MH17

De afgelopen twee week ben ik samen met Michel Spekkers naar Donetsk en Lugansk gerezen. We zijn daar tegen veel dingen aangelopen die ons verrast hebben. Een van die dingen zou de MH17 worden.

English below

Hoewel ik op de ‘MH17-dag’ niet mee ben geweest, heb ik veel respect voor Michel Spekkers voor het meenemen voor brokstukken van de MH17. Er ligt daar materiaal wat nooit is opgehaald, niet alleen verstopt, maar ook openlijk in loodsen. Op een ander punt kloppen de beweringen van het OM ook niet: het OM beweert dat de regio waar de brokstukken liggen te onrustig is. Tijdens mijn verblijf in de regio heb ik daar niets van gemerkt. Beweringen dat het onderzoek daar niet gevoerd kan worden omdat het onveilig zou zijn, zijn, in ieder geval op dit moment, onwaar. Dat er door het OM anders wordt beweerd geeft mij zorgen over de objectiviteit van het onderzoek.

Ook de vermoedelijke menselijke resten zijn gevonden nabij een loods.(Preciese locatie is te zien op ingenomen beelden.)  Ik wil benadrukken dat deze resten daar weg zouden kwijnen indien ze niet zouden zijn meegenomen. Ik heb er zodoende begrip voor dat ze meegenomen zijn, echter sta ik er niet achter.

Ik wil ook benadrukken dat ik op de dag dat Michel Spekkers op de rampplek was, ik in Donetsk ben gebleven voor een aantal interviews met bewoners over hun perceptie van het conflict. Pas toen Michel later die avond in ons hotel aankwam heb ik begrepen dat hij de tas had meegenomen, pas in Rostovna-Donu (Rusland) heb ik begrepen dat hij de menselijke resten ook mee had.

Nogmaals, ik wil benadrukken dat ik begrip heb voor Michel Spekkers: er is sprake van zware nalatigheid dat deze brokstukken en resten nooit geborgen zijn terwijl ze in een zo voor de hand liggende plaats lagen. Het excuus dat het OM gebruikt, namelijk dat het onrustig en onveilig is, is onjuist, wat des te meer vragen over het onderzoek opwerpt. De realiteit is de volgende: zonder dat dat Spekkers deze stukken had meegenomen, waren ze vergaan in een loods in Donbass.

 

The last two weeks I have been traveling with Michel Spekkers to Donetsk and Lugansk. We have been surprised by a lot of things we have seen there. One of those would be the MH17.

Even though I wasn’t traveling with Michel on the ‘MH17-day, I much respect Spekkers for taking part of the wreckage of the MH17 with him. In the crash site there is material that has never been collected, not only hidden material, but also material which is lying openly in sheds. Other points claimed by Dutch Prosecution are also incorrect: the prosecution claims that the area in which the wreckage is to dangerous to do research. However, during my stay in the region I have not noticed this. Claims that the area could not be investigated closer because it would be too dangerous are, at least at the moment, untrue. That the prosecution claims otherwise, gives me reason to doubt their objectivity.

Also the possible human remains were found near the same shed. (exact location is seen in confiscated material.) I want to emphasize that these remains would weather away if they would not have been collected. I therefore understand that they have been collected, however I do not support it.

I also want to emphasize that the day Michel Spekkers was at the scene, I was in Donetsk to do several interviews with inhabitants about their perception of the conflict. Only when Michel later that night arrived, I understood that he had taken the bag with him.  In Rostov-na-Dony (Russia) I learned that he had collected remains that might have been human.

Again, I want to underline that I respect Michel Spekkers: this is a case of sever neglect because wreckage and remains have never been collected while, lying on such obvious places. The excuse used by the prosecution, that it is not quiet and dangerous in the area, is incorrect. This gives rise to questions about the research. The reality appears to be such: without Spekkers, these pieces would have never been collected and would have weathered away in a shed in Donbass.

Happy New Year From Donetsk

Images were filmed yesterday evening just prior to the start of the New Year. Despite the war, people welcomed the new year very joyfully. And I so respect them for doing so, despite all their troubles.

For me, I wish everyone happiness. And, even despite that this blog mostly focuses on war, I wish for peace. That this might be the last year one will need to write about this horrible subject.

Наступающим! С Новым Годом!

Political Note: The New Year starts the same time as the New Year starts, this in contrast to other places of the (former – choose whether to omit yourself) Ukrainian territory.

Reporting from Donetsk – Day 1: The Taxi Drive to the DNR.

Crossed the border to the Donetsk Peoples Republic today. After a few months of intense planning, today independent journalist Michel Spekkers and me have crossed the border to the DNR . We are planning to cover the stories of people living here for the next two weeks.

With a smile on his face, our taxi driver explained to us the financial situation with which many people living in Donetsk were confronted with. ‘Before the war started many people of course had taken out loans. But after the war started many banks closed.’ A smile appeared on his face when he said ‘I wanted to pay back my debts, but couldnSo one day the bank called me and said that we had to pay back our dept. I explained we couldn’t, the bank in turn told us they would send someone to my place if I would not pay. I gave my address in Donetsk and said they were welcome at my house.’ After having been given the address, the employee was quiet for a while, reconsidered and said they would not send someone after all.

The above situation is very exemplary of the situation many people in Donetsk are in. People here constantly fall between two stools. The rules of one country do not fully apply to them, but they are affected by them.

On the world alone

Another such situation are the issues with passports. In principle, the citizens of the Donetsk Peoples Republic are on the same level as stateless people: no country in the world (Russia included) recognizes the DNR and LNR as countries. Hence no one in the world recognizes their passports. To travel abroad people are forced to use their Ukrainian passports handed out to them before the war started in Donbass. For a whole new generation of people that did not own a Ukrainian passport before the war and that do not own Ukrainian passports, it has become impossible to travel abroad for their passports are not accepted anywhere.

‘In the Soviet Union it was easy to travel’, a woman we were traveling with told us, ‘There were no border controls and we could travel wherever we liked.’ She stressed that they ‘did not see ourselves as Russians, Ukrainians or whatever we were all part of one big country, the Soviet Union.’ This image persists to this day for she stressed her relatives lived everywhere, in Ukraine in Russia, Belarus, showing how important it is to be able to travel abroad.

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Broken families

One of the people traveling with us, was a man that visited his family living in Donetsk for the first time in several years. Due to the situation in the region it was very difficult visiting his family. It shows that was many people tend to forget; war is not only about people dying, it is also about ties to friends and family that are forcefully severed.

But already during this taxi ride, the first stories of people having been killed came to us as well. The woman traveling with us to the DNR told us that one of her brothers died due to the lack of medical help. “The only thing doctors could do is to extend his life, not save it” and hence she was forced to bury her brother.

Later she’d show us pictures of her grandchildren, asking us “How could anyone bomb these children?”. She went on to explain that many schools in Donetsk have pictures hanging in their schools of the students that have died in the conflict.

Divided by languages

Even on this first day of our trip, already some of the underlying problems that led to the conflict became apparent. Even before the Maidan many schools enforced a, what one of our fellow passengers called, ‘Ukrainization.’ Students in high school were forced to follow all their courses in the Ukrainian language, even before the Maidan broke out. “Even physics and mathematics for example”, I asked, ‘Yes, she added, physics mathematics, etc.’ This made it almost impossible for students from Russian families to study. Often there were not even sufficient dictionaries available to translate from.

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Arriving in the DNR

After a long journey towards and an equally long wait at the border crossing (very busy because of the New Yeareventually managed to cross the border and enter the DNR. We were greeted by snow, gentle traffic and eventually Donetsk itself. A lot more things have been discussed during the trip and deserve mentioning, but more about that soon.

Alarm Bells ring over Russian propaganda

Education, awareness, and funding journalism are to counter Russian propaganda, so say the Members of European Parliament in a resolution adopted on Wednesday. The Foreign Affairs Committee stresses that countering propaganda with propaganda is counterproductive.

“We are not to use any Russian material for our research!”, a Russian friend recently complained to me. Recently she started a study at a European University. For any of the research she was to do, it was forbidden to use any Russian sources (even academic books), for they were deemed to be unreliable, biased, etc. The student was shocked, not so much because of the prohibition to use Russian material, but way more by the reasoning that all information coming out of Russia was deemed to be propaganda.

The resolution adopted on Wednesday uses a similar reasoning. Though the ideas forwarded in the resolution are not new, the strong condemnation by an important political body in Europe is. This article will be the first of many to focus on information warfare. We will kick of the series by this recent development in Europe concerning Information Warfare.

Alarm Bells ring over Russian propaganda

With a vote of 304 for, 179 voting against and 208 members abstaining, the European parliament adopted a resolution which strongly condemns, amongst others, Russia for making anti-EU propaganda. According to the foreign affairs committee press statement, Russia “seeks to distort the truth, provoke doubt, divide the EU and its North American partners, paralyse the decision-making process, discredit the EU institutions and incite fear and uncertainty among EU citizens.”

The press-statement continues to say that:

MEPs warn that the Kremlin has stepped up its propaganda against EU since annexing Crimea and waging hybrid war in the Donbass. They note that ”the Russian government is employing a wide range of tools and instruments, such as think tanks […], multilingual TV stations (e.g. Russia Today), pseudo-news agencies and multimedia services (e.g. Sputnik) […], social media and internet trolls, to challenge democratic values, divide Europe, gather domestic support and create the perception of failed states in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood.”

What is striking in the above quote is the sharp tone of the statement; not only does it mention the country at which the measure is taken against. It even explicitly mentions the names of TV stations and multimedia services to be tools of Russian propaganda. The latter is striking, for the European Union officially steps down from the concept that all news-channels should be seen as news channels, rather the MEP convict some channels to be propaganda.

To take the example of Russia today. Indeed it can be argued that the channel voices a Russian oriented view of the world. The channel has a stronger view on US and EU foreign and internal policy, than do domestic news channels. Nevertheless, the channel gives a platform to alternative views which is voiced rather timidly in Europe itself.

A very strong example of this is the attention RT has spent on covering the revelations made by Wikileaks and Eduard Snowden. Where western channels often focussed on the allegations on the legitimacy of spreading this information made by senior public officials, Russian today delved more into the content of the material released by these whistle-blowers.

Indeed, spending much time on publishing the information can be deemed as to “provoke doubt, divide the EU and its North American partners, paralyse the decision-making process, discredit the EU institutions and incite fear and uncertainty among EU citizens.” It can just as well be seen as a different point of view on actual affairs which is just as legitimate as RT’s European and US peers.

Counterpropaganda and free world

The resolution proposes the following measures to counter the influence of what is seen as Russian propaganda by the following ways.

“To counteract anti-EU campaigns, MEPs suggest investing in awareness raising, education, online and local media, investigative journalism and information literacy, which would empower citizens to analyse media content critically.  It is equally important to adapt communication to specific regions, including access to information in local languages, says the text.

Hence, the MEP urge for the more effectively pushing of their message to the public. The measures all have been spinned to put a positive vibe to them: ‘education’, ‘awareness’, ‘information literacy’ and investing in online, local and investigative journalism. Indeed, it is a form of communication with which the European Union tries to gain supporters for her ideology by playing the public opinion. Which is by way also the definition used to define propaganda on the Dutch Wikipedia page.

Even more starteling is the philosophy behind the measure; western democracies typically hold the freedom of speech and press to be fundamental importance for the functioning of their democracy: only an informed public can make an adequate decision in elections. However, the philosophy of the resolution is different; because Europe is being paralyzed, distorted and destabilized, it needs to act. Though the committee has not gone as far as to bad certain information channels it does see them as a threat and not like another perspective in public debate. Though one might agree with the former or the latter perspective, the resolutions signals an important ideological shift in European parliament.

The war in our living rooms

When discussing the First World War, one cannot but wonder how the biased reporting of those days came to be. Nevertheless, we see a similar pattern unfolding today. Examples are many fold The resolution passed by the European Parliament is one example, the recent closing of the RT’s bank account in Britain is another. But also the trails facing people like Julian Assange and Eduard Snowden further support this pattern. Nevertheless, this is not just a western phenomenon, similar policy can be seen all across the world. We are living in a world where information is increasingly being used to influence minds not only at home, but also abroad. We are also living in a world in which it is becoming more accepted to condemn other information as incredible and, even more worrying, to counter the spread of this information. In view of the current power balance in the world and subsequent tensions, it is to be expected that this trend will intensify.

In future articles in the series ‘The War on Informationwe will look at by what means informational warfare is being fought, What the role is of informational warfare in regular warfare and many other aspects.

A small update for loyal readers: I am currently planning my most ambitious journey of my life. And of course, I will be covering the journey here. Though little can be said about it at this stage, but it takes up a lot of time and I cannot spend the amount of time writing articles as I would like to. This is not expected to change until the middle of January.

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20161010IPR46530/be-aware-of-russian-and-isis-propaganda-warn-foreign-affairs-meps

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20161118IPR51718/meps-sound-alarm-on-anti-eu-propaganda-from-russia-and-islamist-terrorist-groups

https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_(communicatie)

A Viable Kurdistan

With Ankara’s invasion of Northern Syria and the recent threatening remarks against Syrian President Assad, it might well have provoked just that I tried to avoid: a viable Kurdistan.

In the wake of the recent Turkish coup attempt, Turkey quickly launched a military intervention into Northern Syria. Officially the intervention was aimed to reduce the amount of terrorist attacks in Turkey made by ISIS and Kurdish rebel groups. The creating of a buffer zone in the North of Syria would supposedly deny access to Turkey of ISIS linked groups.

However, unofficially the goal of the Turkish intervention is just as well, to prevent the Kurd in North eastern Syria and North-Western Syria to link their territories. By seizing the land in between of these two Kurdish-controlled areas, such linking of the two parts of Kurdish controlled territory would be rendered impossible by the Turkey-oriented forces. This objective became especially clear when the US called on the Kurdish rebels to retreat over the Euphrates river such to give full control of the area to Turkey.

The Kurdish troops have, however, not been standing still of their own. After initial setbacks in the north-western Kurdish controlled areas of northern Syria, the Kurdish troops were able to halt the advance of the Turkish forces. Furthermore, both troops in the North eastern as the north western Kurdish controlled parts of Syria, have hastened their advance to link up in the area of Al-bab.

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Turkey’s intervention int eh North of Syria. The invasion of Turkish forces near the Kurdish controlled areas in the North of Syria indicate how strongly the offensive is aimed at the Kurds.
Picture via: Global Research

Both Turkish as Kurdish forces are now hurling forward in order to get control of the city of Al-bab. For the Kurds, the capture of the city would signal an important step in linking the two parts of Kurdistan. If, however, Al-Bab falls into Turkish hands a strong blow would be dealt to the unification of two Kurdish controlled parts of Syria.

The Syrian government initially responded rather mildly to the Turkish intervention. Even though it condemned the invasion, a military response was rather passive. Not surprisingly, since the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has its hands full with the fight against ISIS and other rebel troops as it is. However, the situation might force Syria to change its stance towards Turkey.

Recent remarks made by Erdogan that Turkish troops will advance to the north of Syria such to include Aleppo and even that Aleppo (and Mosul) belong to Turkey, promise little good for Syria. A confrontation between the SAA and the Turkish army therefore seems eminent.

But such a confrontation is to be avoided by the SAA because of two reasons. Firstly, despite that the SAA has made significant advances recently across Syria, its position is still rather weak. Furthermore, a direct confrontation between the Syrian and the Turkish army might be used to justify an intervention of western states.

However, the SAA seems to have a trump card up their sleeves in the form of the Kurdish troops in Northern Syria. If both parts of Kurdish controlled area were to link up, a buffer would be created between the Syrian and the Turkish army. Such a move would allow the Syrian army to avoid a confrontation between the Turks and the Syrians prevention politically difficult diplomatic situations and save military resources for deployment elsewhere.

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Situation in Northern Syria as of December 1 2016. Both pro-Turey forces as the Kurds and SAA are seen hurrying towards Al-bab. Image via Southfront

Syria has currently even gone so far as to launch a joint SAA-Kurdish offensive from the north-western part of Syria, to link the Kurds their compatriots to the east. This situation would be a game changer for the Kurds, for the first time a major power would be interested in the existence of a Kurdish state.

Hence, The Turkish operation Euphrates Shield might very well lead to exactly that it tried to prevent: a viable Kurdistan in the North of Syria.

Reflections on Russia’s flotilla in Syria.

On the day that the world was in awe due to Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, Russia’s navy flotilla reached the shores of Syria. The timing of the flotilla’s arrival might have very well been made a reaction to Hillary’s possible election to office.

Russian minister of Defence Sergej Shoigu on the 21st of September that Russia’s Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuzentsov will move towards Syria, arriving there in the middle of November.(1) It was announced that the Carrier would be accompanied by at least 5 ships and several support vessels.

Two months later it has became clear that the Naval group consists of the aircraft carring missile cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov, the nuclear battle cruiser Pyot Velikij, Two Udaloy class destroyers (Severomorsk, Vice-Admiral Kulakov) and the Admiral Grigorovich corvet (Project 11356P/M) and several support ships. It is been assumed though not confirmed that several attack submarines will also accompany the flotila. A further two destroyers, an Additional Udaloy class and a Sovremeny class destroyer of the passific fleet might join with the task force on a later date.(2)

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Infographic via Southfront

A2AD

The concision of the arrival of the fleet with the elections should not be deemed an accident. Many analysts agreed that Hillary Clinton would indeed win the presidential elections in the United States. Both Clinton’s work as Secretary of State, as well as her campaign, have made not shown many promises for cooperation with Russia over Syria to put it mildly.

With Clinton’s election, it would have become clear what the US’s foreign policy would have been in the next four years. This would allow the current (Obama) administration to already start deploying a naval taskforce to the area to start or prepare a possibly military involvement in Syria. If such a mission would be executed it might well prove a repetition of the campaign in Libia, de facto destabilizing the region.

However, with the deployment of the Russian naval task force to the area such a US mission would become significantly more difficult diplomatically and militarily. In view of the timing the main reason for the naval task force her deployment therefore seems to be Anti Access / Area Denial (A2AD.)

Subsequent Tasking

Another important mission of the naval grouping is the usage of the carrier at all. The usage of the Kuzentsov in Syria will mark a premiere in Russian maritime history for being the first time a Russian carrier is deployed to a war zone. The experiences gained during the upcoming missions will prove useful in the development of future carrier design. Russia has very recently announced it will start designing its own supercarrier(1) and several helicopter carriers.(3)

One should not expect a Kuznetsov fighters to fly deep into Syrian territory (unless supported by aerial tankers). This is first and foremost due to Kuznetsov’s design. Since fighters take of via ramp instead of a catapult like US fighters do. Consequently, their weight must be limited forcing the fighters to limit their fuel and hence their operational range. Therefore, it is much cheaper to carry out bombing missions from the Russian airbase in Latakia. Most likely fighters will be involved in missions around Hama, possibly Aleppo.

However, aircraft will not be the only way of striking targets in Syria. It is expected that the attached submarines will also carry out strike with Kalibr-M missiles on ground targets in Syria.

Concluding

In view of Clinton’s failure to win the presidential elections, the US-Russia relations over Syria might in fact calm down. If Trump holds by his word to further cooperate with the Russian Federation over Syria, the deployment of the Russian flotilla might therefore be of only limited duration. Never the less the usage of the carrier will be used to subsequently developpe future Russian carrier projects.

 

More info on the Admiral Kuzenetsov can be found in this article of The Duran, found in the link bellow. The article deals amongst others about claims of Kuznetsov being outdated:
http://theduran.com/russia-deploys-kuznetsov-aircraft-carrier-to-defend-syrian-coast/

 

Credit for Pictures:
Admiral Kuznetsov: Russian Ministry of Defence
http://eng.mil.ru/en/structure/forces/navy/associations/structure/forces/type/navy/north/flagship.htm
Inforgrafic: Southfront militairy analysis.
https://southfront.org/admiral-kuznetsov-battlegroup-to-start-active-phase-of-operation-in-syria-in-coming-days-reports/

1 – https://www.rt.com/news/360178-russia-carrier-syria-kuznetsov/

2 – https://russianmilitaryanalysis.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/the-russian-navys-great-mediterranean-show-of-force/

3 – http://theduran.com/russia-build-helicopter-carriers-replace-french-mistrals/

What ís Happening in Crimea (4/5)

Several pictures for your amusement, made this summer in Yalta, Simferopol and Sevastopol.

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In Russia paratrooper day is being celibrated throughout the country. One the day, which marks the anniversary of the establishment of the VDV – The Russian paratroopers, it is tradition to wear the paratrooper out and wave the VDV flag. And, despite it is officially banned, to dance in fountains. Just like in other parts of Russia, paratrooper day is also celibrated in Simferopol.

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Above, two picture containing graffiti. The First one reads ‘Crimea is Ukrainian’, the second ‘Crimea is Russia.’ Despite the graffiti, the overwhelming sound heard is that Crimea is considered part of Russia. On government buildings the Russian flag can be seen. And despite it still makes claim to the territory, the Ukrainian government has very little to say what happens there. – Picture taken in Simferopol.

A very famous comment made by former Ukranian prime-minister Yatsenyuk, was the “It is our Crimea, it is our Yalta, it is our sea, it is our territory, Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin)!” (bellow)

A lot of jokes have already been made about this. Like the following two videos:

Nevertheless, the following picture, depicting an advertisement of a carrental company in Yalta, is new to me. It states “Crimea is YOURS!”

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In the above picture we can see two billboards for the political Party: United Russia – the party to which Putin and Medvedev also belong. The one on the left says “OUR CRIMEAN SAVCHENKO” and the one on the left is about the “The Building of the Kerch bridge”, stating: “ACTING IN THE INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE IS OUR WORK!”

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Here another picture of an advertisement of United Russia, using the popularity of Vladimir Putin.

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Above, two memorial sites. The first one might suprise most. It is a memorial in Sevastopol about the war fought by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The one bellow, also in Sevastopol, depicts all the hero cities in the former Soviet Union.

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The above picture is a memory to Andrej Brazhevskij that died in a fire in a building of the local union in Odessa. The fire resulted in the deaths of dozens of people that were fleeing from far rightwing demonstrators that came to prevent the demonstration of pro-Russian demonstrators. The Odessa fire is faous throughout Russian speaking world as a symbol of far-right extremism in Ukraine. Even worse is that the pupertraitors of the fire have never been convicted nor tried.

Another intersting fact is that the the graffiti has been over painted, painted again (tekst hand written to the left), and again over painted. It shows that, at least in sub-cultures there is still resistance to the Russian set of ideas. – Picture taken in Simferopol.

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Above the Boulevard in Yalta. The McDonalds, which has been closed, either because of company policy or due to sanctions has been completely built in a wall of all kinds of carnaval rides. To the left, a wallpainting can be see depicting Vladimir Putin and the newest Russian fightjet, the Sukhoi T50.

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An enlargement of the same picture in Yalta. In the bottom right it says ‘#OURS’, refering to that Crimea is now part of Russia.

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Above a sign about where to find information about departures of autobusses in Sevastopol. There is however a less pleasant sticker: “White boys Simferopol” an organisation, most likely neo-nazi.

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In the above picture a popular way of advertising. Papers posted on posts and walls. There are three things being offered her. First is judicial help. The other, I think, are more interesting. One is an ad to travel to Kiev, Odessa, Kharkov (all safely in Ukraine) but also to Donetsk and Lugansk. The other is for services connecting to the migration card, a card every foreigner should carry with him visiting Russia. Both ads show that there is still much contact with Ukraine and more so, with the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, despite the civil war raging there.

A final word about history. Only few in Europe know something about the role Russia, as part of the Soviet Union, played in the Second World War. Fewer still know about the heroic defence of the city of Sevastopol. For months, the city held out against one of the most able of German generals. The only way to resuply the city was by boat. But despite its heroic defence the city would fall. Nevertheless, so impressive was its defence that the city of Sevastopol would be awarded the titel ‘Hero City.’ And for all those sailing into its harbour today are reminded by a huge statue commemorating those that kept the city safe for so long. In honor to those that fought, this memorial and a link to a documentary about the battles fought in Crimea in World War II.

Storm in the East: The Defence of Sevastopol

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What ís going on in Crimea? (3/?)

It was like the saleswoman did not want to sell me the magnet I wanted to buy. I already explained to her that my stepmother collected magnets of places which her stepchildren visited. But whenever I again asked to buy the magnet of the railway station of Simferopol, and again she tried to sell me a different magnet. On the magnet was a picture of a soldier, holding a Kalashnikov and completely masked. It was not cheaper, nor more expensive than that of the railway station, but she kept insisting. It was clear to me; these soldiers had been important for her. A look into the 2014 events from the perspective from the Crimeans themselves.

The Soviet Union is still here

‘We did not start celebrating New Year at 11 o clock, we started earlier, on Moscow time. We did this even before Crimea became part of Russia’ a cap driver told us. ‘We watched the president speech, heard the bells of Spasskaya Tower and congratulate each other with the new year.’ It shows how deeply the people in Crimea felt themselves related to Ukraine. In the words of the capdriver: ‘My mother is Ukrainian, my father is Ukrainian, but I, I am Russian, it is how you feel which determines what you are.’

A similar sentiment can be seen in Russia, where people feel like the boundaries of today are not there in family relations. Whether talking to someone from Saint Petersburg, Moscow or Nizhni, often you will hear that got ‘an uncle in Ukraine, a grandfather in Kazakhstan a nephew in Georgia’ or that they all have mixed backgrounds ‘part jew, part Russian, part Polish, part Ukrainian.’ Showing how strong the ties are with the friends and family living in different parts of the former Soviet Union. It were these relations that would deeply effect the attitude of attitude of many living in Crimea and other Ethnic Russian parts of Ukraine.

Enter the Maindan

Initially, the sentiments of almost all people in Ukraine were positive about the protests erupting against the government of Yanukovich. Many considered him to be a corrupt politician and would love to see him go. But as the protests continued the composition of the protesters on the Maidan worried many. About a third of the protestors found themselves on the far right side of the political spectrum. Parties like Svaboda and Pravij Sector held pro-Nazi and strong anti-Russian views. It were these views, dominating the protests, that worried many living in the eastern part of Ukraine and Crimea. They had strong family ties with Russia and like one protestor said in Donetsk. ‘I do not know anyone in the west, my family lives in Russia, it is there where my roots lie.’

As a result of the discontent with the orientation of the Maidan protests, counter demonstrations were being organised in different part of Ukraine. Some people even went so far as to travel to Kiev to take part in anti-maidan protests by bus. It was one of these bus convoys, traveling from Crimea to Kiev, which was intercepted by pro-Maidan supporters. Protestor were being taken out of the busses and molested by pro-maidan supporters, several were even being killed while their busses were set on fire. This event, well known in Russia and Crimea, shocked many. It made many people worry even more about the future orientation of Ukraine and in Crimea.

Cherkassy region, Ukraine. Euro-maidan activists stopped the buses of Crimean pro-government supporters on their way back to Simferopol.

In Crimea people started to get scared that similar events might be organised against them at home. A waiter in a restaurant told us that her own uncle and nephew, having heard that a train filled with far right activists might soon arrive in Simferopol hurried over to meet the train. Armed with self-made shield they, and with them many others, awaited the train. A general sense that something bad might happen had come over the peninsula.

Little Green Men and Polite People

The western world was in shock when all over Crimea, soldiers started appearing. The soldiers were heavily armed, did not wear insignias and were silent, the would eventually be known in the west as ‘Little Green Men.’ They would be the signal to western countries that Russia had taken over Crimea. However, these soldiers would be known under a different name in Crimea. In Crimea they are referred as Вежливые Люди, or ‘Polite People.’ And there is good reason for that.

I would eventually attain the magnet I wanted of the Simferopol train station, but not before the shop owner had did her very best to convince me to buy the magnet with the soldier on it. ‘They were so polite’, she told. ‘Did you see them?’, I asked. ‘Yes! They were, they were standing here. they kept us safe. They were so polite, they helped older people and stood correctly in line when going to a shop.’

Even more apparent were the souvenirs being sold of these soldiers. In every mayor touristic place one could see stalls upon stalls of T-shirts with ‘Polite People’ on them. Next to them other T-shirts depicting the ‘Most polite of all people’, as the T-shirts named him, president Putin himself. And often one would see larger wallpaintings depicting Putin.

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A wallpainting in Sevastopol, the text says “Congratulations with the return to the mother’s harbor.”

Still, after everything I have heard from the people living in Crimea. It was still hard to believe the results of the referendum. Of the more than 80% of the people showing up to vote, a staggering +95% would vote in favour of joining Russia, only around 1% would vote in favour of remaining in the Ukraine.  If such a staggering result came to be, it should be hard, for someone to know anyone that voted against joining up with Russia. Among the people I asked was a cap driver. I asked whether he knew anyone, friend, family, colleagues, of which he knew that he or she voted against joining Russia in the referendum. The cap driver, responded that everyone he knew voted in favour. Only while talking he remember that the wife of his brother, who was originally from one of the Baltic states, voted against. And judging by the fanatical responses of other people I have been talking to, he was not the only one knowing so little people voting against the joining of Russia.

i-voted-yes

A picture inside a touring bus. Next to the Saint George Ribbon there is a sticker: “I voted FOR [joining Russia]”, written on a Crimean flag.

For many in the west when soldiers started appearing out of nowhere on Crimea, it was the sign that Russia took over Crimea by force. Asking anyone in Russia about their opinion about ‘Russia’s annexation of Crimea’ might result in a stark reaction. For Crimea, according to them, has not been annexed Crimea, Crimea decided to join Russia, Russia just kept it safe while the referendum took place.

All in all, all people I talked to seemed to have been very glad that Crimea has united itself with Russia. Even the person most critical about the process, seemed hardly negative at all. Referring to the evens in Donetsk and Lugansk he told us about Crimea: “Some things are worse now, somethings are better now, but all in all, at least there is no war here.”

Serious Escalation in Russian-Western Relations

The past few weeks have seen a deterioration in the relations between the Russian Federation, the United States and Europe over the conflict in Syria. Despite relations have been very poor the last few years, the language used in diplomatic and military circles the last few weeks marks a new low. The recently past time has been the witness from cancelling of international treaties, refusal for talks to the open threats over and from. Maybe the scariest thing is, that these events are hardly being covered. What follows in this article is an overview of the ghastly events and language which have unfolded the last few weeks.

Prelude

In the days prior to the drastic escalation of the relationship between Russian and the west a cease fire agreement was made by the US and Russia. However, reports from both sides about violations soon emerged. Russian accused the so called moderate opposition to fire upon Syrian targets in the area near Allepo. Russia even went as far as to release drone footage of rebel held territory. (I)

map-syria

17 September: US led Airstrike target Syrian Arab Army in Deir Al Zor.

Two Australian F16s(I) and Two US A10s conducted airstrikes against positions of the Syrian Arab Army in Deir Al Zor.(II) In the attacks, lasting for over an hour, some 60 soldiers were injured and over a 100 were wounded. Immediately after the airstrike ISIS forces have started a counter attack against Syrian troops stationed in the area forcing them to retreat. The Airstrike followed recent successful advance of the Syrian Army.

The Russian defence ministry has stated that “If this airstrike was carried out due to an error in the coordinates of the target it is a direct consequence of US side’s unwillingness to coordinate its actions against terrorist groups with Russia.”(III) Russian Foreign minister Sergej Lavrov would later (09SEP16) hint that it was very strange that such mistakes were made in the airstrikes basing his opinion on a US General that the airstrikes was prepared fort wo whole days using solid intelligence.(V) The Syrian army has even gone so far as to state that the airstrikes are evidence that the US is cooperating with ISIS. (IV)

Syrian War Report – September 19, 2016: ISIS Obtains Air Force – South Front

20 September: Unconfirmed Russian strike on US Special Forces

Via the Russian government funded media outlet Sputnik news reports surfaced of a Russian strike with ship launched Kalibr (Cruise) missiles. The missiles reportedly killed 30 foreign special forces reporting in the Allepo area in Syria. Among the casualties supposedly be US, Israeli, Qatari and Saudi troops. – Till this day these reports remain unverified. (I)

20 September: Russia Allegedly bombed a UN Aid convoy

The destruction of a UN aid convoy has been widely covered in the media the last few days. Allegations are that either Russian or Syrian aircraft bombed the convoy. Despite the UN initially condemned Russia and Syria for the incident. It has later withdrawn its claims after hearing explanation of the Russian Federation.

“We are not in a position to determine whether these were in fact airstrikes. We are in a position to say that the convoy was attacked,” a representative of the UN for Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, said. (I)

21 September No fly zone

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has called for the installation of a No-Fly Zone over Syria for Syrian and Russian planes.(I) If such a No-Fly-Zone would be enforced by the US and its partners, it might well provoke open war with the Russian Federation. The shooting down, willingly and knowingly of Russian jet, would put Russian and US troops in open conflict with each other, at least in Syria. It is a question how such a matter would evolve, to the region, possibly the world.

28 September: Allegations of State Department Spokesperson against Russia

During a regular press briefing the US State Department’s spokesperson John Kirby was asked the following question, and gave the following answer:

Reporter: “What are the consequences for Russia if this [ceasefire] agreement falls through?”

John Kirby: “The consequences are that the civ war will continue will continue in Syria. That extremist groups will continue in Syria and expend their operations. Which will include, no question, attacks against Russian interest, perhaps even Russian cities. Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags and will continue to lose resources, ever, perhaps more aircraft. The stability that they seek in Syria will be ever more elusive. It is hard to image that continued war, not just a civil war, but increasingly, more violent extremist activity in Syria.”(I)

US payback? More body bags, attacks on Russian cities. 28 Sept 2016

I leave it up to the reader to make his or her own conclusions about this statement. Nevertheless, these remarks have been interpreted as being a threat towards Russia. At the moment the above statement was made, the Syrian rebels (ISIS nor the so called moderate opposition) did not own any serious AA capabilities. More so the statement comes just days after the No-Fly zone statement of John Kerry in the UNSC.

3 October: Cancelation Plutonium treaty

Following the above events, Russian President Vladimir Putin has cancelled the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement with the United States. Stating that “a drastic change in circumstances, the appearance of a threat to strategic stability due to unfriendly actions of the United States toward Russia.” (I)

At the same time an ultimatum was set by Russia to NATO in order to withdraw all of its infrastructure and personal in the Baltics and Balkans. (II)

6 October: Deployment of S300VM system

The S300VM system is a highly advanced Anti-Aircraft, Anti-Cruise missile and Anti-Ballistic missile system. It is capable of operating in an electronic warfare environment, being able to operate despite the presence of jammers. The choice to send in a S300VM and not the regular S300 system shows that the possible adversary the Russian Federation had in mind with the deployment of this system, is not just fighter jets, but also covers the possibility to engage any threat faced by the Russian or Syrian troops in the area.(I)

venezuelan2bs300vm2bantey2b2500

The statement made by the defence ministry makes this even more clear:

Russian air defense system crews are unlikely to have time to determine in a ‘straight line’ the exact flight paths of missiles and then who the warheads belong to. And all the illusions of amateurs about the existence of ‘invisible’ jets will face a disappointing reality.”

The later statement is clearly directed against any owner of stealth aircraft. The only country in the world currently operating such aircraft is indeed the United States. The move by Russia is an evident reaction against the proposing of a No-Fly-Zone for Russian and Syrian aircraft over Syria and is also strongly linked at the incident at Deir Al Zor.

6 of October: Chief of Staff of the (US) Army threatens Russia

In response to the deployment of the S300VM system to Syria and the allegations made by the Russian defense spokesperson, Chief of Staff of the Army, four star general Mark Milley made a very strong statement ‘to those that try to oppose the United States.’ Saying that “The US Army will (…) stop you and beat you harder then you have ever been beaten before. (…) We will destroy any enemy, anywhere, anytime.”(I)

U.S. Army Chief Threatens War With Russia

 

As a final personal note; The above events are all pieces of the puzzle which is current and rapidly unfolding between Russian and the United States. But perhaps even more depressing than the current events is that many media outlets proved themselves unable to identify the escalation which has been going right for our very eyes on for more than a month now. Instead of seeing the mutual dynamics of the process, reporting seldom reaches farther than suggesting Russia is the new Evil Empire.

 

Sources:

Prelude

I https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWqTULshons

17 September: US led Airstrike target Syrian Arab Army in Deir Al zor.

I Australian jets involved in botched air strike on Syrian army, http://thenewdaily.com.au/news/world/2016/09/18/australia-syria-air-strike/

II Russia criticizes U.S. over bombing of Syrian army near Deir al-Zor

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-russia-idUSKCN11N0QG?il=0

III Russian MoD Confirms US-Led Coalition’s F-16, A-10 Jets Attacked Syrian Army
https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201609171045415141-russia-syria-army-attacked/

IV http://sana.sy/en/?p=88303

V Lavrov trolls CNN: Russia flattered by US hacking allegations – Full interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0f8WiQFWEO4

20 September: Unconfirmed Russian strike on US Special Forces

I – https://southfront.org/30-foreign-intelligence-officers-israeli-us-turkish-killed-in-missile-attack-in-aleppo-unconfirmed/

I – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egUFFM3QQz0

20 September: Russia Allegedly bombed a UN Aid convoy

I https://southfront.org/un-removes-charges-against-russia-regarding-air-strike-on-humanitarian-convoy-in-syria/

28 September: Allegations of State Department Spokesperson against Russia

I – U.S. Army Chief Threatens War With Russia https://www.youtube.com/embed/-wCwJ8pfXXo

3 October: Cancelation Plutonium treaty

I – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/03/putin-scraps-deal-to-dispose-of-bomb-grade-plutonium-in-swipe-at/

II – https://southfront.org/putin-issues-a-ultimatum-to-the-united-states-to-leave-eastern-europe/

6 October: Deployment of S300VM system

http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-Giant-Gladiator.html

I – NIEMI/Antey S-300V 9K81/9K81-1/9K81M/MK Self Propelled Air Defence System / SA-12/SA-23 Giant/Gladiator НИЭМИ/Антей Cамоходный Зенитный Ракетный  Комплекс C-300В 9К81/9К81-1/9К81М/МК  / «Антей 2500» http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-Giant-Gladiator.html

II – https://www.rt.com/news/361800-russia-syria-usa-aistrikes/

What ís going on in Crimea? (2/?)

We were in Yalta, in the famous palace where Churchil, Rosenvelt and Stalin held a famous conference. I talked to a woman selling souvenirs. I asked her, do you have a lot of foreign visitors here. She answered ‘Yes’, I was surprised. Then I realized my mistake, I asked again, ‘Do you have a lot of western tourists here?’ She told me “We used to have, but now almost nothing at all.” I then realised that we might very well be the only westerners in Crimea. How was this possible? – A look into the sanctions targeting the people of Crimea.

Wine from France!

“What kind of wine would you like?”, the waiter asked my friend that ordered wine. And with a smile to accompany her pride, “we have French wines!” To Drink French wine in a restaurant in does not seem very special, but the idea to have French wine in Crimea was indeed really something to be proud of.

After Russian soldiers were actively deployed on Russia and Russia accepted the request of the people living in Crimea to join Russia, western countries were and still are, outraged. Though the word ‘reunification’ is widely used in Russia to indicate that Crimea became part of Russia, the usual word used in the west is ‘annexation.’ Western countries generally interprete the events, not as local deciding in a referendum to join Russia, but by Russia taking over Crimea with Force. From the western countries their perspective something had to be done.

Both the US and the EU responded with a set of economic sanctions. Russia was, for example no longer allowed to borrow money from the EU and US capital market and were certain goods not allowed to be exported to Russia, like equipment needed for oil and gas drills.

In the past, Crimea used to be a place which was welcomed with the presence of Cruise ships. People from all over the world would come to take a make a stop in for example Yalta to see the famous palace that house the Yalta-conference in World War II, not these ships had all but stopped to visit Crimea resulting in a dramatic cut in tourism.

A video popular television clip from 2014 following the events in Crimea. The video gives a sense of how Putin and the counter-sanctions installed by the Russian Federation are perceived in the west.

Bank and Telecommunication services

I knew that it was impossible, but I wanted to try anyway, to see what would happen. We already took our precautions so it did not present any real problem to our trip, but still, I wanted to find out: what would happen if I would use my Dutch bankcard in Crimea? In the short line which happened to be in front of the ATM I noticed that the Russian card were working alright. What about western ones? I put in my card, was even able to type in my security code alright, got in the menu. To my surprise I found out I could even select how much money I wanted to collect. Perfect! More souvenirs! But alas, as soon as the machine was about to hand out the cash, it stated that the action I was about to perform, was not allowed by my bank.

IMG_1481.JPG

“Excuse us, the operation via your card if forbidden by your bank.
Please contact the contact center of your bank.
Please take your card.”

This is the situation any tourist is confronted with trying to collect money from a western bank, it is not allowed, impossible. It is the result of sanctions imposed by European and US governments on the Crimea. Collecting money anywhere else in Russia is fine, but impossible in Crimea. In fact, all financial services are blocked there. Making payments is very hard if not impossible. Without big sums of cash or a Russian account, it is not possible to stay in Crimea for long.

The same holds true for telecommunications. The two friends I was traveling with tried to call me, just to check whether we could reach each other alright. But we were surprised to find out their card did not work at all, they were blocked. Just as for the use of bank services, the usage of telecommunications is not allowed by European law. Russian cards work alright, it is just a different matter for the European ones.

Also the internet has been turned into a battlespace as apple products would not update in Crimea. At home they worked alright, in Crimea you might better want to trade your mac for windows if you want to travel the internet secure.

Embassy

Running into trouble as a Dutch citizen in Crimea might result in an interesting diplomatic situation. This is already visible from the official travel advice of the Dutch government of anyone traveling to Russia. Crimea is not even on the map of Russia. A persistent traveller might look into the travel advice given for Ukraine. It says there that any traveller going Crimea can only receive “limited consolatory assistance” of the Dutch embassy.

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A map found on the wesbite of the Dutch government. Russia is indeed portait without Crimea.

Because the Dutch government does not recognize Crimea as part of Russia, any traveller running into trouble in Crimea might prove to be left alone or might provoke a diplomatic nightmare for European countries. In the latter case, European Countries might need to ask Russia for help in the region and would, to a certain degree, recognize Crimea as being part of Russia.

Conclusions

Any traveling to Crimea is effectively impossible due to western sanction. The blocking of sim-cards, the impossibility to use bank deposites, makes it impossible to travel to Crimea without serious preparations. . This has drastically reduced the amount of tourists, especially from western countries traveling to Crimea. The impossibility to import or export goods to and from Crimea also put additional stress on the local economy and hence population.

The economic warfare western countries wage against the Russian government is initiated to punish the Russian government for, what is perceived in the west, as the ‘illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, from Ukraine.’ So far, there is little sight that Crimea will be part of Ukraine again and the economic warfare waged by the west seems to be for nothing. But just like real warfare, the economic warfare does not commence without making civilian casualties, especially in Crimea.

Sources:

https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/reisadviezen/inhoud/oekraine

https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/reisadviezen/inhoud/rusland

https://extra.abnamro.nl/internationaal/risicos/wat-betekenen-de-ruslandsancties-een-jaar-later-voor-de-ondernemer/

http://www.rvo.nl/onderwerpen/tools/wet-en-regelgeving/buitenlandse-wetgeving/internationale-sancties/sancties-oekra%C3%AFne/rusland/krim-sancties