Tag Archives: Ukraine

Malta raises alarm on Russia in Libya

A Russia-backed Libyan warlord could start a “civil war” in Libya, increasing refugee flows to the EU, Malta has warned.

The danger comes as the Libyan commander, Khalifa Haftar, advances on Tripoli, the seat of the UN-recognised government, Malta’s foreign minister, George Vella, told press in Valletta on Friday (12 January).

Continue reading Malta raises alarm on Russia in Libya

Advertisements

Hungary suspends gas supplies to Ukraine

Darshava gas facility in Ukraine, man with manual wheel operating valve

Hungary’s gas pipeline operator, FGSZ, says it has suspended delivery of gas to neighbouring Ukraine “indefinitely”.

Ukraine has been receiving gas from Hungary, Poland and Slovakia since Russia cut off supplies to Ukraine in June in a dispute over unpaid bills.

Ukrainian state gas firm Naftogaz confirmed the stoppage, saying it was “unexpected and unexplained”.

FGSZ said it had acted to raise the flow of gas to Hungary, due to an expected increase in demand.

With winter approaching fears are mounting that Ukraine will be unable to heat homes and power industry without Russian gas.

Russian and Ukrainian energy ministers are meeting in Berlin for EU-brokered talks, aimed at heading off such a crisis.

Relations between the former USSR’s two most populous countries soured after the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovych, in February.

Europe's pipeline network

Russia subsequently annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine and was accused of fomenting a bloody insurrection in two of its eastern provinces.

Earlier this year Gazprom and Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of consequences if EU member states went ahead with deliveries to Ukraine to replace Russian supplies.

Russia says EU states are contractually forbidden from re-exporting gas to Ukraine while Brussels insists that such “reverse flows” are legal.

‘Energy blackmail’

Hungary’s move came three days after a meeting in Budapest between the head of Russian gas giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, and Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban.

Prime Minister Orban has been critical of EU sanctions on Russia and has maintained a closer relationship with Moscow than his western European neighbours.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller (L) and Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak wait for the start of gas talks between the EU, Russia and Ukraine in Berlin, 26 SeptemberGazprom CEO Alexei Miller (L) and Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak wait for the start of gas talks between the EU, Russia and Ukraine in Berlin

Gazprom agreed on Friday to boost supplies to Hungary, Reuters news agency reports.

“Hungary cannot get into a situation in which, due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, it cannot access its required supply of energy,” Mr Orban said on Hungarian state radio.

European Commission spokeswoman Helen Kearns said on Friday: “The message from the Commission is very clear: we expect all member states to facilitate reverse flows as agreed by the European Council

“There is nothing preventing EU companies to dispose freely of gas they have purchased from Gazprom and this includes selling this gas to customers both within the EU as well as to third countries such as Ukraine.”

Naftogaz urged its “Hungarian partners to respect their contractual obligations and EU legislation”.

“Neither EU countries nor Ukraine should be put under political pressure through energy blackmail,” Naftogaz said on its website.

Russian warning

It is hoped that Friday’s talks will establish a basis for an interim deal over energy.

The deal could involve the EU buying enough Russian gas to safeguard Ukrainian and European supplies during the winter months, at roughly market prices, according to Reuters.

However, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak insisted in an interview published on Friday that re-exporting Russian gas to Ukraine is illegal and could lead to some EU states going without fuel shipments from Gazprom.

“We hope that our European partners will stick to the agreements,” he told Germany’s business daily Handelsblatt (in German).

“That is the only way to ensure there are no interruptions in gas deliveries to European consumers,” he said.

In June, Russia cut off all gas supplies to Ukraine after Kiev failed to settle its debt with Gazprom.

Gazprom had sought $1.95bn (£1.15bn) out of a total claim of $4.5bn.

The Russia company said Ukraine had to pay upfront for its future supplies.

The issue of gas supply has dogged relations between Russia and Ukraine since the break-up of the USSR, with Russia seeking new export routes for its gas which would bypass Ukraine. EU supplies have been hit twice in the past decade because of the dispute.

The Kremlin has been accused of using Russia’s leverage as a major gas supplier for political ends in its international relations.

The Mafia Ruling Ukraine’s Mobs

Organized crime helped Putin grab Crimea, and may open the way for him to take more of Russian-speaking Ukraine.

DONETSK, Ukraine—I was talking to some young black-clad pro-Russian agitators at a checkpoint they’d set up on the outskirts of this city in eastern Ukraine when a shiny black Mercedes pulled up a few yards away. Some of the men from the group walked over and stuck their heads into the car. I couldn’t see who the capo was, couldn’t hear what orders he was giving, but the scene was like something from a movie about the mob. Nobody wanted to say who that was in the car. Nobody wanted to repeat what he’d said.Such scenes are increasingly common in this contested part of Ukraine near the Russian frontier. “Bosses are starting to appear on the fringes of the protests, they are middle-aged, older and better dressed than the younger men who are in the vanguard of the protests,” says Diana Berg, a 34-year-old graphic designer. The grassroots agitation in favor of Russia has become less spontaneous and more focused in recent days.Before and since Russia’s move to annex the Crimea, many who favor the pro-European government in Kiev have argued that these “bosses” might be provocateurs from Russia’s FSB intelligence service or Spetsnaz special forces infiltrated into Ukraine to orchestrate pro-Russian sentiment. But Berg, an organizer of the pro-Ukrainian rally last week where pro-Russian thugs stabbed a student to death, says there’s a different and in some ways more frightening explanation: the ominous hand of organized crime.A public prosecutor, who declined to be named in this article for reasons of personal safety, says local hoodlums are operating among the pro-Russian protests in the restive eastern Ukraine, helping to direct them on the instructions of Kremlin-linked organized crime groups. He points the finger specifically at the notorious Seilem mob, which has been closely tied over the years to ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, a onetime governor of Donetsk, who is now in exile in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

“We have already seen organized crime working hand-in-hand with the Russians in Crimea,” says the prosecutor. In that breakaway Black Sea peninsula, Moscow helped install former gangland lieutenant Sergei Aksyonov as prime minister, and his background is well known. Aksyonov and his Russian separatist associates share sordid pasts that mix politics, graft and extortion in equal measure and together they helped steer Crimea into the Russian Federation. Police investigations leaked to the Ukrainian press accuse Aksyonov of past involvement in contract killings. Back in January 1996, Aksyonov was himself injured after his car overturned on the Simferopol-Moscow road during a shootout.

“Why should it surprise you,” the prosecutor in Donetsk asks, “if the same dynamic [as in Crimea] is playing out here? … Maybe there are Russian intelligence agents on the ground, but Moscow through crime networks has an army of hoodlums it can use, too.”

The international media were late to pick up on Crimea’s toxic nexus of organized crime, political corruption and politics. But across post-Soviet Ukraine the three have long been regarded as interchangeable and inseparable. And the eastern and southern parts of the country are the worst of all. “Political corruption is ingrained in eastern Ukrainian political culture,” the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, noted in a 2012 study.

The three regions most notorious for the closest relationships between gangsters, oligarchs and politicians—Crimea, Donetsk and Odessa—were the most resistant to the Euro-Maidan revolution that led last month to the ouster of Yanukovych. And now all three regions are at the forefront of the pro-Russian fight-back against the new national leaders in Kiev.

Taras Kuzio, a research associate at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta, who wrote the Jamestown report, says the internal political turmoil in Ukraine should be viewed through the lens of the hand-in-glove relationships between politicians, mobsters and the so-called “red directors,” managers-turned-businessmen who are steeped in the ways of Soviet-style public sector corruption and deal-making.

The red directors also have their protégés: men such as billionaire Dmytro Firtash, the gas-trading mogul who was arrested by Austrian police on suspicion of mob activity earlier this month following Yanukovych ‘s ouster. Nor are the ties limited to the Ukraine. Their tentacles embrace Moscow: Firtash has joint business ventures with Russian billionaire Arkady Rotenburg and his brother, Boris, close friends and judo sparring partners of President Vladimir Putin. The Rotenburg brothers, not coincidentally, are prominent on a U.S. sanctions list announced Thursday by President Barack Obama to target  Putin cronies.

The symbiosis of politics, organized crime and unscrupulousbiznesmeni developed quickly in Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union in much the same way as it did in Russia. The ambitious, the greedy and the powerful lunged for the huge profits that could be made. The state was disintegrating. The big industries – energy, mining and metals – were being privatized, and may the most ruthless man win. “Individuals such as Yanukovych, Aksyonov and their Donetsk and Crimean allies literally fought their way to the top,” says Kuzio. In Donetsk, Yanukovych as governor “integrated former and existing organized criminal leaders into his Party of Regions,” says Kuzio.

In Crimea, “every level of government was criminalized,” according to Viktor Shemchuk, who served for many years as the chief public prosecutor in the region. “It was far from unusual that a parliamentary session in Crimea would start with a minute of silence honoring one of their murdered ‘brothers,’” Shemchuk recalled in a December interview with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a consortium of investigators and journalists tracking developments throughout Eastern Europe.

Donetsk was no different. A March 2006 cable from the US embassy to the National Security Council – one of several on Ukraine released by WikiLeaks—noted that Yukanovych’s Party of Regions was a “haven for Donetsk-based mobsters and oligarchs” and had commenced an “extreme makeover” with the help and advice of U.S. political consultants, including “veteran K Street political tacticians” from Washington D.C. and a onetime Ronald Reagan operative, “hired to do the nipping and tucking.”

According to the cable, Yanukovych was “tapping the deep pockets of Donetsk clan godfather Rinat Akhmetov.” Now supposedly Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarch, Akhmetov has been keeping a low profile in these early post-Yanukovych days, staying out of the limelight and issuing inoffensive statements on how important it is for everybody to get along.

Another US embassy cable from then-Ambassador William Taylor in September 2007 drilled down on how Yanukovych was centralizing Donetsk crime and political and business corruption in his party – something he would go on to do on an even larger national scale when he was subsequently elected as President in 2010. After Yanukovych became president, according to Ukrainian officials, more than $20 billion of gold reserves may have been embezzled and $37 billion in loans disappeared. In the past three years, they claim, more than $70 billion was moved to offshore accounts from Ukraine’s financial system.

The Americans have sent teams of experts to Kiev to help Ukraine’s interim leaders follow the money. “We are very interested in working with the government to support its investigations of those financial crimes,” U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt told reporters last week, “and we have already, on the ground here in Ukraine, experts from the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury who are working with their Ukrainian counterparts to support the Ukrainian investigation.”

Many of the financial crimes are likely to trail back to Moscow. Yanukovych confidant Firtash (the gas mogul picked up in Austria) admitted during a December 2008 meeting with then-US Ambassador Taylor that he had entered the energy business with the assistance of the notorious Russian crime boss Semyon Mogilevich, who, he said, worked with Kremlin leaders.

“Many Westerners do not understand what Ukraine was like after the break up of the Soviet Union,” Firtash told the ambassador. When a government cannot rule effectively, the country is ruled by “the laws of the streets,” he said.

That’s still the rule. The old order has much to fear from reform and change and will do all it can to preserve its wealth and power—and its best bet for that to happen is to look to Russia.

For precisely that reason, rights campaigners and reformers in Ukraine’s interim government are racing against time to uncover as much of the mob story as possible. An anti-corruption panel headed by Tetyana Chornovol, an investigative journalist who was nearly beaten to death in December for her reporting, is starting in earnest to recover billions of dollars of stolen money and piece together the financial crimes of the Yanukovych regime.

The Daily Beast learned something about these operations first hand when a team from the organized crime police raided a discreet boutique hotel in downtown Kiev where this correspondent was staying.  According to the police the hotel is owned by Eduard Stavitsky, Ukraine’s former energy minister. He is now believed to be in hiding in Russia. The police searched all the rooms looking for any Stavitsky documents and combing through financial records. As one of the investigating officers told me, “We need to move fast before the cover-ups start.”

RANKED: The world’s national debts, from safest to most risky

CDS map

Click here for maximum resolution

Bank of America’s Transforming World Atlas has loads of lovely infographics in it, but one of the most colourful is a map of the world’s riskiest sovereign debt.

The map uses the prices of credit default swaps, which are derivatives that pay out if a borrower defaults.

Sovereign credit default swaps have been used as a type of insurance against sovereign governments not paying back the money they owe. Like any insurance product, the more expensive it is the more likely the event you’re insuring against will happen soon.

Venezuelan debt is by far the most risky, costing twice as much as Greek or Ukrainian debt to insure.

The graphic also shows just how far Spain and Ireland have come. The market thinks their debt is pretty risk free, with lower CDS spreads than Italy or Portugal. The Spanish economy is going through a bit of a revival after suffering a devastating housing crash and unemployment crisis.

YOD design lab sets timber guest houses amid ukrainian forest

YOD design lab sets timber guest houses amid ukrainian forest

Built amid a pine forest in the poltava region of ukraine, these individual guest houses were completed in just two months. conceived by local studio YOD design lab,

YOD design lab guest houses in relax park verholy ukraine designboom

each unit has been constructed using a light metal frame that – together with the remainder of the structure – weights only 2,200 kilograms.

YOD design lab guest houses in relax park verholy ukraine designboom

instead of typical foundations, the rooms are sited on timber decks that allow the structures to be readily positioned without harming the natural landscape.

YOD design lab guest houses in relax park verholy ukraine designboom

measuring 32 square meters, natural materials and finishes have been used throughout the scheme’s interior, fostering a warm and inviting atmosphere.

YOD design lab guest houses in relax park verholy ukraine designboom

YOD design lab guest houses in relax park verholy ukraine designboom

YOD design lab guest houses in relax park verholy ukraine designboom

YOD design lab guest houses in relax park verholy ukraine designboom

project info:

location: poltava region, ukraine
function: hotel
area: 32 sqm
completed: 2015
photography: andrey avdeenko

Ex-KGB General: Russia Has Already Won

Russia has already won “the real victory”​ in Ukraine, according to a former KGB general living in the United States.

“The Crimea is now Russian, that’s very important,” Oleg Kalugin, one of the top Soviet spies in the United States during the Cold War, told National Review Online. “Southeast of Ukraine, that’s part of the general battle between the Russians and Ukrainians, but it’s not as crucial as the real victory and pride of Russia — the Crimea, I mean.”

The Thursday-morning phone interview took place in the context of media reports that Russia had invaded Ukraine, but Kalugin reiterated that he does not believe Russian president Vladimir Putin wants annex another region of the country.

“I believe they’re just trying to do their best to keep as much as they can of pro-Russian population and communities in that area; but Russia does not plan, I am sure, to take the southeastern part of Ukraine just like they did with the Crimea,”Kalugin said.

“It will certainly do it’s best to provide secure access to the Crimea through that part of Ukraine, because otherwise the Crimea can only be accessed by the Black Sea, by water, and this is not the safest way,” he added.

Kalugin said he doubts Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko’s claims that “Russian troops were brought into Ukraine.”

“For political leaders, it’s important to maintain their stance and make people feel that things are still quite dangerous while he may know well that things are going to a peaceful solution,” Kalugin said. “Russia will not move any [troops] forward while western nations are alerted” due to the risk of expanded economic sanctions.

“It’s not in the interest of Putin,” Kalugin said. “His position as of today is fairly strong in the country, in his own country, so why put it at risk by moving further?”

Although Kalugin expects the Russians to keep a “low-profile” in Ukraine, he agreed that Putin has an interest in fomenting unrest in the country by providing weaponry and perhaps special forces assistance to the separatists.

“The tactical victory would be most likely the pro-Russian forces in that part of Ukraine will eventually triumph and Russia will be satisfied,” he said. “It will not necessarily be exactly to a Russian notion of how things should be, but at least it will not be pro-NATO, pro-Western.”

Chechens Now Fighting On Both Sides In Ukraine

Eighteen years after the signing of the Khasavyurt Accord that ended the 1994-96 Chechen war, a veteran Chechen field commander has issued a timely reminder that there are still three sides to the ongoing struggle for the hearts and minds of the Chechen people.

In a statement dated August 28, Isa Munayev appeals to the United States and “the countries of the democratic world” to provide “comprehensive military assistance” to the Ukrainian people, whom Munayev describes as victims of Russian imperial aggression, just as the Chechens were 20 years ago.

Munayev identified himself in that statement as commander of the Dzhokhar Dudayev international volunteer peacekeeping battalion and a brigadier general of the armed forces of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) of which Dudayev was the first president.

He spoke to RFE/RL’s Radio Marsho a week ago, shortly before he travelled to Ukraine to show “international support for the Ukrainian people.” The strength of his battalion, and who is bankrolling it, is not known.

Now in his late 40s, Munayev played a key role in the defense of Grozny at the start of the 1999-2000 war, and continued fighting after the resistance forces retreated south to the mountains, acquiring a reputation for his courage and tactical skills.

In late 2007, however, he distanced himself from ChRI President Doku Umarov following the latter’s abandonment of the cause of Chechen independence and proclamation of a Caucasus Emirate. Munayev left Chechnya soon afterward, but continued to serve until December 2008 as ChRI prosecutor-general.

Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount of the presence on the side of the pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine of hundreds of fighters sent by Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov.

Those fighters are apparently primarily volunteers from among the various police and security forces subordinate to Kadyrov, who has consistently denied that there are any “Chechen battalions” in Ukraine, even after the “Financial Times” quoted a fighter named Zelimkhan who said he and his comrades in arms had been sent to Ukraine in mid-May on Kadyrov’s orders.

Kadyrov has admitted, however, that a few dozen Chechen volunteers from among the 2 million (according to his estimate) Chechens living outside Russia have travelled to Ukraine on their own initiative to fight, and that a handful of them have been killed.

Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov similarly said in early June that 25 residents of his republic had travelled to Ukraine to fight, of whom four had been killed. In a subsequent interview, Yevkurov, a former Russian military-intelligence officer, affirmed his readiness to head to Ukraine himself “to defend those who are being humiliated and killed.”

In contrast, both the Defense Ministry and the presidential and government press service of the largely unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia in May denied media reports that the breakaway Georgian region had sent volunteers to fight in Ukraine.

How many “kadyrovtsy” either volunteered or were sent to Ukraine is unclear, but separate, unconfirmed casualty reports suggest the figure may have been as high as 1,000.

From left: Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov accompanied by Russian journalists Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko addresses media following release from captivity in Ukraine, Grozny, Chechnya, May 25, 2014.
From left: Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov accompanied by Russian journalists Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko addresses media following release from captivity in Ukraine, Grozny, Chechnya, May 25, 2014.

Between 35-45 corpses were reportedly sent back to Chechnya  in late May, and between 120-150 in August. In addition, Ukrainian military sources claimed to have killed some 200 Chechens near Slovyansk in late June.

Other reports, also unconfirmed, suggest that Kadyrov’s men did not distinguish themselves in battle.

There have been several such reports over the past few weeks that Chechen units fighting under the command of Russian officers in eastern Ukraine have been disbanded and sent home for cowardice and/or desertion, surrendered to Ukrainian government forces, or asked for safe passage to retreat to the Russian border.

Kadyrov immediately rejected as untrue reports that any Chechens had surrendered: he declared that “once a Chechen takes up arms, he doesn’t surrender.”

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: