it is strong enough to occupy Crimea. The United States and NATO aren't going to assemble an expeditionary force to push them out, so don't expect to see a replay of the 1991 liberation of Kuwait. The bottom line: Putin was never going to see Obama's warnings as more than just a hollow bluff.

Mind you: I'm not defending Putin's action or relishing Obama's discomfiture. No one should take pleasure from this unilateral violation of international law or the likelihood that Ukraine faces more years of political instability and economic hardship. Nor should we neglect the possible fallout from this blunder in other areas -- such as the ongoing negotiations with Iran -- as the GOP is certain to seize upon this incident to cast doubt on the administration's entire approach to foreign policy. I just wish someone in the administration had thought this through before they decided to help ease Yanukovych out of power. Did we really think that power politics was no longer relevant in the 21st century, and that the spread of democracy, free markets, rule of law, and all that other good stuff meant that other states were no longer willing to defend their own security interests?

Sadly, this case provides another vivid reminder of why tough-minded realism is a better guide to foreign policy than feckless liberal idealism or neoconservative bluster. Since 1992, the U.S. approach to Russia and Eastern Europe has been guided by the assumption that Western-style democracy was the wave of the future and that the United States could extend its reach eastward and offer security guarantees to almost anyone who wanted them, but without ever facing a serious backlash. Even after the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia revealed the limits to what Moscow would tolerate and what the West could impose, some U.S. leaders continued to think they could draw more former Soviet bloc states into America's orbit without provoking stiff Russian resistance.

By contrast, realism tells you major powers care a lot about security and are often ruthless in defending vital interests, especially close to home. It recognizes that great powers ignore international law when it gets in their way (as the United States has done repeatedly), and it sees relations between major powers as a ceaseless struggle for position, even when that struggle is waged for essentially defensive reasons. Realists also know that diplomatic contests have no finish line and that every foreign policy initiative inevitably invites a counter-move. It's for this reason that those responsible for foreign policy need to think two or three moves ahead: "If we take this step, what are other states likely to do and what will our options look like then?"

Nobody in Washington or Brussels seems to have asked that question as they watched (and helped) Ukraine unravel, and that's why their options today are limited to angry denunciations and symbolic protests. It's possible that Putin has bitten off more than Russia can comfortably swallow, and the economic costs may prove to be too much for the fragile Russian economy to bear. But great powers are usually willing to suffer when their security is on the line, and that's likely to be the case here. If you thought the era of power politics was behind us, think again.

The Clash in Crimea is the Fruit of Western Expansion*439/b99216284z.1_20140301164220_000_g6652sph.4-0.jpg

The external struggle to dominate Ukraine has put fascists in power and brought the country to the brink of conflict

Diplomatic pronouncements are renowned for hypocrisy and double standards. But western denunciations of Russian intervention in Crimea have reached new depths of self parody. The so far bloodless incursion is an "incredible act of aggression", US secretary of state John Kerry declared. In the 21st century you just don't invade countries on a "completely trumped-up pretext", he insisted, as US allies agreed that it had been an unacceptable breach of international law, for which there will be "costs".

That the states which launched the greatest act of unprovoked aggression in modern history on a trumped-up pretext – against Iraq, in an illegal war now estimated to have killed 500,000, along with the invasion of Afghanistan, bloody regime change in Libya, and the killing of thousands in drone attacks on Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, all without UN authorisation – should make such claims is beyond absurdity.

It's not just that western aggression and lawless killing is on another scale entirely from anything Russia appears to have contemplated, let alone carried out – removing any credible basis for the US and its allies to rail against Russian transgressions. But the western powers have also played a central role in creating the Ukraine crisis in the first place.

The US and European powers openly sponsored the protests to oust the corrupt but elected Viktor Yanukovych government, which were triggered by controversy over an all-or-nothing EU agreement which would have excluded economic association with Russia.

In her notorious "fuck the EU" phone call leaked last month, the US official Victoria Nuland can be heard laying down the shape of a post-Yanukovych government – much of which was then turned into reality when he was overthrown after the escalation of violence a couple of weeks later.

The president had by then lost political authority, but his overnight impeachment was certainly constitutionally dubious. In his place a government of oligarchs, neoliberal Orange Revolution retreads and neofascists has been installed, one of whose first acts was to try and remove the official status of Russian, spoken by a majority in parts of the south and east, as moves were made to ban the Communist party, which won 13% of the vote at the last election.

It has been claimed that the role of fascists in the demonstrations has been exaggerated by Russian propaganda to justify Vladimir Putin's manoeuvres in Crimea. The reality is alarming enough to need no exaggeration. Activists report that the far right made up around a third of the protesters, but they were decisive in armed confrontations with the police.

Fascist gangs now patrol the streets. But they are also in Kiev's corridors of power. The far right Svoboda party, whose leader has denounced the "criminal activities" of "organised Jewry" and which was condemned by the European parliament for its "racist and antisemitic views", has five ministerial posts in the new government, including deputy prime minister and prosecutor general. The leader of the even more extreme Right Sector, at the heart of the street violence, is now Ukraine's deputy national security chief.

Neo-Nazis in office is a first in post-war Europe. But this is the unelected government now backed by the US and EU. And in a contemptuous rebuff to the ordinary Ukrainians who protested against corruption and hoped for real change, the new administration has appointed two billionaire oligarchs – one who runs his business from Switzerland – to be the new governors of the eastern cities of Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk. Meanwhile, the IMF is preparing an eye-watering austerity plan for the tanking Ukrainian economy which can only swell poverty and unemployment.

From a longer-term perspective, the crisis in Ukraine is a product of the disastrous Versailles-style break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. As in Yugoslavia, people who were content to be a national minority in an internal administrative unit of a multinational state – Russians in Soviet Ukraine, South Ossetians in Soviet Georgia – felt very differently when those units became states for which they felt little loyalty.

In the case of Crimea, which was only transferred to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s, that is clearly true for the Russian majority. And contrary to undertakings given at the time, the US and its allies have since relentlessly expanded Nato up to Russia's borders, incorporating nine former Warsaw Pact states and three former Soviet republics into what is effectively an anti-Russian military alliance in Europe. The European association agreement which provoked the Ukrainian crisis also included clauses to integrate Ukraine into the EU defence structure.

That western military expansion was first brought to a halt in 2008 when the US client state of Georgia attacked Russian forces in the contested territory of South Ossetia and was driven out. The short but bloody conflict signalled the end of George Bush's unipolar world in which the US empire would enforce its will without challenge on every continent.

Given that background, it is hardly surprising that Russia has acted to stop the more strategically sensitive and neuralgic Ukraine falling decisively into the western camp, especially given that Russia's only major warm-water naval base is in Crimea.

Clearly, Putin's justifications for intervention – "humanitarian" protection for Russians and an appeal by the deposed president – are legally and politically flaky, even if nothing like on the scale of "weapons of mass destruction". Nor does Putin's conservative nationalism or oligarchic regime have much wider international appeal.

But Russia's role as a limited counterweight to unilateral western power certainly does. And in a world where the US, Britain, France and their allies have turned international lawlessness with a moral veneer into a permanent routine, others are bound to try the same game.

Fortunately, the only shots fired by Russian forces at this point have been into the air. But the dangers of escalating foreign intervention are obvious. What is needed instead is a negotiated settlement for Ukraine, including a broad-based government in Kiev shorn of fascists; a federal constitution that guarantees regional autonomy; economic support that doesn't pauperise the majority; and a chance for people in Crimea to choose their own future. Anything else risks spreading the conflict.

Why Russia No Longer Fears the West

The West is blinking in disbelief – Vladimir Putin just invaded Ukraine. German diplomats, French Eurocrats and American pundits are all stunned. Why has Russia chosen to gamble its trillion-dollar ties with the West?

Western leaders are stunned because they haven’t realized Russia’s owners no longer respect Europeans the way they once did after the Cold War. Russia thinks the West is no longer a crusading alliance. Russia thinks the West is now all about the money.

Putin’s henchmen know this personally. Russia’s rulers have been buying up Europe for years. They have mansions and luxury flats from London’s West End to France’s Cote d’Azure. Their children are safe at British boarding and Swiss finishing schools. And their money is squirrelled away in Austrian banks and British tax havens.

Putin’s inner circle no longer fear the European establishment. They once imagined them all in MI6. Now they know better. They have seen firsthand how obsequious Western aristocrats and corporate tycoons suddenly turn when their billions come into play. They now view them as hypocrites—the same European elites who help them hide their fortunes.

Once Russia’s powerful listened when European embassies issued statements denouncing the baroque corruption of Russian state companies. But no more. Because they know full well it is European bankers, businessmen and lawyers who do the dirty work for them placing the proceeds of corruption in hideouts from the Dutch Antilles to the British Virgin Islands.

We are not talking big money. But very big money. None other than Putin’s Central Bank has estimated that two thirds of the $56 billion exiting Russia in 2012 might be traceable to illegal activities. Crimes like kickbacks, drug money or tax fraud. This is the money that posh English bankers are rolling out the red carpet for in London.

Behind European corruption, Russia sees American weakness. The Kremlin does not believe European countries – with the exception of Germany – are truly independent of the United States. They see them as client states that Washington could force now, as it once did in the Cold War, not to do such business with the Kremlin.

When Russia sees Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal outbidding each other to be Russia’s best business partner inside the EU (in return for no mention of human rights), they see America’s control over Europe slowly dissolving.

Back in Moscow, Russia hears American weakness out of Embassy Moscow. Once upon a time the Kremlin feared a foreign adventure might trigger Cold War economic sanctions where it hurts: export bans on key parts for its oil industry, even being cut out of its access to the Western banking sector. No more.

Russia sees an America distracted: Putin’s Ukrainian gambit was a shock to the U.S. foreign policy establishment. They prefer talking about China, or participating in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Russia sees an America vulnerable: in Afghanistan, in Syria and on Iran—a United States that desperately needs Russian support to continue shipping its supplies, host any peace conference or enforce its sanctions.

Moscow is not nervous. Russia’s elites have exposed themselves in a gigantic manner – everything they hold dear is now locked up in European properties and bank accounts. Theoretically, this makes them vulnerable. The EU could, with a sudden rush of money-laundering investigations and visa bans, cut them off from their wealth. But, time and time again, they have watched European governments balk at passing anything remotely similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which bars a handful of criminal-officials from entering the United States.

All this has made Putin confident, very confident – confident that European elites are more concerned about making money than standing up to him. The evidence is there. After Russia’s strike force reached the outskirts of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, in 2008, there were statements and bluster, but not a squeak about Russia’s billions. After Russia’s opposition were thrown into show trials, there were concerned letters from the European Union, but again silence about Russia’s billions.

The Kremlin thinks it knows Europe’s dirty secret now. The Kremlin thinks it has the European establishment down to a tee. The grim men who run Putin’s Russia see them like latter-day Soviet politicians. Back in the 1980s, the USSR talked about international Marxism but no longer believed it. Brussels today, Russia believes, talks about human rights but no longer believes in it. Europe is really run by an elite with the morality of the hedge fund: Make money at all costs and move it offshore.

The Kremlin sees its evidence in the former leaders of Britain, France and Germany. Tony Blair now advises the dictatorship in Kazakhstan on how to improve its image in the West. Nicholas Sarkozy was contemplating setting up a hedge fund with money from absolutist Qatar. And Gerhard Schroder is the chairman of the Nord Stream consortium – a majority Gazprom-owned pipeline that connects Russia directly to Germany through the Baltic Sea.

Russia is confident there will be no Western economic counterattack. They believe the Europeans will not sanction the Russian oligarch money. They believe Americans will not punish the Russian oligarchs by blocking their access to banks. Russia is certain a military counterattack is out of the question. They expect America to only posture. Cancel the G-8? Who cares?

Because Putin has no fear of the West, he can concentrate on what matters back in Russia: holding onto power. When Putin announced he would return to the presidency in late 2011, the main growling question was: why?

The regime had no story to sell. What did Putin want to achieve by never stepping down? Enriching himself? The puppet president he shunted aside, Dmitry Medvedev, had at least sold a story of modernization. What, other than hunger for power, had made Putin return to the presidency? The Kremlin spin-doctors had nothing to spin.

Moscow was rocked by mass protests in December 2011. More than 100,000 gathered within sight of the Kremlin demanding Russia be ruled in a different way. The protesters were scared off the streets, but the problem the regime had in justifying itself remained. Putin had sold himself to the Russian people as the man who would stabilize the state and deliver rising incomes after the chaos of the 1990s. But with Russians no longer fearing chaos, but rather stagnation as the economy slowed – it was unclear what this “stability” was for.

This is where the grand propaganda campaign called the Eurasian Union has come into its own. This is the name of the vague new entity that Putin wants to create out of former Soviet states — the first steps toward which Putin has taken by building a Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, and he had hoped with a Ukraine run by Viktor Yanuvokych. This is not just about empire; it is about using empire to cover up the grotesque scale of Russian corruption and justify the regime.

Russia would rather have swallowed Ukraine whole, but the show must go on. Russian TV needs glories for Putin every night on the evening news. Russian politics is about spin, not substance. The real substance of Russian politics is the extraction of billions of dollars from the nation and shuttling them into tropical Western tax havens, which is why Russian politics needs perpetual PR and perpetual Putinist drama to keep all this hidden from the Russian people. Outraged Putin has built up a Kremlin fleet of luxury aircraft worth $1 billion? Angry that a third of the $51 billion budget of the Sochi games vanished into kickbacks? Forget about it. Russia is on the march again.

This is why Crimea is perfect Putin. Crimea is no South Ossetia. This is not some remote, mountainous Georgian village inhabited by some dubious ethnicity that Russians have never heard of. Crimea is the heart of Russian romanticism. The peninsula is the only part of the classical world that Russia ever conquered. And this is why the Tsarist aristocracy fell in love with it. Crimea symbolized Russia’s 18th and 19th-century fantasy to conquer Constantinople and liberate Greek Orthodox Christians from Muslim rule. Crimea became the imperial playground: In poetry and palaces, it was extolled as the jewel in the Russian crown.

Crimea is the only lost land that Russians really mourn. The reason is tourism. The Soviet Union built on the Tsarist myth and turned the peninsula into a giant holiday camp full of workers sanitariums and pioneer camps. Unlike, the Russian cities of say northern Kazakhstan, Crimea is a place Russians have actually been. Even today over one million Russians holiday in Crimea every year. It is not just a peninsula; this is Russia’s Club Med and imperial romanticism rolled into one.

Vladimir Putin knows this. He knows that millions of Russians will cheer him as a hero if he returns them Crimea. He knows that European bureaucrats will issue shrill statements and then get back to business helping Russian elites buy London town houses and French chateaux. He knows full well that the United States can no longer force Europe to trade in a different way. He knows full well that the United States can do nothing beyond theatrical military maneuvers at most. This is why Vladimir Putin just invaded Crimea. He thinks he has nothing to lose. 

Ben Judah is author of Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin. 

Foes of America in Russia Crave Rupture in Ties

As Russia and the United States drift toward a rupture over Crimea, the Stalinist writer Aleksandr A. Prokhanov feels that his moment has finally arrived.

“I am afraid that I am interested in a cold war with the West,” said Mr. Prokhanov, 76, in a lull between interviews on state-controlled television and radio. “I was very patient. I waited for 20 years. I did everything I could so that this war would begin. I worked day and night.”

Mr. Prokhanov is an attack dog whose career has risen, fallen and risen again with the fortunes of hard-liners in the Kremlin. And it is a measure of the conservative pivot that has taken place in Moscow in Vladimir V. Putin’s third presidential term that Mr. Prokhanov and a cadre of like-minded thinkers — a kind of “who’s who of conspiratorial anti-Americanism,” as one scholar put it — have found themselves thrust into the mainstream.

For centuries, Russian history has been driven by a struggle between ideas, as reformers and revanchists wrestled over the country’s future. Mr. Putin keeps a distance from the ideological entrepreneurs clustered around the Kremlin, leaving his influences a matter of speculation.

But it became clear last week, as the United States threatened to cut off Russian corporations from the Western financial system, that influential members of the president’s inner circle view isolation from the West as a good thing for Russia, the strain of thought advanced by Mr. Prokhanov and his fellow travelers. Some in Mr. Putin’s camp see the confrontation as an opportunity to make the diplomatic turn toward China that they have long advocated, said Sergei A. Karaganov, a dean of the faculty of international relations at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

“This whole episode is going to change the rules of the game,” Mr. Karaganov said of Crimea, which is holding a referendum on secession on Sunday. “Confrontation with the West is welcomed by all too many here, to cleanse the elite, to organize the nation.”

When he took power in Russia, Mr. Putin seemed intent on balancing the voices of strong-state nationalists and promarket liberals, among them the tycoons entrusted with Russia’s corporate empires. That balance flew out the window in 2012, and with the Crimean crisis the space for liberal dissent has been melting away, a process that accelerated Thursday when the Russian authorities blocked websites used by prominent opposition figures.

Mr. Prokhanov, for one, was flush with victory. His dingy office and tiny, extremist newspaper belie ties to Russia’s security services, which have long employed “agitators” to whip up support for their initiatives. His writing about the invasion of Afghanistan earned him the nickname “nightingale of the General Staff.” In 1991, he co-wrote the manifesto that was published to support an attempted coup by hard-line Communists who were opposed to Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms.

His views have been more or less consistent for years: that the Soviet Union should be restored, by force if necessary; that America “consumes country after country” and must be prevented from devouring Russia. As recently as 2003, his newspaper received a government warning for publishing material deemed “extremist.” But Mr. Putin’s recent return to the presidency, he said, has been accompanied by “a strong ideological mutation.”

Mr. Prokhanov, who speaks in rich, metaphorical Russian and has the slightly disheveled look of a beat poet, contrasted the present government with that of Boris Yeltsin, the president in the 1990s. “In Yeltsin’s time I was seen as a monster by the regime, a character out of hell,” he said. “I was under threat of arrest, and now I am regularly invited to Kremlin events.”

Though he said he had met the president only a handful of times, “The intelligence officers around him pay much more attention to ideology, and for them it is clear that ideological war is an important instrument.”

If Mr. Putin himself decided to make an ideological change, Mr. Prokhanov said, it was in December 2011, when tens of thousands of urban liberals, angry over ballot-stuffing and falsification in parliamentary elections, massed on a city square, Bolotnaya, chanting, “Putin is a thief!” and “Russia Without Putin.”

“During the time of Bolotnaya, he experienced fear,” Mr. Prokhanov said. “He felt that the whole class which he had created had betrayed him, cheated him, and he had a desire to replace one class with another. From the moment you got back from that march, we started a change of the Russian elite.”

Another person who has been swept into the mainstream is one of Mr. Prokhanov’s former protégés, Aleksandr G. Dugin, who, in the late 1990s, called for “the blinding dawn of a new Russian Revolution, fascism — borderless as our lands, and red as our blood.”

Virulently anti-American, Mr. Dugin has urged a “conservative revolution” that combines left-wing economics and right-wing cultural traditionalism. In a 1997 book, he introduced the idea of building a Eurasian empire “constructed on the fundamental principle of the common enemy,” which he identified as Atlanticism, liberal values, and geopolitical control by the United States.

Building a Eurasian economic bloc, including Ukraine, became a central goal for Mr. Putin upon his return to the presidency. His point man on the project was the economist Sergei Glazyev, an associate of Mr. Prokhanov’s and Mr. Dugin’s.

In an interview, Mr. Dugin was evasive when asked about his personal contact with Mr. Putin, saying only that he had been “in close contact with the Kremlin, and with those in the Kremlin who make decisions,” for the last 15 years. But he said the president, whom he described as a Henry Kissinger-style “pragmatist,” had embraced a version of his ideology because it served his interests domestically.

“It is popular, it is populist, it helps to explain all the processes which are going on in the country, and gradually — just by the logic of things, pragmatically, he becomes closer and closer to this ideology, just by the logic of events,” he said. He also offered a more human reason: that Mr. Putin had been stung by Western leaders’ apparent preference for his predecessor, Dmitri A. Medvedev, and then by the antigovernment protests that he believed were backed by the West.

Though a number of high-ranking officials around Mr. Putin have argued strenuously against this ideological shift, Mr. Dugin said that their influence had been waning steadily, and that the Crimean crisis left them no option but to “be quiet, or gather up their suitcases and leave Russia.”

“Anti-Americanism has become the main ideology, the main worldview among Russians,” he said. “Now, after Crimea, we have passed the point of no return. There will not be another Medvedev. There will never be another ‘reset,’ ever.”

Ideological mouthpieces have been used to send signals since the Soviet days — as a warning to adversaries or domestic dissenters — and it would be foolish to assume that Mr. Putin subscribes to their views. But there are important stakeholders who, faced with the threat of sanctions last week, have advocated that Russia cut itself off from the West.

The most obvious among them is Vladimir I. Yakunin, president of Russian Railways and one of Mr. Putin’s trusted friends, who in a recent interview with The Financial Times described the struggle against a “global financial oligarchy” and the “global domination that is being carried out by the U.S.” On Tuesday, Mr. Yakunin presented plans for a Soviet-style megaproject to develop transportation and infrastructure in Siberia, a move toward “an economics of a spiritual type,” he said, that would insulate Russia from the West’s alien values.

He compared the project to monumental endeavors from the past: the adoption of Christianity in ancient Rus; the conquest of Siberia; electrification of the Soviet Union; the Soviet space program; and the Olympics in Sochi. A shift in planning to Siberia, Mr. Karaganov said, “has already been proclaimed, and is happening,” in part to weaken the Western influence on Russia’s elites, who are seen as “too dependent on their holdings in the West.”

Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest, said he saw the rise of people “who have very different views about the Russian economy.”

“Hard-line people, more nationalist people, they are being energized, they think this may be their moment,” he said. “You can also say that this is the tip of the iceberg. These are people who are more visible, more obvious, but there is a lot behind them that is potentially more serious and more ominous.”

Russia takes over Ukraine's Crimea region

Russian troops took over a strategic region in Ukraine as the parliament in Moscow gave President Vladimir Putin a green light Saturday to proceed to protect Russian interests. The newly installed government in Kiev was powerless to react to the swift takeover of Crimea by Russian troops already in Ukraine and more flown in, aided by pro-Russian Ukrainian groups.

A few hours after Putin was cleared by parliament to use military force on Ukrainian soil, Interfax news agency reported that two Russian anti-submarine warships have appeared off the coast of the Crimea region, violating an agreement on Moscow's lease of a naval base. The report quoted a Ukrainian military source who said that two vessels, part of Russia's Baltic Fleet, had been sighted in a bay at Sevastopol, where Russia's Black Sea Fleet has a base. 

Putin's move follows U.S. President Barack Obama's warning Friday "there will be costs" if Russia intervenes militarily, sharply raising the stakes in the conflict over Ukraine's future and evoking memories of Cold War brinkmanship. The explicit reference to the use of troops escalated days of conflict between the two countries, which started when Ukraine's pro-Russian president was pushed out by a protest movement of people who wanted closer ties to the European Union.

"I'm submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country," Putin said in his request sent to parliament.

Putin's call came as pro-Russian demonstrations broke out in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east, where protesters raised Russian flags and clashed with supporters of the new Ukrainian government. Russia's upper house also recommended that Moscow recall its ambassador from Washington over Obama's comments. Ukraine had already accused Russia on Friday of a "military invasion and occupation" of the Crimea peninsula, where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk called on Moscow "to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations," according to the Interfax news agency. "Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine."

The crisis was sparked when Ukraine's deposed president, Victor Yanukovych, ditched a deal for closer ties to the EU and instead turned toward Moscow. Months of protests followed, culminating in security forces killing dozens of protesters and Yanukovych fleeing to Russia. Ignoring Obama's warning, Putin said the "extraordinary situation in Ukraine" was putting at risk the lives of Russian citizens and military personnel stationed at a naval base that Moscow has maintained in the Black Sea peninsula since the Soviet collapse.

Reflecting a degree of caution, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, who presented Putin's request to the upper house, told reporters that the motion doesn't mean that the president would immediately send additional troops to Ukraine. "There is no talk about it yet," he said. Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in remarks on Rossiya 24 television that while the president "got the entire arsenal of means necessary for settling this situation," he hadn't yet decided whether to use the Russian military in Ukraine or recall the ambassador from Washington.

"He will make these decisions depending on how the situation will develop," Peskov said. "We would like to hope that the situation will not develop along the scenario it's developing now — that is inciting tensions and making a threat for the Russians on the Crimean Peninsula."

The UN Security Council called an urgent meeting on Ukraine on Saturday, and the European Union foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the crisis. Putin's motion loosely refers to the "territory of Ukraine" rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking areas in eastern and southern Ukraine, where many oppose the new authorities in Kiev. Pro-Russian protests were reported in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk and the southern port of Odessa.

In Kharkiv, 97 people were injured in clashes between pro-Russia demonstrators and supporters of the new Ukrainian government, according to the Interfax news agency. Ukraine's population is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea, a semi-autonomous region of Ukraine, is mainly Russian-speaking.

In Saturday's parliamentary session in Moscow, a deputy house speaker said Obama had insulted Russia and crossed a "red line," and the upper house recommended the Russian ambassador in Washington be recalled. It will be up to Putin to decide whether that happens. In Crimea, the pro-Russian prime minister who took office after gunmen seized the regional Parliament claimed control of the military and police there and asked Putin for help in keeping peace, sharpening the discord between the two neighboring Slavic countries.

Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said the election of Sergei Aksyonov as prime minister of Crimea was invalid. Ukrainian officials and some Western diplomats said that a Russian military intervention is already well underway after heavily armed gunmen in unmarked military uniforms seized control of local government buildings, airports and other strategic facilities in Crimea in recent days.

Crimea only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality when both Ukraine and Russia were part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet breakup in 1991 meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

Russia put pressure on Ukraine from another direction when a spokesman for state gas company Gazprom said that Ukraine owed $1.59 billion in overdue bills for imported gas. Sergei Kuprianov was quoted by the RIA-Novosti agency as saying the gas arrears would endanger a recent discount granted by Russia. The discount lowered the price to $268.50 per thousand from other $400. The Russian payment demand and loss of the discount would accelerate Ukraine's financial crisis. The country is almost broke and seeking emergency credit from the International Monetary Fund.

Russia has taken a confrontational stance toward its southern neighbor after Yanukovych fled the country. Yanukovych was voted out of office by parliament after weeks of protests ended in violence that left more than 80 people dead. Aksyonov, the Crimea leader, appealed to Putin "for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea."

Aksyonov was voted in by the Crimean parliament on Thursday after pro-Russia gunmen seized the building and as tensions soared over Crimea's resistance to the new authorities in Kiev, who took office this week. Obama called on Russia to respect the independence and territory of Ukraine and not try to take advantage of its neighbor, which is undergoing political upheaval. He said such action by Russia would represent a "profound interference" in matters he said must be decided by the Ukrainian people.

"The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine," he said. Obama did not say what those costs might be. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter that it was "obvious that there is Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Likely immediate aim is to set up puppet pro-Russian semi-state in Crimea."

At the United Nations, the Ukrainian ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, said Friday that Russian transport aircraft and 11 attack helicopters had arrived in Crimea illegally, and that Russian troops had taken control of two airports in Crimea. He described the gunmen posted outside the two airports as Russian armed forces as well as "unspecified" units.

Russia has kept silent on claims of military intervention and has said any troop movements are within agreed rules, even as it maintained its hard-line stance on protecting ethnic Russians in Crimea. Meanwhile, flights remained halted from Simferopol's airport. Dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings patrolled the area. They didn't stop or search people leaving or entering the airport, and refused to talk to journalists.

Many Ukrainians Want Russia to Invade

To many in Ukraine, a full-scale Russian military invasion would feel like a liberation. On Saturday, across the country’s eastern and southern provinces, hundreds of thousands of people gathered to welcome the Kremlin’s talk of protecting pro-Russian Ukrainians against the revolution that brought a new government to power last week. So far, that protection has come in the form of Russian military control of the southern region of Crimea, but on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin got parliamentary approval for a broad military intervention in Ukraine. As that news spread, locals in at least four major cities in the east of Ukraine climbed onto the roofs of government buildings and replaced the Ukrainian flag with the Russian tricolor.

For the most part, what drove so many people to renounce their allegiance to Ukraine was a mix of pride and fear, the latter fueled in part by misinformation from Moscow. The most apparent deception came on Saturday morning, when the Russian Foreign Ministry put out a statement accusing the new government in Kiev of staging a “treacherous provocation” on the Crimean Peninsula. It claimed that “unidentified armed men” had been sent from Kiev to seize the headquarters of the Interior Ministry police in Crimea. But thanks to the “decisive actions of self-defense battalions,” the statement said, the attack had been averted with just a few casualties. This statement turned out to be without any basis in fact.

Igor Avrutsky, who was the acting Interior Minister of Crimea during the alleged assault, told TIME the following afternoon that it never happened. “Everything was calm,” he says. Throughout the night, pro-Russian militiamen armed with sticks and shields had been defending the Crimean Interior Ministry against the revolutionaries, and one of the militia leaders, Oleg Krivoruchenko, also says there was no assault on the building. “People were coming and going as normal,” he says.

But the claims coming from Moscow were still enough to spread panic in eastern and southern Ukraine. On Saturday, pro-Russian activists in the Crimean capital of Simferopol staged a massive demonstration in the city, calling on residents to rally against the “Nazi authorities” who had come to power in Kiev. “What’s happening in Ukraine is terrifying,” says one of the organizers of the march, Evgenia Dobrynya. “We’re in a situation now where the country is ruled by terrorists and radicals.”

That is the picture of Ukraine’s new government propagated in the Russian media, the main source of information for millions of people in eastern and southern Ukraine. For months, Russian officials and television networks have painted the revolutionaries as a fascist cabal intent on stripping ethnic Russians of their rights. Much of the coverage has amounted to blatant scaremongering. The key posts in the new government, including the interim President and Prime Minister, have gone to pro-Western liberals and moderates, and they have pledged to guarantee the rights of all ethnic minorities. But some of their actions have given Russia plenty of excuses to accuse them of doing the opposite.

Within two days of taking power, the revolutionary leaders passed a bill revoking the rights of Ukraine’s regions to make Russian an official language alongside Ukrainian. That outraged the Russian-speaking half of the country, and the ban was quickly lifted. But the damage was done. With that one ill-considered piece of legislation, the new leaders had convinced millions of ethnic Russians that a wave of repression awaited them. So it was no surprise on Friday when a livid mob in Crimea attacked a liberal lawmaker who came to reason with them. Struggling to make his case over the screaming throng, Petro Poroshenko was chased back to his car amid cries of “Fascist!”

Making matters worse has been the role of nationalist parties in the new government, including a small but influential group of right-wing radicals known as Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), which embodies some of the greatest fears of Ukraine’s ethnic Russian minority. Its leader, Dmitro Yarosh, has openly referred to Russia as the “centuries-old enemy of Ukraine” and has spent years training a small paramilitary force to fight what he calls “Russian imperialist ambitions.”

In the past week, Ukraine’s new leaders have been scrambling to figure out what to do with Yarosh. His role in the revolution was too significant for them to write him off. Having suffered dozens of casualties in fighting off police during deadly clashes in Kiev last month, his militia members are idolized as heroes by many supporters of the revolution across the country. “It’s a real problem,” says the pro-Western lawmaker Hrihory Nemiriya, whose fellow members of the Fatherland party now hold the interim presidency and premiership. “Right Sector people are very popular, but they are not in the government.”

Yarosh has, however, been offered top positions in Ukraine’s security structures. Zoryan Shkiryak, a revolutionary lawmaker involved in the negotiations over Yarosh’s role in the government, says the right-wing militant was in the running to become Deputy Prime Minister overseeing the security services. “That was on the table,” Shkiryak tells TIME. After much debate, Yarosh was offered the role of deputy head of the National Security Council, but rejected it as beneath him. In his only interview with the Western press, Yarosh told TIME last month that he planned to turn Right Sector into a political party and run for office. “He could run for President,” adds Nemiriya.

Even that possibility has been enough to horrify the Russians in the east and the south, and Moscow has played on those fears to claim that Nazis are coming to power. On Saturday, when Putin asked his upper house of parliament to allow an invasion of Ukraine, the lawmakers had no trouble coming up with a justification. “What’s happening in Ukraine is a true mutiny, a plague of brownshirts,” said one of the Senators, Nikolai Ryzhkov.

In the Crimean capital of Simferopol, that logic took hold. Thousands of people marched through the streets of the city on Saturday carrying enormous Russian flags and chanting “Fascism will not pass!” Dobrynya, the organizer, said her greatest concern was the role of Right Sector in the new government. “We’re supposed to accept these radicals deciding who is going to rule Ukraine? That can’t happen. So thank God we have these wonderful guardians now,” she said, gesturing toward the battalion of Russian marines who were guarding the Crimean parliament building. In four other cities of eastern Ukraine, major demonstrations called for Russia to send similar contingents to protect them from the “fascists.” Now, with the approval of his obedient legislature, Putin seems ready to oblige, surely comforted by the fact that cheering crowds would come out to greet the Russian tanks if they do roll over the border into eastern Ukraine.

Russia is Prepared to Annex Crimea

Russia signalled for the first time on Friday that it was prepared to annex Ukraine's Crimea region, significantly intensifying its confrontation with the West over the political crisis in Ukraine and threatening to undermine a system of respect for national boundaries that has helped keep the peace in Europe and elsewhere for decades.

Leaders of both houses of Russia's Parliament said they would support a vote by Crimeans to break away from Ukraine and become a region of the Russian Federation, ignoring sanction threats and warnings, from the United States and other countries, that a vote for secession would violate Ukraine's Constitution and international law. The Russian message was yet another in a series of political and military actions undertaken over the past week that outraged the West, even while the Kremlin's final intentions remained unclear.

As fresh tensions flared between Russian and Ukrainian forces in Crimea, the moves by Russia raised the specter of a protracted conflict over the status of the region, which Russian forces occupied last weekend, calling into question not only Russia's relations with the West but also post-Cold War agreements on the sovereignty of the nations that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The developments underscored how quickly the crisis has evolved. Earlier this week, President Vladimir Putin of Russia had said he did not foresee the possibility of the Crimean Peninsula becoming part of Russia, but on Friday Russia's parliamentary leaders, both strong allies of Putin's, welcomed a delegation from Crimea's regional assembly and declared that they would support a vote to break away from Ukraine, now scheduled for March 16.

The referendum - barely a week away - has been denounced by the fledgling national government in Kiev, which said it would invalidate the outcome and dissolve the Crimean Parliament. President Barack Obama has also rejected the referendum, and the U.S. government announced sanctions Thursday in response to Russia's de facto military occupation.

Russia denounced those sanctions in a blunt rejoinder Friday evening, posted on the Foreign Ministry website. The statement said Russia's foreign minister, Sergei V. Lavrov, had spoken by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and warned that "hasty and ill-considered steps" to impose sanctions on Russian officials "would inevitably backfire on the United States itself."

Russia's Interfax news agency reported that Lavrov and Kerry would soon meet again. A senior State Department official traveling with Kerry, who was flying back to Washington after a trip to Europe and the Middle East, confirmed Kerry had spoken with Lavrov, but said it was unclear when they would meet again.

The Russians also sent menacing economic signals to the financially strapped interim central government in Kiev, which Russia has refused to recognize. Gazprom, the Russian natural gas monopoly, which supplies Ukraine with most of its gas, warned that it might shut off supplies unless Ukraine paid $1.89 billion owed to the company.

"We cannot deliver gas for free," Russian news agencies quoted Gazprom's chief executive, Alexei Miller, as saying.

Gazprom cut off gas to Ukraine for nearly two weeks in January 2009, causing severe economic problems for Ukraine and for other European customers who were dependent on supplies delivered through Ukraine.

Valentina I. Matviyenko, chairwoman of the upper house of the Russian Parliament, the Federation Council, compared the planned referendum in Crimea to Scotland's scheduled vote on whether to become independent from Britain. She did not mention that the national government in Britain had agreed to hold a referendum, while the Ukrainian government has not.

The speaker of the Russian lower house, Sergei Y. Naryshkin, echoed Matviyenko's remarks. "We will respect the historic choice of the people of Crimea," he said.

Their assertions came a day after Crimea's regional assembly voted in a closed session to secede from Ukraine and apply to join the Russian Federation, and to hold a referendum for voters in the region to ratify the decision. On Friday, a delegation of lawmakers from Crimea arrived in Moscow to lay the groundwork for joining Russia, strongly supported by senior lawmakers.

In another telling sign of Russian government support, the Crimean delegates were cheered at an officially sanctioned rally in central Moscow that was shown at length on Russian state television, with songs and chants of "Russia, Moscow, Crimea." News agencies quoted the police as saying 60,000 had people attended.

Even if the referendum proceeds, it was unclear what would happen next, given the wide gap between the positions of Russia and the West - most notably between Putin and Obama, who spoke for an hour by phone Thursday night.

According to the White House, Obama urged Putin to authorize direct talks with Ukraine's new government, permit the entry of international monitors and return his forces to the bases that Russia leases in Crimea.

In a statement, the Kremlin offered a starkly different account of the phone call, emphasizing Russia's view that the new government in Kiev had no authority because it was the result of what Putin called an "anti-constitutional coup" last month that had ousted Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin president.

The official Russian account of the phone call went on to say that the current Ukrainian leadership had imposed "absolutely illegitimate decisions" on the eastern and southeastern regions of the country, where pro-Russia sentiment is widespread. "Russia cannot ignore appeals connected to this, calls for help, and acts appropriately, in accordance with international law," the statement said.

In the United States, Obama was taking a wait-and-see attitude. He spoke by phone to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which has been reluctant to pursue muscular sanctions against Russia because of the deep and interwoven economic relationship between the two countries. He traveled to Florida for an education speech and then a weekend off with his family, but aides promised that he would be monitoring the crisis.

"We're hopeful that in the next few days, we'll get greater clarity about whether or not the Russians are willing to take some concrete steps toward this off-ramp here," said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman.

In Kiev, anti-Russian sentiment was hardening. The Right Sector movement, a nationalist group that was important in the deadly protests last month that drove Yanukovych from power, announced that its leader, Dmytro Yarosh, would run for president. Andriy Tarasenko, chairman of its local branch, also said the group was prepared to fight, in Crimea and elsewhere, "if the Kremlin tramples on us further."

With Washington and Moscow trading heated accusations of hypocrisy on the issue of respecting state sovereignty, validating Crimea's secession would carry pointed political risks for Putin, given longstanding demands for independence from Russia by its own similarly autonomous republics in the Caucasus, including Dagestan and Chechnya.

Michael A. McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, noted the parallel in a sharp post on Twitter. "If Russian government endorses Crimean referendum," McFaul wrote, using abbreviations needed for a 140-character limit, "will they also allow/endorse similar votes in republics in the Russian Federation?"

The West, which has insisted that the Ukrainian people are entitled to decide their future without interference from Russia, faces similar challenges as it seeks to explain why the people of Crimea should not necessarily decide their own fate.

The United States and its European allies typically support self-determination, but have opposed independence for regions within their own borders, like Scotland in Britain or Catalonia in Spain.

There was no sign Friday that Russian armed forces were relaxing their tight clench on the Crimean Peninsula, with military bases surrounded and border crossings under strict control. There were news reports late Friday that pro-Russian militants had smashed through the gates of a Ukrainian air force base in the port of Sevastopol housing 100 Ukrainian troops, but that no shots had been fired. There were also reports that a number of Ukrainian journalists had been beaten by masked attackers and were missing.

For the second consecutive day, an observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the 57-member organization that includes Ukraine and Russia, was prevented from entering Crimea at a checkpoint blocked by armed men.

Astrid Thors, an OSCE envoy who had gone to Crimea earlier in the week, said in a telephone interview from Amsterdam that she had faced noisy, threatening crowds chanting pro-Russian slogans during her visit and had been forced to leave. Thors, the OSCE's high commissioner for national minorities, said she could have experienced the sort of predicament faced by a senior U.N. diplomat, Robert H. Serry, who was chased out of Crimea by gunmen this week.

"There was a risk the same could happen, that our movement could be hindered by the crowds," Thors said. "We took precautionary principles. We shortened our stay."


Russia Approves Use of Military in Ukraine

Russia executed a de facto military takeover of a strategic region in Ukraine as the parliament in Moscow gave President Vladimir Putin a green light Saturday to proceed to protect Russian interests. The newly installed government in Kiev was powerless to react to the swift takeover of Crimea by Russian troops already in Ukraine and more flown in, aided by pro-Russian Ukrainian groups. Putin's move follows President Barack Obama's warning Friday "there will be costs" if Russia intervenes militarily, sharply raising the stakes in the conflict over Ukraine's future and evoking memories of Cold War brinkmanship. The explicit reference to the use of troops escalated days of conflict between the two countries, which started when Ukraine's pro-Russian president was pushed out by a protest movement of people who wanted closer ties to the European Union.

"I'm submitting a request for using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country," Putin said in his request sent to parliament.

Putin's call came as pro-Russian demonstrations broke out in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east, where protesters raised Russian flags and clashed with supporters of the new Ukrainian government. Russia's upper house also recommended that Moscow recall its ambassador from Washington over Obama's comments. Ukraine had already accused Russia on Friday of a "military invasion and occupation" of the Crimea peninsula, where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk called on Moscow "to recall their forces, and to return them to their stations," according to the Interfax news agency. "Russian partners, stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine."

The crisis was sparked when Ukraine's deposed president, Victor Yanukovych, ditched a deal for closer ties to the EU and instead turned toward Moscow. Months of protests followed, culminating in security forces killing dozens of protesters and Yanukovych fleeing to Russia. Ignoring Obama's warning, Putin said the "extraordinary situation in Ukraine" was putting at risk the lives of Russian citizens and military personnel stationed at a naval base that Moscow has maintained in the Black Sea peninsula since the Soviet collapse. Reflecting a degree of caution, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, who presented Putin's request to the upper house, told reporters that the motion doesn't mean that the president would immediately send additional troops to Ukraine. "There is no talk about it yet," he said. Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in remarks on Rossiya 24 television that while the president "got the entire arsenal of means necessary for settling this situation," he hadn't yet decided whether to use the Russian military in Ukraine or recall the ambassador from Washington.

"He will make these decisions depending on how the situation will develop," Peskov said. "We would like to hope that the situation will not develop along the scenario it's developing now — that is inciting tensions and making a threat for the Russians on the Crimean Peninsula."

The U.N. Security Council called an urgent meeting on Ukraine on Saturday, and the European Union foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the crisis. Putin's motion loosely refers to the "territory of Ukraine" rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking areas in eastern and southern Ukraine, where many oppose the new authorities in Kiev. Pro-Russian protests were reported in the eastern cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk and the southern port of Odessa.

In Kharkiv, 97 people were injured in clashes between pro-Russia demonstrators and supporters of the new Ukrainian government, according to the Interfax news agency. Ukraine's population is divided in loyalties between Russia and Europe, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. Crimea, a semi-autonomous region of Ukraine, is mainly Russian-speaking.

In Saturday's parliamentary session in Moscow, a deputy house speaker said Obama had insulted Russia and crossed a "red line," and the upper house recommended the Russian ambassador in Washington be recalled. It will be up to Putin to decide whether that happens. In Crimea, the pro-Russian prime minister who took office after gunmen seized the regional Parliament claimed control of the military and police there and asked Putin for help in keeping peace, sharpening the discord between the two neighboring Slavic countries. Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said the election of Sergei Aksyonov as prime minister of Crimea was invalid.

Ukrainian officials and some Western diplomats said that a Russian military intervention is already well underway after heavily armed gunmen in unmarked military uniforms seized control of local government buildings, airports and other strategic facilities in Crimea in recent days. Crimea only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality when both Ukraine and Russia were part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet breakup in 1991 meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

Russia put pressure on Ukraine from another direction when a spokesman for state gas company Gazprom said that Ukraine owed $1.59 billion in overdue bills for imported gas. Sergei Kuprianov was quoted by the RIA-Novosti agency as saying the gas arrears would endanger a recent discount granted by Russia. The discount lowered the price to $268.50 per thousand from other $400. The Russian payment demand and loss of the discount would accelerate Ukraine's financial crisis. The country is almost broke and seeking emergency credit from the International Monetary Fund.

Russia has taken a confrontational stance toward its southern neighbor after Yanukovych fled the country. Yanukovych was voted out of office by parliament after weeks of protests ended in violence that left more than 80 people dead. Aksyonov, the Crimea leader, appealed to Putin "for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness on the territory of the autonomous republic of Crimea." Aksyonov was voted in by the Crimean parliament on Thursday after pro-Russia gunmen seized the building and as tensions soared over Crimea's resistance to the new authorities in Kiev, who took office this week. Obama called on Russia to respect the independence and territory of Ukraine and not try to take advantage of its neighbor, which is undergoing political upheaval. He said such action by Russia would represent a "profound interference" in matters he said must be decided by the Ukrainian people.

"The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine," he said. Obama did not say what those costs might be. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter that it was "obvious that there is Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Likely immediate aim is to set up puppet pro-Russian semi-state in Crimea."

At the United Nations, the Ukrainian ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, said Friday that Russian transport aircraft and 11 attack helicopters had arrived in Crimea illegally, and that Russian troops had taken control of two airports in Crimea. He described the gunmen posted outside the two airports as Russian armed forces as well as "unspecified" units. Russia has kept silent on claims of military intervention and has said any troop movements are within agreed rules, even as it maintained its hard-line stance on protecting ethnic Russians in Crimea. Meanwhile, flights remained halted from Simferopol's airport. Dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings patrolled the area. They didn't stop or search people leaving or entering the airport, and refused to talk to journalists.

Ukraine’s Donetsk calls for referendum, votes to restore Russian’s official status

The City Council in the eastern city of Donetsk has refused to recognize Ukraine’s self-imposed government and called for a referendum on the region’s status. The council has made Russian alongside Ukrainian the official language in the region.

“Until all the legitimacy of the new laws approved by Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian Parliament] is clarified, the City Council [of Donetsk] will take full responsibility for its territories,” said the document approved by Donetsk City Council during the special session of March, 1. The report comes from Ukraine-based Zerkalo Nedeli newspaper.

Donetsk is the capital of the coal-rich Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. Beside Donetsk, a major economic, industrial and scientific center, Donbass includes Lughansk and Dnepropetrovsk regions. The Council called for a referendum on Donbass’s future, urging the local parliament to set the date immediately. The move is set to “protect the citizens from possible violent actions on the behalf of radicalized nationalistic forces,” the council said in a statement.

In addition, the members of the city council have voted to set up self-defense squads. Russian language has been re-introduced as an official language along with Ukrainian in the area where a plurality of its residents are ethnic Russians (48.15%) and Russian-speaking Ukrainians (46.65%). This decision came after the new power in Kiev abolished the minority languages law. Also, the Donetsk authorities said they consider Russia a strategic partner.

The council’s session was called as pro-Russian activists gathered in the center of Donetsk, demanding local authorities to hold a referendum on the future of the region. The protesters seized the regional administration building and hoisted the Russian flag above it. Eastern Ukraine and Crimea are seeing massive pro-Russian demonstrations against the new self-proclaimed central government, with many government buildings being topped with Russian flags.


Thousands rally against 'illegitimate govt', raise Russian flags in eastern Ukraine

Thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators across eastern Ukraine and Crimea are protesting against the new government, with administration buildings being seized in several cities. Gunshots have been reported as anti- and pro-Maidan protesters clash. Protesters in Kharkov and Donetsk stormed local government offices and removed Ukrainian flags, replacing them with the Russian tricolor on Saturday.

Between 7,000 to 10,000 demonstrators gathered in the center of Donetsk, a large industrial city in eastern Ukraine. Reportedly, protesters seized the regional administration building. While a group of demonstrators were storming the building from the central entrance, a crowd in Lenin Square in front of it kept chanting “Russia!” 

The participants of the rally were demanding to hold a referendum on the future of the region, and particularly, on the status of Russian language. Later in the day, Donetsk City Council held an extraordinary session and approved an idea of holding a referendum on the future fate of the Donetsk region. The council also supported the initiative on setting up municipal militia squads to protect citizens from possible aggression by radical nationalists, reported Itar-Tass. Additionally, authorities decided to introduce Russian as a second official language in the region.

The City Council refused to recognize the legitimacy of the government in Kiev and declared itself the only legitimate body in the city, according to ZN.UA. The decisions were read out to the crowd of demonstrators, who praised the move.

Earlier, according to a local news portal, a scuffle occurred between Party of Regions supporters and the so-called Volunteers’ Crops commanded by activist Pavel Gubarev, who was spontaneously proclaimed “regional governor.” Addressing the crowd, Gubarev said the authorities in Kiev were illegitimate and called for establishing popular rule. He then urged demonstrators to set up a peaceful protest camp in front of the regional government’s office.

In Kharkov, the largest city in eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian protesters managed to break through the cordon of Maidan supporters and captured the government building. The storming was accompanied by clashes and shooting, RBC daily reported.

Some 111 people have been injured in clashes between anti- and pro-Maidan demonstrators, reported Itar-Tass, citing the city’s mayor, Gennady Kernes. At least 10 explosions were heard, both in the building and in the area around it. At least one policeman was among those hurt in the clashes, according to Itar-Tass.

One of the demonstrators got on to the roof of the administration building, waving the Russian flag. Meanwhile, pro-Maidan activists, who barricaded themselves inside one of the offices, are hanging a white flag out of the window. Police were accompanying injured supporters of the new government out of the building to ambulances, Unian agency reports.

Activists from Right Sector radical group, who were inside the building, “were throwing explosives, perhaps even grenades, into public transport,” Kharkov Mayor Kernes told journalists. “They also opened fire at protesters,” he added and showed a cartridge for a Kalashnikov assault-rifle which was found inside the building. According to the mayor, “120 cocktail bombs, two mines and drugs” were discovered at the site.

In the Crimean capital of Simferopol, around 6,000 people marched, chanting “Russia!” and “No to Fascism!” and carrying a huge Russian flag. Thousands were also demonstrating with Russian and Soviet flags in Odessa, the third-largest city in the country. According to police, around 5,000 people took part in the gathering, while organizers insist there were up to 20,000. Protests were also held in Lugansk, Melitopol, Yevpatoria, Kerch and Mariupol.

Crimeans began protesting after the new self-proclaimed government in Kiev introduced a law abolishing the use of other languages for official documents in Ukraine. More than half the Crimean population are Russian and use only this language for their communication. The residents have announced they are going to hold a referendum on March 30 to determine the fate of the Ukrainian autonomous region.


In Ukraine's east, some beg for Russian iron hand

Lidia Gany had some tea and bread, all she can afford these days for most meals, put on her duffel coat with the fake purple fur collar, and came down to the main square of this down-at-the-heels industrial city at Ukraine's eastern edge to join fellow ethnic Russians in urging Moscow to send troops across the border and protect them.

"Only Russia can save us," said the 74-year-old pensioner, crossing herself.

Since Russian troops rolled into Crimea, and lawmakers there scheduled a referendum for Sunday on whether to join Russia, the world's attention has focused on the fate of the lush peninsula that juts into the Black Sea. But here in Ukraine's coal-fired industrial east, where huge numbers of Russians have lived for more than two centuries, a potent mix of economic depression, ethnic solidarity and nostalgia for the certainties of the Soviet past have many demanding the right to become part of Russia as well.

"I'm for living in one country, with no borders, like we used to. Like the fingers on one hand," said 60-year-old Lyudmila Zhuravlyova, who signed a petition asking for Russian President Vladimir Putin's military invention to stop "political persecution and physical annihilation of the Russian-speaking and Orthodox population."

In Luhansk and other eastern Ukraine cities, some men have formed militia groups such as "Luhansk Guard," the "People's Auxiliary" as Russian news broadcasts swarm with alleged atrocity stories about attacks on ethnic Russians and Jews in Ukraine — helping to spur the secession drive and the anxieties that underlie it. The Associated Press and other international media have found no evidence of victimization.

On Sunday, in a possible portent of more trouble to come, pro-Russian demonstrators overran the regional government headquarters just off Soviet Street and forced Gov. Mikhail Bolotskih to sign a resignation letter.

"Among them were young aggressive people in an intoxicated condition, inappropriate condition, with bats, sticks, and it was obvious they were armed with some other kinds of weapons," the governor, who is appointed by Ukraine's central authorities, said Tuesday.

Bolotskih said he put his signature to the letter only to protect the terrified women, children and others who had taken refuge in the building out of fear of pro-Russian mobs. After negotiations that dragged on through the night, the occupiers left, and the governor was able to return to his second-floor office. Three burly Ukrainian policeman stood guard by the main staircase Tuesday.

Ukraine's easternmost city was founded in the late 18th Century by Catherine the Great as a foundry to make cannon and cannonballs for the Imperial Russian Army. In Soviet times, it was home to one of the country's blue-ribbon factories that turned out steam locomotives good enough to be designated "IS"— for the Russian-language initials of dictator Josef Stalin.

The city, with its five-story Khrushchev-era apartment blocks and tidy downtown with a pair of spire-topped edifices in a bombastic style known as Stalinist Gothic, seems an architectural throwback to a time when coal miners and locomotive factory workers were considered the proletarian elite.

But the breakup of the Soviet Union and harsh economic realities of the market haven't been kind to the east and the Luhansk region, where nearly 70 percent of the population in a 2001 census reported Russian as their mother tongue. Residents say many factories, including the locomotive works, have had to drastically cut both payrolls and production. Fewer smokestacks these days belch the sour-smelling coal smoke that shows people still work there. It all means that many people see Russia as the cure-all to their problems.

Some in Luhansk, including Gany, have relatives in Russia who tell them life is better on their side of the border. She now must make ends meet on about $100 a month in pension payments, she says_half of which goes to pay her rent. Her husband is dead. She held a variety of jobs in the old Soviet Union, from the BAM railway project in Siberia to a fish cannery in Kamchatka, but much of her savings vanished when the former superpower broke up. She now fears persecution from Ukraine's new leaders, and is afraid to travel to other regions of the country.

In 2010, the year of Ukraine's last presidential election, Luhansk gave 89 percent of its votes to Viktor Yanukovych, a native of another town in the Donbas coal-mining region. The pro-Moscow president fled office last month after prolonged street protests and bloodshed in Kiev, and was succeeded by a government made up of politicians friendlier to the United States and European Union. For some in the east, the regime change was not only blatantly unconstitutional, but a catastrophe.

"The West wants to put Hitler's Plan Ost into effect," said Zoya Kozlova, 54, a teacher of philology. That plan, if fully implemented, would have meant the enslavement, expulsion and extermination of most of the Slavic peoples in Europe.

Pro-Moscow forces in Luhanks already have a leader, self-styled "people's governor" Alexander Kharitonov, who is spearheading the drive for a referendum. "The people of Luhansk don't recognize illegitimate Kiev. We think that the government has been changed through a coup d'etat," he said. And Kharitonov said he hopes for assistance from Moscow to right that situation.

"The Maidan (the anti-Yanukovych protests in Kiev) showed us the police aren't able to protect us. Neo-Nazi groups that were created on the Maidan have spread throughout Ukraine. The police aren't able to protect us from them."

"The new government won't do it. So we think we have the right to ask our friend Russia to protect us," Kharitonov said.

Already, the Kremlin has made clear that it's closely watching developments. On Monday, in an official statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said lawlessness "now rules in eastern regions of Ukraine" and blamed the Right Sector, a grouping of far-right and nationalist factions whose activists were among the most radical and confrontational during three months of protests that led to Yanukovych's ouster.

"Without Putin's help, they will annihilate us," said Sergei Chupeyev, 69, a retired mining engineer from Luhansk. "We need to ask him for help, or tomorrow there will be fascists here."


Putin: Russian citizens, troops threatened in Ukraine, need armed forces’ protection

Russian President Vladimir Putin has requested the use of Russian military forces in Ukraine to settle the situation there. The Russian population and the Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet are threatened by the situation in the country, he said. Putin’s request was filed after the Chairman of the Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko, said that in order to “protect the people” Russia could theoretically send troops to Ukraine. She particularly referred to the crisis in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, where Russians make the majority of the population.

“It’s possible in this situation, complying with a request by the Crimean government, even to bring a limited contingent of our troops to ensure the safety of the Black Sea Fleet and the Russian citizens living on Crimean territory. The decision is for the president, the chief military commander, to make, of course. But today, taking the situation into account, even that variant can’t be excluded. We need to protect the people,” Matvienko said.
“In connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine, the threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots, and the personnel of the armed forces of the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory (in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea)... I submit a proposal on using the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine until the normalization of the socio-political situation in the that country.”
The Russian government has so far been careful in its assessment of the new self-proclaimed Ukrainian government in Kiev. Matvienko said the reason for that was Russia counting on its Western partners, who vowed to guarantee the February 21 agreements between ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition.

“Russia did not interfere in the situation in Ukraine for a very long time and showed restraint, assuming that the Western states, which became backers of the agreements, would see that strict compliance with the deal is observed,” she said.

However, after “violent upheaval” took place in Ukraine, the Western states did not come up with “any reasonable measures or responses,” Matvienko said. Russia, in contrast, for a very long time has urged the situation to be resolved by lawful means, and called for the anti-coup sentiments in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine to be heard, she said.

“Not seeing an adequate reaction from the West, we could no longer maintain status quo,” the speaker concluded.

Matvienko spoke as thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators rallied in the Crimean cities of Simferopol, Melitopol, Yevpatoria and Mariupol, protesting against the rule of new Kiev authorities. The Russian leader held detailed phone discussions on “various aspects of the extraordinary situation in Ukraine" with US President Barack Obama, the Kremlin press service reported.

Putin stressed that in the case of further spread of violence in the eastern regions of Ukraine and Crimea, Russia reserves the right to protect their interests and the Russian speaking population. Putin emphasised the existence of real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens on Ukrainian territory.

In a separate conversation with French President Francois Hollande, Putin said that there is a real threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, Itar-tass reports. The Russian commander in chief also held a telephone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the case of an escalation of violence against the Russian-speaking population in the eastern regions of Ukraine and Crimea, the Kremlin announced.

Putin stressed that Russia cannot remain on the sidelines and will apply the necessary measures within the framework of international law to prevent further escalation of the crisis in Ukraine. According to the Russian Constitution, the use of Army on foreign territories can only be approved by the majority of the Federation Council members upon a request by the President.

The developments follow an appeal by the Prime Minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, who requested that Russia to help cope with the crisis and ensure “peace and calm” in the region. The tension in Crimea escalated following an attempt to seize the building of the local Interior Ministry by gunmen overnight. Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the move in a statement, blaming the new authorities in Kiev for intending to “destabilize the situation on the peninsula.”

Meanwhile, self-proclaimed Ukrainian Acting President Aleksandr Turchinov has signed a decree ruling that appointment of the pro-Russia premier in Crimea is “illegal.”

Aksyonov, who is the leader of Crimea’s Russian Unity party, was appointed as the new Prime Minister of the autonomy after the Crimean Supreme Council dismissed the regional government. Peace and order in the region has been maintained by local armed self-defense squads, which were widely misreported as Russian troops on Friday.

Massive media speculation also arose around claims that the Russian military have been making “illegal” moves in Crimea. The Russian Foreign Ministry sent an official note to Ukraine, stressing that all the moves are carried out “in full accordance with basic Russian-Ukrainian agreements on the Black Sea Fleet.”


How the West lost Putin: it didn’t have to be this way

It’s a narrative that’s growing in popularity in the West: Vladimir Putin as a 21st-century Adolf Hitler, an unhinged dictator bent on collecting lost Russian lands.

It was floated first on CNN last week, where former Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili – who fought and lost a war with Russia six years ago over a place called South Ossetia – compared Mr. Putin’s stealth takeover of the Crimean Peninsula to the Nazi annexation of Sudetenland in 1938. The Canadian government has since embraced the storyline, with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird using the Sudetenland comparison while denouncing Russian military moves in the Ukraine.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made similar remarks, and former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton told a fundraiser in California: “If this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s.”

We are, worryingly, in a situation where such comparisons can’t immediately be laughed off. Mr. Putin’s own press conference this week was characterized by two things: his alarming insistence that Russia had a right to use its military to protect ethnic Russians living in other post-Soviet countries, and his bitterness at the West for ignoring him until he was pushed into a corner.

The immediate triggers for Mr. Putin’s fury are now plain. The Kremlin feels (and has evidence) that the West put its shoulder behind the Ukrainian opposition that toppled the government of Viktor Yanukovych last month following a deadly week of street battles between protesters and police.

Mr. Yanukovych was pro-Russian and clearly corrupt. But he was also the elected president of Ukraine, with 12 months to go in his five-year term. His overthrow was inspiring to watch, but it was also unconstitutional. (For the record, the Kremlin says it’s the West that is encouraging fascism by siding with the revolutionaries in Kiev who include right-wing ultranationalists in their ranks.)

That precedent set, Mr. Putin now seems willing to go as far as he needs to in order to regain Russia’s lost influence in Ukraine – in the entire country, if he can, or any pro-Russian part he can snap off. But this New Cold War didn’t start last month. Nor was it doomed to happen this way.

When Mr. Putin came to power 15 years ago, he did so as a candidate who appealed to many sectors of Russian society. His KGB background suggested to those nostalgic for the Soviet days that Mr. Putin was the tough leader Russia needed after the chaos of Russia’s 1990s. But his track record as an aide to Anatoliy Sobchak, the reformist governor of St. Petersburg, also persuaded Russia’s pro-Western liberals that he was a man who shared their mindset, too.

Mr. Putin’s first four years as president were marked by an battle inside the Kremlin, pitting a camp of ministers and aides known as the siloviki, the men of power, who had KGB backgrounds like Mr. Putin’s, against the reformers, men like Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Alexander Voloshin, the powerful chief of staff Mr. Putin inherited from Boris Yeltsin. Mr. Putin was seen as listening to both sides, favouring neither. This was the man who was the first foreign leader to call former U.S. president George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the man who shared intelligence with and opened his airspace for the subsequent NATO invasion of Afghanistan.

But the siloviki gained strength, and the reformers faded, as Mr. Putin saw that favour go unreturned. He furiously railed against the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003, but was ignored. Then came the 2003 Rose Revolution in the former Soviet republic of Georgia – which saw the U.S.-educated Mr. Saakashvili brought to power – and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine a year later.

The Georgian and Ukrainian revolts had many things in common, among them the fall of autocrats who ran semi-independent governments that deferred to Moscow when the chips were down. Both uprisings were also spurred by organizations that received funding from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy. As in the Middle East, “promoting democracy” in Eastern Europe became a code word for supporting pro-Western politicians.

The Western-backed revolts came alongside several tranches of eastward expansion by NATO, an alliance that Moscow sees as retaining its Cold War intent, as well as the establishment of an anti-ballistic missile shield in Europe that Russia saw as upsetting the strategic balance by eliminating its treasured nuclear deterrent.

Mr. Putin became convinced that the siloviki were right, that the West was intent on keeping Russia weak, as it had been under Mr. Yeltsin. By the beginning of his second term as President in 2004, Mr. Kasyanov and Mr. Voloshin were gone from the Kremlin. Only the KGB remained.

Barack Obama saw the damage done, and came to office in 2008 promising a “reset” in relations between Washington and Moscow. The timing was right, with Mr. Putin stepping down the same year to the theoretically junior post of prime minister in favour of one of his few remaining liberal aides, Dmitry Medvedev.

The two new presidents got along well, and Mr. Medvedev even gave Russian acquiescence (in the form of an abstention at the United Nations Security Council) to the establishment of a NATO no-fly zone over Libya in 2011. But Mr. Putin – still the most powerful man in Russia – was furious to see Russia’s goodwill again misused and the no-fly zone expanded to include airstrikes that helped rebels topple and kill Moammar Gadhafi, a long-time Kremlin ally.

Six months later, Mr. Medvedev awkwardly declared he would step aside so that Mr. Putin could return to the presidency.

“We are often told our actions are illegitimate, but when I ask, ‘Do you think everything you do is legitimate?’ they say ‘yes.’ Then, I have to recall the actions of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, where they either acted without any UN sanctions or completely distorted the content of such resolutions, as was the case with Libya,” Mr. Putin fumed during a press conference Tuesday, his first remarks since the Ukraine crisis erupted. “Our partners, especially in the United States, always clearly formulate their own geopolitical and state interests and follow them with persistence. Then, using the principle ‘You’re either with us or against us’ they draw the whole world in. And those who do not join in get beaten until they do.”

Even while Washington was talking at home about a reset, the messages it sent to Moscow were more confrontational. Mr. Obama’s first secretary of state, Ms. Clinton, made headlines during her own 2008 bid for the presidency by stating Mr. Putin, as a former KGB agent, “doesn’t have a soul.” (Mr. Putin shot back that anyone seeking to be U.S. President “at a minimum … should have a head.”)

Even more controversial was Mr. Obama’s choice of academic Michael McFaul as ambassador to Moscow in 2011. By his own description, Mr. McFaul, who couldn’t be reached for an interview, was an expert on how popular uprisings happen in authoritarian regimes. A decade earlier, he had authored the provocatively titled book Russia’s Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin. One of his first acts after arriving in Moscow was inviting several key members of the anti-Putin opposition to the U.S. embassy for a private meeting.

The opposition protests that swelled before and after that visit, and which tarred Mr. Putin’s 2012 election win, were seen in the Kremlin as more proof of Western meddling in and hostility to Russia. Mr. Putin accused Ms. Clinton of personally giving “the signal” for his opponents to rise up against him.

Since returning to the Kremlin, Mr. Putin has made it clear he’s no longer interested in co-operating with the West. He has backed Bashar al-Assad to the hilt in the bloody struggle for Syria, another long-time Soviet ally. Last month, he welcomed Egypt’s Abdul Fattah el-Sissi to Moscow, and offered him military aid and an endorsement of his undeclared presidential run, as Washington backed away from Cairo’s latest military man in charge. A win for the West is a loss for Moscow. And vice-versa.

In a September essay in The New York Times arguing against U.S. intervention in Syria, Mr. Putin took on the idea of “American exceptionalism,” and by extension U.S. world leadership. “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too,” he wrote.

“You have to understand the world in which Mr. Putin believes he lives. He’s sure he’s in a power struggle, a geostrategic battle with the West,” said Alexander Golts, a Moscow-based military analyst. “One of the battlefields is Ukraine. In the beginning of December, he thought he’d won, and then [Mr. Putin believes] the West organized these protests in Kiev and stole his victory. Now he has to show his Western counterparts that he’s not weak. He also has to show his inner circle that he’s not weak.”

In Ukraine, it’s Mr. Putin who is bending the rules and distorting the facts in the same way he has accused the West of doing elsewhere. But the battle for Ukraine is existential for him. Ukraine is central to Russian history and culture, and crucial to Mr. Putin’s ambition of restoring a sphere of influence over Moscow’s post-Soviet neighbours. He’s almost certainly not going to back down, whatever the cost. There “will be mutual damage,” Mr. Putin said when asked about the possibility of Western sanctions over Crimea.

We knew this, or at least we should have. But a lack of Western scholarship on Russia – and the closure of many foreign media offices (including The Globe and Mail’s own Moscow bureau a few years ago) – has contributed to a dangerous lack of understanding of Russia in the West.

China, by contrast, has in the past 15 years been deemed far more worthy of study and journalism than Russia. Lobby groups such as the Canada-China Business Council badgered Mr. Harper relentlessly when he didn’t visit Beijing during the first two years he was in office. No one seems bothered that Mr. Harper – eight years into his prime ministership – is the only G-8 leader who has never made an official, bilateral trip to Moscow.

“In North America, the thinking was that European affairs are European affairs,” said Andrew Robinson, a former Canadian ambassador to Ukraine. “We don’t have a relationship with Russia right now.”

Which, we can see now, has its costs. Every Western leader understands that opening an embassy in Taiwan would bring a furious response from Beijing. But no one in Washington, Brussels or Ottawa seems to have expected what Moscow might do if the West encouraged the overthrow of a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine.

When Mr. Baird was in Kiev last week to show his support for Ukraine’s post-revolutionary leadership, I asked him when was the last time he had met with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. There was a pause of nearly 10 seconds before Mr. Baird recalled that both he and Mr. Lavrov had attended a Syria peace conference in Montreux, Switzerland in late January. They’ve had no interaction at all, then, since the change of power in Kiev, or the Russian moves in Crimea.

A decade ago, The eXile, a now-defunct satirical magazine based in Moscow, published a list of 101 ways that Mr. Putin’s Russia then resembled Weimar Germany. It was meant to be humourous, but the issue in fact made for extremely depressing reading. Anger at foreigners was rising, the eXile noted, as was militarism.

Russia then was a proud but wounded country, one suffering from collapse of its empire. The fall of the USSR was Russia’s Treaty of Versailles. Mr. Harper, Mr. Baird and Ms. Clinton say Mr. Putin’s Russia today reminds them of Nazi Germany. Scary words to describe a scary situation. If only they paid such attention to Russia in the decade before we got to here.

Washington’s Arrogance, Hubris, and Evil Have Set the Stage for War

In some quarters public awareness is catching up with Stephen Lendman, Michel Chossudovsky, Rick Rozoff, myself and a few others in realizing the grave danger in the crisis that Washington has created in Ukraine. 

The puppet politicians who Washington intended to put in charge of Ukraine have lost control to organized and armed neo-nazis, who are attacking Jews, Russians, and intimidating Ukrainian politicians.

The government of Crimea, a Russian province that Khrushchev transferred to the Ukraine Soviet Republic in the 1950s, has disavowed the illegitimate government that illegally seized power in Kiev and requested Russian protection.  The Ukrainian military forces in Crimea have gone over to Russia.  The Russian government has announced that it will also protect the former Russian provinces in eastern Ukraine as well. 

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn pointed out, it was folly for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to transfer historic provinces of Russia into Ukraine. At the time it seemedto the Soviet leadership like a good thing to do.  Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and had been ruled by Russia since the 18th century.  Adding Russian territory to Ukraine served to water down the nazi elements in western Ukraine that had fought for Hitler during World War 2.  Perhaps another factor in the enlargement of Ukraine was the fact of Khrushchev’s Ukrainian heritage. 

Regardless, it did not matter until the Soviet Union and then the former Russian empire itself fell apart.  Under Washington’s pressure, Ukraine became a separate country retaining the Russian provinces, but Russia retained its Black Sea naval base in Crimea.

Washington tried, but failed, to take Ukraine in 2004 with the Washington-financed “Orange Revolution.”  According to Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, since this failure Washington has “invested” $5 billion in Ukraine in order to foment agitation for EU membership for Ukraine.  EU membership would open Ukraine to looting by Western bankers and corporations, but Washington’s main goal is to establish US missile bases on Russia’s border with Ukraine and to deprive Russia of its Black Sea naval base and military industries in eastern Ukraine. EU membership for Ukraine means NATO membership. 

Washington wants missile bases in Ukraine in order to degrade Russia’s nuclear deterrent, thus reducing Russia’s ability to resist US hegemony.  Only three countries stand in the way of Washington’s hegemony over the world, Russia, China, and Iran. 

Iran is surrounded by US military bases and has US fleets off its coast.  The “Pivot to Asia” announced by the warmonger Obama regime is ringing China with air and naval bases.  Washington is surrounding Russia with US missile and NATO bases.  The corrupt Polish and Czech governments were paid to accept US missile and radar bases, which makes the Polish and Czech puppet states prime targets for nuclear annihilation. 

Washington has purchased the former Russian and Soviet province of Georgia, birthplace of Joseph Stalin, and is in the process of putting this puppet into NATO. Washington’s Western European puppets are too greedy for Washington’s money to take cognizance of the fact that these highly provocative moves are a direct strategic threat to Russia.  The attitude of European governments seems to be, “after me, the deluge.” 

Russia has been slow to react to the many years of Washington’s provocations, hoping for some sign of good sense and good will to emerge in the West.  Instead, Russia has experienced rising demonization from Washington and European capitals and foaming at the mouth vicious denunciations by the West’s media whores.  The bulk of the American and European populations are being brainwashed to see the problem that Washington’s meddling has caused in Ukraine to be Russia’s fault.  Yesterday, I heard on National Public Radio a presstitute from the New Republic describe Putin as the problem. 

The ignorance, absence of integrity, and lack of independence of the US media greatly enhances the prospect for war. The picture being drawn for insouciant Americans is totally false.  An informed people would have burst out laughing when US Secretary of State John Kerry denounced Russia for “invading Ukraine” in “violation of international law.”  Kerry is the foreign minister of a country that has illegally invaded Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, organized the overthrow of the government in Libya, tried to overthrow the government in Syria, attacks the civilian populations of Pakistan and Yemen with drones and missiles, constantly threatens Iran with attack, unleashed the US and Israeli trained Georgian army on the Russian population of South Ossetia, and now threatens Russia with sanctions for standing up for Russians and Russian strategic interests.  The Russian government noted that Kerry has raised hypocrisy to a new level. 

Kerry has no answer to the question:  “Since when does the United States government genuinely subscribe and defend the concept of sovereignty and territorial integrity?"

Kerry, as is always the case, is lying through his teeth.  Russia hasn’t invaded Ukraine. Russia sent a few more troops to join those at its Black Sea base in view of the violent anti-Russian statements and actions emanating from Kiev.  As the Ukrainian military in Crimea defected to Russia, the additional Russian troops were hardly necessary. The stupid Kerry, wallowing in his arrogance, hubris, and evil, issued direct threats to Russia.  The Russian foreign minister dismissed Kerry’s threats as “unacceptable.” 

The stage is set for war. 

Note the absurdity of the situation.  Kiev has been taken over by ultra-nationalist neo-nazis.  A band of ultra-nationalist thugs is the last thing the European Union wants or needs as a member state. The EU is centralizing power and suppressing the sovereignty of the member states. Note the alignment of the neoconservative Obama regime with anti-semitic neo-nazis. The neoconservative clique that has dominated the US government since the Clinton regime is heavily Jewish, many of whom are dual Israeli/US citizens.  The Jewish neoconservatives, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, have lost control of their coup to neo-Nazis who preach “death to the Jews.” 

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on February 24 that Ukrainian Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman advised “Kiev’s Jews to leave the city and even the country.”  Edward Dolinsky, head of an umbrella organization of Ukrainian Jews, described the situation for Ukrainian Jews as “dire” and requested Israel’s help. 

This is the situation that Washington created and defends, while accusing Russia of stifling Ukrainian democracy.  An elected democracy is what Ukraine had  before Washington overthrew it. At this time there is no legitimate Ukrainian government. 

Everyone needs to understand that Washington is lying about Ukraine just as Washington lied about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, just as Washington lied about Iranian nukes, just as Washington lied about Syrian president Assad using chemical weapons, just as Washington lied about Afghanistan, Libya, NSA spying, torture.  What hasn’t Washington lied about? Washington is comprised of three elements: Arrogance, Hubris, and Evil.  There is nothing else there. 

Ignore Western hypocrisy, Putin will do what he wants

All the self-righteous huffing and puffing in Washington over Ukraine jars on European and especially Russian ears after the multiple U.S.-led invasions and interventions in other people's countries of recent years. It's difficult to say what is more astonishing: the double standards exhibited by the White House, or the apparent total lack of self-awareness of U.S. officials.

Secretary of State John Kerry risked utter ridicule when he declared it unacceptable to invade another country on a "completely trumped-up pretext," or just because you don't like its current leadership. Iraq in 2003 springs instantly to mind. This is exactly what George W. Bush and Tony Blair did when they "trumped up" the supposed threat posed by the hated Saddam Hussein's fabled weapons of mass destruction.

Like Saddam, the Taliban leadership in place in Afghanistan in 2001 was deeply objectionable. But instead of just going after Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda training camps after the 9/11 attacks, Bush (again abetted by Blair) opted for full-scale regime change. The lamentable consequences of that decision are still being felt 13 years later, not least by Afghan civilians who have been dying in ever greater numbers as the final Nato withdrawal approaches.

U.S. President Barack Obama, a former law professor who should know better, has charged Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart, with violating Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, in breach of international law.

But it is Obama, following in Bush's footsteps, who has repeatedly and cynically flouted international law by launching or backing myriad armed attacks on foreign soil, in Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan to name a few, without U.N. security council authorization. It is Obama's administration which continues to undermine international law by refusing to join or recognize the International Criminal Court, the most important instrument of international justice to have been developed since 1945.

And it is Obama's State Department, principally in the person of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, that fatally overplayed its hand in the run-up to last month's second Ukraine revolution. Nuland's infamous "f**k the EU" comment revealed the extent to which Washington was recklessly maneuvering to undermine Ukraine's elected pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, by backing the Kiev street protesters' demands.

The EU had wanted to take things more gradually, for fear of provoking the very Russian reaction to which the U.S. now so strongly objects. When the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland, acting for the EU, negotiated a compromise agreement on February 22 that envisaged early elections, the crisis appeared to have been defused. Russia did not like the deal, but seemed ready to go along.

But within 24 hours, the opposition had torn up the agreement. It forced Yanukovych from power and sacked the government. To alarm in Moscow, where nightmarish World War II memories linger, Ukrainian neo-fascists were among those who seized control. They are now part of the new government in Kiev.

The U.S. almost immediately gave its blessing to what the Kremlin later described as a "coup d'etat" while the EU, knowing this was what Washington wanted, just looked on. Little wonder the Russians were furious at what they saw as a western double cross.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, reflected these worries when he voiced "most serious concern" over Ukraine in phone calls to the French, German and Polish foreign ministers. "The opposition not only has failed to fulfil a single one of its obligations but is already presenting new demands all the time, following the lead of armed extremists and pogromists whose actions pose a direct threat to Ukraine's sovereignty and constitutional order,'' Lavrov said. But it was already too late.

Obama and Kerry seem to have calmed down a little since the crisis first broke. The self-righteous hyperbole about international rights is less evident, though it has not disappeared entirely. Obama has heard the many voices in the U.S. and beyond terming this the worst east-west crisis since the end of the Cold War -- and as the biggest foreign test of his presidency.

So now he's doing what he does best: talking. In his latest phone call to Putin, on Thursday this week, Obama put forward a plan to resolve the stand-off diplomatically. It includes direct talks between Moscow and Kiev, the return of Russian troops to their bases, and the deployment of international observers to ensure the rights of all ethnic groups, including Crimean Russians, are respected. But don't hold your breath. Putin is in no hurry to back off or back down.

He has his tail up after a fortnight in which he exposed the hypocrisy and hollowness of much of western policy and politicians. His behavior, especially in Crimea, has been dangerous, wrong-headed and irresponsible in the extreme. In many ways, Putin is an unredeemed Cold War throwback. He is definitely not the sort of chap one would invite round for dinner, as a former British diplomat commented. The crisis could still explode in his and everyone else's face. But it was not unprovoked.

And the Russian leader has an eye for precedent. Similar battles over so-called "frozen conflicts" and the rights of isolated ethnic groups loom elsewhere on Russia's periphery, in Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and maybe Belarus and the Baltic states too. Putin is putting down a marker, even as he plays Obama and Kerry for fools.

Whatever they think in Washington, and whatever the financial markets say, it's working for him personally. Latest opinion polls in Russia show Putin's popularity soaring. One of these days western leaders will drop the pious cant, learn to stop under-estimating him, and recognize Russia's leader-for-life as the canny, very dangerous, utterly unscrupulous opponent he is.

Putin’s rating climbs to 5-year peak

Over three quarters of the Russian public approve of President Putin’s work, according to the mid-March public opinion poll. Most respondents connected with a good handling of the Ukrainian political crisis and the help extended to the people of Crimea. According to the VCIOM All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, since the beginning of 2014 Vladimir Putin’s rating has risen 15 percent and stands at 75.7 percent – the highest in the last five years.

The pollsters say this is caused first of all by the complicated political situation in Ukraine and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea that was preparing to hold a referendum on joining Russia. 63 percent of respondents mentioned this as a primary reason of their support of the presidential course.Another large group - 32 percent - mentioned the victory of the Russian team at the Sochi Paralympics. Putin’s rating in major cities was slightly lower at 71.3 percent but also reached a five-year peak.

The previous peak in Vladimir Putin’s popularity was in May 2012. 68.8 percent of Russians voiced their support for the president around the date of his inauguration. A different poll conducted by VCIOM on March 14 and 15 showed that 91.4 percent of Russian citizens approve of Crimea becoming a part of the Russian Federation. Only 5 percent said they were against such an outcome. 86 percent of respondents claimed they already consider Crimea - home to an ethnic Russian majority - a part of Russia.

Crimea was caught in the turmoil that engulfed Ukraine after opposition leaders supported by rightist extremists ousted President Viktor Yanukovich in late February this year. On March 16 the republic held a referendum on joining Russia in which over 96 percent of voters supported such a move.

Vladimir Putin addressed the Federal Assembly on March 18 pledging full support to Crimeans and praising their decision to return to Russia after about 60 years of separation. On the same day the Russian President and Crimean leaders signed a treaty that makes the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol new parts of the Russian Federation.

After the ceremony Putin asked Russian parliamentarians to ratify the treaty as fast as possible. The Lower House will hold a vote on ratification on Thursday and the Upper House is scheduled to vote on Friday.

Ukraine, the West and Russia: An analysis

The recent events in Ukraine provide a text-book case study on how to snatch (political and diplomatic) defeat from the jaws of victory.

The history of Ukraine is not the subject of this article, as information on these historical issues can be obtained easily from a Google search. As such, the basic point is that Ukraine is not a homogenous country. Very roughly-speaking, its population is primarily ethnically Ukrainian and Catholic in the West, and primarily ethnically Russian and Orthodox in the East. Crimea - which only became part of Ukraine less than 60 years ago (prior to that it was a part of Russia) - is a semi-autonomous region within Ukraine, where the population is approximately 60% ethnically Russian.

For historical reasons, there is a degree of antipathy between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians in Ukraine; and there is a degree of resentment among ethnic Ukrainians about the amount of influence that Russia has historically exerted over Ukraine. Conversely, ethnic Russians in Ukraine look to Russia for security and want close Russian involvement.

Ukraine's economy is not stable or robust. It is approximately US$ 150 Billion in debt - US$ 15 Billion of which is owed to Western financial institutions, and if it defaults on the debt, it will cause a crisis in Western financial circles. Russia had previously offered Ukraine a financial guarantee to cover the US$ 15 Billion of debt to Western institutions. These debts aside, Ukraine gets all of its gas supplies (without which perhaps a third of its population may die in winter, and its fragile economy will implode) from Russia at subsidised rates, and it is further subsidised by Russia with various other commodities (including food and substantial debt-forgiveness). Ukraine's 30% discount on the natural gas that it buys from Russia every year is in fact the rent Russia pays for the use of the Crimea for its Black Sea Fleet, but Ukraine nevertheless also defaults on payments of approximately US$ 2.5 Billion of natural gas from Russia every year. These, by the way, are the very stark realities of what is - which trump sentimentalities and views of what should be in an ideal world.

It is commonly accepted that Ukraine's recently-deposed President (who is still, according to international law, the President), was corrupt - as was his administration - and not necessarily fit to hold that office. It is also commonly accepted that his sentiments were predominantly pro-Russian, and that neither he nor his administration were widely accepted by ethnic Ukrainians; but were widely accepted by ethnically-Russian Ukrainians. It is also commonly accepted that he was democratically elected.

During recent civic unrest in Ukraine - sparked by the President's/ex-President's refusal to ratify a treaty with the European Union, which unrest ultimately resulted in loss of life - primarily ethnic Ukrainians (the "opposition") succeeded in bringing about his agreement to reduce his powers, implement a national unity government with the opposition, and hold early elections at the end of the year.

This represented an unqualified victory for the opposition, as holding course on these terms would almost certainly have brought about that which they desired (being closer ties to the European Union) without further conflict, without endangering their financial guarantees from Russia, and most importantly, in a stable manner. And then it all went very, and very avoidably, wrong.

After these terms had been agreed to, and in a rapid turn of events, elements among the opposition suddenly declared that they did not accept the agreement, and would storm the Presidential Palace the next morning if the President did not immediately step down. Consequently, he fled to Russia. Within the space of 72 hours, a new (unelected) government was sworn in, which declared him a fugitive.

Thereafter, in short order, the new government in Kiev's first law immediately revoked foreign language (read Russian) rights in Ukraine (this would be like immediately banning the use of French in Canada or Flemish in Belgium). Other than this, the newly appointed Head of the Ukrainian government's Security and National Defense Committee (a virulently and publicly anti-Russian person) publicly called on the Chechen separatist leader (who is on the USA's list as the regional leader of Al-Qaeda) to act with Ukraine and attack Russia.

Naturally none of these acts made Ukrainian citizens who are ethnically Russian feel particularly secure. The EU's Foreign Minister then publicly hugged members of the new government on TV, and the USA's representative to the region had publicly gone to give cookies to the opposition who were now in the new government - also on TV. The ethnic Russian Ukrainian citizens therefore looked to Russia for help; which they got (Russia basing its acts on a very loose interpretation of an agreement which allows it to see to the security of its Black Sea Fleet in Crimea).

To step away from Ukraine, a comparative situation would be for a pro-Mexican President in the USA to be deposed by force, for the new unelected government to immediately ban the use of Spanish (read Mexican) language rights in the USA, to appoint a virulently and publicly anti-Mexican person as the Head of Homeland Security, and for him to call on Al-Qaeda to attack Mexico. It would not make Mexican-Americans (or Mexico) feel particularly secure or satisfied. It is also unlikely that Mexican-Americans or Mexico would be further reassured if the EU's Foreign Minister then came and publicly hugged members of that new American government on TV, or the Russian representative to America went to publicly give them cookies on TV (as the USA's representative did in Kiev).  This comparison is inverted in respect of Ukraine/Russia in that in this example the USA is the dominant country - however it serves its purpose to illustrate the potential effect that crude diplomatic actions can have in exacerbating the fears of a (sizeable) minority in any country.

In any event, after these precipitous and unnecessary actions, Russian troops entered the Crimea.  These events have now created an international geopolitical flashpoint, in which postures reminiscent of the Cold War are being struck, with certain Western governments and the Russian government being at loggerheads, and inflammatory rhetoric being stepped up on an almost daily basis.

In this stand-off, Western political figures and the Western media are painting Russia in general and President Vladimir Putin in particular as the aggressor against Ukraine and as invading Crimea - which is according to them an indication of a Russian attempt to expand its "empire". Conversely, Russian and CIS political figures and media are painting the West as being hypocritical for supporting what they term an "illegal" government in Ukraine, and Russia's posture is that it is merely protecting Russian civilians in Crimea according to a bilateral agreement with Ukraine.

Other than it being worth noting that no military fighting or bloodshed has occurred in Crimea - yet, it should also be remembered that the ethnic Russians that make up 60% of the population of Crimea (and form the majority of the democratically-elected Crimean Parliament that has now voted to secede from Ukraine as a result of these incidents) are also Ukrainians by citizenship.

As such, various diplomats' and political leaders' statements that Ukrainians must be allowed to make their own decisions without external interference should also apply to them - unless race-based politics are to be invoked. This is why it is always best for diplomats and politicians to think carefully about the potential unintended consequences of their statements before making them in public.

In the current situation, neither the Russian/ethnic-Russian Ukrainians' position nor the Western/ethnic-Ukrainian Ukrainians' positions is either completely correct or completely incorrect. There are elements of truth in both sides' arguments, and also elements of falsity or posturing. In general, it is now very messy. This situation was precipitated primarily by hasty and unthinking actions and statements from (politically) unsophisticated and inexperienced people, who assumed positions of authority. However, and more seriously, the continuation and escalation of this incident primarily represents the complete failure of experienced politicians and diplomats - who should know better - to manage this process professionally and diplomatically, and to seek resolution instead of promoting tension.

Regrettably, so poor has this diplomatic performance been that in conversations which I have held over the past week with friends and former colleagues of mine in both Ukraine and Russia - who have been in government service in both of those countries - we have all agreed that had this type of impulsive behaviour been exhibited by diplomats and political leaders during the Cold War, we would have come close to nuclear war erupting.

A further cautionary note is that it serves no purpose to demonise President Putin as an individual. He is an elected President of a government. Many ministers in his government (and Parliament) favour, in comparison to him, a much harder line. He currently enjoys a 68% approval rating within Russia for his actions in Ukraine, but if he had taken a harder line, his approval rating in Russia would have been even higher.

This article is, by the way, not a defence of either the Russian or Western positions. The current situation is one of the occasions where it can be said that there are no "clean" sides or arguments, and fault can be found on all sides. This article is, however, a criticism of the failures and ineptitude in geopolitical stewardship by diplomats and political leaders, who have failed to exercise even the most basic and (supposedly) unbreakable rules of geopolitical statecraft, which are:

1. Never say anything in public that will stoke passions unless you want to start a conflict (verbal, diplomatic, trade, economic or military), and even then, only do so if you are certain that you will win any such conflict to come.

2. Never say anything in public that will stoke the (negative) passions of the population of a potentially opposing country, as you will then limit the options that the Head of State of that country has, as he or she cannot oppose the will (passions) of their own people once they are inflamed.

3. Never allow a situation to continue to escalate without trying your utmost to defuse passions as soon as possible, as the longer a standoff continues the more likely it becomes that the Laws of Unintended Consequences will be invoked, over which you will have absolutely no control.

The inflammatory statements of many political leaders and diplomats - whose job is in fact to ensure global stability not promote global instability - sound in some cases like the histrionic comments to be found in mock debates between first-year political science students; rather than reflecting sophisticated and mature diplomatic stewardship, focussed towards responsible de-escalation of tensions at a geopolitical flashpoint. Other than this, let us examine a few geopolitical, economic and military realities related to the current situation:

The world is united against Russia:

Well, actually, it is not. The combined population of Russia and the CIS countries which support the Russian / ethnic-Russian Ukrainians' position - and the qualified support of China for Russia - means that the number of persons supporting the Russian position is exponentially larger than the combined population of the USA and Western Europe. As such, there is, in fact, a majority of support for Russia if one wants to crudely try to use numbers as a benchmark for legitimacy. Moreover, in most of Asia (excluding China), Latin America, and Africa, the majority of people - including those who even know where to find Ukraine on a map - generally couldn't care less either way (except as to how it will affect their economies), as they have their own regional issues to attend to.

The United Nations Option:

Seeing as the Russian Federation is a permanent Member of the UN Security Council, and has a veto on the Council, it is a statistical possibility of zero that any effective action could or would be achieved through the United Nations.

The Sanctions Option:

Western Europe gets approximately 50% of its natural gas supplies (absolutely essential for heating in winter and for industry) from the Russia. Russia has alternative markets, and can turn off the supply without shattering its own economy. Western Europe does not have an alternative supply (the infrastructure for receipt and distribution of sufficient natural gas from other locations does not exist). The results of the closing off of the gas supply to Western Europe would be extraordinarily serious for Western Europe and the EU's economy, and in comparison not nearly as serious for Russia.

Other than this, the US$ 120 Billion per annum worth of trade between Russia and Western Europe benefits primarily Western Europe - not Russia. Russia is self-sufficient in food production, and is a net exporter -for which it is paid in foreign currency. As such, pressure on the Russian Rouble will, in fact, benefit Russia, as in Rouble terms the exports will be more valuable for Russia, being paid for in foreign currency as they are.

Moreover, other than having some of the largest deposits of oil, diamonds, and multiple minerals and metals, Russia also has some of the largest deposits of Strategic Minerals - which the rest of the world cannot do without. As such, continuation of Russian exports is assured, and if the West did not buy these product (many of which they have to) then China will buy them.

Finally, Russia has the fourth largest foreign currency reserves in the world, has hardly any debt, and its economy is sound. Western European countries and the USA on the other hand have highly indebted economies - some of which are teetering towards bankruptcy, and others of which are in the grips of severe austerity measures. No points for guessing who will lose the most with sanctions.

The Military Option:

Various intemperate analysts and political advisers have been stridently advocating that American and/or NATO military assistance be provided to Ukraine. Well, let us see. In Strategic Warfare terms, the Russian Federation has 2 500 Strategic Nuclear Missiles and over 6 000 Tactical Nuclear Weapons - more than the combined nuclear arsenal of the USA and every other NATO country combined. In Conventional Warfare terms, Russia has an army of 770 000 men with a further 2 500 000 reserves, 15 000 tanks, 28 000 Armoured Fighting vehicles, 8 000 artillery pieces and mobile rocket launchers, a 21st century air-defence system, 3 000 aircraft and 900 helicopters - again, more than the armies of the USA and all NATO members combined. The Russian Armed Forces' home country (and abundant logistical resupply) is also right next to Ukraine, while Crimea is home to the entire (large) Black Sea Fleet of the Russian navy. Therefore, unless the Japanese code of Bushido - which advocates Hara-Kiri (ritual suicide) and/or Kamikaze activities - has recently become the ideology of Western leaders; it is safe to assume it most unlikely that any military assistance could or would be provided to Ukraine by any Western Armed forces.

The Diplomatic Option:

This is, frankly, the only option available. However, given the extraordinarily impulsive and belligerent way that it has been handled to date (in public, instead of in private), one hopes that the political leaders and diplomats that have been breaking the most basic rules of statecraft by making inflammatory public statements will rather (as they seem not to know the basics of their own profession) buy and read a copy of Henry Kissinger's book "Diplomacy", and then start to act in a manner that actually befits their high political or diplomatic office. Currently, they are, in fact, behaving worse than speculators who irresponsibly play with Other People's Money - as they are, through engaging in irresponsible and inflammatory public rhetoric, actually playing with Other People's Lives.

I remember that some years ago, when I was a guest of members of both the Ukrainian Federal Government and the Government of the Autonomous Region of the Crimea; I held discussions with them at a Crimean city on the Black Sea coast called Yevpatoria - which had been, in Soviet times, a holiday city.  The government guest house that I was put up in had formerly been the USSR's special government house where Yuri Gagarin and other Soviet Cosmonauts were put up prior to their Space Missions, and it was filled with Cosmonaut memorabilia. It also had a "Russian Pyramid" billiard table with its outsized billiard balls. Over a few games of billiards and some drinks after our discussions, we had time to chat informally, and I was introduced to a number of Ukrainian proverbs, two of which strike me as being apt for the current situation.

Given the inflammatory rhetoric being used by diplomats and political leaders, the only possible result of such rhetoric can be to continually stoke the fires of potential conflict instead of pouring oil on troubled waters. Bearing in mind that it is the Ukrainians, and no-one else, who will bear the brunt of any escalation of conflict, the first relevant Ukrainian proverb would be this: "The obliging fool is worse than an enemy". Perhaps it would be best for the Ukrainians themselves to take control of their own fate and enter into direct (discreet) negotiations with each other and with Russia and/or Western countries; and not to place their fate in the hands of those who would oblige them with populist words, but then disappoint them in respect of concrete actions if the populist rhetoric escalated the situation.

One only has to look at the assurances given to Poland by third parties in 1939 - and then review what happened to Poland between 1939 and 1945, but most especially after 1945, to see what can happen to a country that places the control of its fate into the hands of third party countries - instead of remaining in control of its own destiny.

The second Ukrainian proverb - given that the situation as it currently stands in Ukraine is still infinitely soluble in comparison to what it could most definitely still degenerate into if not checked through skilful statecraft - is this: "Only when you have eaten a lemon do you appreciate what sugar is".

The taste of the lemon that could yet be eaten if this situation deteriorates further would be very bitter for all parties involved, and it would take decades, if not longer, to remove its bitter taste and legacy if consumed. For all parties, it would be better at this time to rather go in search of sugar.

Stuart Sterze is an international businessman who previously provided Strategic Geopolitical Consulting services to governments of Eastern and Western European countries, governments of countries within the Commonwealth of Independent States (former USSR) - including the Russian Federation and Ukraine - and to Europe-based International Organisations.


Let Crimea Go!

As the US and its European allies rally around the Ukrainian coup leaders and denounce the Crimean referendum, we have yet another opportunity to stand in awe of Washington’s limitless supply of arrogance. Meeting with the new "Prime Minister" of Ukraine – who achieved his high office by unleashing mobs on the duly elected government – President Barack Obama averred Washington would be "forced to apply a cost" unless the Crimean vote is called off.

So here is the United States, the alleged champion of "democracy," hailing a decidedly undemocratic coup, honoring one of the coup leaders with an appearance at the White House, and railing against the decision of the democratically elected Parliament of Crimea to let the people vote on their own future.

As if vaguely aware of the massive hypocrisy infusing his word-cloud, Obama conceded the Crimeans might possibly have some say in all this, just not now: he wants talks with the Kremlin which "could lead to different arrangements over time" for Crimea. "But, that’s not something that can be done with the barrel of a gun pointed at you" – that is, unless we’re talking about Afghanistan. Or Iraq.

In Iraq, the first post-invasion elections were unilaterally canceled by Paul Bremmer, the American viceroy, because the newly "liberated" nation "wasn’t ready."

As conceived by the neocon geniuses who lied us into that war, the original scenario for the elections was for a series of handpicked local "councils" to vet the candidates and apportion parliamentary seats to suit the convenience of Washington policymakers. This was furiously rejected by the Ayatollah Sistani, supreme religious leader of the country’s majority Shi’ites, who called out tens of thousands of his followers into the streets, howling holy murder. This set Bremmer and his fellow neocons back on their heels, and I guess the military intervened to get Washington to override Bremmer’s commissars and let the Iraqis have direct elections: you know, like one person one vote.

Then a referendum to ratify the Iraqi constitution was held, and shortly afterward the much-touted "blue finger" vote, at which point over 100,000 US troops were fighting a revived Sunni insurgency. The elections failed to tamp down support for the rebels and so Bush ordered the "surge," which brought the total to over 150,000 American soldiers on the ground in Iraq.

Four elections have been held in Afghanistan with a very big American gun pointed at the Afghan people. In the ’04, ’05, ’09, and 2010 elections for President and Parliament there were as many as 101,000 US troops in the country – that is, 101,000 guns pointed at the electorate. Two of those elections have been held with Obama in the White House – but we can’t really blame him for his hypocrisy.

After all, the habit of "exceptionalism" is so ingrained in our political class, so much a part of the very air they breathe, that they are no longer even aware of it. To ordinary human beings, the breathtaking double standard is all too obvious, but to an inhabitant of Washington’s Beltway such heretical thoughts are downright subversive, indicative of the dreaded "moral equivalency" that separates supposedly marginal figures like Noam Chomsky from the ranks of the respectable.

When we do it, goes the unspoken first rule of "mainstream" American foreign policy, it’s an act of "liberation" – but when they do it, it’s a brazen violation of international law and a horrific act of aggression.

Our European sock puppets don’t dare dispute this, although their subjects might have a far different opinion. Before Yatsenyuk showed up in Washington with his hand out, the US and its NATO allies plus Japan issued a "stern warning," as the McClatchy story put it, demanding the Russians cancel the referendum – and naturally not deigning to address the Crimeans directly:

"Any such referendum would have no legal effect. Given the lack of adequate preparation and the intimidating presence of Russian troops, it would also be a deeply flawed process which would have no moral force. For all these reasons we would not recognize the outcome."

Yet all these American satraps recognize the "government" of Hamid Karzai, kept in power by American force of arms, just as they recognized the Iraqi government that finally emerged from the rubble of war. Or is it that the presence of American troops is somehow less “intimidating” than the Russians? Tweet me when Putin sets up the Crimean equivalent of Abu Ghraib. Or when those mysterious Russian-troops-out-of-uniform go on a murderous rampage like these guys did.

In Washington, Yatsenyuk at his side, Obama declared that he and his international vassals would "completely reject" what he called a "slapdash" election. Did Yatsenyuk wince just a bit upon hearing these words? After all, is the May 25 national election scheduled in Ukraine any less slapdash than the Crimean referendum? Not that elections mean much in Kiev these days.

As Obama hailed the "courage" of the coupists – and Yatsenyuk posed for the cameras while declaring in a Ukrainian-accented Churchillian voice "We will never surrender!" – it all came down to the money. Hurry up and pass that $1 billion dollar "aid package" for Ukraine, Obama urged Congress.

He needn’t have bothered: legislation passed the House on Tuesday and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a similar bill the next day. One of the few rational human beings on Capitol Hill, Sen. Rand Paul, wrote an op-ed saying we should "get tough" on the Russians by … denying Ukraine that billion dollar boondoggle, which I thought was a rather too clever by half way of putting it. But that should tell you what the atmosphere is like in Beltway-land, where your money is their chance to posture as world leaders and we’re always on the verge of some stupendous "crisis."

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose US intervention in Ukraine, and are against sending military aid in any form: even support for sanctions is weak, with younger voters decisively opposed. While the Washington establishment is frothing at the mouth over Ukraine, a judicious politician like Sen. Paul is wisely urging policymakers not to "tweak" the Russians – a view more in line with what ordinary Americans think.

Preening and posing on the international stage, huffing and puffing and threatening to blow Putin’s house down, the Americans are overreacting to what should be a regional issue of marginal importance. Yet there is an internal logic to this overreaction, one dictated by economic and political factors, the first of these being the ongoing project of NATO expansion.

When a country joins NATO, it must measure up to the alliance’s military standards, which means a complete upgrade of the armed forces. This is a bonanza for Western arms companies, mostly American, which supply the required equipment and reap multi-billions in profits every time a new member is inducted into the club. The old Committee to Expand NATO was generously funded by the big weapons manufacturers, who drooled at the prospect of recruiting former Soviet bloc nations into the fold. There is money to be made in Ukraine by the sort of crony capitalists who thrive in the Age of Obama, and you can bet the push to confer NATO membership on Kiev is bound to pick up steam. The Georgians, too, are in line for amalgamation into the NATO Borg, which has moved so far eastward since the end of the cold war that they’re almost at the gates of Moscow.

When the Berlin Wall fell, and the old cold war order dissolved, Western European leaders were eager to ensure peace and relative stability. This is why Germany’s Helmut Kohl made a deal with Mikhail Gorbachev that the price of German reunification would be no eastward expansion of NATO. We can see what the status of that "gentleman’s agreement" is today.

Western leaders only bloviate about moral and "international law" when it suits their purposes. Otherwise, when that law is supposed to apply to them, they shrug it off and suddenly it’s might makes right. Such a Janus-faced view of justice on the part of the US government is all too familiar to the world’s peoples: what’s new is that, at this point, even the American people are beginning to take the same justifiably cynical view of their government’s role in world affairs. Once again, as in the case of Syria, the American people oppose the policy preferred by their elites: thankfully, however, the Beltway crowd is too stupid and self-absorbed to heed that warning, their second in a few months.

I’m thankful because their blindness augurs their downfall.


Russia’s very different take on Ukraine crisis

There are two things to keep in mind about the Ukrainian crisis. The first is that, rhetoric aside, there is little that the West can or will do to force Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops out of Crimea. The second is that Russia’s view of what’s happening in Ukraine differs dramatically from the one commonly accepted here. If those who overthrew the old order in Kyiv are counting on the West to protect them militarily from Moscow, they are almost certainly doomed to disappointment.

The U.S., Canada, and other NATO members have made it clear that they are not willing to go to war with Russia over Ukraine. There has been talk of economic sanctions. But as both the West and Russia know, these would cut two ways. In the short run, Western Europe depends on Russian oil and natural gas. Russian rubles grease Britain’s important financial industry. As the BBC reported, British Prime Minister David Cameron has been warned by his own officials against imposing sanctions that could interfere with London’s role as a financial centre.

The West could expel Russia from the G8 group of big industrial nations. But so what? Many countries, including China, get by perfectly well outside of the G8. Resolutions condemning Russia’s intervention in Ukraine’s Crimea region, such as the one passed unanimously in the Commons Monday, may make the participants feel virtuous. But they have no practical effect. Lost in the clamour is the fact that Russia has an entirely different take on what is happening in Ukraine.

In the West, last month’s revolution is lauded as a victory of democracy over despotism. To Russia’s leaders, however, it was a Washington-backed putsch designed to draw a region long deemed essential to Moscow’s security into the enemy camp. U.S. President Barack Obama says Ukraine can both be a friend to the West and to Russia. Putin’s press conference Tuesday was marked by whoppers, including his claim that Russian troops in Crimea are not Russian. But I suspect he was speaking close to the heart when he accused the U.S. and its friends of playing a crucial role in the “coup d’état” that brought Ukraine’s new government to power.

“They sit there across the pond as if in a lab running all kinds of experiments on the rats,” Putin said. To Moscow, the decision to dig in now follows logically from what it sees as two decades of Western double-dealing. Canadians remember that the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Russia remembers that, in return, the U.S. and its allies agreed to recognize Moscow’s vital interest in its own neighbourhood.

In particular, then U.S. president George Bush pledged not to expand NATO eastward. Yet to Russia’s dismay, that pledge was soon broken as NATO welcomed 11 former Soviet satellites into its fold, including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. In 2003 and 2004, Western countries backed so-called colour revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. In 2008, NATO agreed that both would eventually be allowed to join the military alliance.

The West viewed all of this as the march of democracy. But Moscow saw it as hypocritical meddling. Russia knows that the U.S. accords itself the right to intervene militarily in the affairs of its neighbours. It has famously done so throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Yet when Moscow does the same, it finds itself branded a pariah. Being lectured on international law by the country that illegally invaded Iraq almost certainly irks.

In a perfect world, Moscow would abandon its strategic interests in Crimea (it’s been home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet since 1783). In a perfect world, Russia would not care if a united Ukraine joined NATO. In the real world, this is unlikely to happen. For this crisis to end, Kyiv and Moscow will have to reach some kind of political accommodation. Moral and financial support from the West may be cheering for Ukraine. But it won’t be enough.


Henry Kissinger: How the Ukraine crisis ends

Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation. But do we know where we are going? In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins. Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them. Russia must accept that to try to force Ukraine into a satellite status, and thereby move Russia’s borders again, would doom Moscow to repeat its history of self-fulfilling cycles of reciprocal pressures with Europe and the United States.

The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. Russian history began in what was called Kievan-Rus. The Russian religion spread from there. Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then. Some of the most important battles for Russian freedom, starting with the Battle of Poltava in 1709 , were fought on Ukrainian soil. The Black Sea Fleet — Russia’s means of projecting power in the Mediterranean — is based by long-term lease in Sevastopol, in Crimea. Even such famed dissidents as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky insisted that Ukraine was an integral part of Russian history and, indeed, of Russia.

The European Union must recognize that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis. Foreign policy is the art of establishing priorities.

The Ukrainians are the decisive element. They live in a country with a complex history and a polyglot composition. The Western part was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939 , when Stalin and Hitler divided up the spoils. Crimea, 60 percent of whose population is Russian , became part of Ukraine only in 1954 , when Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian by birth, awarded it as part of the 300th-year celebration of a Russian agreement with the Cossacks. The west is largely Catholic; the east largely Russian Orthodox. The west speaks Ukrainian; the east speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other — as has been the pattern — would lead eventually to civil war or break up. To treat Ukraine as part of an East-West confrontation would scuttle for decades any prospect to bring Russia and the West — especially Russia and Europe — into a cooperative international system.

Ukraine has been independent for only 23 years; it had previously been under some kind of foreign rule since the 14th century. Not surprisingly, its leaders have not learned the art of compromise, even less of historical perspective. The politics of post-independence Ukraine clearly demonstrates that the root of the problem lies in efforts by Ukrainian politicians to impose their will on recalcitrant parts of the country, first by one faction, then by the other. That is the essence of the conflict between Viktor Yanu­kovych and his principal political rival, Yulia Tymo­shenko. They represent the two wings of Ukraine and have not been willing to share power. A wise U.S. policy toward Ukraine would seek a way for the two parts of the country to cooperate with each other. We should seek reconciliation, not the domination of a faction.

Russia and the West, and least of all the various factions in Ukraine, have not acted on this principle. Each has made the situation worse. Russia would not be able to impose a military solution without isolating itself at a time when many of its borders are already precarious. For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.

Putin should come to realize that, whatever his grievances, a policy of military impositions would produce another Cold War. For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington. Putin is a serious strategist — on the premises of Russian history. Understanding U.S. values and psychology are not his strong suits. Nor has understanding Russian history and psychology been a strong point of U.S. policymakers.

Leaders of all sides should return to examining outcomes, not compete in posturing. Here is my notion of an outcome compatible with the values and security interests of all sides:

1. Ukraine should have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations, including with Europe.

2. Ukraine should not join NATO, a position I took seven years ago, when it last came up.

3. Ukraine should be free to create any government compatible with the expressed will of its people. Wise Ukrainian leaders would then opt for a policy of reconciliation between the various parts of their country. Internationally, they should pursue a posture comparable to that of Finland. That nation leaves no doubt about its fierce independence and cooperates with the West in most fields but carefully avoids institutional hostility toward Russia.

4. It is incompatible with the rules of the existing world order for Russia to annex Crimea. But it should be possible to put Crimea’s relationship to Ukraine on a less fraught basis. To that end, Russia would recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea. Ukraine should reinforce Crimea’s autonomy in elections held in the presence of international observers. The process would include removing any ambiguities about the status of the Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol.

These are principles, not prescriptions. People familiar with the region will know that not all of them will be palatable to all parties. The test is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction. If some solution based on these or comparable elements is not achieved, the drift toward confrontation will accelerate. The time for that will come soon enough.


Putin may be crazy, but it doesn’t matter

Is Vladimir Putin crazy? Former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright says Putin is “delusional.” Germany’s Angela Merkel says he’s “out of touch with reality.”

I have no idea if he’s crazy and I don’t think it matters. According to The Psychopath Test, numerous CEOs and politicians make the cut based on criteria like their ability to blithely take decisions that wreck millions of lives. And if you look at what he’s actually done, I doubt it matters either. If you designed a computer program to react “rationally” on the model of great power leaders pursuing what’s consensually viewed as the National Interest, it would probably “behave” as Putin has, or perhaps more drastically.

When the Soviet Union broke up, the West said it wouldn’t advance against Russia militarily. Since then it’s tightened a NATO noose around Russia’s neck: Poland, Hungary, the Baltic states, the threat of missiles based near Russian borders. When the Soviets put missiles in Cuba in 1962, the U.S. went berserk, metaphorically or literally, blithely promising to incinerate the planet in response. Was John F. Kennedy delusional? Does it matter? It’s how great powers behave, especially in their own backyard.

I think this is wretched, immoral bullying — maybe I should put that in caps: THIS IS ODIOUS BEHAVIOUR — and bullied nations like Ukraine are right to protest, just as people in Latin America hate it when the U.S. does it. But it’s normal great power activity, crazy or not. By the way, Madeleine Albright, who’s presumably non-delusional, was asked in 1996 if half a million dead Iraqi kids was a “price” worth paying to assert U.S. power in far-off Iraq. She said: “We think the price is worth it.” Please note her use of “we” — indicating a possible collective psychosis.

Is he Hitler? It’s always springtime for Hitler analogies. Hillary Clinton has done it, also U.S. Senators John McCain, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and lesser luminaries. But the only government leaders who’ve taken that plunge are Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. I think the distinction is significant. Out of power, you can say anything since your only purpose is to get elected or re-elected. When you hold power, like Harper and Baird, you might actually have an effect so you tend to be more cautious and less stupid. Except for our guys.

I’d say what this shows is that Harperites have simply abandoned foreign policy as anything except a way to sweep up votes. They’ve already made themselves irrelevant in forums like global climate conferences or the UN; they just don’t give a damn. If you want to become a Canadian diplomat, forget working your way up or getting degrees in global affairs. Become head of the PM’s security detail or shill for the Israeli government instead. This must be discouraging for generations of civil servants. I agree with Yves Engler that Canadian diplomats were never neutral “brokers”; they acted mostly in the interest of the U.S. But that was sometimes useful, offering a little distance from the boss. That’s all gone, too.

The dilemma of the squares. There have always been spontaneous outbreaks of democratic will, like the Paris Commune or slave revolts. There’s a collective as well as an individual need to control one’s life. But recently the eruption and takeover of public spaces — in Tunis, Cairo, Madrid, Wall St., Kyiv’s Maidan — seem more coherent and continuous, perhaps due to social media.

These movements are the lifeblood of democratic renewal. They’re also susceptible to manipulation. Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004 seemed far more stage-managed by western forces like the U.S.’s National Endowment for Democracy or George Soros’ Open Society Institute than the Maidan has been. But there’s no doubt the same forces still operate. See the phone intercepts from U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland. They make these eruptions vulnerable to charges of being illegitimate fakes.

The trick is finding a way to link the genuine popular outbursts to institutionalized, constitutional, representative forms. I know that’s a mouthful but I don’t think anyone’s come up with a solution. Yet who wants to be stuck with merely voting in the occasional election, then going to sleep for another four years? If anyone has the answer, please write or call.

Estonian Foreign Ministry confirms authenticity of leaked call on Kiev snipers

The Estonian Foreign Ministry has confirmed the recording of his conversation with EU foreign policy chief is authentic. Urmas Paet said that snipers who shot at protesters and police in Kiev were hired by Maidan leaders. Paet told RIA-Novosti news agency that he talked to Catherine Ashton last week right after retiring from Kiev, but refrained from further comments, saying that he has to “listen to the tape first.”

“It’s very disappointing that such surveillance took place altogether. It’s not a coincidence that this conversation was uploaded [to the web] today,” he stressed. “My conversation with Ashton took place last week right after I returned from Kiev. At that time I was already in Estonia,” Paet added.

Paet also gave a press conference about the leaked tape on Wednesday, saying that the dramatic events in Kiev, which resulted in people being killed, must become the subject of an independent investigation. The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a statement on its website, saying that the recording of the leaked telephone conversation between Paet and Ashton is “authentic.” 

The phone call took place on February 26 after Estonia’s FM returned from his visit to Ukraine, which took place soon after the end of street violence in Kiev, the ministry added.

“We reject the claim that Paet was giving an assessment of the opposition’s involvement in the violence," the statement stressed, adding that the FM was only providing an overview of what he had heard during his Kiev visit. RT has contacted Ashton’s spokesperson, Maja Kocijancic, who said “we don’t comment on leaked phone conversations.”

The US government declined to comment on the leaked phone conversation between EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and the Estonian foreign affairs minister. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she had nothing to say on the issue, ITAR-TASS reported. However, she did accuse Russia of leaking the tape, stating that “this was another example of how the Russians work.”

The call took place after Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet visited Kiev on February 25, following the peak of clashes between the pro-EU protesters and security forces in the Ukrainian capital.

It was reportedly uploaded to the web by officers of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) loyal to ousted President Viktor Yanukovich who hacked Paet’s and Ashton’s phones. During the conversation, Paet stressed that “there is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers, it was not Yanukovich, but it was somebody from the new coalition.” According to the Estonian FM, “all the evidence shows” that the “same snipers” at Maidan were shooting at people from both sides – the police and the protesters. Ashton reacted to the information by saying: “Well, yeah…that’s, that’s terrible,” adding that the matter is worth investigating. 94 people were killed and another 900 injured during the standoff between police and protesters at Maidan Saquare in Kiev last month. 

Russia calls for OSCE probe into Kiev sniper deaths

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday called for an OSCE investigation into who was behind the deaths of dozens of people in Kiev last month in attacks by snipers, saying the truth could no longer be "covered up". Lavrov's comments came after Estonia's top diplomat told EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in a phone call leaked this weak that the then-Ukrainian opposition to president Viktor Yanukovych may have been involved in the attacks.

"The latest information about the so-called snipers case can no longer be covered up," Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow with his Tajik counterpart. "We have proposed that the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) takes up an objective investigation of this and we will ensure there is justice. "There have been too many lies, and this lie has been used too long to push European public opinion in the wrong direction, contrary to the objective facts."

Western states have blamed Yanukovych's now disbanded elite riot police force for much of the killing that rocked in Kiev in February. However Russia has strongly emphasised the leaked phone call between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Ashton as evidence for its argument that the new post-Yanukovych government in Kiev is made up of dangerous extremists. Lavrov's call for a full probe indicates that this is an issue Russia will not allow to drop, risking new tensions with the West. In the audio of the February 26 call, whose authenticity was confirmed by Estonia, Paet told Ashton he was informed in Kiev that "they were the same snipers killing people from both sides."

Dozens of protesters and around 15 police officers were killed in the attacks. Paet, who had held talks with Ukraine's new leaders on February 25, added: "It's really disturbing that now the new coalition, they don't want to investigate what exactly happened."

Russia warns could 'reduce to zero' economic dependency on US

Russia could reduce to zero its economic dependency on the United States if Washington agreed sanctions against Moscow over Ukraine, a Kremlin aide said on Tuesday, warning that the American financial system faced a "crash" if this happened. "We would find a way not just to reduce our dependency on the United States to zero but to emerge from those sanctions with great benefits for ourselves," said Kremlin economic aide Sergei Glazyev.

He told the RIA Novosti news agency Russia could stop using dollars for international transactions and create its own payment system using its "wonderful trade and economic relations with our partners in the East and South." Russian firms and banks would also not return loans from American financial institutions, he said.

"An attempt to announce sanctions would end in a crash for the financial system of the United States, which would cause the end of the domination of the United States in the global financial system," he added. He said that economic sanctions imposed by the European Union would be a "catastrophe" for Europe, saying that Russia could halt gas supplies "which would be beneficial for the Americans" and give the Russian economy a useful "impulse".

Glazyev has long been seen as among the most hawkish of the advisors to President Vladimir Putin but many observers have seen his hand in the apparent radicalisation of policy on Ukraine since the overthrow of president Viktor Yanukovych. Economists have long mocked his apocalyptic and confrontational vision of global economics but also expressed concern that he appears to have grown in authority in recent months. A high ranking Kremlin source told RIA Novosti that Glazyev was speaking in the capacity of an "academic" and his personal opinion did not reflect the official Kremlin policy.

Glazyev descrived the new Ukrainian authorities as "illegitimate and Russophobic", saying some members of the government were on lists of "terrorist organisations, they are criminals". "If the authorities remain criminal then I think the people of Ukraine will get rid of them soon," he added.


Western sanctions will only strengthen Russian industry – Rogozin

After an urgent closed meeting of the heads of Russian defense enterprises, Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin said that possible economic sanctions could stimulate Russian industry and only hurt its foreign partners. The meeting took place on Thursday and afterwards the man in charge of the Russian weapons industry announced the decisions via a Twitter post.

The result of the conversation with our industry leaders: the possible economic sanctions would only force it to work better and follow the policy of import replacement,” Rogozin tweeted. “Instead, the boomerang of sanctions would hit and hurt foreign partners,” the official added.

Hard to believe that in the conditions of a continuing economic recession Western politicians find some pleasure in hurting the businesses that use Russian markets as the only opportunity to maintain the production and to keep jobs,” Rogozin wrote.

The Deputy PM paid special attention to the situation in Ukraine because of the close ties between Russian and Ukrainian weapons companies dating back to the centralized economy of the Soviet Union. In early February he expressed hope that economic cooperation with Russia could help Ukraine create more jobs and eventually end the social tensions ravaging the country.

Earlier this week, veteran Russian parliamentarian and head of the Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky told reporters that the sanctions would not have any negatively impact the Russian economy directly. “The USA is ready to support anyone if this would help them spite Russia, this is still the remnants of the Cold War,” the politician noted.

The European Union and the United States have threatened Russia with various sanctions over its position on the Ukrainian political crisis and the support to the Crimean Autonomous Republic that is currently preparing a referendum on possible succession from Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation. The measures include visa bans, asset freezes and various economic restrictions. Polish PM Donald Tusk told the press on Tuesday that the decision to impose sanctions had already been made and they would start as soon as Monday.

The US authorities announced last week that they had imposed visa restrictions on Russian and Crimean officials and private citizens who they accused of “threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty and integrity.”

The move prompted telephone talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US State Secretary John Kerry as well as a telephone conversation between presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama FM Lavrov warned that any sanctions against Russia will have a “boomerang” effect and urged Washington to steer away from actions that could hurt relations between the countries.

President Putin explained to President Obama that Russia could not ignore the pleas for help from the Ukrainian Russian-speaking population, and that all Russia’s actions were in full compliance with international law. He also emphasized that he regarded Russian-US relations as of paramount importance to guarantee stability and security in the world.

These relations should not be sacrificed to differences over individual – even though very important – international problems,” Putin said according to the press release issued after the talks.


EU sanctions are ‘stupid’ and will ‘sabotage’ the West – Rosneft spokesperson

Igor Sechin.(Reuters / Richard Carson)

A list has surfaced containing the names of more than 100 Russian businessmen and politicians allegedly targeted for EU economic sanctions. German newspaper Bild reported Igor Sechin, CEO of the world’s largest-listed oil company is on the list. Alexey Miller, head of state-owned Gazprom and Vladimir Yankunin, who runs Russian Railways, are both rumored to be on the ‘list’. 

"This is stupid, petty and obvious sabotage of themselves most of all," Rosneft spokesman Mikhail Leontyev said by phone, Reuters reports. Rosneft’s official comment echoes that of Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, who warned any sanctions against Moscow will have a “boomerang” effect."I hope this all ends up as being empty rhetoric," Leontyev said in response to the Bild’s report that Sechin is on the list of key targets.

The US and EU have warned that Russia’s actions in Crimea will be followed by economic sanctions, and it won’t be “business as usual” with Russia. More precise actions are expected on March 17, following a referendum vote in Crimea taking place this Sunday. On Wednesday, the EU agreed to issue visa bans and freeze assets of anyone who was “responsible” for undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including key politicians, state-owned banks, commercial organization, and other state agencies.

In response, Russia said it could issue counter sanctions against the EU and US if they push sanctions, which may include freezing the assets of Western companies and individuals. Rosneft has increased earnings this year by more than 50 percent, company officials announced on Tuesday. Rosneft accounts for 40 percent of Russia’s oil output. 

Rosneft’s western partners

"I think this would primarily affect Rosneft's business partners in the West in an extraordinary way,” the spokesman said.

Rosneft has strong strategic partnerships worldwide. Some of the biggest projects are with China’s state-owned oil companies as the country looks east to growing Asian markets, rather than west for expanding markets. In 2013, net income reached $15.6 billion, which pushed the company’s market capitalization to $72.8 billion. In 2013 the company’s capitalization increased by 18 percent, much of this due to the acquisition of TNK-BP.

US-based ExxonMobil is planning a $500 billion exploration of the Bazhenov oil field in Western Siberia, and a separate Far East liquefied natural gas terminal project costing $15 billion. The project is aimed at expanding the company’s influence in the East. Exxon has also partnered with Rosneft to explore Black Sea reserves, which lie under Crimean waters.

Another big project is with Norway’s Statoil, to explore the continental shelf in the Barents Sea. In Japan, Rosneft has signed a deal to jointly explore oil and gas in the Sea of Okhotsk with INPEX, Japan’s largest energy exporter.

As CEO, Sechin may be best-known for his affinity for oil deals in Venezuela, where the CEO often makes personal trips. Rosneft’s influence in Venezuela ranges from exploring ‘sand oil’ in the Orinoco River delta to huge offshore projects.


Wall Street Journal: Welcome to the 19th Century

'You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext," declared John Kerry on March 2 as Russia began its conquest of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. Though he didn't intend it, the U.S. Secretary of State was summing up the difference between the current leaders of the West who inhabit a fantasy world of international rules and the hard men of the Kremlin who understand the language of power. The 19th-century men are winning.


Vladimir Putin consolidated his hold on Crimea Sunday by forcing a referendum with only two choices. Residents of the Ukrainian region could vote either to join Russia immediately or to do so eventually. The result was a foregone conclusion, midwifed by Russian troops and anti-Ukraine propaganda. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed Mr. Kerry's pleas for restraint on Friday in London, and Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution denouncing the Crimean takeover a day later.

Next up for conquest may be eastern Ukraine. Russian troops are massed on the border, and on Saturday its soldiers and helicopter gunships crossed from Crimea and occupied a natural gas plant on the Ukrainian mainland. Scuffles and demonstrations in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv, egged on by Russian agitators, could create another "trumped up pretext." And what is to stop Mr. Putin? In the two weeks since Russian troops occupied Crimea, President Obama and Europe have done little but threaten "consequences" that Mr. Putin has little reason to take seriously.

The U.S. has refused Ukraine's request for urgent military aid, and it has merely sent a few NATO planes to the Baltic states and Poland. The Russian strongman might figure he's better off seizing more territory now and forcing the West to accept his facts on the ground. All the more so given that his domestic popularity is soaring as he seeks to revive the 19th-century Russian empire. Left in shambles are the illusions of Mr. Obama and his fellow liberal internationalists. They arrived at the White House proclaiming that the days of U.S. leadership had to yield to a new collective security enforced by "the international community." The U.N. would be the vanguard of this new 21st-century order, and "international law" and arms-control treaties would define its rules.

Thus Mr. Obama's initial response to Mr. Putin's Crimean invasion was to declare, like Mr. Kerry, that it is "illegal" because it violates "the Ukrainian constitution and international law." As if Mr. Putin cares. The 19th-century men understand that what defines international order is the cold logic of political will and military power. With American power in retreat, the revanchists have moved to fill the vacuum with a new world disorder.

Backed by Iran and Russia, Bashar Assad is advancing in Syria and may soon crush the opposition. Iran is arming the terrorist militias to the north and south of Israel. China is pressing its regional territorial claims and building its military. And Mr. Putin is blowing apart post-Cold War norms by carving up foreign countries when he feels he can. The question now is whether Mr. Obama and his advisers will shed their 21st-century fantasies and push back against the new Bonapartes. Jimmy Carter finally awoke after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, but Mr. Obama hasn't shown the same awareness of what is happening on his watch.

We've written about the need for broad economic and financial sanctions against Russia and its elites. Skeptics reply that Europe will never go along. Even if that's true—and that would mean a failure of U.S. diplomacy—it shouldn't deter the U.S. from imposing its own banking and financial sanctions. The world's banks can be made to face a choice between doing business with Russia or doing business in America. We know from the Bush Administration's experience with North Korea that such sanctions bite.

The West must also meet Mr. Putin's military aggression with a renewed military deterrent. This does not mean a strike on Russia or invading Crimea. It should mean offering military aid to Ukraine to raise the price of further Russian intervention. Above all it means reinforcing NATO to show Mr. Putin that invading a treaty ally would lead to war. The U.S. and Europe should move quickly to forward deploy forces to Poland, the Baltic states and other front-line NATO nations. This should include troops in addition to planes and armor. Reviving an updated version of the Bush-era missile defense installation in Eastern Europe is also warranted, including advanced interceptors that could eventually be used against Russian ICBMs.

Russia's revanchism should also finally awaken Europeans to spend more on their own defense. The 19th-century men know that nationalism isn't dead as a mobilizing political force. Western Europe's leaders will have to relearn this reality or their dreams of European peace will be shattered. They need more modern arms of their own in addition to America's through NATO. In response to the Crimean referendum Sunday, the White House issued a statement declaring that, "In this century, we are long past the days when the international community will stand quietly by while one country forcibly seizes the territory of another." We shall see, but Mr. Obama first needs to understand that America's adversaries reject his fanciful 21st-century rules.

Heavier Sanctions on Russia Could Backfire

Heavier U.S. and European Union sanctions could sting Russia's already slow-growing economy and hurt its financial sector. But Moscow could retaliate and seize American and other foreign assets or cut exports of natural gas to Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russia for energy.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday warned Secretary of State John Kerry that U.S. sanctions could "backfire," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. During a telephone call, Lavrov urged the U.S. not to take "hasty, poorly thought-out steps that could harm Russian-U.S. relations, especially concerning sanctions, which would unavoidably boomerang on the U.S. itself," the statement said.

In a separate statement on Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry also warned the European Union that any sanctions it imposed would not go unanswered and would harm "the interests of the EU itself and its member nations."

Declaring his determination not to let the Kremlin carve up Ukraine, President Barack Obama on Thursday slapped new visa restrictions on Russian and other opponents of Ukraine's government in Kiev and authorized wider financial penalties against those involved in the military intervention or in stealing state assets. Obama emphasized his resolve in an hourlong telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, affirming his contention that Russia's actions violate Ukraine's sovereignty.

On Capitol Hill, both chambers of Congress looked to advance legislation imposing hard-hitting sanctions on Russia.

Obama hailed U.S. cooperation with the European Union, which on Thursday suspended talks with Putin's government on a wide-ranging economic agreement and on granting Russian citizens visa-free travel within the 28-nation bloc. But Europe's presidents and prime ministers remain divided on taking more drastic steps such as freezing assets and issuing travel bans on Russian officials.

European hesitancy reflected the reality that targeting influential Russian businessmen or major Russian companies would also harm Europe's economic interests. U.S. trade with Russia is less than one-tenth of Europe's.

Russian investors hold assets worth billions in European banks, particularly in Britain, which is highly protective of its financial sector, and major exporters such as Germany and the Netherlands have far more at stake than the United States in Russia's consumer economy.

Showing greater caution than Obama on sanctions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said European penalties against Russia depend "on how the diplomatic process progresses." EU President Herman Van Rompuy said travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of an EU-Russia summit could still come. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk acknowledged "no enthusiasm" in Europe for economic sanctions.

In some ways, the debate over sanctions echoes the Cold War doctrine of military strategy in which if two opponents fired off nuclear weapons, both sides would be annihilated.

"There is a kind of mutually assured destruction relationship here," said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and analyst at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington. "Russia could say, 'Well, we're going to cut off your gas, and you guys can now scramble and buy extra gas and pay big prices.'

"It would hurt the Europeans, but it also would cut off the biggest source of cash that flows into Russia today," he said referring to oil and gas sales that account for about 60 percent of Russia's exports and half of its government revenue. "So the Russians may threaten some things, but they also have to consider that if they do that what it would do to the Russian economy."

The West should forget about punishing Russia and do more to help Ukraine

The United States and the European Union both announced aid packages for Ukraine last week. But with the new government in Kiev struggling to clean house after the corrupt rule of Viktor Yanukovych and face down a belligerent Russia, the aid packages are too small and will disburse too slowly to provide the immediate help it needs. Ukraine’s current crisis is typically miscast as a political conflict between East and West—between pro-Russian Yanukovych and Europhile opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko; between the country’s Russian-speaking eastern regions and its Ukrainian-speaking western half; and between Russia and its old Cold War adversaries. These political clashes are, however, byproducts of a much more profound, long-simmering Ukrainian economic crisis that has been decades in the making.

Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine hasn’t been economically viable. Though it is one of the world’s top cereal producers, its manufacturing infrastructure is tired and its steel industry is obsolete. It adds to these woes by rigging its currency at artificially high levels, making consumer imports cheap, but exports uncompetitive. The economy is also dangerously dependent on natural gas imports from Russia that power about 40% of Ukraine’s electricity production. The supply contracts for Russia’s natural gas provide a cover for massive corruption by Russian and Ukrainian interests, as Quartz’s Steve LeVine notes. The problem is compounded by huge Ukrainian government subsidies: Kiev pays about 80% of the cost of Russian gas imports. In theory, it passes the remaining 20% on to consumers and businesses, but the government’s collection efforts are spotty.

As a result, the Ukrainian state has racked up debt equivalent to about 40% of GDP. That’s not massive compared with other troubled countries—Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio exceeds 150%—but it’s more than Ukraine and most emerging markets can sustain.

Ukraine is living on borrowed time

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, foreign appetite for Ukrainian grain and steel kept the country afloat. But with the 2008 financial crisis, demand for Ukrainian exports crashed. Rather than adjusting their spending, successive Ukrainian governments flirted alternately with Russia and the West to paper over the country’s financial cracks. With IMF support, the government set reform programs in motion in 2008 and 2010 to put the country on a sounder financial footing. But both IMF loans were suspended when Ukraine reneged on promised reforms. Accession talks with the European Union stalled. Kiev turned to Moscow for help, and replaced Western financing with $15 billion in support from Russia combined with $7 billion of natural gas discounts. All of that got pulled when Yanukovych fled office a few weeks ago.

Ukraine is now living on borrowed time. Around $20 billion in debt comes due over the next two years. That’s $20 billion the Ukrainian government can’t finance. Its other financing needs are murky: No-one trusts the Kiev authorities’ numbers. An IMF mission arrived in Kiev last week to set the facts straight, but it won’t report back to Washington for another week. In any case, a crisis two decades in the making can’t be undone in the 18 to 36 months of a typical IMF-supported reform program. As for the American and European aid, it will also likely carry conditions the fledgling Ukrainian government can’t fulfill in the coming months. The government has already started slashing pensions and social spending to meet the West’s demands. Rather than shoring up the interim administration, this is a recipe for disaster ahead of May elections.

Kiev needs more money, and sooner

Ukraine needs more time to reform its economy and put it on a sustainable path. The West should make its offer of aid more realistic. First, the US and EU need to front-load their aid packages and make them richer. The American offer of $1 billion in loan guarantees would make only a dent in Ukraine’s financing needs. Europe’s $11 billion aid package would release only about $1.6 billion this year, and then only on agreement to widespread reforms and a deal with the IMF. To dispel any fear of a debt default and defer crippling spending cuts, the US and Europe should offer Ukraine $20 billion over the next two years, of which $7 billion to $10 billion should be upfront in liquid non-project financing. Second, the West needs to ensure that IMF money carries fewer strings and disburses faster than past loans. The Ukrainian government has requested $15 billion from the IMF, but this is likely to come in two parts: perhaps $1 billion under an emergency facility, with the rest over the next three years once Kiev has agreed to tough conditions. Third, the West needs to open unilaterally and immediately its markets to Ukrainian goods by dropping tariff barriers.

Punishing Russia won’t achieve anything

Diplomatic isolation, asset freezes, and travel bans may be appropriate, but are unlikely to have much impact on Russia. Economic and financial sanctions that would actually bite aren’t credible. Russia does $100 billion in annual trade with Europe. One-third of European natural gas comes from Russia. The $3 billion in transit fees on that gas constitute Ukraine’s largest service export. And London’s banks house billions in oligarchs’ assets. Europe needs Russia and Vladimir Putin knows it. Likewise, musings about the US using its abundant shale gas or releases from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to drive down global energy prices and hurt Russia’s exports are fantasies. It will be years before the US has the infrastructure needed to export its gas surplus. And SPR releases turn the screws on Russia only if OPEC, or at least the Saudis, check their production too.

Finally, helping Ukraine is diplomatically easier than sanctioning Russia. In contrast with the UN Security Council, where Russian and Chinese vetoes hamper action, the US and Europe have enough voting power on the IMF Executive Board to approve a large loan with few strings to Ukraine. They should use that power. Solve Ukraine’s economic problems, and you stop Kiev’s oscillating tease between East and West. Help Ukraine’s emerging leaders make the country economically sustainable, and you make Ukraine a bridge between East and West rather than a flash point of tension. Henry Kissinger asks how the Ukraine crisis ends. The answer: When we start sending real money to Kiev.


Russia provides passports to Berkut officers

The Russian Foreign Ministry has answered SOS signals coming from the disbanded Ukrainian riot police “Berkut.” The ministry ordered the prompt issue of Russian passports for the officers, who have been threatened by lynch mobs. "The Consulate General in Simferopol has started giving out Russian passports to officers of the special Berkut forces, based on the applications it has received,” the consulate’s spokesperson Evgeniya Kaplunenko told Itar-Tass.

 The Berkut officers who choose to get a Russian citizenship will be offered career opportunities in some regions of Russia, Russian Interior Ministry’s press-service said earlier on Friday.

 The governor of Russia’s Astrakhan region has announced that “if needed, the Region can accept, accommodate and provide social, rehabilitation and other help for Berkut officers and their families,” adding that they will not be left without employment there. Other regions have also offered help to Ukrainians in general, who found themselves in “difficult circumstances,” according to Itar-Tass.

 On Saturday, Russia’s Consul General in Simferopol, Vyacheslav Svetlichny, said he did not exclude the possibility of Russian passports being issued not only for ex-Berkut officers, but also for all Ukrainian citizens who wanted them. “That could be possible,” Svetlichny told RIA Novosti. “We will be solving these issues gradually.

The news came as a surprise for some of the Berkut unit members, who not only were left without a job, but have also been showered with threats to themselves and their families.

“The people who have come to power do not need us; to them, we are enemies. We have been threatened, they want to execute us. Of course, in such conditions we will be glad to receive any kind of protection,” a Crimea-based Berkut officer told RIA Novosti on condition of anonymity. According to the officer, he has only just learned about Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement, and will now spread the word to Berkut officers in other parts of Ukraine.

Berkut, the Ukrainian riot police that took a prominent part in trying supress the riots in Kiev, which started at the end of November, became “arch-enemies” of Maidan, have largely been demonized both at home and in the Western media. The officers in the unit are usually mentioned in connection with the brutal ejection of Maidan protesters on November 30 that they actually carried out, or are presented as cold-blooded murderers of dozens of unarmed people during last week’s bloody street battles in Kiev, which is yet to be proven.

However, few mention the other side of the story: weeks of having to stand on duty and obey orders with a hail of stones, pyrotechnics and petrol bombs raining down on their heads, with groups of violent armed rioters always waiting for an officer to be separated from a group to beat him to a bloody pulp, or with some “revolutionary engineers” reportedly mixing up flammables and toxic substances behind the scenes on Maidan to test inextinguishable fire on living human beings. 

Berkut’s body armor, which many of the reporters cited, did not mean they were not burnt, shot in the neck or the head by the armed rioters, or had their limbs and other body parts broken. While “only” 16 law enforcement officers, including those of Berkut, were killed in Kiev clashes, hundreds more were injured, and many were hospitalized with serious gunshot wounds. However, while the new Ukrainian authorities promised the strictest possible investigation into “crimes against humanity” by President Viktor Yanukovich or into the “deaths of peaceful protesters” in central Kiev, they apparently crossed out any responsibility on the part of the armed radical groups, including the Right Sector.


Armed Cossacks Flock to Crimea to Help Russian Annexation Bid

Armed groups of Cossacks from across the area are flocking to the disputed region to help Moscow wrest it from Ukraine in hopes they'll be rewarded by being integrated into Russia's primary security apparatus after the takeover is complet.

On Monday morning, about 150 Cossack officers got together in Crimea, the breakaway region of Ukraine, and lined up in formation on the central square of the regional capital Simferopol. Bundled up against the winds that blew in that day from the Black Sea, they made for a sorry sight, disheveled and grumpy, like a reunion of elderly veterans kitted out in old, mismatching camouflage gear. But their commander, Vladimir Cherkashin, stood before them in a leather jacket and military cap to say their fortunes were about to change.

Next week, a referendum on Crimea’s independence from Ukraine will open the door for Russia to annex the entire Crimean Peninsula, and for the local Cossack paramilitary groups, that marks the opportunity of a lifetime. It would mean a chance to be integrated into the Russian security forces — just like their Cossack brothers to the east have been under Russian President Vladimir Putin. “That means state recognition, it means training for our cadets,” Cherkashin explained to his Cossack commanders, who are known as atamans. “It’s status. You understand? It’s all about finances!” At this, the group of men looked around at one another and grumbled in approval. Then, at Cherkashin’s command, they shouted the celebratory Cossack salute — “Lyubo!”

For the past two weeks, the Cossacks — a caste of warriors who have guarded the borders of the Russian empire for centuries — have played a key role in the Russian occupation of Crimea. They have manned checkpoints on its highways, guarded the headquarters of its separatist government, patrolled the streets with their ceremonial whips in hand and are now helping build and defend fortifications on the de facto Crimean border with Ukraine. Through it all, they have had ample help from Russia’s professional and state-sponsored Cossack forces, who have come by the thousands to defend what they see as historically Russian lands.

“Cossacks have no borders,” said Nikolai Pervakov, the first deputy commander of Russia’s Kuban Cossack legion, who is leading their mission to Crimea from his usual base of operations in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar. Appearing on the square alongside Cherkashin on Monday, he told TIME that a few thousand of his men have come to Crimea from Russia, all with the express approval of the Kremlin. After inspecting the bedraggled ranks of his Crimean comrades, Pervakov gave a short speech on their fraternal ties. “We are a united people, people of the same faith, traditions, customs. Our lives are linked,” he told them. “So we need to be like a clenched and monolithic fist. Only then will we have victory.”

The links that bind Cossacks around the world can be mystifying for outsiders and hard to pin down. They are largely Slavic but come from many other ethnic groups as well, and they speak various languages. Some are born Cossacks while others are initiated into their martial traditions. Their zealous devotion to the Orthodox Christian religion tends to unite them, although different Cossack groups follow different denominations of that faith. Through history, they have rebelled against the Russian empire and marched alongside its armies to fight common enemies, including the Turks, the British and the Khans of Central Asia. Conflicts and upheavals have scattered them for centuries around the world, and there are vibrant communities of Cossacks as far afield as New Jersey, where their ancestors wound up after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 tried to purge them from the Soviet Union. But what unites the Cossacks in Crimea with their allies in Russia today is a common belief that Moscow should command the Slavic world, most crucially including eastern and southern Ukraine.

For the Cossacks of Crimea, that victory could mark a total transformation. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s succession of leaders, regardless of whether they leaned toward Russia or the West, have treated the local Crimean Cossacks with great suspicion. Their commanders in Crimea have spread militant notions of Slavic unity among their young cadets. All of that has attracted scrutiny from Ukraine’s security services in recent years. Under the rule of President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russia-leaning leader who was deposed in a revolution last month, Crimea’s leading Cossacks were investigated for training paramilitary groups and speaking out in support of separatism, both of which are illegal in Ukraine. Some of them have had their Cossack training camps raided by police in search of weapons. Others have been deported to Russia on charges of inciting ethnic hatred.

All of that stands in stark contrast to the lives of their fellow Cossacks in Russia. In 2005, Putin signed a law called “On the State Service of the Russian Cossacks,” which gave them the status of a state-backed militia, complete with government paychecks. Under that law, Putin, in his role as commander in chief, is the only one who can assign someone the rank of Cossack general. Other officer ranks in the Cossack hierarchy, which is distinct from the rest of the Russian military’s pecking order, must be approved by the Kremlin Council for Cossack Affairs. That law also granted more than 600,000 officially registered Cossacks in Russia the rights to fulfill various functions usually controlled by the state. This includes the right to defend border regions, guard national forests, organize military training for young cadets, fight terrorism, protect local government buildings and administrative sites and provide the vague service of “defending social order.”

It seemed to be in the latter capacity that they patrolled the streets of Sochi during last month’s Winter Olympic Games, even greeting arrivals in the airport terminal dressed in their signature lambskin hats and knee-high leather boots. Vladimir Davydov, a local Cossack officer and a member of the Sochi city council, saw the Games as a historic chance to demonstrate the usefulness of Cossacks to the Kremlin. “Our entire history we have served the sovereign, the motherland,” he told TIME a few weeks before the Games began. “Now that role is restored.” If the Kremlin calls on them, he said, the Cossacks can field a force of 50,000 armed irregulars in the region surrounding Sochi. “The Olympics will be our chance to prove our worth.”

Throughout the Games, they seemed to do that with flying colors, though not without one appalling show of force. On Feb. 19, a few days before the closing ceremony of the Games, a group of activists from the protest group Pussy Riot tried to film an anti-Putin music video in Sochi. But just as the young women pulled on their colorful balaclavas and started dancing around, a group of uniformed Cossacks ran up to them, sprayed them in the face with pepper spray, hit them with whips, yanked them by the hair and dragged them away kicking and screaming. Under current Ukrainian law, that kind of attack would have gotten the Cossacks arrested for battery. In Russia, even during the Olympics, it was part of their paid service to the state.

The allure of becoming a formally recognized militia force seems to have made Crimea’s Cossacks even more gung ho about the Russian annexation of their peninsula. “Our priority right now is to make sure the referendum goes as planned,” Cherkashin told me on March 9, just after he held a meeting with the new de facto leader of Crimea, the separatist prime minister Sergei Aksyonov. Watching Russian state TV in a waiting area outside Aksyonov’s office that afternoon, Cherkashin said Cossack volunteers from across Russia and the former Soviet Union have been offering to come help Crimea break away from Ukraine. “These two Cossacks in Armenia called me on Skype the other day,” he said. “They held two Kalashnikovs in front of the camera and said they’re ready to ride.”

But Cherkashin, who is also a member of the Crimean parliament, has had to decline most of these offers. Flooding the peninsula with various Cossack vigilantes would not be good for “keeping order,” he said, and besides, they have enough support from Pervakov and the Kuban Cossack legion as it is. After the morning lineup on the square in Simferopol, the highest-ranking commanders walked over to a nearby church — The Cathedral of Holy Mary Magdalene, Equal to the Apostles — for a private powwow. It began with a blessing from a local priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, Vitali Liskevich, who prayed for the Lord to defend the righteous mission of the Cossacks in Crimea. After that, Pervakov, the Cossack envoy from Russia, walked into the hall with a sheaf of papers, and this reporter was asked to leave the room.

Russia, China ‘in broad agreement’ on Ukraine

The Russian Foreign Ministry says Russia is in broad agreement with China on the situation in crisis-hit Ukraine.  The ministry’s announcement followed a telephone conversation between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Monday.  “The foreign ministers have exchanged their views on the situation in Ukraine. 

They noted a broad overlap of the Russian and Chinese views on the current situation in and around this country (Ukraine),” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.  In addition, the Russian ministry said the two ministers pledged to continue close contacts on the issue.  Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expected to meet with Lavrov later in the day on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to discuss the spiraling crisis in Ukraine.  The developments come as seven major industrialized countries denounced Russia’s military actions in Ukraine’s semi-autonomous Republic of Crimea. 

On March 1, the upper house of the Russian parliament unanimously approved a request by President Vladimir Putin to deploy troops into the Crimea if necessary.  The approval came after Crimea’s regional Prime Minister Sergey Aksenov asked Putin to help restore peace and calm in the region amid tensions over the region’s resistance against new pro-Western authorities in Kiev.  Russia has dispatched hundreds of its troops to the Ukrainian territory of Crimea “to protect its interests and also of those Russian speakers in that region.”

Who Will Protect the Crimean Tatars?

At first, Rustem Kadyrov could barely make out the mark outside his house, in the Crimean town of Bakhchysarai, but it filled him with terror. It was an X, cut deep into the gray metal of the gate, and its significance cut even deeper, evoking a memory Kadyrov shares with all Crimean Tatars. Kadyrov, who is thirty-one, grew up hearing stories about marks on doors. In May of 1944, Stalin ordered his police to tag the houses of Crimean Tatars, the native Muslim residents of the peninsula. Within a matter of days, all of them—almost two hundred thousand people—were evicted from their homes, loaded onto trains, and sent to Central Asia, on the pretext that the community had collaborated with the Nazi occupation of Crimea.

Kadyrov’s grandmother, Sedeka Memetova, who was eight at the time, was among those deported. “The soldiers gave us five minutes to pack up,” she told me, when I visited the family on Thursday. “We left everything behind.” Memetova still has vivid memories of her journey into exile: the stench of the overcrowded train carriage, the wailing of a pregnant woman who sat next to her, and the solemn faces of the men who had to lower the bodies of their children off of the moving train—the only way, she said, to dispose of the dead. Four of her siblings were among the thousands of Crimean Tatars who never even made it to their final destination, Uzbekistan.

Starting in the nineteen-sixties, the Soviet Union began to allow survivors of the deportation to return. Memetova and her family came back to Crimea almost three decades ago, in 1987. This weekend, at around 3 P.M. on Saturday, Memetova’s forty-four-year-old daughter, Ava, looked out the window and saw four young men, strangers to the neighborhood, walking down the street, armed with batons. The men were also carrying pieces of paper, Ava told me—which she believes were lists of homes belonging to Crimean Tatars. Seventy years after Memetova’s deportation, her house had been marked once again. “Just as we thought we finally had a future,” she said. “How could anyone do this in the twenty-first century?”

When I walked up Chiisty Istochniki Street from the Memetovas’ house, I saw similar marks on four other houses, all of them residences of Crimean Tatars, Kadyrov said. The houses of their Russian neighbors, however, had not been touched. Similar markings have been reported in other parts of Bakhchysarai, and in some areas of the regional capital, Simferopol. Kadyrov told me that he called the police, who came out see his gate, but they refused to register a case. He was not surprised. “The police will not help us,” he said. “They told me Crimean Tatars are not a priority for them. Of course not—they are punishing us because we do not want Putin here.”

Kadyrov’s Russian neighbors have noticed the markings but dismissed his worries. “Whoever did it was just joking,” one woman, who did not wish to be named, told me. “We get along with our neighbors fine,” she continued. “But it would be helpful if Crimean Tatars stopped supporting Kiev.”

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, claims that his country has an obligation to protect the Crimean peninsula’s Russians, a majority of its population, from what he called an “orgy of nationalists, and extremists, and anti-Semites” rampaging through the streets of Kiev. “What does that mean for us?” Kadyrov asked. “Who will protect us?”

Crimea is now firmly under the control of a new, pro-Moscow government, which does not recognize the authority of the new administration in Kiev. On Thursday, as the United States and European Union ramped up pressure on the Kremlin—announcing sanctions and visa restrictions against involved individuals—the regional parliament in Crimea voted unanimously to declare the peninsula part of Russia. A previously scheduled referendum on more autonomy for Crimea within Ukraine was moved up from March 30th to March 16th, and changed to a question about merging Crimea with Russia.

There are about three hundred thousand Crimean Tatars on the peninsula, and although they constitute only fifteen per cent of its population they have great political significance. If they do not back the upcoming referendum, it will be far more difficult for the pro-Moscow government in Crimea to legitimize what is in effect a Russian annexation of the peninsula. This, Crimean Tatars told me, is precisely why pressure is growing for them to turn their back on Kiev.

Over the past week, Moscow has sent a series of delegations to meet with the leaders of the Crimean Tatar community. On Wednesday, the President of Tatarstan, an autonomous Muslim republic in Russia, met with members of the representative body of Crimean Tatars, known as the Mejlis. Another member of his delegation, Ilshat Aminov—the head of Tatarstan’s state broadcaster—paid a visit on the same day to the journalists at a Crimean Tatar television channel, ATR, which has been openly supportive of the new government in Kiev.

I happened to be at ATR when Aminov arrived. His laughter echoed through the newsroom as he walked around, praising the station’s modern equipment and avoiding any discussion of the news. When I asked Aminov about the reason for his visit, he said, simply, “I am here to support my brothers in a time of trouble.” Linur Yunusov, a senior journalist at ATR, told me that while no Russian official had ever bothered to visit Crimean Tatars before, Moscow was now sending one delegation after another. “This sudden brotherly love is overwhelming,” he joked.

At one point, a journalist inside the newsroom called Aminov’s attention to a television screen, which showed masked Russian soldiers blocking the entrance to a military base outside Simferopol. “This is our live position,” the journalist said, provocatively. “A perfect view of the Russian occupation.” Aminov didn’t take the bait. “Which editing software do you use?” he replied.

The delegates visiting from Russia have made many promises to the Crimean Tatars to solicit their political support: seats in the new government, financial assistance, official language rights, and rural-development programs. These offers resonate, particularly as the community feels that its plight has been largely ignored by the government in Kiev for the past quarter century. Many Crimean Tatars remain bitterly disappointed that Kiev has not delivered on its many promises to pass laws that would recognize victims of Stalin’s deportation or establish Crimean Tatar-language schools.

“We are on a verge of losing our culture, our language, our identity,” Yunusov, the senior journalist, told me. And yet, like most of the Crimean Tatars I have interviewed, he believes that the community will be safer if the peninsula remains part of Ukraine. “For us, a European Ukraine is the only way of making sure that we survive as people,” he said. “We need European laws to protect our identity. After what happened in 1944, we can never trust the Russians.”

Eskandar Baiibov, a deputy in the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, told me firmly that his community is unanimous in its backing for the government in Kiev, and that Crimean Tatars would boycott any referendum on joining Russia. But he is also terrified, he admitted, of the price that they might have to pay for refusing to give the Kremlin the support it wants.

“We are already seeing signs that they are trying to intimidate us, to split us, to stir trouble,” Baiibov said. “Ukrainians are also vulnerable, but at least they have Ukraine to go to. Where will we go? Crimea is our only home.” After the regional parliament voted to merge Crimea into Russia on Thursday, the chairman of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, released a statement to the press, calling for the United Nations to “immediately consider” sending a contingent of international peacekeepers into Crimea, “in order to deëscalate the military conflict … which can lead to mass casualties among the entire civilian population of the peninsula.”

But the prospect of U.N. peacekeepers landing on the peninsula anytime soon is less than slim. And so, as Crimea prepares for a referendum on its future, its native people are preparing for the worst. In Bakhchysarai, Ava’s husband has cut up metal rods and placed them throughout the house so the family can use them to fight off any possible intruders. The men of Chiisty Istochniki Street now take turns patrolling the neighborhood at night, and Rustem Kadyrov has applied for travel documents for his children.

“Many of us want to get wives and children out of here, to somewhere safe,” Kadyrov told me. The men, he said, will stay.

Turkey Torn Over 'Brothers' In Crimea, Good Ties With Russia

Serkan Sava's ancestors left Crimea in a mass exodus some 150 years ago, after the Ottoman Empire staved off Russian pressure in the Crimean War but could not reverse the slow tumble that would lead to its dissolution after World War I. A century later, the 35-year-old IT consultant's grandparents, by then rooted in the post-Ottoman Turkish Republic, would hear of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's deportation of hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars to Central Asia, in 1944, that cost the lives of more than 100,000 people.
This week, Sava stood under a steady rain at a protest of about 250 people -- mostly Turkish Crimean Tatars -- outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul. Noting that Crimean Tatars "have bad memories" of life under Moscow's thumb, Sava argued that Turkey should use its influence to ensure that the Black Sea peninsula remains a part of Ukraine and is not annexed by Russia.
With Crimea now occupied by Russian forces, the peninsula's Russian-majority parliament clamoring to join the Russian Federation, and a referendum on the issue scheduled for March 16, Crimean Tatars are fearful of what another chapter of life under Russian rule could mean. But if the Crimean Tatar relationship with Russia is rife with tragedy, the Turkish reaction to any potential conflict with Moscow is one of trepidation. It recalls a past marked by a series of demoralizing military defeats and recognizes a present in which the country enjoys deep trade ties with its Black Sea neighbor, on which it relies for half of its natural-gas supplies.
"Russia is the only neighbor that Turkey really fears for historic and contemporary reasons," says Soner Cagaptay, author of "The Rise Of Turkey: 21st Century's First Muslim Power" and director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, a U.S.-based think tank. "Historically, there's a deep-rooted fear among many Turks about not waking up the Russian bear."
The Crimean Tatars, an ethnic-Turkic people with millions of its diaspora living inside Turkey, would appear to fit in with the role Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has carved out for himself. Erdogan, the leader of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development party (AKP), has spent much political capital casting Ankara as a protector of Muslims along its periphery. Erdogan was a harsh critic of the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood leader and Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, and was one of the first world leaders to call for military intervention in Syria against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the Arab Spring uprising.
Amid the recent political upheaval in Ukraine, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, was the first envoy to meet with Ukraine's new government in Kyiv, following months of protests that led to the ouster of the country's pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych. With an eye on the past, Erdogan himself has promised not to "leave Crimean Tatars in the lurch." But Erdogan, who has appeared at times to relish conflict with other world leaders, has carefully nurtured his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and appears unlikely to stake out a position that would put Ankara-Moscow ties at serious risk.
"If you look at Erdogan's mercurial political style, he has pretty much yelled at every and any head of government he has dealt with with the exception of the Russian and the Iranian president," Cagaptay says, "not because he likes them necessarily but because Turkey gets about three-quarters of its gas and oil from Iran and Russia."
Ottoman-Russian history is also a factor, says Cagaptay, who wrote in a recent paper that, over a period of almost 400 years, the Ottoman Empire fought in at least 17 wars with Russia and lost all of them. Further complicating matters is that the 1936 Montreaux treaty, which gives Turkey control over the straits that link the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, also limits the weight of warships that would be allowed to pass through from states not located on the Black Sea.
Any adaptation of this restriction by Turkey in favor of its NATO partners would put the treaty at risk. But as Celal Icten, the president of the Istanbul branch of Turkey's Crimea Tatar Association, points out, it may be that the current domestic political climate provides the main hindrance to a greater role by Ankara in helping resolve the crisis in Ukraine.
Erdogan, who has been embroiled in a months-long corruption scandal, is fighting for his political career, and municipal elections at the end of March are seen as a barometer of the remaining strength of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Icten says Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul are doing all they can, given the circumstances.
"Turkey's current political climate is hectic and that's why the president and prime minister's support for Crimean Tatars gets lost among other things on the political agenda," Icten says. "But [they've] given support to Crimean Tatars and continue cooperation with Western powers in Europe."
Cagaptay agrees that Ankara will cooperate with Europe, which has proposed limited sanctions, but is unlikely to take a leading role unless serious violence is inflicted on the Crimean Tatar population. That might not assuage Crimean Tatars like Sava, who say the protection of a Turkic minority that is under threat should outweigh any political concerns.

While Moscow refuses to recognize Ukraine's new government because it is led by "fascists" who pose a threat to ethnic Russians, Tatars in Crimea -- some of whose homes have reportedly been marked with an ominous "X"--  say they are being singled out by Russian "self-defense" brigades. At the Istanbul demonstration, protesters chanted, "Turkey, help your brothers!" and, "We are shoulder-to-shoulder against the enemy!"

Erugrul Toksoy, a 47-year-old account manager sporting a blue scarf with the Crimean Tatar insignia, says Erdogan "has done nothing" to help Crimean Tatars, who make up 12 percent of the peninsula's population.

Sava, the IT consultant, riffing on a quote from the late British statesman Winston Churchill about the dangers of appeasement, warns that waiting for action will have its own costs. "The one who tries to protect the current state [of affairs] is hopeful that the crocodile will eat him last," Sava says.

Who lost in Crimea? If there is a country to be added to Ukraine, it's Turkey

The referendum decision of Crimea to return to the Russian fold, after Turkey lost it to the Russian Empire with the 1774 Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarcam, has spoiled Turkey’s strategic ambitions for the region. What kind of ambitions? Nothing to do with recovering Crimea geographically, but to bring back to life cultural and historical heritage of the Crimean Tatar Khanate.

Even the burial of writer Cengiz Dagci, who died in London in 2011, back home in Crimea was a mission of strategic significance for Turkey. The Cooperation and Coordination Agency of Turkey (TIKA), by restoring the historic relics of Zincirli Madrassa and Haci Gray Inn and by renovating Kirim Tatar National School, tried to make the legacy of the Muslim Tatars more visible. In an action plan Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had prepared in 2002 while he was the chief adviser to the prime minister, Ukraine was among the countries to develop strategic relations with, alongside South Korea, Brazil and South Africa. Ankara tried to develop its ties to Crimea with the consent of Ukrainians. This policy did not change during the reign of the toppled leader Viktor Yanukovich. 

Territorial integrity: a boomerang 

Since the collapse of the USSR, Turkey has preferred to see the future of Crimean Tatars within the territorial integrity of Ukraine. When in 2008 Russian leader Vladimir V. Putin declared that unilateral recognition of Kosovo without a UN decision would set a precedent, it was not hard to predict that this was a Slavic vow of revenge. The turf for this revenge was inevitably to be the historical friction points between the Russians and the Turks. After the United States declared its recognition of Kosovo, the first diplomat to submit his letter of accreditation to the prime minister of Kosovo was the representative of Turkey. How do you think Putin considers Turkey’s objections to his decisions about Crimea? 

Limited options 

So what can Turkey do more than its US and EU allies against the secession of Ukraine? Can Ankara decide on sanctions like the United States and EU? Davutoglu, as the first foreign minister to go to Kiev immediately after the crisis broke out, had meetings with Mustafa Abduljamil, the leader of Crimean Tatar National Movement and the new Ukrainian government. In addition to moves on international platforms, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Putin and Davutoglu spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to emphasize the need to find a solution to the crisis within the territorial integrity of Ukraine. But these efforts did not change the course of events. Abduljamil, the former speaker of the Crimean Tatar National Assembly, the civil society organization of the Tatars, met with Erdogan in Izmir on March 16 and with Davutoglu in Ankara on March 17. Davutoglu said the results of the referendum will not be accepted, that Ankara will continue to support the Crimean Tatars, and Turkey’s position on seeking a diplomatic solution stands.

Despite the resolute position expressed in our statements, the general impression is this: Turkey is not in a position to reverse the process of Crimea joining Russia. It is not even in a position to adopt sanctions similar to those taken by the United States and EU. That is why even if Turkey talks of initiatives in the UN, NATO and OESC it has no option but to live with the situation. A diplomatic source asked by Al-Monitor, “What options does Turkey have? Does it have a road map?” responded: “We want a solution through diplomatic means but it is not realistic to talk of a road map. Turkey has adopted a course many other countries have chosen.” Asked if Turkey could resort to sanctions like the United States and EU, the source said; “We don’t know what sanctions are on the table at the moment. We can’t forecast what will happen in the long run. The government has to make an assessment.”

Actually, it might be more realistic to talk of a reaction that has been reduced to “diplomatic activity” that has no deterrent effects and that won’t influence the outcome. 

Russians gave what Turkey wanted 

Because of dearth of options, the focus has shifted from blocking the Russian designs for Crimea to protection of Tatars of Crimea. Russia, aware of the question of legitimacy that would arise unless there is the consent of Tatars, offered them guarantees far beyond Turkey’s expectations. Putin told Abduljamil, invited to Moscow, that he had issued directives for the protection of Tatars.

Moreover, Russia prepared a package that encourages the Crimean Tatars to return to their homeland and assuring their participation in governing it. Turkey’s priority is the return to their homeland of the Crimean Tatars exiled to Central Asia in 1944. Davutoglu noted: “In last 12 years, TIKA and Turkey entered the picture. For our brethren, we built hundreds of tenements, even bought houses from them. Today, the Tatar population in Crimea is slightly above 300,000. This is all because of Turkey’s support.”

The decisions of the Crimean Parliament also were promising. It decided: “Tatars exiled in 1944 will be encouraged to return. Legal, material and property problems of the returnees will be solved. They will be offered financial assistance for five years. Primary, second and higher schools in the Tatar language will be opened. Historical and cultural relics will be restored. Tatar publications will be encouraged.” This decree also gave official status to Tatar language. Crimean Tatar National Assembly was given legal recognition. They were offered 20% representation in the national parliament. These were all rights Tatars could not obtain from the Ukrainian government. The only anxiety Turkey or Crimeans might express would to be say, “These promises can remain on paper.” But autonomy practices of Russia since the end of the Soviet era shows that at least when it comes to preservation of people’s language and cultures they have not a bad record. 

Chechnization syndrome 

Another scenario that concerns Turkey closely is the possibility of a Chechnization syndrome that could develop as a reaction to attaching the peninsula to Russia. Tatars with their historical animosity to Russia are between a rock and a hard place. There is talk of a jihadist threat after Russian annexation. Abduljamil, who had been spearheading the survival struggle of his people since the 1944 deportations, spoke of this potential danger: “We have among us Salafists, Wahhabis and organizations that fought in Syria. They tell me that the enemy is now on their land and that they are ready to confront them. We can’t stop those who want die in dignity.”

In addition to threats emanating from Takfir and Hijret Salafi organizations whose existence have been felt in Crimea in recent years, there is also the potential of global jihadist network concentrating in Syria to open an anti-Russia front in Crimea. Tatars who had gone to Syria to fight had first attracted attention on April 25, 2013, when a militant code-named Abu Khalid staged a suicide attack from the ranks of Muhajiroun and Ansar groups. Growing Islamic militancy in Ukraine first hit the agenda when seven militants were apprehended with their weapons. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said that the apprehended militants were linked to Takfir and Hijret and Hizb-ut Tahrir and were planning to assassinate Abduljamil.

The desire of those fighting against Moscow-supported regime in Syria to settle accounts with Russia in Crimea scares Tatars who, like Abduljamil, prefer nonviolent resistance. A representative from the Tatar Crimean National Assembly said in our private chat: “Yes, there are Tatars fighting in Syria and they might come back. We are worried.” The Tatars know only too well that provocation, whether from Ukranian radical nationalists or nationalist Russians or a Chechnization scenario originating from Islamist Tatars who want to open a jihadist front, will bring to them only a new exile or genocide.

Armenia backs Crimea’s right to self-determination

Armenia has backed Crimea’s choice of joining Russia, supporting the right to self-determination for the peninsula’s population. In response, Ukraine has recalled its ambassador to Armenia.
"Armenia's principled position on the right to self-determination remains unchanged and has been repeatedly expressed over the years," Armenia's deputy foreign minister, Shavarsh Kocharyan, told Ukrainian Ambassador Ivan Kukhta, as quoted by the Armenian Foreign Ministry's press service.

The meeting, which took place in Armenia’s capital of Yerevan, was initiated by the Ukrainian side after Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan expressed support for the Crimean referendum, stating it was justified. Sargsyan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone conversation that the Crimean referendum was a “model for the realization of self-determination.”

In response, Ukraine recalled its ambassador to Yerevan for consultation on Friday. Kiev also summoned Armenia’s ambassador to Ukraine, Andranik Manukyan, to express its concerns over Armenia’s position on the referendum. On Sunday, over 96 percent of voters taking part in the Crimean referendum answered “yes” to the autonomous republic joining Russia. The Crimean parliament also unanimously voted to integrate the region into Russia.

On Friday, Russia finalized the legal process of taking Crimea under its sovereignty, as President Putin signed a law amending the Russian constitution to reflect the transition. Earlier, Russian lawmakers ratified both the amendment and an international treaty with Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, which was legally required for the incorporation. The move has been met with an onslaught of international sanctions against Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis. Armenia has a strong stance of supporting self-determination.

During the confrontation over Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke out in 1988, the region – mostly populated by Armenians – sought independence from Azerbaijan and announced its intention to join Armenia. In 1991, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic was founded. Azerbaijan tried to regain control over the territory, and the conflict escalated into a full-scale war which claimed the lives of around 30,000 people. The conflict ended in 1994, with Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence remaining unrecognized and the region remaining a part of Azerbaijan, according to Baku’s legislation. Yerevan has been supporting the Nagorno-Karabakh region, representing its interests in an official capacity.

Since 1994, talks to determine the status of the disputed region have been conducted within the framework of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The group proposed the basic principles for a settlement of the conflict – known as the Madrid document – in 2007.


A Monster Reawakens: The Rise of Ukrainian Fascism

With the eyes of the world fixed on Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the prospect of a wider war engulfing all Ukraine, our attention has been diverted from what may be the most significant aspect of this crisis: the ascension of a genuinely fascist mass movement into the corridors of power.

Our "mainstream" media shrugs off what it describes as the presence of "a few ultra-nationalists" at the Kiev protests, but this is nonsense: it is far more than a few. Indeed, the activists of the two main fascist parties in Ukraine – Svoboda and "Right Sector" – provided the muscle the insurrectionists needed to take over government buildings in Kiev and across western Ukraine.

Svoboda ("Freedom") was founded in 1991 as the Social National Party of Ukraine. The party idolizes Stepan Bandera, whose followers fought on the side of the Nazis during World War II against the Red Army and Ukrainian communist militias. Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) had direct support from the Germans: Hitler wanted them to police Ukraine after the Germans took it, and the OUN organized volunteer militias that actively participated in the Holocaust. "The Jews of the Soviet Union," declared the Banderists, "are the most loyal supporters of the Bolshevik Regime and the vanguard of Muscovite imperialism in the Ukraine."  When the Germans took Lvov in the summer of 1941, the Banderists sent a message to Lvov’s Jews in the form of a pamphlet which said: "We will lay your heads at Hitler’s feet"! Which they did; the OUN worked with the SS to round up and slaughter 4,000 of the city’s Jews. Their weapons of choice: everything from guns to metal poles.

When Viktor Yushchenko, during his disastrous tenure as President of Ukraine, bestowed on Bandera the posthumous title of "Hero of Ukraine," the European Parliament formally protested: they were ignored.

Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok, now a top official of the Ukrainian Parliament, is an unrepentant anti-Semite. In the summer of 2004, he made a speech to his followers at the gravesite of a Banderist commander in which he declared: "You are the ones that the Moscow-Jewish mafia ruling Ukraine fears most." His peroration also made reference to "Kikes" as prominent among those the Banderists fought. Tyahnybok was expelled from Parliament for his remarks, but the "revolution" has installed him back in his seat – and more powerful than ever.

He has plenty of company. Svoboda activists, who already held seats in Parliament, hold no less than eight top Cabinet positions:
  • Ihor Tenyukh – interim defense minister and a member of Svoboda’s political council. Formerly commander of Ukraine’s navy, in 2008, during Russia’s war with Georgia, he ordered Ukrainian warships to block the entrance of the Russian Navy to the bay of Sevastopol. 
  • Andriy Parubiy – National Security Council chief, co-founded Svoboda back when it was the “Social National” (ahem!) party.
  • Dmytro Yarosh – deputy head of the National Security Council, i.e. the police, and the founder-leader of "Right Sector," a militant neo-Nazi paramilitary group that took charge of security in the Maiden.
  • Oleh Makhnitsky – Svoboda member of parliament, is prosecutor-general.
  • Oleksandr Sych – Svoboda parliamentarian and the party’s chief ideologist, is deputy prime minister for economic affairs.
  • Serhiy Kvit – a leading member of Svoboda, is to head up the Education Ministry.
  • Andriy Moknyk – the new Minister of Ecology, has been Svoboda’s envoy to other European fascist parties. Last year, he met with representatives of Italy’s violent neo-fascist gang, Forza Nuovo.
  • Ihor Shvaika – agro-oligarch and a member of Svoboda, has been appointed Minister of Agriculture. One of the richest men in the country, his massive investments in agriculture would seem to indicate a slight conflict of interest.
For the first time since 1933, the followers of a movement that valorizes Adolf Hitler and preaches anti-Semitism has entered a European government. The German Nazis, too, were part of a "coalition" government, the other members of which thought they could contain or even “tame” them and prevent a Communist takeover. They were tragically wrong – and the United States and its European allies are taking the same road in backing Hitler’s heirs in Ukraine.

Of course the majority of the government’s supporters are hardly hardcore neo-Nazis: but that isn’t necessary to make this a precedent the West will live to regret. The presence of Svoboda and "Right Sector" legitimizes these movements, and not only in Ukraine. Germany has periodically sought to ban the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party, and the British have taken legal measures against the British National Party: will they now grant the Ukrainian brothers of these so-called hate groups diplomatic recognition and pledges of political and even military support?

What’s interesting about the specific appointments listed above is the prominence of "Right Sector" leader Dmytro Yarosh in the key position of deputy chief of the national police. The "Right Sector" organization came out of the merger of several ultra-nationalist and openly neo-Nazi grouplets, including "Trident," the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian National Defense Force, "White Hammer," and "Patriots of Ukraine." Yorash boasted at the height of the protests that his group had amassed a large weapons cache, and since they already had the guns it was inevitable they would form the nucleus of the reconstituted police force. With the group’s high profile, and its celebrated status as "heroes of the revolution," Yorash’s stormtroopers – who wear the red-and-black insignia of the Banderists –will be charged with suppressing anti-government "disturbances" and hunting down "traitors." Perhaps they’ll throw in a little queer-bashing as well: the nationalists hate gays as well as Jews and all Russian-speakers.

Victoria Nuland thought she could keep Svoboda and "Right Sector" out of the government, but she hasn’t done a very good job so far. And with elections scheduled for May 5, the nationalists are well positioned to take a good chunk of the vote. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the State Department’s favored candidate, is a bespectacled technocrat notably lacking in the charisma department. Tyahnybok , on the other hand, is a natural demagogue.

No matter how many US taxpayer dollars flow into the coffers of the State Department’s Ukrainian sock puppets between now and May 25, all the money in the world may not be able to contain the forces our interventionists have loosened on the world. The news that the leader of "Right Sector" has called on none other than al-Qaeda to help Ukraine in its battle against Russia is an indication of just what sort of demons we have unleashed – this time.


Western Looting Of Ukraine Has Begun

According to a report in Kommersant-Ukraine, the finance ministry of Washington’s stooges in Kiev who are pretending to be a government has prepared an economic austerity plan that will cut Ukrainian pensions from $160 to $80 so that Western bankers who lent money to Ukraine can be repaid at the expense of Ukraine’s poor. It is Greece all over again.

Before anything approaching stability and legitimacy has been obtained for the puppet government put in power by the Washington orchestrated coup against the legitimate, elected Ukraine government, the Western looters are already at work. Naive protesters who believed the propaganda that EU membership offered a better life are due to lose half of their pension by April. But this is only the beginning.

The corrupt Western media describes loans as “aid.” However, the 11 billion euros that the EU is offering Kiev is not aid. It is a loan. Moreover, it comes with many strings, including Kiev’s acceptance of an IMF austerity plan.

Remember now, gullible Ukrainians participated in the protests that were used to overthrow their elected government, because they believed the lies told to them by Washington-financed NGOs that once they joined the EU they would have streets paved with gold. Instead they are getting cuts in their pensions and an IMF austerity plan.

The austerity plan will cut social services, funds for education, layoff government workers, devalue the currency, thus raising the prices of imports which include Russian gas, thus electricity, and open Ukrainian assets to takeover by Western corporations. Ukraine’s agriculture lands will pass into the hands of American agribusiness. One part of the Washington/EU plan for Ukraine, or that part of Ukraine that doesn’t defect to Russia, has succeeded. What remains of the country will be thoroughly looted by the West.

The other part hasn’t worked as well. Washington’s Ukrainian stooges lost control of the protests to organized and armed ultra-nationalists. These groups, whose roots go back to those who fought for Hitler during World War 2, engaged in words and deeds that sent southern and eastern Ukraine clamoring to be returned to Russia where they resided prior to the 1950s when the Soviet communist party stuck them into Ukraine.

At this time of writing it looks like Crimea has seceded from Ukraine. Washington and its NATO puppets can do nothing but bluster and threaten sanctions. The White House Fool has demonstrated the impotence of the “US sole superpower” by issuing sanctions against unknown persons, whoever they are, responsible for returning Crimea to Russia, where it existed for about 200 years before, according to Solzhenitsyn, a drunk Khrushchev of Ukrainian ethnicity moved southern and eastern Russian provinces into Ukraine. Having observed the events in western Ukraine, those Russian provinces want to go back home where they belong, just as South Ossetia wanted nothing to do with Georgia.

Washington’s stooges in Kiev can do nothing about Crimea except bluster. Under the Russian-Ukraine agreement, Russia is permitted 25,000 troops in Crimea. The US/EU media’s deploring of a “Russian invasion of 16,000 troops” is either total ignorance or complicity in Washington’s lies. Obviously, the US/EU media is corrupt. Only a fool would rely on their reports. Any media that would believe anything Washington says after George W. Bush and Dick Cheney sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to the UN to peddle the regime’s lies about “Iraqi weapons of mass destruction,” which the weapons inspectors had told the White House did not exist, is clearly a collection of bought-and-paid for whores.

In the former Russian provinces of eastern Ukraine, Putin’s low-key approach to the strategic threat that Washington has brought to Russia has given Washington a chance to hold on to a major industrial complex that serves the Russian economy and military. The people themselves in eastern Ukraine are in the streets demanding separation from the unelected government that Washington’s coup has imposed in Kiev. Washington, realizing that its incompetence has lost Crimea, had its Kiev stooges appoint Ukrainian oligarchs, against whom the Maiden protests were partly directed, to governing positions in eastern Ukraine cities. These oligarchs have their own private militias in addition to the police and any Ukrainian military units that are still functioning. The leaders of the protesting Russians are being arrested and disappeared. Washington and its EU puppets, who proclaim their support for self-determination, are only for self-determination when it can be orchestrated in their favor. Therefore, Washington is busy at work suppressing self-determination in eastern Ukraine.

This is a dilemma for Putin. His low-key approach has allowed Washington to seize the initiative in eastern Ukraine. The oligarchs Taruta and Kolomoyskiy have been put in power in Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk, and are carrying out arrests of Russians and committing unspeakable crimes, but you will never hear of it from the US presstitutes. Washington’s strategy is to arrest and deep-six the leaders of the secessionists so that there no authorities to request Putin’s intervention.

If Putin has drones, he has the option of taking out Taruta and Kolomoyskiy. If Putin lets Washington retain the Russian provinces of eastern Ukraine, he will have demonstrated a weakness that Washington will exploit. Washington will exploit the weakness to the point that Washington forces Putin to war.

The war will be nuclear.

Regime Change in Ukraine and the IMF’s Bitter “Economic Medicine”

In the days following the Ukraine coup d’Etat of February 23, leading to the ousting of a duly elected president, Wall Street and the IMF–in liaison with the US Treasury and the European Commission in Brussels– had already set the stage for the outright takeover of Ukraine’s monetary system. The EuroMaidan protests leading up to “regime change” and the formation of an interim government were followed by purges within key ministries and government bodies.

Stepan Kubiv is a member of Parliament of the Rightist Batkivshchyna “Fatherland” faction in the Rada led by the acting Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk (founded by Yulia Tymoshenko in March 1999). He previously headed Kredbank, a Ukrainian financial institution largely owned by EU capital, with some 130 branches throughout Ukraine. Ukraine Central Bank Promises Liquidity To Local Banks, With One Condition,  

Kubic is no ordinary bank executive. He was one of the first field “commandants” of the EuroMaidan riots alongside Andriy Parubiy co-founder of the Neo-Nazi Social-National Party of Ukraine (subsequently renamed Svoboda) and Dimitry Yarosh, leader of the Right Sector Brown Shirts, which now has the status of a political party. Kubiv was in the Maidan square addressing protesters on February 18, at the very moment when armed Right Sector thugs under the helm of Dmitry Yarosh were raiding the parliament building. A few days later, upon the establishment of the interim government, Stepan Kubiv was put in charge of negotiations with Wall Street and the IMF.

The new Minister of Finance Aleksandr Shlapak [left] is a political crony of Viktor Yushchenko –a long-time protegé of the IMF who was spearheaded into the presidency following the 2004 “Colored Revolution”. Shlapak held key positions in the office of the presidency under Yushchenko as well as at the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU). In 2010, upon Yushchenko’s defeat, Aleksandr Shlapak joined a shadowy Bermuda based offshore financial outfit IMG International Ltd (IMG), holding the position of Vice President. Based in Hamilton, Bermuda, IMG specialises in “captive insurance management”, reinsurance and “risk transfer.”

Minister of Finance Aleksandr Shlapak  works in close liaison with Pavlo Sheremeto, the newly appointed Minister of Economic Development and Trade, who upon his appointment called for “deregulation, fully fledged and across the board”, requiring –as demanded in previous negotiations by the IMF– the outright elimination of subsidies on fuel, energy and basic food staples.

Another key appointment is that of Ihor Shvaika [right], a member of the Neo-Nazi Svoboda Party, to the position of Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food. Headed by an avowed follower of World War II Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera [see image below], this ministry not only oversees the agricultural sector, it also decides on issues pertaining to subsidies and the prices of basic food staples.

The new Cabinet has stated that the country is prepared for socially “painful” but necessary reforms. In December 2013, a 20 billion dollar deal with the IMF had already been contemplated alongside the controversial EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. Yanukovych decided to turn it down. One of the requirements of  the IMF was that “household subsidies for gas be reduced once again by 50%”.

“Other onerous IMF requirements included cuts to pensions, government employment, and the privatization (read: let western corporations purchase) of government assets and property. It is therefore likely that the most recent IMF deal currently in negotiation, will include once again major reductions in gas subsidies, cuts in pensions, immediate government job cuts, as well as other reductions in social spending programs in the Ukraine.” (voice of March 21, 2014)
Economic Surrender: Unconditional Acceptance of IMF Demands by Western Puppet Government

Shortly after his instatement, the interim (puppet) prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk casually dismissed the need to negotiate with the IMF. Prior to the conduct of negotiations pertaining to a draft agreement, Yatsenyuk had already called for an unconditional acceptance of the IMF package: “We have no other choice but to accept the IMF offer”. Yatsenyk intimated that Ukraine will “accept whatever offer the IMF and the EU made” (voice of March 21, 2014)

In surrendering to the IMF, Yatsenyuk was fully aware that the proposed reforms would brutally impoverish millions of people, including those who protested in Maidan. The actual timeframe for the implementation of the IMF’s “shock therapy” has not yet been firmly established. In all likelihood, the regime will attempt to delay the more ruthless social impacts of the macroeconomic reforms until after the May 25 presidential elections (assuming that these elections will take place).

The text of the IMF agreement is likely to be detailed and specific, particularly with regard to State assets earmarked for privatization. Henry Kissinger and Condoleeza Rice, according to Bloomberg are among key individuals in the US who are acting (in a non-official capacity) in tandem with the IMF, the Kiev government, in consultation with the White House and  the US Congress.

The IMF Mission to Kiev

Immediately upon the instatement of the new Finance Minister and NBU governor, a request was submitted to the IMF’s Managing director. An IMF fact finding mission headed by the Director of the IMF’s European Department Rez Moghadam was rushed to Kiev:

“I am positively impressed with the authorities’ determination, sense of responsibility and commitment to an agenda of economic reform and transparency. The IMF stands ready to help the people of Ukraine and support the authorities’ economic program.” Press Release: Statement by IMF European Department Director Reza Moghadam on his Visit to Ukraine
A week later, on March 12, Christine Lagarde, met the interim Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk at IMF headquarters in Washington. Lagarde reaffirmed the IMF’s commitment:

“[to putting Ukraine back] on the path of sound economic governance and sustainable growth, while protecting the vulnerable in society. … We are keen to help Ukraine on its path to economic stability and prosperity.”(Press Release: Statement by IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on Ukraine
The above statement is wrought with hypocrisy. In practice, the IMF does not wield “sound economic governance” nor does it protect the vulnerable. It impoverishes entire populations, while providing “prosperity” to a small corrupt and subservient political and economic elite.

IMF “economic medicine” while contributing to the enrichment of a social minority, invariably triggers economic instability and mass poverty, while providing a “social safety net” to the external creditors. To sell its reform package, the IMF relies on media propaganda as well as persistent statements by “economic experts” and financial analysts which provide authority to the IMF’s macroeconomic reforms.

The unspoken objective behind IMF interventionism is to destabilize sovereign governments and literally break up entire national economies. This is achieved through the manipulation of key macroeconomic policy instruments as well as the outright rigging of financial markets, including the foreign exchange market.

To reach its unspoken goals, the IMF-World Bank –often in consultation with the US Treasury and the State Department–, will exert control over key appointments including the Minister of Finance, the Central Bank governor as well as senior officials in charge of the country’s privatization program. These key appointments will require the (unofficial) approval of the “Washington Consensus” prior to the conduct of negotiations pertaining to a multibillion IMF bailout agreement. Beneath the rhetoric, in the real World of money and credit, the IMF has several related operational objectives:

1) to facilitate the collection of debt servicing obligations, while ensuring that the country remains indebted and under the control of its external creditors.

2) to exert on behalf of the country’s external creditors full control over the country’s monetary policy, its fiscal and budgetary structures,

3) to revamp social programs, labor laws, minimum wage legislation, in accordance with the interests of Western capital

4) to deregulate foreign trade and investment policies, including financial services and intellectual property rights,

5) to implement the privatization of key sectors of the economy through the sale of public assets to foreign corporations.

6) to facilitate the takeover by foreign capital (including mergers and acquisitions) of selected privately owned Ukrainian corporations.

7) to ensure the deregulation of the foreign exchange market.

While the privatization program ensures the transfer of State assets into the hands of foreign investors, the IMF program also includes provisions geared towards the destabilization of the country’s privately owned business conglomerates. A concurrent “break up” plan entitled “spin-off” as well as a “bankruptcy program” are often implemented with a view to triggering the liquidation, closing down or restructuring of a large number of nationally owned private and public enterprises.

The “spin off” procedure –which was imposed on South Korea under the December 1997 IMF bailout agreement– required the break up of several of Korea’s powerful chaebols (business conglomerates) into smaller corporations, many of which were then taken over by US, EU and Japanese capital.. Sizeable banking interests as well highly profitable components of Korea’s high tech industrial base were transferred or sold off at rock bottom prices to Western capital. (Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order, Global Research, Montreal, 2003, Chapter 22).

These staged bankruptcy programs ultimately seek to destroy national capitalism. In the case of Ukraine, they would selectively target the business interests of the oligarchs, opening the door for the takeover of a sizeable portion of Ukraine’s private sector by EU and US corporations. The conditionalities contained in the IMF agreement would be coordinated with those contained in the controversial EU-Ukraine Association agreement, which the Yanukovych government refused to sign.

Ukraine’s Spiraling External Debt

Ukraine’s external debt is of the order of $140 billion. In consultations with the US Treasury and the EU, the IMF aid package is to be of the order of 15 billion dollars. Ukraine’s outstanding short-term debt is of the order of $65 billion, more than four times the amount promised by the IMF.

The Central Bank’s foreign currency reserves have literally dried up. In February, according to the NUB, Ukraine’s foreign-currency reserves were of the order of a meagre US$13.7 billion, its Special Drawing Rights with the IMF were of the order of US$16.1 million, its gold reserves US$1.81 billion. There were unconfirmed reports that Ukraine’s gold had been confiscated and airlifted to New York, for “safe-keeping” under the custody of the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

Under the bailout, the IMF –acting on behalf of Ukraine’s US and EU creditors– lends money to Ukraine which is already earmarked for debt repayment. The money is transferred to the creditors. The loan is “fictitious money”. Not one dollar of this money will enter Ukraine. The package is not intended to support economic growth. Quite the opposite: Its main purpose is to collect the outstanding short term debt, while precipitating the destabilization of Ukraine’s economy and financial system.

The fundamental principle of usury is that the creditor comes to the rescue of the debtor: “I cannot pay my debts, No problem my son, I will lend you the money and with the money I lend you, you will pay me back”.

The rescue rope thrown to Kiev by the IMF and the European Union is in reality a ball and chain. Ukraine’s external debt, as documented by the World Bank, increased tenfold in ten years and exceeds 135 billion dollars. In interests alone, Ukraine must pay about 4.5 billion dollars a year. The new loans will only serve to increase the external debt thus obliging Kiev to “liberalize” its economy even more, by selling to corporations what remains to be privatized.

Ukraine, IMF “Shock Treatment” and Economic Warfare By Manlio Dinucci, Global Research, March 21, 2014

Under the IMF loan agreement, the money will not enter the country, It will be used to trigger the repayment of outstanding debt servicing obligations to EU and US creditors. In this regard, according to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS)”European banks have more than $23 billion in outstanding loans in Ukraine.” Ukraine Facing Financial Instability But IMF May Help Soon – Spiegel Online, February 28, 2014

What are the “benefits” of an IMF package to Ukraine?

According to IMF’s managing director Christine Lagarde the bailout is intended to address the issue of poverty and social inequality. In actuality what it does is to increase the levels of indebtedness, while essentially handing over the reins of macro-economic reform and monetary policy to the Bretton Woods Institutions, acting on behalf of Wall Street.

The bailout agreement will include the imposition of drastic austerity measures which in all likelihood will trigger further social chaos and economic dislocation. It’s called “policy based lending”, namely the granting of money earmarked to reimburse the creditors, in exchange for the IMF’s “bitter economic medicine” in the form of a menu of neoliberal policy reforms. “Short-term pain for long term gain” is the motto of the Washington based Bretton Woods institutions.

Loan “conditionalities” will be imposed –including drastic austerity measures– -which will serve to impoverish the Ukrainian population beyond bounds in a country which has been under IMF ministrations for more than 20 years. While the Maidan movement was manipulated, tens of thousands of people protested they wanted a new life, because their standard of living had collapsed as a result of the neoliberal policies applied by successive governments, including that of president Yanukovych. Little did they realize that the protest movement supported by Wall Street, the US State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was meant to usher in a new phase of  economic and social destruction.

History of IMF Ministrations in Ukraine

In 1994 under the presidency of Leonid Kuchma, an IMF package was imposed on Ukraine. Viktor Yushchenko –who later became president following the 2004 Colored Revolution– had been appointed head of the newly-formed National Bank of Ukraine (NBU). Yushchenko was praised by the Western financial media as a “daring reformer”; he was among the main architects of the IMF’s 1994 reforms which served to destabilize Ukraine’s national economy. When he ran in the 2004 elections against Yanukovych, he was supported by various foundations including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). He was Wall Street’s preferred candidate.

Ukraines’ 1994 IMF package was finalized behind closed doors at the Madrid 50 years anniversary Summit of the Bretton Woods institutions. It required the Ukrainian government to abandon State controls over the exchange rate leading to an massive collapse of the currency. Yushchenko played a key role in negotiating and implementing the 1994 agreement as well as creating a new Ukrainian national currency, which resulted in a dramatic plunge in real wages:
Yushchenko as Head of the Central Bank was responsible for deregulating the national currency under the October 1994 “shock treatment”:
  • The price of bread increased overnight by 300 percent,
  • electricity prices by 600 percent,
  • public transportation by 900 percent.
  • the standard of living tumbled
The IMF-World Bank had destroyed Ukraine’s ‘bread basket”. By 1998, the deregulation of the grain market, the hikes in the price of fuel and the liberalisation of trade resulted in a decline in the production of grain by 45 percent in relation to its 1986-90 level. The collapse in livestock production, poultry and dairy products was even more dramatic. (See The cumulative decline in GDP resulting from the IMF sponsored reforms was in excess of 60 percent  from 1992 to 1995.


Did Ukraine Just Airlift Its Entire Gold Hoard To The U.S. Fed?

Today an outspoken hedge fund manager out of Hong Kong stunned King World News when he said that the entire Ukrainian gold hoard may have just secretly been flown from Ukraine to the United States.  William Kaye, who 25 years ago worked for Goldman Sachs in mergers and acquisitions, also spoke about the incredible implications of this astonishing development.  Below is what Kaye had to say in this powerful interview.

Kaye:  “There are now reports coming from Ukraine that all of the Ukrainian gold has been airlifted, at 2 AM Ukrainian time, out of the main airport, Boryspil Airport, in Kiev, and is being flown to New York -- the presumable destination being the New York Fed. Now that’s 33 tons of gold which is worth somewhere between $1.5 billion - $2 billion.  That would amount to a very nice down payment to the $5 billion that Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland boasted that the United States has already spent in their efforts to destabilize Ukraine, and put in place their own unelected  government.” 

Eric King:  “Whether the United States is taking down Saddam Hussein in Iraq, or Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, there always seems to be gold at the end of the rainbow, which the U.S. then appropriates.”

Kaye:  “That’s a good point, Eric.  The United States installed a former banker in Ukraine who is very friendly to the West.  He is also a guy with central bank experience.  This would have been his first major decision to transport that gold out of Ukraine to the United States. 

You may recall that allegedly the logistical requirements prevented the New York Fed from returning the 300 tons of gold the United States stores for Germany back to Germany.  After a year of waiting, the New York Fed only sent Germany 5 tons of gold.  So only 5 tons of gold was sent from the Fed to Germany, and it wasn’t even the 5 tons that had been originally stored with the Fed. Even the Bundesbank has admitted that the gold sent to them by the New York Fed had to be melted down and tested for purity because it wasn’t Germany’s original bars.  So how is it, since logistical requirements are supposedly such a major issue, that in one airlift, assuming this report is accurate, all the gold Ukraine possessed in their vault was taken out of Ukraine and delivered to the New York Fed?  I think anybody with any active brain cells knows that just like Germany, Ukraine will have to wait a very long time, and very likely will never see that gold again.  Meaning, that gold is gone.” 


Is an Armenian “Maidan” possible?

The Armenian political elite and the general public are divided on the account of the Kiev events. The main question, however, is whether the Ukrainian revolution may spill out to Armenia. 

In the evening of February 20, in the Armenian city of Spitak, several young activists appeared on one of the central squares, named after Viktor Yanukovich. They covered the plaque that read “Viktor Yanukovich square” with a self-made sign with the name “Sergey Nigoyan square”.

Sergey Nigoyan, an ethnic Armenian from Eastern Ukraine, was one of the first victims of the clashes in Kiev, allegedly killed by a pro-government sniper on January 22. As for Yanukovich, he was the head of a construction company that took part in the reconstruction of earthquake-hit northern Armenia during the last years of the Soviet Unions, and the square was named after him a sign of gratitude for this work.

Of course, there are doubts as to whether Yanukovich’s role in the reconstruction would have been so highly appreciated had he not become an influential politician: the square was named after him in 2008, when he was already the leader of the Regions’ Party in Ukraine.

Arayik Harutyunyan, member of a recently formed “Civil Contract” political movement, says that he had been thinking about the symbolic renaming of the square for months, after he heard about the first cases of violence against protesters. When on February 20 the news spread about the bloodshed in Kiev, he had no more doubts. “I do not think Yanukovich deserves a square named after him”, Arayik explains.

“Thousands of people helped Armenia after the earthquake, including many Ukrainians, but the square was named after Yanukovich... this was a purely political decision”.

The choice of Sergey Nigoyan’s name was not a coincidence: for many young Armenians he became a symbol of liberty and resistance. Nigoyan was not the only ethnic Armenian among the victims: Georgi Hyrutiunian, from the western Ukrainian town of Rivne, was killed on February 20, when the clashes escalated. 

People power or conspiracy? 

However, not everyone in Armenia shares positive views about the Ukrainian revolutionaries. Many Armenians are wary of the Ukrainian events, seeing them as a showdown between Russian and Western secret services, rather than a popular revolution. Russian language sources, both on television and Internet, remain the main source of information about the events in the Post-Soviet space for the majority of Armenians.

Therefore, the image of chaos in Ukraine that the Russian state media has been promoting, has influenced the perceptions of the Ukrainian events in Armenia. Some Armenians even share Moscow’s view of Ukrainian revolutionaries as “fascists” and “criminals”.

Even after Nigoyan’s death captured the attention of Armenian media, some of the commentary aired the view that Nigoyan’s death was in vain, since he had found himself on the wrong side of the barricades. This ambivalence about how to react to the Ukrainian events seems to go up to the highest echelons of the Armenian government.

On the one hand, they do not want to displease the Russian authorities, but simply subscribing to Moscow’s view would further complicate relations with Western partners. Some pro-government figures openly embraced the Yanukovich's version of events: thus, pro-government member of parliament Artashes Geghamyan accused “outside forces” of using “technologies of destruction” in Ukraine.

Higher-level government officials have been more careful in their comments, preferring to avoid the topic, especially after the defeat of Yanukovich became obvious.

When in the National Assembly the opposition suggested a minute of silence in memory of the Ukrainian protesters killed during the clashes, the parliament speaker agreed, but he added that the deputies should honor all victims, including those from the police force. The opposition is more outspoken about the Ukrainian events, pointing to similarities between Armenia and Ukraine, and implying that Armenian government may repeat the fate of Yanukovich.

However, opposition politicians are also careful to tone down their comments when it comes to the geopolitical rivalry between Russia and the West, as no political force wants to come off as anti-Russian. 

Armenia and the Ukraine: so similar, yet so different 

Of course, the biggest question is whether the Ukrainian revolution may spill out to Armenia. Similarities between Ukraine and Armenia are plenty: both lack energy resources and are heavily dependent on foreign supplies, both were hit hard by the financial crisis and never fully recovered, both have a serious corruption problem. In both countries, the government has been accused of election fraud and other authoritarian tendencies, but both countries have a degree of political and media freedom, which puts them ahead of typical post-Soviet autocracies like Belarus.

However, there are also important differences.

The Armenian opposition has been in disarray since the presidential elections of 2013, when, in spite of claims of election fraud, the opposition failed to unite, and post-election protests ended in a fiasco. Also, given Armenia’s geopolitical situation, the European option, which mobilized at least part of protesters in Ukraine, seems relatively feeble for Armenia. Finally, Armenia is involved into an ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan and has unresolved issues with Turkey, and against that background an internal stand-off of the kind that happened in Ukraine would be extremely risky for Armenia.

With all that in mind, it is clear why many Armenians are skeptical that the Ukrainian events will have any substantial influence on Armenia. However, some disagree. Poet Marine Petrosyan, who is also well known for her political activism, says “I remember 1987, when protests had started in various places all over the USSR, and many people in Armenia were saying that Armenians are different, there is no way they will rise up against the system… Only a few months later the Karabakh movement started, and hundreds of thousands were on the street protesting”.

Arshak, a small business owner from Yerevan, says he was shocked by the casualties in Kiev: “I don’t want something like that to happen in Armenia and I don’t think it’s possible”. But, he says, “Armenians need to do something in order to remind the government that it is supposed to serve the people, as Ukrainians had done… Whoever comes to power in Ukraine, all those deaths would not be in vain: from now on, people in power will realize that sooner or later they will have to answer for what they are doing”.

Will Yerevan Emulate Kiev?

If anyone tries to convince you that the Cold War is over, take that statement with a grain of salt. The Cold War is continuing, if not intensifying. After the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the West rushed in to fill the power vacuum left in the absence of a central Soviet regime, by engaging the newly-emancipated Eastern European countries into the European Union and NATO structures. It even drew the line in the sand for Russia after dismembering former Yugoslavia.

In 2008, Moscow drew its own line in the sand by attacking and “liberating” parts of Georgia. Ukraine remained the center of a tug-of-war between Russia and the West, shifting allegiance at least three times. The Orange Revolution of 2004 brought to power Victor Yushchenko and Yulia Timoshenko, which nudged the country toward the West. By 2010, the erstwhile allies had become bitter enemies and during a three-way presidential election, former Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich won, shifting the country back towards Moscow.

Thus the country teetered between the two tectonic centers of power until the recent revolt emerged at Kiev’s Maidan, which brought down Yanukovich’s administration. He had just struck a deal with the opposition, with the blessing of the foreign ministers of France, the UK and Poland. The agreement called for the revival of the 2004 constitution limiting the presidential powers and setting a December date for the election. The Maidan protestors, however, did not heed the agreement and the government fell. Yanukovich was deposed by the Ukrainian Rada (Parliament), which appointed Alexander Turchinov as interim president.

Naturally, these developments were filtered through different and opposing lenses; for the West, the will of the Ukrainian people had won, while for the Russians, street gangs and thugs had usurped power through violence. A pivotal role was played in this transition by Arsen Avakov, minister of the interior, an ethnic Armenian. There is no doubt that the tug-of-war will continue. Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security chief, has warned Moscow against any military intervention.Ukraine is a vast country with a population of 46 million. Seventy percent of its trade is with Russia. There is a precedent that Moscow has interrupted the flow of gas to Ukraine when things did not go to its liking.

The eastern regions of the country are the most industrialized and are populated by Russian-speaking and Russophile Ukrainians, who have already been agitating. The Crimean peninsula, birthplace of Hovhannes Aivazovsky,  by the way, is predominantly populated by Russians. Incidentally, while former Politburo member Heydar Aliyev accused any Armenian who sought the return of Karabagh and Nakhichevan as reactionary and nationalist, Nikita Khrushchov, an ethnic Ukrainian, annexed Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 and no one accused him of nationalism. Of course, at that time, border adjustments within the Soviet Union did not have the same political significance as they will have today because the Russian Black Sea fleet is based in Crimea.

A hostile neighbor with a potential of joining NATO will certainly irritate policy planners in Moscow, compelling them to take remedial action now before any further deterioration of the situation. That reaction may lead the country into a partition. Political analyst Igor Muradian believes that “there will be actual federalization while maintaining Ukraine as a single internationally-recognized state and at the same time, the issue of the state budget, utilities and mobility of the people, foreign relations, army and law enforcement agencies will be addressed. At the same time, the process of separating Crimea from Ukraine will begin, which is apparently inevitable.”

There are striking parallels between Ukraine and Armenia, especially since both made their U-turn to join Russia’s Customs Union, at the same time interrupting their negotiations with the EU, ostensibly  under Russian pressure. Before these events, Moscow had pledged $15 billion worth of aid to Ukraine. Now the new leaders believe that Ukraine needs $60-70 billion to avoid an economic collapse, it is doubtful if Moscow will abide by its early pledge. The US and EU have made some vague promises, which may or may not meet the expectations of the new leaders.

In Armenia, there is no love lost for the Russians who are increasingly treating the country in a cavalier manner. Armenian political groups organized a solidarity unit with Maidan and even travelled to Kiev to support the protestors. Political pundits are comparing the March 1, 2008 Armenian demonstrations which claimed 10 lives with Kiev’s Maidan. All opposition parties are wishing and trying to enact the repeat performance of Maidan in Armenia. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the opposition is so splintered that no two groups can agree on any common ground. The well-oiled media is entirely financed by foreign governments and agencies and they are trying hard to incite anti-Russian sentiments. Armenia’s well-being is the least of their worries. They finance the media for their own selfish purposes. Many starving journalists are serving these foreign agencies for their own survival, oblivious  of their cumulative impact on the fate of the country.

Any veteran or novice in politics there begins his rhetoric with calls for regime change. But modern history has demonstrated time and again that any change will only rout one set of oligarchs and bring new ones to power. Corruption is endemic in all former Soviet republics. No country in the region can remain sanitized as long as they continue their former economic and business relations with each other. Georgia, the most Western-oriented state in the Caucasus, had trumpeted loudly that it had eradicated corruption under Mikheil Saakashvili, that the rule of law had become paramount. Former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream Party rose to power, and last week former Prime Minister Ivane Merabishvili was sentence to a five-year prison term for corruption.

The Orange Revolution had catapulted Yulia Timoshenko to power in Ukraine and she landed in jail for corruption. Even Greece, the cradle of democracy and civilization, and a member of the European Union, is plagued with corruption. This means that association with Europe alone is not a panacea. Corruption is a genuine cause for concern in Armenia. It has to be criticized. It has to be eradicated, but only for its own sake so that the lives of its people improve and not in order to feed the agenda of foreign powers who have a vested interest in Armenia without a strong central government. Events in Ukraine shook the world and its echoes reverberate more in Armenia, having the same predicament. But a repeat performance of Maidan will only bring chaos.

Another Crimea? Ukraine's neighbor asks to join Russia

Communist supporters protest in Chisinau on December 10.

As Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a treaty on Tuesday making Crimea part of Russia, a little-known region in neighboring Moldova has also pleaded to join the country. Russian loyalists in the breakaway region of Trans-Dniester, which shares a border with Ukraine, asked the parliament in Russia to write new laws that would allow them to join the 

The Trans-Dniester region split from Moldova around 1990 and made a failed attempt at independence in 2006, when it held a referendum that was unrecognized internationally. The region did not want to split from the Soviet Union at the time of its collapse and has now requested unity with Russia.

Otilia Dhand, vice president at advisory and intelligence firm Teneo Intelligence said Trans-Dniester has been asking to join the Russian Federation for two decades, so now is an opportune moment to ask again. Dhand said up until now the Kremlin had shown little interest in absorbing the region as it offers little strategic and economic benefits.

"There are 550,000 citizens of citizens of Trans-Dniester who mostly also claim other citizenships. There are about 150,000 of them that claim dual citizenship with Russia and many others claim Ukrainian citizenship or Romanian so it is kind of a mixed picture," Dhand told CNBC.

"Russia has roughly 1,000 soldiers based there and also some ammunition and equipment that comes with it. They are not such a substantial force as they are in Crimea and Russia does not have common borders with Trans-Dniester, so it would be difficult to service as a territory," she said.

"If they were interested in tactically taking it over - it would just really be for show. Should Russia choose to take Trans-Dniester over, it would be quite intimidating for Ukraine," she added.

Speaker of the high council, Mikheil Burla sent a written address to a speaker in Russia's Duma, the lower house, asking him to consider legislation that would allow the non-recognized republic to become part of Russia, according to media reports. The President of Moldova Nicolae Timofti has warned that any move to enable the mainly Russian speaking region to join Russia would be a "mistake".

"This is an illegal body which has taken no decision on inclusion into Russia," Reuters cited Timofti as saying at a news conference. "If Russia makes a move to satisfy such proposals, it will be making a mistake," he said.

Russia's decision to sign a treaty to annex the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, after a referendum held under Russian military occupation showed overwhelming support for the move, has further damaged relations with the West.

The United States and the EU imposed travel bans and asset freezes against a number of officals from Russia and Ukraine following Sunday's referendum and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called Moscow's action a "land grab". Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a telephone call that such sanctions were unacceptable and threatened "consequences", without going into detail.

Trans-Dniestrian citizens: A 'mixed picture'

Trans-Dniester is recognized as part of Moldova by the U.N. rather than as an independent state, but the region is self-governed and runs its own institutions. Moldova has a population of approximately 3.56 million. Crimea has 2.3 million people compared to Trans-Dniester, the thin strip of land between the Dniester river and the Ukraine border, which is populated by approximately 550,000 people and has its own currency, the Trans-Dniester rouble.

At the time of the collapse of the USSR, Moldova as a constitutive republic of the USSR wanted independence but Trans-Dniester wanted to stay with Russia. There was a short, but bloody war in 1992, but the issue has never been fully resolved.

Teneo's Dhand said many citizens living in the region have as many as three passports: a Trans-Dniesterian one which is not recognized, a Russian one and potentially one other from "whichever other country allows them to have one. So it is complicated to define each and every person, where they belong,"she said. The referendum held in Trans-Dniester in 2006 resulted in about 97 percent of the population voting for independence and to join Russia.