What Does Russia Want in Ukraine?

SAKWA, Richard
Valdai Discussion Club | 30/06/2014

Russian-Ukrainian relations are in deep trouble, yet the election of the new president, Petro Poroshenko, offers the chance to ‘reset’ relations on a more pragmatic and business-like basis. For this to happen, we need to assess Russia’s motives and ambitions in the crisis. These undoubtedly changed and evolved in response to the dramatic events: the struggle over the Association Agreement with the European Union; the increasingly violent demonstrations from 21 November 2013 that in the end toppled the Viktor Yanukovych regime; the annexation of Crimea; and then the probing of Ukrainian vulnerabilities in the Donbas. Throughout Russia’s end goals were disputed.

By mid-May 2014 it looked as if the Ukrainian state was on the verge of collapse. At that point there was a clear retrenchment in the Russian position, usually attributed to the pressure of sanctions but more likely a sober response to changes on the ground. Russia did not support the independence referendums in Donetsk and Lugansk held on 11 May, withdrew its forces from the Ukrainian border, and then accepted the legitimacy of the presidential election on 25 May.

Although there probably was contingency planning, Russia appeared for the most part to be reacting to events, until the decision to strike in Crimea was taken. This was most likely an angry and ad hoc response to events in Kiev. At that time there was much speculation that Russia’s ambitions ran far wider, notably to re-establish parts of the pre-revolutionary Novorossiya territories arching across from the Donbas to Odessa, and then to link up with Transnistria, which would be definitively torn from Moldova. According to General Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR – a term that in any rationale universe would have long ago been consigned to the history books), this was Russia’s strategy, although he gave no evidence in support.

Fantasies of dismembering Ukraine and gaining either a friendly protectorate state on its borders or even the outright annexation of territories were certainly played out in the Russian media, but did not gain official support. If indeed Ukraine had collapsed, then Russia would undoubtedly have moved in, as would other states, to protect civilians and to re-establish order. There is a gulf between scenario planning and actually planning to achieve a defined goal – and after the annexation of Crimea, it is unlikely that more territorial acquisitions were planned. This does not negate the argument that Russia should perhaps have done more to calm the situation in the Donbas; but the early actions of the Maidan government were no less inflammatory, and indeed genuinely threatening to many of Ukraine’s pluralists. The killings in Odessa on 2 May stand as a stark warning of what could have happened elsewhere.

In the longer term, Russia’s strategic goals have been remarkably consistent, reaching back into the 1990s and certainly encompassing the Orange Revolution. First, the aim was to keep Ukraine out of Western security structures, above all NATO. The promises made at Bucharest in May 2008 were not rescinded but only placed on hold, despite the war in Georgia that summer. In the Medvedev years there was plenty of cooperation with Barack Obama within the framework of the ‘reset’ and the issue of NATO enlargement was barely mentioned, although it simmered away in the background as more immediate contentious issues, notably Missile Defence, occupied centre ground.

Second, there is no doubt that from at least 2008 Russia became more suspicious of EU enlargement. All the new EU members were also members of NATO, and at the same time, the Association Agreements themselves have a profound security dimension. On the purely economic front, the wider Europe agenda repudiated the model of mutually negotiated and compatible free trade areas, and instead sought to reorient partner countries firmly to the West. There were some good reasons to frame the associations in this way, since the aim was to achieve radical transformations in market and governance relations that would establish genuinely competitive market economies that were compatible with the EU’s own markets. This model had worked well in Central and Easter Europe, but the incentive structure there had been much stronger – namely the promise of EU membership. Accession was not on even the medium-term agenda for the Eastern Partnership countries, so a more gradual approach may have been wiser, building on existing links to the East while supporting the transformation of regulatory and governance structures. A free and prosperous Ukraine was certainly not something opposed by Moscow; but it simply did not understand why this had to be couched in anti-Russian terms.

Hence Moscow fought long and hard to convince the EU and Ukraine to change the model of European engagement, and then in the months before November 2013 it applied all the tools in its armoury to convince Yanukovych to step back from the brink. This brings us to a third point. Yanukovych is typically portrayed as ‘pro-Russian’ in the Western media, but in fact he was neither pro-Russian nor pro-Western, but largely concerned with his personal aggrandisement. He did receive support from Moscow, but personal relations with Putin were very poor. Putin had found it more congenial to do business with Yulia Tymoshenko when she was prime minister; but now he had to deal with Yanukovych as the democratically elected leader of Ukraine.

The argument that Putin and Yanukovych united in defence of kleptocratic regimes is a thin one, although greatly peddled by Russian liberals and the parts of the Western media. Equally, the argument that the example of a free and genuinely democratic Ukraine would destabilise the Russian regime leaves out of account the larger context and is a misrepresentation of how the system in Russia has evolved. Ukraine success in overcoming corruption, oligarch predominance and the decay of institutions would be supported as long as this is not accompanied by the geostrategic shift described earlier. Most Russian people and the elite would wish nothing more than a successful and prosperous, and indeed united, Ukraine, as long it respects pluralism internally and Russia’s legitimate concerns externally.

Richard Sakwa is professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent at Canterbury, an Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, member of the Valdai Discussion Club.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club’s, unless explicitly stated otherwise.



Moscow Beefs Up Military Support for Iraq

BY John Hudson, Gordon Lubold
Foreign Policy | JUNE 29, 2014

Moscow dispatched jet fighters and military trainers to Iraq to boost the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, highlighting a growing Syrian, Iranian, and now Russian effort to bolster Maliki in his fight against Islamist extremists.

The shipment of Russian airplanes follows days of Syrian airstrikes on targets from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and stepped-up military assistance from Tehran. The Obama administration continues to weigh air strikes against ISIS. In the meantime, the assistance from Tehran, Damascus, and Moscow threatens to further reduce Washington’s potential leverage over Maliki as the administration pushes him to mount a serious outreach effort to the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

For more than a year, Baghdad urged Washington to speed up the delivery of F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters as it battled for control of its own country. However, members of Congress repeatedly held up the deliveries due to unease about Maliki’s ethno-centric leadership, which disproportionately favors the country’s Shiite population. 

A senior Iraqi official pointed out that the latest support from Moscow demonstrated America’s diminished role in the conflict. "The American influence is getting sidelined … due to the lack of security and military support to the Iraqi government and people in its war of survival," the official told Foreign Policy.

According to The New York Times, the military advisers arrived this weekend to help set up the planes, which will include 12 SU-25 ground-attack fighter jets. The senior Iraqi official said that five of the SU-25 planes had arrived in Iraq on Saturday as part of an "expected" delivery of jets from the Russians. Baghdad is hoping the aircraft will bolster efforts to seize back control of a large swath of territory taken by Sunni rebels led by ISIS. On Saturday, Iraqi security forces with tanks and helicopters launched an offensive to retake the northern city of Tikrit. Due to conflicting reports, it’s unclear how successful the offensive to retake Saddam Hussein’s hometown has been.

A senior Pentagon official acknowledged the Times report and said it would not affect U.S. assistance to the country. "Our mission remains the same: to protect U.S. personnel and interests; assess the state of the [Iraqi Security Forces] and [ISIS]; continue to provide ample [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] coverage, and prepare to assist the [Iraqi Security Forces] in an advisory capacity," Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told Foreign Policy Sunday.

In the past, hawkish lawmakers including Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned that failing to deliver arms to Iraq could result in adversaries such as Russia stepping in to fill the void. However, other powerful lawmakers such as Bob Mendendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, placed holds on the delivery of the equipment citing concerns about Maliki, who has increasingly stoked sectarian tensions in Iraq following the departure of U.S. troops in 2011.

In January, Menendez finally lifted his objections to the transfer of 24 Ah-64E Apaches after receiving assurances from the Obama administration that Baghdad wouldn’t use the attack helicopters against civilians, according to a Senate aide. The emergence of Moscow and Tehran in Iraq could mean multiple things for the United States.

Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who closely tracks Iraq’s security situation, said there are "two angels on Iraq’s shoulder" at the moment – the U.S. is on one, and Russia, Iran and Syria are on the other. But in terms of providing effective and timely assistance to its allies, the model offered by America’s adversaries seemed to be more effective.

"To be honest, the other model has a much better track record of helping out its allies in the Middle East than we do," Knights, now traveling in Japan, said. With Iran and Russia stepping up to the plate, the U.S. risks losing influence in Maliki’s government.

On the other hand, Maliki has repeatedly failed to heed U.S. warnings that his chauvinistic sectarian leadership is tearing the country apart. As the conflict in Iraq increasingly takes on the character of a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites, Washington is loath to be viewed as an advocate on either side of the bloodshed.




Russian Jets and Experts Sent to Iraq to Aid Army
NYT | JUNE 29, 2014

BAGHDAD — Iraqi government officials said Sunday that Russian experts had arrived in Iraq to help the army get 12 new Russian warplanes into the fight against Sunni extremists, while the extremists declared their leader the caliph, or absolute ruler, of all jihadi organizations worldwide.

The Russian move was at least an implicit rebuke to the United States, which the Iraqis believe has been too slow to supply American F-16s and attack helicopters — although the United States is now in the process of providing both.

“In the coming three or four days the aircraft will be in service to support our forces in the fight” against the insurgents of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, said Gen. Anwar Hama Ameen, the commander of the Iraqi Air Force, referring to five SU-25 aircraft that were flown into Iraq aboard Russian cargo planes Saturday night, and two more expected later Sunday.

Also on Sunday, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria released a 34-minute audio recording of a speech by its official spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who said that the insurgency’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was now the world’s caliph and as such had declared all other jihadi organizations void and under his direct control, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremists’ online presence.

The audio speech was released on an ISIS-linked Twitter feed, the group said.

ISIS’ bombastic announcement of its hegemony over the world’s Islamic extremists was little more than a propaganda ploy, but it was indicative of its growing ambitions.

ISIS, originally formed from the broken remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq, split with Al Qaeda last year when that group’s leaders ordered it to leave Syria.

Since then, ISIS has battled with Qaeda-linked jihadis in Syria, as well as with non-extremist rebel forces there, for control of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

The ISIS announcement also revealed Mr. Baghdadi’s alleged real name — Ibrahim Ibn Awwad Ibn Ibrahim Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Badri al-Hashimi al-Husayni al-Qurashi — and said he would be known as Caliph Ibrahim for short.

A caliphate is a Muslim empire that in theory encompasses all Muslims worldwide, and is a term used to describe empires like that of the Ottomans in Turkey in the 15th to 20th centuries, as well as those that did rule much of the civilized world in the early days of Islam.

In present-day Baghdad, the Iraqi Air Force commander, General Ameen, said that Russian military experts had arrived to help set up the new SU-25 warplanes, but that they would stay only a short time. The last five Russian aircraft would arrive by Monday, he said.

Last week, President Obama ordered 300 American military advisers into the country, and the Iranians have reportedly sent advisers from their Republican Guards’ Quds Force.

At least three United States Special Forces teams are said to have been deployed north of Baghdad in recent days, tasked with carrying out a survey of Iraqi forces to determine their condition and needs.

This was the first report of Russian military aides in the country, although General Ameen said they were experts, not advisers.

American officials, citing intelligence reports, have said that Iran has been sending surveillance drones over Iraq as well as supplying the government with military equipment and support.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki said the Iraqis, in an arrangement with the Russian Ministry of Defense, had ordered a dozen SU-25s, a ground-attack fighter jet useful for close air support operations.

“They are coming very fast,” General Ameen said in a telephone interview, “because we need them in this conflict against the terrorists as soon as possible.” He said the Russians would leave within around three days after the aircraft were ready for service.

The Iraqi military used SU-25 jets extensively during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, but they have not been used in Iraq since 2002 or earlier.

Still, General Ameen said they would soon see action again. “We have pilots who have long experience in this plane and of course we have the help of the Russian friends and the experts who came with these aircraft to prepare them,” he said. “This will produce a very strong punishment against the terrorists in the coming days.”

Sunni jihadi fighters were reported on Sunday to have stalled a government offensive to retake the central Iraqi city of Tikrit. Insurgents had apparently regained control of key government buildings in the center of Tikrit, according to witnesses who reported seeing the black flag of ISIS flying over many important buildings.

The day before, Iraqi flags had been hoisted on many of them, as Iraqi troops carried out a ground assault after a three-day operation intended to take the city and roll back the insurgents’ advance toward Baghdad.

Iraqi forces carried out repeated airstrikes, mostly using helicopters, on insurgent targets throughout the city on Sunday for the fourth day in a row, witnesses said.

The Iraqi Army remained in control of roads leading into Tikrit — Saddam Hussein’s birthplace and a longtime stronghold of Sunni hard-liners, about 100 miles north of Baghdad — as well as the campus of Salahuddin University in Tikrit and a military base, Camp Speicher, on the outskirts of the city.

The military’s advance, supported by tanks and helicopter gunships, was hampered by a large number of bombs planted along the roads, a common tactic of the insurgents.

According to a security official in Tikrit, speaking on the condition of anonymity as a matter of government policy, ISIS fighters had kidnapped six relatives of Maj. Gen. Jumaa al-Jabouri, deputy commander of Iraqi military operations in Salahuddin Province, holding them hostage and destroying their homes in the eastern part of the city.

What appeared to be a jumbo Russian transport aircraft, from which the SU-25 warplanes were unloaded, was shown Saturday night on Iraqiya, the state television network, at what was believed to be an air base in Taji, a short distance north of Baghdad.

The new aircraft “will increase and support the strength and capability of the Iraqi air forces to eliminate terrorism,” a statement issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense said.

The Iraqis have sought to buy American F-16s and Apache helicopter gunships. The sale of the Apaches had been delayed by concerns in Congress, which feared Mr. Maliki would use them to suppress his political opponents, but the United States has now agreed to provide them.

The first two F-16s are expected to be delivered in September or October, and the first six Apaches will arrive this fall as part of a lease. But it will take months to train the Apache pilots.

The Iraqi Air Force currently has only two propeller-driven Cessna aircraft equipped to fire guided Hellfire missiles, which the Iraqis ran out of last week. Over the past three days, 75 new Hellfires were delivered to Iraq by the American government.

The air force also had about 180 helicopters, many of them gunships, but six of those were destroyed in the insurgents’ attack on Mosul, and an additional 60 were damaged.

There have also been unconfirmed reports that Iran was prepared to return some of the Iraqi warplanes that Saddam Hussein flew to Iran in 1991 to escape American destruction. Those included 24 French F-1 Mirage fighters and 80 Russian jets.

Duraid Adnan contributed reporting from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Tikrit.




Russia’s military bid in Iraq
Paul J. Saunders
Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East
June 29, 2014

Thus far, Iraq’s rapid unraveling has not been a major concern for Moscow. The situation in the country rarely features prominently in Russian news reporting — where Ukraine and Russian domestic matters dominate — and does not appear to be a top priority for senior Russian officials, though Russian President Vladimir Putin did recently express “full support” for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s efforts to combat militants driving the Iraqi military from cities and towns in northern and western Iraq. Notwithstanding some important interests in Iraq and the Middle East, Russia’s government is unlikely to get too involved there.

Broadly speaking, as Fyodor Lukyanov has written in Al-Monitor, developments in Iraq have served primarily to confirm pre-existing views in Russia. This has multiple components. First, with respect to the United States, the new crisis has been an I-told-you-so moment — demonstrated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s reminder of Moscow’s frequent assertions at the time of the US invasion that “the adventurism the Americans and the British started there would not end well.” This has been a regular refrain for Russian officials and commentators during every reversal since 2003.

Second, the new crisis in Iraq aligns with Moscow’s view that it was a mistake for the United States to prolong Syria’s civil war by aiding Syria’s rebels, however weakly, rather than supporting or at least tolerating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s efforts to crush the Islamist groups trying to oust his regime and now Iraq’s, too. Here, Russia’s complaints focus not only on the United States and other Western nations, however; Syria’s spillover into Iraq reinforces the widespread Russian sense that in acting as patrons of Sunni Islamist militants in Syria and elsewhere, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are up to no good.

What the Kremlin is actually prepared to do about the instability in Iraq is less clear. Russia certainly favors stability in Iraq over chaos and prefers Maliki to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS); perhaps ironically, Russia has won a more significant role in Iraq’s oil sector than many Russian officials likely expected a decade ago, including in the huge West Qurna-2 oil field. Nevertheless, it bears remembering that for all Putin’s and Lavrov’s criticism of the George W. Bush administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq, Russia did not make it a major issue in US-Russia relations at the time. More important, Russia did not create problems for the United States in Iraq during the invasion or the long US occupation of the country.

Still, Russia has reportedly sold a dozen Soviet-era Su-25 fighter jets to Iraq that could help in attacking the militants. Some of the planes have already been delivered — though apparently in pieces, since they arrived in cargo planes with Russian experts, who are likely necessary to make them flight-ready. In a rebuke to the United States, Maliki has grumbled that Iraq had been “deluded” by the “long-winded” process required to buy US warplanes and argued that if Baghdad had earlier purchased Russian, British or French jets it might have averted the current crisis. He expressed hope that “God willing within one week this force will be effective and will destroy the terrorists’ dens.” While Iraqi pilots have already had some experience with the Su-25 and should be able to take to the skies quickly, Maliki may be somewhat overoptimistic about their impact.

The Russian aircraft sale essentially represents the continuation of Moscow’s policy in Syria on the other side of the Syria-Iraq border — though interestingly, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf bent over backward to avoid criticizing the deal when questioned on the matter at some length during a June 27 daily press briefing. Harf said, “We don’t oppose legal Iraqi efforts to meet their urgent military requirements,” and “We share a goal here of helping them fight this threat” — before acknowledging that US F-16 deliveries could face further delays.

Nevertheless, Russia appears unlikely to do much beyond selling weapons to Iraq’s government; unlike in Syria, the broad alignment of US and Russian objectives makes Kremlin diplomatic support unnecessary. Moscow’s relatively limited role reflects both its limited tools, especially during a simultaneous and, for Russia, far more important crisis in Ukraine, as well as a reluctance to get too deeply involved — probably in no small part due to a perceived risk of blowback into Russia itself. A senior Kremlin official expressed precisely this concern to me and a small group of colleagues in 2003 when explaining Russia’s unwillingness to support the US invasion. Given the key role that Chechen fighters appear to be playing in the Iraqi and Syrian insurgencies, it would be hard for Moscow to ignore this possibility today.

More fundamentally, however, Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East remains largely defensive even two decades since its post-Soviet independence. Despite Russia’s significant security, economic and political interests in the broader Middle East — a region that touches Russia’s periphery — Moscow’s posture has rarely gone beyond protecting its security interests and asserting a geopolitical role while seeking to expand its commercial ties.

Taking into account that Russia’s economic interests in the Middle East remain quite small compared with its other two neighboring regions, Europe and Asia, and that instability in places like Iraq or Syria has indirect security consequences for Russia rather than direct ones, the Kremlin’s geopolitical aims may in some respect be the most important of the three: Influence beyond its immediate neighborhood is essential to Russia’s claim to global great power status. From this perspective, the Middle East offers far more opportunities than Europe, Asia or the Western hemisphere, which are the home regions of other key powers, and also more than Africa, where Russia has less at stake. Fortunately for Russia, the combination of arms sales, a UN Security Council veto and active diplomacy is probably enough to meet its needs.


Economic Interests Prevail in France-Russia Mistral Warship Deal

By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
The Moscow Times | Jun. 30 2014

A Russian naval ship carrying 400 sailors has docked at a French harbor to start weeks of training aboard a warship that France is selling to Russia. Laetitia Notarianni / AP

As 400 Russian sailors docked on the French coast Monday to train on a Mistral-class helicopter carrier, analysts agreed that France’s sale of warships to Russia against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis showcases the triumph of economic concerns over the West’s seemingly consolidated political stance on Moscow.

France’s training of Russian sailors and its sale of two Mistral warships to Russia for 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) has prompted the indignation of France’s Western partners, who have said that the country should support efforts to isolate Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea and the subsequent unrest in eastern Ukraine. France has defended its decision by saying that rescinding the deal would hurt Paris more than Moscow.

“For France, the Mistral contract represents more than just a billion euros,” said Vadim Kozyulin, a senior researcher at the Moscow-based Center for Political Studies of Russia. “France and Russia extensively cooperate in the military field on optics technology, electronics and air navigation. If France would have turned Russia down on the ships, this would have jeopardized all aspects of bilateral technical cooperation with Russia and other countries as well. You damage your reputation if you go back on a deal like this.”

President Vladimir Putin told France’s TF1 television network in June that the Mistral deal, Moscow’s first major foreign arms purchase since the collapse of the Soviet Union, could in fact lead to more technical bilateral cooperation with France.

“We expect our French partners to fulfill their contractual obligations, and if everything goes as we agreed, we will not rule out the possibility of further orders — and not necessarily in naval shipbuilding,” he said.

France’s decision to fulfill its contractual obligations toward Russia despite pressure from its allies also stems from the country’s domestic economic realities, according to Olivier de France, research director at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.

“Despite all declarations of intentions — including the idea that NATO would take the Mistrals initially destined to Russia — we see that the determining factor in France’s decision is related to any country’s concerns during a time of economic uncertainty: employment and industrial interests,” de France told The Moscow Times on Monday.

The French government said the construction of Russia’s two warships would represent 5 million hours of work and generate 1,000 jobs for a four-year period, assuaging the country’s unemployment rate which rose to 10.1 percent during the first quarter of 2014, according to France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies.

A regional division of the National Front, a far-right French party known for its euroskepticism and nationalist views, released a statement on its website last week welcoming the arrival of the Russian sailors, saying that the “successful conclusion of this contract, in spite of the pressure of foreign powers, is an extremely positive development for the SFX shipyard, the city of Saint-Nazaire and French foreign policy.”

“France’s quest to fulfill its national interests — notwithstanding objections from other euro-Atlantic powers — is in fact a foundational principle of the French Fifth Republic,” said Yevgenia Obichkina, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations specialized in French politics. “The opposition would have viewed France’s refusal to honor its contractual obligations as offensive to France’s traditional quest for its national interests.”

In early June, U.S. President Barack Obama said that it would have been better for France to “press the pause button” on its 2011 deal with Russia. Four U.S. lawmakers wrote a letter to Obama in May, urging him to oppose a deal they said would “only abet its efforts to undermine Eastern European governments that aspire to be modern, European democracies.”

Amid talk of imposing additional sanctions against Russia, U.S. and European business representatives have lobbied their governments, urging them to be mindful of the detrimental effect of economic sanctions on their business interests.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has also called on France to suspend its deal with Russia, which would prevent it from obtaining two ships that can carry 16 helicopters, 13 tanks, 50 armored vehicles and up to 700 troops.

“We [Western powers] have determined Russia to be the aggressor in Crimea and I do not think France would want to be in a position in which it supplies effective weapons to an aggressor,” Sikorski told Le Monde newspaper in early June.

Factions of the French population have also expressed their discontent regarding their country’s warship deal with Russia. On Sunday, local media reported that some 50 protesters had gathered by the port of Saint-Nazaire on the western coast of France — the site of the Russian fleet’s training — and waved signs that read: “[French President Francois] Hollande, no to the training of Putin’s 400 killers” and “Hollande, the honor of France is worth more than Mistrals.”

Ultimately, France’s self-interested decision to go ahead with the Mistral deal represents a political victory for Russia.

“On a purely technical level, it would not be the end of the world if Russia never received the two ships from France,” Kozyulin said. “What is most important here is that France’s fulfillment of its contractual obligations gives Russia the impression that it has not been the target of Western economic sanctions. This is a crucial for Russia on a political level.”


Top 13 Terrorists in Eastern Ukraine: a gravedigger, a criminal, a drug dealer, Santa Claus, and a fertiliser salesman



In times of peace these people would be unlikely candidates for any dignified government offices. The majority of them showed no interest for politics until spring 2014. The publication “Gordon” collected information about the thirteen most active separatists and mercenaries that have to do with the bloody events in Ukraine.

As we have managed to find out, four out of thirteen are citizens of Russia, eight of them are Ukrainians, and one of them possibly has both passports. Among those who placed themselves as the leadership of Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics,” there are even those that don’t have university diplomas. Some of them even rooted for the MMM financial pyramid, some distributed marijuana, another one sold toilet cleaning products. Among today’s “voices of Donetsk” there are former convicts, successful political technologists, there are machinators that say they are Ph.D. candidates. It should be noted that the list also includes a person who has been engaging in separatist activity in the east for almost 10 years. Why for so long and why so successfully, as we can see now, is a question for the Ukrainian law enforcement.

read more: http://euromaidanpress.com/2014/06/28/13-head-terrorists-of-the-east-of-ukraine-a-gravedigger-a-criminal-a-marijuana-dealer-father-frost-and-a-fertiliser-seller/

Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council report: June 29




The situation on the border

Over the last 24 hours, the Russian Federation kept concentrating its military vehicles near the Ukrainian border and on the administrative border with the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The terrorists also attempted to block the actions of border units, as Andriy Lysenko, the spokesman of the informational-analytical center of National Security and Defense Council, reported at the daily briefing.

Thus, around midnight on June 28, terrorists forced a mortar shootout at the unit of the State Border Guard Service in Luhansk Oblast. In response, the border guards opened fire, forcing the terrorists to retreat. One border guard was wounded.

Besides, according to the State Border Guard Service, the Grad multiple rocket launcher and the S-300 surface-to-air missile system were additionally brought to the checkpoint of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation near the gas distribution station area of Strilkove (Kherson Oblast). A man-portable air-defense system (MANPAD) and a cannon were seen there as well.

Yesterday at around 6 PM the border squad “Stanichno-Luhanske” of Luhansk platoon noticed a drone that crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border and entered into the territory of Ukraine for 300-500 meters. The intelligence mission of the drone was disrupted by firing at it with small arms.

Military actions in the conflict zone

The terrorist gangs violated the ceasefire period in the last 24 hours again:

During June 28, terrorists forced a shootout with automatic grenade launchers and mortars at one of the checkpoints near Sloviansk. The attack was repelled. As a result of the battle, three Ukrainian military servicemen died, four more were wounded.

On June 28, the terrorists treacherously attacked a column of combat service support near Nyzhnia Olhivka (Luhansk Oblast). The terrorists attacked the military servicemen of the ATO forces with small arms and grenade launchers. The battle lasted for thirty minutes. The attack was repelled. During the battle two military servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine died, eight were wounded.

In the afternoon of June 28, terrorists forced a shootout at the ATO forces unit near Tarany (Donetsk Oblast). The attack was repelled. There are no casualties among the Ukrainian servicemen.

On June 28, the terrorists made an ambush and laid an underground mine on the route of the Ukrainian military servicemen column who were carrying humanitarian aid.  The infantry fighting vehicle BMP-2 got blown up on the laid landmine. The attack was repelled. Five military servicemen were wounded, one of them broke his leg.

During the last night the terrorists forced a shootout a few times with mortars near Sloviansk, around the airfield area in Kramatorsk and also Biryukovo town, Luhansk Oblast.

Yesterday, the terrorists attacked the positions of the National Guard near Shyshkove (Slovianoserbskyi district, Luhansk Oblast). The attack was repelled. There are no casualties amond the military servicemen.

The situation in the settlements of the conflict zone

On June 28, the terrorists seized the Donetsk chemical plant. They are planning to start producing hand grenades there.

By violating the ceasefire period, the terrorists keep seizing administrative buildings. On June 28, they seized the building of the regional unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine in Donetsk Oblast. In Luhansk, the gangs took control of the reception and allocation office of the MIA and the oblast office of the “Kyivstar” technical service.

On June 28, gunmen captured three bullet proof cash transit vans of Yuzhkombank.

At night, twelve masked gunmen threatening with the weapons seized two combine harvesters in Vesele (Donetsk Oblast).

At around 3AM, a double line railway track of 36 km and a single line railway track line of 17 km were blown up on the stretch between stations Mohnach-Zelenyi Kolodoiaz of the Southern Railway in Kharkiv Oblast. The movement of trains is suspended. The passenger train #18 connecting Adler-Kyiv was sent to the destination point via a detour. Evacuation was not needed. There were no victims. A criminal investigaiton according the article # 258 (terrorist attack) of Criminal Code of Ukraine has been opened.

Recruiting gunmen in Russia

The Ukrainian government demands the Russian side to immediately stop supporting the terrorists and considers it essential to shut down the Russian recruitment points and  training camps for mercenaries, to end recruitment of our citizens and to remove subversion groups that were previously brought to Ukraine. The Security Service of Ukraine received and unveiled unquestionable evidence of mercenary and subversion recruitment centers functioning at the territory of Russian Federation with the intention of destabilizing the situation and supporting the terrorists in Ukraine. There is evidence for the existence of training commando units for committing terrorist attacks and subversions, armed attacks at the Ukrainian military servicemen and civilians, particularly in Pskov, Taganrog, Shahta (Rostov Oblast), Molkino (Krasnodar Kray), and Moscow Oblast.

The documented evidence proves that the terrorists are directed to Ukraine from this location after receiving tasks from the Russian coordinators. Social media are used for these purposes in order to publish the contact information. The recruitment of the so-called “volunteers” is done on a paid basis.

Translated by Mariya Shtangrat, edited by Alya Shandra


Iraq’s Christians See Putin As Savior

Reeling from regional developments and disillusioned with the West, some Iraqi Christians are looking to Russia for support
Peter Schwartzstein
The Daily Beast | 06.29.14

After a decade of church bombings, targeted killings, and anti-Christian workplace discrimination, Ramy Youssef has finally tired of Iraq’s halting progress and is intent on emigrating.

“I don’t want to leave. I don’t want these terrorists to do what no one’s ever done before: push Assyrians out of our historic homeland, but I can’t work like this,” said the fresh-faced IT technician, his voice rising, as he sipped tea in his cousin’s Erbil liquor store a month after death threats forced him to abandon his business in Baghdad.

Youssef will be the last of his immediate family to jet off—joining roughly two-thirds of Iraq’s pre-war population of 1.5 million Christians who’ve fled abroad or trudged north to Kurdistan. Before he goes, though, he’s keen to set the record straight and settle some old scores.

“This is America’s fault.  It’s the Muslims who are killing us, but this never would have happened if the West hadn’t turned our lives upside down,” he fumed. “Maybe we’ll be able to return one day if we have proper allies.”

Enter Putin stage right.

As far as some of his Iraqi co-religionists are concerned, there’s a ready-made alternative to American influence out there and they’re frantically trying to solicit its support.

“Russia proved through history that it’s the only defender of Christians,” said Ashur Giwargis, who heads the Assyrian Patriotic Movement (APM), which for two years has energetically lobbied the Kremlin to support an independent Assyrian Christian state in northern Iraq.

Until recently, the Beirut-based exile and his colleagues, who are scattered among the global Iraqi diaspora, had little to show for their efforts, but in January, as Western-Russian tensions escalated over Ukraine, Giwargis was summoned to Moscow to meet government officials.

“They assured their support for the Assyrian cause, but we’re looking for a serious Russian stand in the international arena,” he said.

While they wait, APM members are busy currying favor by disseminating the Kremlin’s message, appearing at Russian embassy events, and cheering its foreign policy maneuvers elsewhere in the world.

“With the growing Americo-European incitement for the Republic of Ukraine to join the European Union … the Crimean parliament’s decision to join the Russian Federation came as pleasant news for the oppressed Christian peoples around the world,” read a public letter of congratulations dispatched to the Russian Embassy in Lebanonin Mid-March.

“Russian professional diplomacy has proven able to contain conspiracies against vulnerable peoples and states,” Giwargis wrote in another missive.

There are few assurances that Russia—which is already held in low regard bymuch of the Arab World for its stance on Syria—will further jeopardize its relations across the region by throwing its weight behind Iraq’s Christians. Nor, for that matter, does APM’s courting of Putin necessarily command serious support among many Iraqi Christians, of whom only 10-15 percent favor its pro-active approach, according to several church officials.

But the APM’s fishing for alternative patrons is illustrative of the tremendous anger many Eastern Christians feel towards the West for its perceived indifference to their plight.

“The West is not Christian,” raged Aziz Emmanuel al-Zebari, a Chaldean Catholic church official, when we met in Erbil’s buzzy Christian quarter on a blazingly hot Ascension Day late in May. “They destroyed us by installing a government based on Islamic sects in which we have no place,” he added, as a sermon in Aramaic rang out from the distinctive Ziggurat-style cathedral in the background.

Amid all the bombast, Iraq’s Christians have some legitimate grievances. Once protected by Saddam—though subject to the same tyrannical rulings as the rest of the population—the community was left brutally exposed when the civil war that followed the US invasion of 2003 devolved into bitter sectarian strife.

Many Christians had initially rallied to the U.S.-led coalition’s side, enlisting as army translators and hailing its early successes, but as Western troops outgrew their welcome, Christians were damned by their association with the occupying powers.

“Muslims thought we were like the Americans, and so as they became more unpopular, our problems increased,” remembered Ramy Youssef, whose once friendly Baghdad neighbors ostracized his family as the occupation dragged on. (Some had it much worse. The U.S.’s hiring of a number of Lebanese Christian interpreters meant that anyone with a Lebanese accent was deemed suspect, and a number of visiting Beirutis were allegedly mistakenly killed.)

Among the many charges leveled at the U.S. and its partners is that it failed to exercise a duty of care towards a minority whose secure position it had undermined.

“When everything got violent, the Shiites received help from Iran, the Sunnis had the Gulf, and us? Well, we were left unprotected,” said an Erbil-based civil engineer who asked to withhold his name.

The Iraqi Christian insistence that the U.S. and its coalition partners have done nothing to right past wrongs doesn’t ring entirely true though.

Several hundred thousand Iraqi Christians took advantage of loosened immigration laws to move to America.The California diocese has mushroomed from 30,000 to 70,000 people since 2003, while Michigan alone has taken in over 120,000 Chaldeans and Assyrians.

But here too, some Iraqi Christians have taken issue with American policy.

“In opening its doors, the U.S. is weakening those are who left behind,” said al-Zebari, who’s fearful that a further diminution in Christian numbers might lead to awkward questions about the Christian quota of five seats in the Baghdad and Kurdish regional parliaments.

Meanwhile, Putin’s continuing defense of Assad in neighboring Syria, at a time of peak unrest in Iraq, is seen as an admirable demonstration of Russia’s commitment to minority rights.

A sponsor like the Russians never would have allowed the Iraqi government to run roughshod over its Christian citizens, al-Zebari believes.

“They’ve always stood up for Christians. I’m sure they’d do more for us in our ancestral lands,” he reasoned, echoing Giwargis’ talking points.

But even if Russia were to somehow provide assistance, it remains to be seen whether there would be many Christians left to aid.

2013 was a good year—with only 500 families fleeing abroad from northern Iraq, as opposed to roughly 6500 families a year absconding in the immediate aftermath of the invasion—but ISIS’s rampage through the historically Christian Nineveh province, its gutting of the Holy Spirit Church, and its use of the ancient Mar Behnam monastery as a base for militant operations threatens to trigger an additional exodus.

In the meantime, it’s far from clear what—if any—effect, Russia’s increasingly cozy relationship with Middle Eastern Christians will have on the regional dynamic.

Egypt’s signing of a $2 billion defense deal with Russia in February raised hackles in Washington, which has equipped much of the Egyptian military since the 1970s, while Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s call for Russian jets to halt ISIS’s advance after the Obama Administration rejected his initial approach threatens to muddle an already complicated mess.


LETTER TO EDITOR. Emir Seyfullah al-Chechen

Kavkazcenter | 20 June 2014

Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.

Peace and blessings be upon His Messenger, after whom there will be no messenger.

Peace be upon all brothers and sisters.

In this letter, I want to tell you about my beloved brother, a warrior who gave his wealth and his life in Allah’s Cause, Emir Seyfullah al-Chechen…

May Allah accept his martyrdom!

…It was a cold winter’s day at the end of 2012 when I first saw Seyfullah.

At that time, there weren’t any videos, or news on the internet about Caucasians in Syria. He gave a warm welcome to us, the newbies, asked how we got there, where we’d come from.

After several days, we went with him in a car, he was driving, he asked us about our situation with our families, whether they supported the jihad, and so on. After we spoken, he told us with a smile about his family in Pankisi Gorge (in Georgia) and his father. He was a very open person. He spoke Russian badly, but he knew another four languages – his native Chechen, fluent Georgian, Turkish, and a bit of Arabic.

One time, he and Umar al-Chechen and several other brothers were sitting in the same house when they got the news that al-Baghdadi proclaimed the State in Iraq and Levant. Everyone was happy, apart from Seyfullah, his face was sad… he considered this to be not right, that it was a discord, and he was right.

Seyfullah was a generous person. When he came to Syria he brought with him a million dollars to the Umar’s group. However, when the group had a shortage of ammo, he sold his own car and bought ammo with the money. Somehow, I ran out of cash and I owed $ 300 for repairing my car, and there was no money left. I wanted to repay the debt as soon as possible and I turned to Seyfullah, and told him about the situation. He quickly took $ 300 out of his pocket in trousers and gave it to me, asking if I needed more. I said, “I’ll give it back. I’m going to sell my car”.

He said that there was no need to give it back because we were one family. But I insisted that I’d give it back and said, “If I’m martyred before I pay you back, then take my car for the group”. But it was he who martyred.

Seyfullah was a sincere brother. Before the jihad in Syria, he had a comfortable and full life, he didn’t want anything, but he was a sincere Muslim and loved Allah, his Messenger (pbuh), and jihad on His path, more than anything else. And when the jihad started in Syria, he left everything and immigrated. He was also a participant in the jihad in Chechnya and Afghanistan. He fought in Jokhar [Chechen capital], went out with other fighters into the minefield. He was wounded. He wasn’t able to return to Chechnya, so went to Afghanistan and spent over a year in military action.

Our brother was a very active man, and always occupied with organizational issues, he was always traveling, preparing operations, sorting out finance issues, etc. He was a kind man, and I swear by Allah, I considered him most kind and gentle toward brothers, and this great kindness sometimes played against him.

Selfish, hypocritical people who call themselves Mujahideen, conspired several times against him, fanning discord, spreading rumors, slandering him, but every time Allah made it so that it Seyfullah and those who were with him benefited from it.

His health was bad. And if at the start of his jihad in Syria he could personally run with the brothers on the battlefield, then in later times, he could not allow himself to do so. He also had painful kidneys.
Seyfullah strove for knowledge and often listened lectures on his phone and in his car when he was traveling. He was in contact with jihad scholars and always consulted with them.

Before the operation to liberate the Aleppo prison, Seyfullah gathered all the brothers and said, “I want to reach the prison, I’m sick of all this world, these trophies (operations where the goal was to capture the infidels’ weapons). Our brothers, sisters, and even kids are prisoners in there. This morning, I left home and felt cold. And I thought about the sisters who are freezing. There aren’t even windows there. Allah willing, we will reach the prison and I’ll be a martyr there”.

The days before his martyrdom, Seyfullah changed. In all the time I knew him, he changed for the better, but those days he changed dramatically and significantly. He started to talk a lot about his past and say, “I was such an ignorant person” and express sorrow about his past sins.

Our cameraman, who filmed the Seyfullah’s last operation, said after his martyrdom that, “he had a different look that day, as if he felt he would leave that day…”

Shrapnel hit him in the head (video "Last fight of Emir Seyfullah al-Chechen"). After death until his funeral he smiled more and more and those who buried him said he smelled of musk. May Allah accept his martyrdom!

I testify his goodness. He was a truthful man. And let Allah take us too as martyrs!

And at the end, praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds!
Khalid al-Chechen

Department of Letters
Kavkaz Center