Wednesday, April 16, 2014

THE THEATRE OF WAR: High Alert As Ukraine Crisis Threatens To Plunge United States And Russia Towards World War III - Pro-Russian Separatists Take Armor, Humiliating Ukrainian Forces; Ukraine Troops Surrender In Slavyansk, Refusing To Shoot Own People; NATO To Deploy Ships, Intensify Baltic And Mediterranean Patrols; President Obama Urged To Resurrect Missile Shield For Eastern Europe!

April 16, 2014 - UKRAINE - Separatists flew the Russian flag on armored vehicles taken from the Ukrainian army on Wednesday, humiliating a Kiev government operation to recapture eastern towns controlled by pro-Moscow partisans.


A combat vehicle with pro-Russian gunman on top runs through downtown Slovyansk on Wednesday, April 16, 2014.
The troops on those vehicles wore green camouflage uniforms, had automatic weapons and grenade launchers and at
least one had the St. George ribbon attached to his uniform, which has become a symbol of the
pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)


Six armored personnel carriers were driven into the rebel-held town of Slaviansk to waves and shouts of "Russia! Russia!". It was not immediately clear whether they had been captured by rebels or handed over to them by Ukrainian deserters.

Another 15 armored troop carriers full of paratroops were surrounded and halted by a pro-Russian crowd at a town near an airbase. They were allowed to retreat only after the soldiers handed the firing pins from their rifles to a rebel commander.

The military setback leaves Kiev looking weak on the eve of a peace conference on Thursday, when its foreign minister will meet his Russian, U.S. and European counterparts in Geneva.

So far, the United States and European Union have imposed only targeted sanctions against a list of Russian and Ukrainian individuals and firms in retaliation for Moscow's seizure and rapid annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, completed last month.


  WATCH: Armored personnel carriers enter east Ukrainian cities.

 


The EU took a step towards imposing harsher sanctions on Wednesday by informing its member states of the likely impact of proposed measures on each of them. Countries have a week to respond before the European Commission starts drawing up plans.

As Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Geneva, a senior U.S. official noted that President Barack Obama had put the onus on Moscow to calm the crisis. "With regard to sanctions, the President has been very clear that if Russia does not take this opportunity to de-escalate, the costs are going to go up," the official told reporters.

Moscow has responded to the overthrow of its ally Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in February by announcing its right to intervene militarily to protect Russian speakers across the former Soviet Union, a new doctrine that has overturned decades of post-Cold War diplomacy.

Russia has massed thousands of troops on near the Ukrainian frontier. A Reuters reporting team that visited the border area late last week and again on Wednesday said Russian military activity had increased markedly over the past few days, with more troops and vehicles on the roads.

The U.S. official said that the Geneva meeting aimed to calm the situation in largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine and discuss constitutional reforms to protect the rights of minorities in the country.

"The idea here is that they (Russian leaders) would stop aiding and abetting and supporting these separatists and that they would pull their troops back from the borders," he said.


A fighter jet flies above as Ukrainian soldiers sit on an armoured personnel carrier in Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine
April 16, 2014. Ukrainian government forces and separatist pro-Russian militia staged rival shows of force in eastern
Ukraine on Wednesday amid escalating rhetoric on the eve of crucial four-power talks in Geneva on the
former Soviet country's future. (REUTERS/Marko Djurica)


At one site in an open field in Russia's Belgorod region about 20 km (12 miles) from the frontier there were now 10 large army tents and about 20 military trucks, far more than last week, although a squadron of attack helicopters had left.

The Ukrainian government confirmed that six of its armored vehicles were now in the hands of separatists. Photos of their number markings showed they were among vehicles deployed earlier in the government's attempted "anti-terrorist" operation.

Kiev had sent the convoy of paratroops to capture an airfield, the start of an operation to reclaim towns held by separatists who have declared an independent "People's Republic" in the industrial Donbass region.


 WATCH: East Ukrainian people stand up for their rights amid Kiev's military crackdown.

 


The Ukrainian government and its Western allies believe Russian agents are coordinating the uprising. Moscow denies it is involved and says Kiev is precipitating civil war by sending troops to put down the revolt.

The Kiev government is seeking to reassert control without bloodshed, which it fears would precipitate a Russian invasion. Its operation is the first test of Kiev's under-funded army, which had until now played no role in six months of internal unrest. The government seems to have resorted to using troops after losing faith that police in the east would stay loyal.

OPERATION

The government troops began their operation on Tuesday, arriving by helicopter to take control of an airfield at Kramatorsk. They drove armored personnel carriers flying the Ukrainian flag into the town in the early morning.

But six of those vehicles later rumbled into Slaviansk, 15 km (9 miles) away, with Russian and separatist flags and armed men in motley combat fatigues on top. They stopped outside the separatist-occupied town hall.

Some Ukrainian troops were also taken to Slaviansk with the vehicles, although it was not immediately clear whether they had deserted or were coerced into coming. People in the town said some were sent home in buses.

One soldier guarding one of the vehicles said he was a member of Ukraine's 25th paratrooper division, the unit sent by Kiev to recapture Slaviansk and Kramatorsk.

"All the soldiers and the officers are here. We are all boys who won't shoot our own people," he said, adding that his men had had no food for four days until local residents fed them.


A column of combat vehicles with a Russian flag on the front one makes its way to the town of Kramatorsk on
Wednesday, April 16, 2014. An Associated Press reporter said he saw a column of combat vehicles in an eastern
Ukrainian city, occupied by pro-Russian insurgents and flying Russian flags. (AP Photo/ Evgeniy Maloletka)


The Defence Ministry in Kiev said the vehicles had been captured. "A column was blocked by a crowd of local people in Kramatorsk with members of a Russian diversionary-terrorist group among them," it said. "As a result, extremists seized the equipment."

Above Slaviansk, a Ukrainian jet fighter carried out several minutes of aerobatics over the town's main square.

Back in Kramatorsk, 15 vehicles from the Ukrainian military convoy sent to recapture the town were stuck near a railroad, blockaded by unarmed local residents. A Ukrainian officer said his men were not prepared to fire on fellow Ukrainians.

"I am a Ukrainian officer, that's the first thing. The other is that I will not shoot at my own people no matter what," said the officer who said he could not give his name as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

"I want things to be normal, people to go back home, not sit in some fields with weapons. I want children to see weapons only on TV ... I want us to live together as we were. And I want to be back home to my wife and child."

The crowd blockaded the troops until the commander of the unit, Colonel Oleksander Schvets, agreed to order his men to hand over the firing pins from their rifles to a separatist leader. The crowd then allowed the troops to drive back to their base in Dnipropetrovsk, a southern city.

The pro-Russian separatists began the uprising in the east by seizing government buildings in three cities on April 6, and have tightened their grip in recent days. Their armed paramilitaries now control buildings in about 10 towns and have seized hundreds of weapons. Two people were killed on Sunday in Slaviansk, including a Ukrainian state security agent shot dead.

Kiev calls the uprising a blatant repeat of the seizure of Crimea, where armed pro-Russian partisans also occupied buildings, declared independence and proclaimed themselves in charge of state bodies. The main difference so far is that Russian troops have not appeared overtly as they did in Crimea, where Moscow already had military bases.


 WATCH: Switching Sides - Ukrainian armored unit joins anti-govt protesters in east.




NATO says there are 40,000 Russian soldiers amassed on the frontier, forces which could capture eastern Ukraine in days.

Hopes are faint for any progress at the talks in Geneva on Thursday. As in the case of Crimea last month, diplomacy appears to have fallen far behind the pace of events on the ground, with pro-Russian partisans establishing control of territory before Western countries can muster a response.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to speak on Thursday at an annual question and answer session with citizens, which could signal how far he intends to go in Ukraine.

A triumphant speech he gave in March justifying the annexation of Crimea has been seen as a decisive moment in Russia's relations with the West, signaling Moscow no longer feels bound by customary rules governing the use of force.

BRINK OF CIVIL WAR

Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a telephone call late on Tuesday that Kiev had "embarked on an anti-constitutional course" by using the army. "The sharp escalation of the conflict puts the country, in effect, on the brink of civil war," the Kremlin quoted him as saying.

Washington and NATO have made clear they will not fight to protect Ukraine. Instead, NATO announced urgent new steps to reinforce the security of alliance members that border on it.

"You will see deployments at sea, in the air, on land, to take place immediately. That means within days," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference after meeting of ambassadors from the 28-member alliance. - Yahoo.


NATO To Deploy Ships, Intensify Baltic & Mediterranean Patrols 'Due To Ukraine Crisis'
U.S. naval vessel "Monterey" leaves harbour to take part in Ukranian-NATO joint exercises in
the Black Sea port of Odessa June 15, 2011. (Reuters/Yevgeny Volokin)


NATO is strengthening its military presence in the Baltic and Mediterranean due to the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis. The organization is to deploy ships and intensified aerial patrols in the region.

At a meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in Brussels, NATO approved a number of measures to strengthen security in Eastern Europe in connection with the growing crisis in Ukraine.

“Our defense plans will be revised and strengthened,” said Anders Rasmussen, Secretary General of NATO, to press in Brussels.

He added that NATO had not yet reached a decision about the possible deployment of troops in Eastern Europe.

“Today we agreed on a number of measures that can be implemented quickly. But more work needs to be done,” said Rasmussen. Elaborating on the measures that are to be taken, Rasmussen said that air policing aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region and NATO ships would be deployed in the Baltic Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean.

“We all agree that a political solution is the only way forward,” Rasmussen told press. “We call on Russia to be part of the solution.”


US warship, USS Donald Cook, sails through the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey, on April 10, 2014,
en route to the Black Sea. (AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic)

In addition, he accused Russia of destabilizing Ukraine and amassing its troops along the country’s borders. He called on Moscow to “make clear” it does not support the violent actions of armed militia and pro-Russian separatists.

NATO has already been stepping up its presence in the region. Several warships have been deployed in the Black Sea over the last few days. They include the US missile destroyer Donald Cook, which carries helicopters and a crew of 300 and two more attack vessels.

Moscow has repeatedly denied Western allegations that it has a hand in the ongoing unrest in the south-east of Ukraine and said reports of Russian interference in the region are based on dubious information.

Furthermore, President Vladimir Putin has said the recent escalation in the Ukrainian crisis has brought Russia’s neighbor to the brink of civil war.

Kiev’s coup-appointed government announced the beginning of an “anti-terrorist” operation in the south-east of Ukraine on Monday. The move comes in response to ongoing unrest and violent protests in the region, rejecting Kiev’s interim authorities. Some more extreme elements are even calling for a Crimea-style referendum and possible separation from Ukraine.

Following months of deadly protests, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted and replaced by a self-appointed government on February 22. Russia slammed the coup-appointed government as illegitimate and said it had violated the Ukrainian constitution by setting elections for May 25. - RT.


Obama Urged To Resurrect Missile Shield For Eastern Europe
Mike Pence in 2012. AP
Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., will deliver a speech today at the historic Hotel Adlon by Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate in which he will decry “Russian aggression” and call on President Obama to resurrect a planned missile-defense shield for Eastern Europe that Obama scrapped in 2009. Pence, who said he will make a decision on a potential 2016 presidential run in the coming months, is in Germany on a privately funded trade mission. But touting his decade on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Pence will strike a hawkish tone.

From the prepared remarks provided to Fox News First: “With Russian aggression on the rise, clearly conciliatory diplomacy has failed. While sanctions are of some value, in the interest of our alliance, I believe the United States and the EU must respond with deeds more than words to strengthen our economic and strategic defenses.”

Missile shield - “And, with continued instability in the Middle East, Iran’s ongoing effort to develop long-range missiles and nuclear technology, and Putin’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine, I believe we must take immediate steps to deploy a robust missile defense in Europe – especially Poland and the Czech Republic – to protect the interests of our NATO allies and the United States in the region.” - FOX News.



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