With a referendum on secession looming in Crimea, Russia massed troops and armored vehicles in at least three regions along Ukraine’s eastern border on Thursday, alarming the interim Ukraine government about a possible invasion and significantly escalating tensions in the crisis between the Kremlin and the West.
The announcement of the troop buildup by Russia’s Defense Ministry was met with an unusually sharp rebuke from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who warned that the Russian government must abandon what she called the politics of the 19th and 20th centuries or face diplomatic and economic retaliation from a united Europe.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if Russia continues on its course of the past weeks, it will not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine,” she said in a speech to the German Parliament. “We, also as neighbors of Russia, would not only see it as a threat. And it would not only change the European Union’s relationship with Russia. No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically.”
Ms. Merkel’s words reflected the rapid evolution of the Ukraine crisis from a regional conflict to a full-blown East-West confrontation that threatens a deep rupture in relations between Moscow and an increasingly unified European Union and the United States. That a leader of Germany, which has traditionally sought to bridge the East-West divide, should speak so forcefully was a further indication of the seriousness and depth of the potential breach.
In a congressional appearance on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry asserted that Russia had not yet made the military preparations to undertake a full-scale invasion of all of Ukraine, though he stressed “that could change very quickly and we recognize that.”
Mr. Kerry said his hope was “not to create hysteria or excessive concern about that at this point of time.”
“Our hope is to be able to avoid that,” he added. “But there’s no telling that we can.””
– The New York Times, "Russian Troops Mass at Border of Ukraine"
In July 2008, the government of Georgia was under considerable pressure: Russia was organizing provocations in two regions of our country and amassing troops at our border. Almost every Western politician to whom my government raised concerns in those days said that Russia would not attack and urged us to keep calm and not react to Russian moves. My friend Otto von Habsburg, one of Europe’s most experienced politicians, was less reassuring. He bluntly predicted that Russia would attack with all the military might at its disposal, no matter what Georgia did to avoid such an outcome. History repeats itself, he told me.
A few weeks later, tens of thousands of Russian soldiers crossed our border, and planes started bombing us round the clock. While Vladimir Putin failed to achieve his ultimate goal, to take over Georgia’s capital, his troops still occupy a fifth of my country’s territory.
There are striking similarities between the early stages of Russian aggression against Georgia and what is happening in Ukraine. Watching recent events and the global response, I keep thinking about history repeating itself — and other instances of aggression in Europe.
In the 1930s, Nazi Germany occupied part of neighboring Czechoslovakia under the pretext of protecting ethnic Germans. Today, Russia is claiming to protect ethnic Russians — or people with hastily distributed Russian passports — in Crimea or Georgian territories. In September 1938, when Germany annexed the Sudetenland, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain called the situation “a quarrel in a far-away country, between people of whom we know nothing.” Similarly, some today question whether the West should bother about Ukraine, saying Russia has more at stake than the West. Many in the West are talking about the need to reach some kind of compromise with Russia, an option that smacks of Munich 80 years ago. They claim to be motivated by such common strategic interests as nonproliferation and the fight against terrorism; by the same token, under the guise of needing to contain the Soviet Union and stop the spread of communism, Chamberlain reached a deal with Hitler. Now, of course, we know that all attempts to appease the Nazis led the big European powers to feed one country after another to Hitler and, ultimately, led to World War II.
Such global catastrophes are what happens when the established international order collapses and rules no longer apply. Ukraine is just the most vivid recent demonstration. Imagine if Ukraine hadn’t given up its considerable nuclear arsenal in the 1990s. To persuade the Ukrainians to do so, the United States and Britain, together with Russia, signed agreements guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for Ukraine giving its weapons to Russia. And yet, here we are.
But then, the European Union and Russia signed an agreement providing for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia in 2008. Russia never complied — something our European guarantors seldom mention.
Putin’s motivations are similar to those of prewar Germany: He wants to rectify what he sees as unjust treatment and humiliation by Western powers after the Cold War. He is trying to reconquer lost lands and grab natural resources. Little has been said about the offshore oil resources in Abkhazia that the Russian state monopoly Rosneft confiscated in 2009. U.S. companies have invested considerably in shale gas fields off Crimea. But Ukraine’s emergence as self-sufficient in energy, and even a major gas exporter to Europe, would be Putin’s ultimate nightmare.”
– MIKHEIL SAAKSHAVILI, former president of the republic of Georgia, writing in the Washington Post, "When Putin Invaded My Country"
“If they do not give up by 5 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a real storm of subdivisions and units of Ukraine’s military forces all over Crimea.”
War is coming.
(via USA Today)
“About 80 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe pass through Ukraine. Europe, in turn, depends on Russia for 40 percent of its imported fuel. According to Mikhail Korchemkin, head of East European Gas Analysis, a consulting firm in Pennsylvania, the most important pipelines that run through Ukraine are the ones leading to Slovakia. They will eventually take gas to Germany, Austria and Italy.”
With small military standoffs around Ukrainian bases continuing in Russian-controlled Crimea and deepening anxiety about Russian intentions in eastern Ukraine, the British foreign secretary William Hague on Monday called Ukraine “the biggest crisis in Europe in the 21st century.”
Visiting the new government in Kiev, Mr. Hague urged Russia to pull back its forces in Crimea or face “significant costs,” echoing comments made by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who is due here on Tuesday.
Mr. Hague, speaking to the BBC from here, emphasized diplomacy. “There are diplomatic measures which we have started on already,” he said. “There are a range of other significant costs. I don’t want to anticipate at the moment what those will be, those will be discussed among my fellow E.U. foreign ministers today.”
He continued: “The world cannot just allow this to happen. The world cannot say it’s O.K. in effect to violate the sovereignty of another nation in this way.”
European Union foreign ministers are to meet in another emergency session in Brussels later on Monday, while the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is also meeting and has sent two observers to Crimea. Washington has proposed sending monitors to Ukraine under the flag of either the United Nations or the security organization.”
– The New York Times, "World Leaders Warn Kremlin as Ukraine Standoff Continues"
With hundreds of riot police officers advancing from all sides after a day of deadly mayhem here in the Ukrainian capital, antigovernment protesters mounted a final desperate and seemingly doomed act of defiance late on Tuesday evening, establishing a protective ring of fire around what remained of their all-but-conquered encampment on Independence Square.
Feeding the blazing defenses with blankets, tires, wood, sheets of plastic foam and anything else that might burn, the protesters hoped to prolong, for a while longer at least, a tumultuous protest movement against President Viktor F. Yanukovych, a leader who was democratically elected in 2010 but is widely reviled here as corrupt and authoritarian.
“It is called the tactic of scorched earth,” said a protester who identified himself as Andriy.
The police reported earlier in the day that at least nine people, including two police officers, had been killed, but then raised this to 14, making it by far the worst day of violence in more than two months of protests and, for most Ukrainians, the bloodiest in living memory. The final death toll appears certain to be higher.
Doctors and nurses treating protesters in a temporary medical center in the Trade Union Building on Independence Square reported a number of gunshot wounds and also evidence that the police had doctored percussion grenades in order to inflict more serious injury. By early Wednesday, the union building had caught fire and the blaze raged out of control, with flames spreading to adjacent buildings.
With the center of the city engulfed in thick, acrid smoke and filled with the deafening din of the grenades, fireworks and the occasional round of gunfire, what began as a peaceful protest in late November against Mr. Yanukovych’s decision to spurn a trade deal with Europe and tilt toward Russia on Tuesday became a pyre of violent chaos.
The violence, which will resonate for weeks, months or even years around this fragile and bitterly divided former Soviet republic of 46 million, exposed the impotence, in this dispute, of the United States and also the European Union, which had engaged in a week of fruitless efforts to mediate a peaceful settlement. It also shredded doubts about the influential reach of Russia, which had portrayed the protesters as American-backed “terrorists” and, in thinly coded messages from the Kremlin, urged Mr. Yanukovych to crack down.”
– The New York Times, "Kiev Protesters Set Square Ablaze to Thwart Police"
Riot police stood back from burning barricades around Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, early Wednesday. At least 20 people died as protestors set fires to thwart police from clearing the square. (Photo: Sergey Dolzhenko / EPA via The New York Times)
After two protesters were shot to death during clashes with the police on Wednesday, the first fatalities in Ukraine’s two-month civil uprising, President Viktor F. Yanukovich met with opposition leaders as efforts to defuse the crisis took on new urgency.
Even as Mr. Yanukovich met with three Parliament leaders at the presidential headquarters, the violent standoff between demonstrators and the authorities continued, edging Kiev, the capital, toward a state of emergency. Businesses and schools near the conflict zone were told to close, and riot police brought in at least one armored personnel carrier and permitted the use of water cannons even in freezing temperatures.
Fires continued to burn near Dynamo Stadium, where the main clashes have occurred in recent days, and where protesters have turned the charred carcasses of police buses into barricades. In Independence Square, which demonstrators have occupied since Dec. 1, thousands of protesters reinforced barricades in anticipation of a mobilization by the authorities to clear the area.
The circumstances of the two shooting deaths remained murky, with protesters saying the men had been killed by the police. The authorities confirmed that two young men had died of gunshot wounds, and said the deaths were under investigation. The local news media reported that a third man died after apparently falling from an archway that protesters had climbed to hurl stones and Molotov cocktails at the police.
The worsening violence came as Ukraine observed Unity Day, a commemoration of the unification of the eastern and western parts of the country in 1919 that is normally an occasion of national pride.”
– The New York Times, "Two Die of Gunshot Wounds In Ukraine Protests"
One of the most powerful storms in Europe in years left at least 13 people dead, hundreds of thousands without power and many stranded on Monday when trains, planes and ferries were canceled after high winds battered the northern part of the Continent.
Gusts of 99 miles per hour were recorded in the south of England as the storm brought parts of Britain to a standstill, uprooting trees, overturning a double-decker bus and toppling a crane near the London office of the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.
At least 13 storm-related deaths were reported, with most victims crushed by falling trees. Germany had six deaths, Britain had five and the Netherlands and Denmark had one each, The Associated Press reported. One woman was also missing after being swept into the surf in France.
A gas explosion killed two people in London, and a British teenager playing in the storm-driven surf was swept out to sea, The A.P. reported. A man in Denmark was killed when a brick fell off a building and hit his head.
Many Britons still remember a 1987 storm that brought winds of up to 115 m.p.h. after a well-known weatherman, Michael Fish, had ridiculed the idea that a hurricane was on its way. This time Britain’s forecasters predicted the storm, but the transportation system is notoriously bad at handling extreme weather and even mild snow showers can paralyze networks.”
– The New York Times, "Powerful Storm Lashes Northern Europe, Paralyzing Travel In Much of Britain"