My article in Warscapes, “Ukraine’s Economy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place“:
Note: Due to rapidly developing events on the ground in Ukraine, some of the information in this article may be outdated at time of publication.
Kyiv is on fire. Violence between Ukraine’s internal security and protestors has left one hundred people dead and over one thousand injured. How far Ukraine will tumble down the rabbit hole is anyone’s guess. Already there is a chorus warning of civil war, its break up, and regional separatism. Viktor Yanukovych, in the meantime, had been holding firm, but signs suggest he’s ready to reach a compromise that would end the immediate crisis. In an address to the nation, the Ukrainian president blamed “radical elements who seek bloodshed and conflict” for the violence and charged the opposition with staging a coup. “Without any mandate from the people, illegally and in breach of the constitution of Ukraine, these politicians – if I may use that term – have resorted to pogroms, arson and murder to try to seize power,” he declared. Amid all of this smoke, fire, and vitriol is Ukraine’s reeling economy. The country is on the verge of collapse and, even if Yanukovych were to step down, nobody in Ukraine seems to have any answers for what comes next.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
There is a cease fire on paper. There isn’t a cease fire in reality. Russia’s moving toward Tbilisi. Russia isn’t moving toward Tbilisi. Tomāto. Tomato. Potāto. Potato. Let’s call the whole thing off because checking CNN for updates on Georgia is liable to make your head spin. Every small Russian action is instantly viewed as part of a larger design. The latest evidence that sparked fears of an assault on Tbilisi? A Russian convoy that was heading toward the Georgian capital but then turned off the road back to South Ossetia. Saakashvilli interpreted this as Russian forces “encroaching upon the capital.” Thankfully, even CNN is starting to not be so easily fooled. CNN Correspondent Matthew Chance was traveling with said convoy, and though he couldn’t say where it was going, he did report that it didn’t get any
resistance from Georgian soldiers, and it was possible that the Russians were on a scouting mission to choose a buffer zone between the breakaway region of South Ossetia and Georgian territory. Chance described the flag-waving Russians as relaxed.
Not the atmosphere you would expect for soldiers mounting an assault.
Still Saakshvilli was persistent, perhaps trying to save face from a military debacle and that embarrassing video of him running for cover in Gori out of fear that he was the target of Russian bombing. “This is the kind of cease-fire that, I don’t know, they had with Afghanistan I guess in 1979,” he told CNN. “There is no cease-fire, they [Russian forces] are moving around.”
Perhaps the Russian forces aren’t the ones Georgians should be worried about. The real worry should be the so-called “irregulars” that are wreaking havoc in the wake of Russian armored columns. The Guardian‘s Luke Harding reports that these irregulars, who according locals are comprised of “Chechens, Cossacks and Ossetians,” are engaging payback.
“Eyewitnesses say they are looting, killing and burning. These irregulars have killed three people and set fire to villages. They have been taking away young boys and girls,” said Harding, watching smoke rise from another village, Karaleti.
He said he had witnessed people fleeing in the direction of Tbilisi. “For three hours there were people fleeing in cars, I saw one with 11 people and a Lada with eight people in it.” He had also seen people fleeing on a horse and cart and a tractor.
Though the Guardian adds that “eyewitness claims could not be immediately verified,” I wouldn’t be surprised if irregulars, especially Ossetian militias, are extracting some vengeance. The last few days have produced a Manichean atmosphere where violence is quickly becoming a whirlpool of reciprocity.
Human Rights Watch confirms these reports of Ossetian vengence:
Numerous houses in the villages of Kekhvi, Nizhnie Achaveti, Verkhnie Achaveti and Tamarasheni had been burnt down over the last day – Human Rights Watch researchers saw the smoldering remnants of the houses and household items. The villages were virtually deserted, with the exception of a few elderly and incapacitated people who stayed behind either because they were unable to flee or because they were trying to save their belongings and cattle.
“The remaining residents of these destroyed ethnic Georgian villages are facing desperate conditions, with no means of survival, no help, no protection, and nowhere to go,” said Tanya Lokshina at Human Rights Watch.
In the village of Nizhnie Achaveti, Human Rights Watch researchers spoke to an elderly man who was desperately trying to rescue his smoldering house using two half-empty buckets of dirty water brought from a spring. He told Human Rights Watch that the vast majority of the residents, including his family, fled the village when active fighting between Georgian forces and South Ossetian militias broke out on August 8, but he decided to stay to look after the cattle. He said members of the South Ossetian militia came to his house on August 11, and tried to take away some household items. When he protested, they set the house on fire and left. The man said he had no food or drinking water; his hands were burned and hair was singed – apparently as he was unsuccessfully trying to extinguish the fire – and he appeared to be in a state of shock. He said that there were about five to ten elderly and sick people left in the village, all in a similar desperate condition, and many of the houses were burned.
In the village of Kekhvi, many houses were set on fire between 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm on August 12 – they were ablaze as Human Rights Watch researchers moved along the road. Two elderly women from Kekhvi were weeping as they told Human Rights Watch about what happened in the village. One of them explained that the members of South Ossetian militias passed by the village and stopped at her house and “threw something” that set it on fire. She did not manage to rescue anything from the house and at the time of the interview could not even enter the house as it was still burning. She had no money on her and did not know if she could survive in this situation.
Human Rights Watch researchers also saw armed Ossetian militia members in camouflage fatigues taking household items – furniture, television sets, heaters, suitcases, carpets, and blankets – out of houses in the village of Nizhnie Achaveti and loading them into their trucks. Explaining the looters’ actions, an Ossetian man told Human Rights Watch, “Of course, they are entitled to take things from Georgians now – because they lost their own property in Tskhinvali and other places.”
Hopefully, this terror of the “irregulars” and Ossetian militias will not push things beyond control. That is assuming they haven’t already.
In Abkhazia, the Russian advance has embolden the Abkhaz military. Abkhaz forces have taken the initiative, without the aid of Russian forces, to expel the Georgians troops from the region. A symbolic turning of the tables has already commenced. “Entering the village, the Abkhaz military men first took off the Georgian symbols from the building of the administration hoisting the flag of the breakaway republic instead,’ reported Kommersant. Even Shota Utiashvili, the Georgian Interior Minister, was forced to admit that “Today, we’ve lost Kodori.”
According the Russia Today, Abkhazia was to be next on the Georgian list. A map found in a Georgia command vehicle are believed to show plans to invade Abkhazia.
Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba apparently intends to make this Georgian loss permanent. The taking of Kodori occurred after Medvedev’s declaration to cease operations, a fact that irked the Georgians even more. But Medvedev’s order didn’t seem to matter much to Shamba. As far as he was concerned the Russian President’s words simply don’t apply. “The words of the Russian President regarded Russia’s armed forces. Dmitri Medvedev’s decrees have no power in Abkhazia’s army,” he said [Emphasis mine]. Again, this emphatic “have no power” is a reminder that this conflict includes two parties that seems to be excluded from all the diplomatic wrangling between recognized nation states. Namely, the South Ossetians and the Abkhazians. I would imagine that as long as they are excluded, their voices will sing the songs of retribution.
Then there are the journalists. War is always hell for journalists as their craft and lives fall victim to the chaos of violence. So far, Reporters Without Borders named four journalists who have been reported killed in Georgia.
Cameraman Stan Storimans of Dutch TV station RTL-4 was killed and reporter Jeroen Akkermans, the station’s Moscow correspondent, was injured during Russian bombing of the Georgian town of Gori last night. Earlier yesterday, a Georgian reporter working for the Russian edition of Newsweek and his driver were killed when a shell hit their vehicle in Gori’s main square.
Yesterday’s deaths came just a day after two other reporters – Giga Chikhladze, the head of Alania TV, and Alexander Klimchuk, the head of the Caucasus Press Images agency and a correspondent for Itar-Tas – were killed in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, apparently in an attempt to pass a roadblock manned by Ossetian pro-independence fighters.
That is not all. Russian media reports that two Russian journalists, Vyacheslav Kochetkov, a photographer for Ekspert and Igor Naidenov, a correspondent for Russian Reporter, have disappeared in Georgia. Aleksandr Kots, a special correspondent for Komsomolskaya Pravda was wounded, as was Zadok Yehezkeli, an Israeli reporter for Yedioth Ahronot. He sustained serious injuries after being hit in the shoulder by a bullet. Two Turkish reporters were wounded after being attacked by Russian and Ossetian troops. Two Czech reporters had their car and equipment stolen by Ossetian soldiers. And what of the Ossetian and Georgian journalists?
The reporters looking for a safe story now have an outlet. The Russian military has reved up its PR machine with hopes to reverse the dismal portrayal of Russian actions in the foreign press. Enter Colonel Igor Konashenko. Today, Konashenko gave a guided tour of Tskhninvali for foreign journalists. “Look around you,” the Russian officer instructed the tour group. “A lot of women and children died here. Who do we blame? You know the answer.”
Indeed we do. And so do the Ossetian militias.Post Views: 835
By Sean — 4 years ago
“For weeks,” a recent New York Times article begins, “rumors have flown about the foreign fighters involved in the deepening conflict in Ukraine’s troubled east, each one stranger than the last: mercenaries from an American company, Blackwater; Russian special forces; and even Chechen soldiers of fortune.” You might be able to add Israelis to that list according to reports.
Korrespondent.net writes that the so-called Aliya battalion of Russian-Israelis has arrived in the Donetsk People’s Republic. “Today a group from Israel joined with our militia. It’s called the Alyia battalion which was formed in 2002 from immigrants to Israel from veterans from the Red Army and CIS countries,” says Donetsk’s deputy people’s governor Pavel Gubarev. “They protect settlements in the occupied territories and promptly sent 20 highly trained fighters to Slavyansk with experience in the Soviet and Israeli armies, and in two weeks are ready to bring 200 soldiers to fight the Nazis.”
News that Aliya was going to Donetsk emerged in early May when Izvestia ran an interview with its commander, Roman Ratner. “I want to state outright that this is a private initiative. We have no relations with the Israeli government, and it doesn’t support us in any way. This is a personal affair for each fighter—as their concern for fascism. Members of our battalion are concerned about the events in Ukraine, especially after the tragedy in Odessa.”
According to Ratner, Aliya includes former paratroopers, special forces, snipers, canine handlers, medics and other specialists. They promise to serve as peacekeepers—in the name of the Donetsk Republic—to “force [both sides] to peace.” Or in the words of Avigdor Eskin, a right-wing Russian-Israeli, who has often spoken about the “fascist junta” in Kyiv in Russian and Israeli media and initiated the plan to send Aliya to Ukraine, “The battalion will be present so the Banderovtsy can’t burn people alive.”Post Views: 681
By Sean — 10 years ago
Two references to Russia being the next Nazi Germany in two days. The one from the left came yesterday. Fortunately, Daniel Silva is no intellectual heavy hitter and his Russia paranoia is likely to quietly dissipate into the ether.
Today’s however comes from someone who carries a big intellectual bat. Namely, the ever loving Richard Pipes. Pipes needs no introduction. His Russophobia is well documented in print and Cold Warrior service. Always willing to challenge evil everywhere, Pipes has joined the Russia as Fascist bandwagon. Need proof? Just look at his letter to the Financial Times where he compares Russia’s behavior toward Georgia as akin to “Germany’s aggression against Czechoslovakia.” Here is the letter in full:
Sir, Peter J. Rooney (Letters, July 17) urges us to abandon the “insignificant statelet” of “tiny Georgia” to Russian aggression because its defence may lead to a military confrontation with Russia. This advice reminds me of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s willingness in the autumn of 1938 to sacrifice “tiny” Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany because it was a “quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing”.
As it soon turned out, Germany’s aggression against Czechoslovakia was a prelude to her invasion of Poland, which unleashed the second world war. Aggressive large powers tend to begin their expansion with “insignificant statelets” in order to test the world’s reaction before going after bigger fish. I think Russia’s behaviour toward Georgia fits this pattern. It should not be ignored.
Cambridge, MA 02138, US
Fascism is just the gift that keeps on giving. It’s no surprise Pipes the Elder has joined the “Fascism Beware!” choir considering that his son, Daniel, is one the “intellectual” architects of “islamo-fascism” (following Lefty gone Righty Christopher Hitchens, who coined the term).
Is your washroom breeding Fascists, Messrs Pipes?Post Views: 511