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Europe-Russia

Tag Archives | Europe-Russia

Ukraine, a Perversely “Good” War for the GRU

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Anastasia Vlasova
Anastasia Vlasova

Anastasia Vlasova

It would seem on the surface that the GRU, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff–in other words, Russian military intelligence–is coming in for some flak for its operations in Ukraine. Kyiv has just outed and expelled a naval attache from the Russian embassy, Kirill Koliuchkin, as a lt. colonel in the GRU, while the GRU’s chief, Lt. General Igor Sergun, was on the latest EU sanctions list. Personally, I’d assume the ‘Aquarium’–the GRU’s headquarters at Khodinka–must be delighted. After all, this was a service whose very status as a Main Directorate was until recently in question.

Lest that sound like a trivial question of nomenclature, had the GRU become simply the RU, the General Staff’s Intelligence Directorate, it would have meant a massive diminution of the service’s prestige, access and, by extension, role and budget. As was, in 2009-11, it went through a savage round of cuts, losing over 1,000 officers, and of 100 or so general-rank officers in the GRU, fully 80 were dismissed, retired or transferred to other department. Meanwhile, of the eight Spetsnaz commando brigades, three were disbanded and the rest transferred again to regular military commands. As for the GRU’s “residencies”–the separate intelligence offices it ran inside Russian embassies abroad–some had been closed down, or reduced to a single officer working as a military attaché.

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Athens Confesses: The 2013 Primary Surplus was a Mirage

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Turns out there wasn't a surplus after all

It’s official! The Greek government now confirms that the much lauded Greek government primary surplus for 2013 was a mirage created by the return of Greek Statistics (see this recent post).

Turns out there wasn't a surplus after all

Turns out there wasn’t a surplus after all

And also that the statistical trickery involved had the full approval of Eurostat, of the troika, of Berlin etc. The ‘confession’ has come in the form of the deafening silence in response to the revelation that approximately €5 .4 billion was taken off government expenditure through the discovery of a non-existent ‘white hole’ in the government’s revenues. Yesterday, a tweet from a spoof account in the name of a Finance Ministry official reminded me that the New Greek Statistics are highly reminiscent of the Old Greek Statistics.

When Greece imploded, back in 2010, we all thought that, at the very least, the time for truth had come. The bubble had burst, people were to suffer immensely, but at least we could envisage the start of a new era during which Greeks, Germans, the Irish, the Spanish, Europeans in general, would try to re-build on solid ground, would avoid erecting pyramids on a foundation of lies, would tell citizens the truth on our macroeconomic fundamentals.

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NATO and the New War: Dealing with Threats before they become Kinetic

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Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general North Atlantic Treaty Organization

I’m enjoying the privilege of attending this year’s Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn and already there have been fascinating discussions in both formal sessions and informal conversations.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Needless to say, despite the intention on focusing on the Baltic as a potential “mare nostrum,” Ukraine hangs heavily over the whole event. Many who were once considered hawks are able to, if I may extend the analogy, preen a little and feel that Moscow has justified their concerns admirably. And I cannot blame them. If once the divide was between those who saw Russia as a problem, even a potential partner, rather than a threat and those who simply saw the threat, then I wonder if now the divide that is opening up is between those who think purely in terms of “old wars” rather than new.

In Ukraine we have seen a distinctive evolution of old forms of political-military, covert-overt conflict. To be sure, the Ukrainian situation was distinctive and extraordinary: a state in virtual collapse, a large Russia-looking minority, a disgruntled and scared eastern elite looking for a new krysha (‘roof’ – protection) and seeing it in Moscow. We do not see this in Europe. If Cossacks or Night Wolves motorcycle gangers rolled into Narva tomorrow, not only would the Estonian security forces be perfectly able to deal with them, but it they would have the support of the overwhelming majority of Russophone Estonians in doing it, too.

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As the European Union Reconsiders Russian Natural Gas, Qatar Waits in the Wings

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Liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker. Source: Bloomberg

Throughout the Ukraine crisis, European Union (EU) leaders have become more vocal about their interest in reducing Europe’s consumption of Russian natural gas.

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker. Source: Bloomberg

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker. Source: Bloomberg

As a result, Qatar — the world’s number-one provider of liquefied natural gas (LNG) — is well positioned to play a more influential role in Europe’s energy landscape. Although unlikely to replace Russia as Europe’s top natural gas provider, Qatar could assist in significantly decreasing the EU’s reliance on Russian energy resources while at the same time obtaining greater diplomatic leverage over European governments. Fortunately for the EU, Ukraine’s crisis did not erupt several years earlier. In 2006, 80 percent of Russia’s natural gas sales to the EU transited Ukraine. This was reduced to 50 percent by 2013 (two years after the Nord Stream pipeline came on line — connecting Vyborg, Russia to Sassnitz, Germany via the Baltic Sea).

In 2013, the EU and Russia began construction on the South Steam project, a planned gas pipeline connecting Russia to Bulgaria via the Black Sea, which would increase EU-Russia energy trade while bypassing Ukraine. However, the chilling of EU-Russia relations may jeopardise the South Stream project’s future. European firms involved in the project have reacted differently. While the CEO of Italy’s ENI called the project’s future “gloomy,” some Bulgarian and German firms have remained optimistic, as have their Russian partners. Naturally, each EU member faces unique geopolitical challenges and varying degrees of geographic proximity to alternative natural gas providers and corridors. National interest will therefore dictate how each participating European nation reacts to the project in the future.

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Greek Statistics are Back: Primary Deficit Presented as Surplus

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Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Have you heard the one about Greece’s Eurostat-approved 2013 primary surplus? Well, you should not believe it. Here is why. Eurostat has just approved the Greek statistical service’s (ELSTAT) figures on the general government’s primary surplus of around 0.8% of GDP. Were that true, it would have been of great significance. Not because Greek debt would have, magically, become sustainable but, rather, because it would have meant that the Greek government would have acquired great leverage in its negotiations on the impending restructuring of Greece’s public debt.

Put simply, it would mean that the government could, at least in theory, suspend debt repayments to the troika while the negotiations are continuing, without having to renege on its payments of salaries, pensions, and suppliers. Alas, the Greek government’s 2013 primary surplus is a statistical mirage. Moreover, it is a mirage purposely concocted by Eurostat and ELSTAT under the watchful, and conniving, eyes of Berlin, Frankfurt and Brussels. Mindful of how weighty these charges are, I list my evidence immediately below.

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Has Putin Overplayed his Hand in Ukraine?

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Alexander Mozhaev, a pro-Russian separatist whose photograph has appeared in numerous publications insists that he is not employed by the Russian state. Photo: Maxim Dondyuk

Until recently, Vladimir Putin has had to contend with little more than targeted sanctions and threats from the Obama administration that Russia will feel the pain for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Alexander Mozhaev, a pro-Russian separatist whose photograph has appeared in numerous publications insists that he is not employed by the Russian state. Photo: Maxim Dondyuk

Alexander Mozhaev, a pro-Russian separatist whose photograph has appeared in numerous publications insists that he is not employed by the Russian state. Photo: Maxim Dondyuk

Threats have failed to persuade Russia to pull back; Western antagonism and land reclamation have only boosted Putin’s domestic popularity. In the end, the Kremlin has likely overplayed its self-perceived position of strength in Ukraine. As Western leaders plot ways to punish Putin, there is little they can conceivably do to stop him. While the US has dispatched several hundred soldiers to several east European states, these moves are merely to assuage any fears on the part of Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that NATO and the US will not abandon them should Putin set his sites further west. Regardless of the fact that Russian armed forces are better trained than many of their west European counterparts it would seem unlikely that Putin would invade any NATO member state.

Ukraine was an easy target. Its military was underfunded during the Yanukovych years. Through years of corruption and mismanagement, Ukraine’s military is a shell of its former self. From a height of approximately 750,000 military personnel decades ago the military now numbers roughly 140,000 and many of these soldiers are poorly trained. Add to that, when the United States, United Kingdom and Russia signed a memorandum in Budapest in 1994 where they committed not to coerce Ukraine, there was no reason to rebuild its military. Ukraine’s mistakenly believed that the memorandum was a pledge but in reality it was simply an agreement not to use military or economic coercion against Ukraine.

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Russia Warns Kiev that it will ‘Respond if its Interests’ are Attacked

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Sergei Lavorv

Russia will respond if its interests in Ukraine are attacked, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said, drawing a parallel with the 2008 Georgian war. Speaking to Russian state TV channel RT, Mr. Lavrov also accused the US of “running the show” in Ukraine. And in a statement, Russia’s foreign ministry repeated its call for Ukraine to withdraw military units from the country’s east.

Ukraine’s government faces an armed revolt there by pro-Russia separatists. Kiev and the West say Moscow commands gunmen in eastern Ukraine - something Russia denies.

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Clausewitzian Perspectives on Russia’s Actions in Ukraine

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Russian President Vladimir Putin. Norgler/Wikimedia

Are the musings of Carl von Clausewitz, a 19th century general, relevant to a 21th century crisis? Great works are defined by their characteristic of capturing unchanging human experiences.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Norgler/Wikimedia

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Norgler/Wikimedia

Clausewitz’s work has a timeless quality as it deals with the theory of war analyzing its characteristics and internal structures and not generation specific events. His concern with the root causes of war instead of the manifestations of it makes his framework of analysis relevant to the present day. The present crisis in Ukraine is rooted in the forced departure of the corrupt regime of Viktor Yanukovych. The departure of the pro-Moscow president was viewed by Russia as part of the long running NATO expansion eastwards contrary to their previous agreement. Coupled with Russia’s historical strategic imperative to expand outwards one better understands Russia’s actions.

Russia under Putin has been striving to secure its ‘privileged sphere of interests’ in post-Soviet states, which it perceives as its Near Abroad. This initiative is part of the conception of foreign policy in Russia as a tool for stabilizing the regime by generating consensus for strong and assertive Russian behaviour abroad. This legitimizes the highly centralized form of government in Moscow which is struggling to do the same in a nation experiencing terrible economic conditions and a worrying demographic crisis. In light of the humiliation endured by Russia over the Libyan vote at the United Nations, the loss of Ukraine to a pro-Western government would have greatly threatened the stability of the Russian state.

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Legal Questions of Russia’s Intervention in Ukraine

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Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferre

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine, which has seen the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, has generated two important legal questions.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferre

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister. Photo: Jean-Marc Ferre

The first one relates to whether Russia has violated international law with respect to the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine. The second question relates to the legality of the referendum in Crimea whereby it has chosen to become a part of Russia. With regard to the first question, the UN Charter imposes via Article 2(3) the obligation upon nations to settle international disputes by peaceful means. Article 2(4) prohibits members from using force or the threat of force against another state’s territorial integrity and political independence. The use of force is however permitted in a situation where the UN Security Council has authorized such action to maintain or restore international peace and security or where a state exercises its inherent right of self defence as recognized in Article 51.

In addition to violation of the provisions of the UN Charter, it has been argued that Russia is in violation of the 1975 Final Act of the Conference on Security & Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Accords) which reaffirmed the obligation of its signatories to respect each other’s territorial integrity and borders as inviolable in addition to refraining from the use of threat of use of force. These are commitments that were echoed in the 1994 Memorandum on Security Assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the NPT (the Budapest Memorandum) and the 1997 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation & Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Further, Ukraine says Russia is violating the Black Sea Fleet Agreements and the 1999 agreement between the Cabinet of Ministers on the Use of Airspace of Ukraine and of Airspace Over the Black Sea, which places caps on Russian troop levels in Crimea and mandates prior approval of Ukrainian authorities before making any troop movements.

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Kiev to Launch Probe into Deadly Sloviansk Shooting

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A woman stands in front of a barricade outside a regional government building in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, April 20, 2014. Marko Djurica/Reuters

Ukraine says it will launch an investigation into a fatal shooting in the east of the country which has raised tension with Russia further. At least three people died in the raid on a checkpoint manned by pro-Russian separatists near the town of Sloviansk. Russia expressed “outrage” at the shooting and said Ukraine’s Right Sector nationalists were to blame. The incident came as pro-Russian groups continued to occupy government buildings defying a deal to leave. The deputy secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, Viktoriya Siumar, told the BBC that it was too early to tell who was responsible for the attack. Criminal groups could have been behind the incident, she said, adding that “the level of criminality in eastern Ukraine has increased substantially recently.”

Ms. Siumar said that Kiev was “concerned” about the fact that Russia had already reached its own conclusions. Russian television showed an interview with a man, allegedly captured after the attack, who said he was a Right Sector member. However, a spokesman for the group denied that the man was a member. “Right Sector was not there, and whatever happened there was an obvious provocation from the Russian secret services,” Artyom Skoropadskiy said. The Right Sector mocked the discovery of a business card found in a burned out car at the site and said to belong to its leader Dmytro Yarosh. Mr. Skoropadskiy said this was “propaganda worse than that of Nazi Germany,” adding: “As if the militants of Pravy Sektor carry Yarosh’s business cards with them!”

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Ukraine Clashes Raise Stakes in Struggle to Control the Donbas

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Power games unmasked. Pro-Russian protesters gather outside the seized City Hall in Mariupol, Ukraine. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova

It is the most serious conflagration since armed pro-Russian forces began taking control of official buildings in the Donbas.

Power games unmasked. Pro-Russian protesters gather outside the seized City Hall in Mariupol, Ukraine. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova

Power games unmasked. Pro-Russian protesters gather outside the seized City Hall in Mariupol, Ukraine. Photo: Anastasia Vlasova

At least one anti-government protester is believed to have been shot dead by Ukranian national guard soldiers. Hundreds of pro-Russian supporters had been trying to persuade the troops to switch sides at their base in Mariupol on the Azov Sea coast south of Donetsk. The Euromaidan revolution in Kiev showed just how quickly events can spiral out of control once government forces start killing their own people. It is possible that the shootings in Mariupol will polarise opinion and act as a tipping point further alienating public opinion in the Donbas against the Kiev authorities. Equally, despite its diplomatic isolation and the risk of further sanctions, Russia may conclude it has little to lose by intervening further in the region.

That last possibility may at least look a little further off after negotiators in Geneva managed to deliver agreements designed to quell the tension. How long those agreements will hold is, of course, tough to tell. The Mariupol confrontation took place just a few hours after the Donetsk regional branch of Party of the Regions of Ukraine (PRU) held an extraordinary general meeting of its regional and local representatives at the Druzhba ice hockey stadium in central Donetsk. The aim was to unite the party around a clear official policy on the region’s relationship with Kiev. Standing in front of a stage that was adorned by the party’s key messages – “Strong Donbas,” “United Ukraine,” “Donbas without Weapons” – the delegates stood for the Ukrainian national anthem. But not one Ukrainian flag could be seen flying in the hall.

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Russia, Ukraine, and Europe are Tied by Gas Dependency

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Gazprom
Gazprom

Gazprom

The German energy giant RWE has begun to “reverse flow” supplies of gas from Europe back to Ukraine via Poland, a process first arranged in 2012, with an agreement to deliver up to 10 billion cubic metres of gas per year. The question for the Ukrainian interim government and state-owned energy firm Naftogaz is how this gas will be delivered, how soon, and whether it will be enough. Hungary has the capacity to deliver 5.5 billion cubic metres (bcm), Poland could deliver 1.5 bcm, and Romania could potentially provide 1.8 bcm capacity, but not before 2016-17 at the earliest.

Talks between Ukraine and Slovakia have renewed in an effort to tap into its capacity to deliver 9 bcm of gas, but the Slovak government and pipeline operator, Eustream, are anxious to ensure that feeding gas back to Ukraine does not breach its contracts with Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom. Given that Ukraine imports around half of its annual 55 bcm of gas consumption, even with these new suppliers it will remain dependent on Russian gas.

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Kiev Begins “Anti-Terrorist” Operations in the East

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Ukraine's military

Ukrainian units

The “anti-terrorist” campaign, ordered by interim President Oleksander Turchynov is finally underway. He told the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday that operations began in the eastern Donestk region. According to Turchynov, the Russian Federation wants Ukraine to be on fire. Voice of America quoted Turchynov, who spoke to the parliament early on Tuesday. “Plans of the Russian Federation were and remain brutal. They want not only Donbas [the Donetsk region] to be on fire. They want the whole south and east of Ukraine to be on fire – from Kharkiv region to Odessa region,” Turchynov said at the parliament session in Kyiv.

The operations would be executed in phases. “But it will be carried out stage by stage, responsibly and cautiously. The aim of these actions – I underline it one more time – is to protect the citizens of Ukraine, to stop terror, and to stop criminality, stop attempts to tear Ukraine to pieces,” he added. President Turchynov confirmed the offense was finally underway. The plan was announced and launched on Sunday but no Ukrainian soldiers nor SBU officers were seen conducting operations.

A Reuters correspondent in Sloviasnk reported that there was no shot fired or explosions so far on Tuesday. Around twelve Cossacks were seen proudly standing guard at the mayor’s office and approximately the same amount of civilians were seen establishing more defensive positions using tires and wooden crates outside the occupied local police headquarters. Western leaders have arraigned Moscow of being the instigator of the recent pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine, which was quickly dismissed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Moscow has also denied the allegation of Russian Special Service agents’ were engaged in the protests stating it was “speculations based on unreliable information.”

Video of Russian Lt. Colonel in Ukraine not Quite the Smoking Gun

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Will this turn out to be the smoking gun?

Feelings are running high about Russia’s campaign of pressure and destabilization in Ukraine.

Will this turn out to be the smoking gun?

And perhaps not surprisingly foreign journalists and pundits sympathetic to Kyiv are eager to pounce on anything which appears to offer proof about the much-discussed but surprisingly elusive direct Russian role. As a result, sometimes pictorial or video evidence is being taken at face value when it needed a little more cautious scrutiny: witness the video purportedly of Russian soldiers in Ukraine being blocked by plucky Ukrainians, which turned out to be Ukrainian troops being harangued by ethnic Russian militants. (The uniforms were a give-away then.)

The latest “smoking gun” is a video in which a man in Russian camouflage introduces himself to the defecting Horlivka police as a lt. colonel in the Russian army and introduces them to their new chief. So far, so straightforwardly damning. However, while this may appear to the holy grail of proof, I’m afraid that I think it ought to be taken with some caution.

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Shootout in Sloviansk: First Confirmed Death and Several Wounded

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Russian troop carrier. Source: Kiev Post

A military standoff between Russian SOF soldiers, commonly called “pro-Russian insurgents” and Ukraine’s military led to the first death in Sloviansk, Ukraine.

Russian troop carrier. Source: Kiev Post

One man was killed and several others were wounded in a shootout near a roadside checkpoint, under Ukrainian military control. The Russians approached the checkpoint in a civilian car and started shooting at Ukrainian soldiers. According to a local witness, who hid his identity, a man wearing a black uniform, who was killed, was later identified as an SBU officer. “One killed and two wounded,” he explained. Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s police chief, confirmed the SBU officer’s death and added five people were injured. As reported by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, there are dead and wounded on both sides while Reuters reported that one man on the Russian side has been killed in action.

The death of the SBU officer could justify the movement of Ukrainian soldiers towards Sloviansk. In fact, Interim President Oleksander Tuchinov said Ukraine is on the verge of launching a full-scale anti-terrorist operation against pro-Russian insurgents, increasing the risk of a military confrontation with Moscow. Free Ukraine, @Ukrainolution, who monitors the situation closely, agreed to the fact that the military movement could be due to the SBU officer’s death.

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