MOSCOW (AP) — For Russian President Vladimir Putin, there are few options left in the Ukraine crisis and they all look bad.Related Stories
He is caught between a determined West demanding that he disavow the pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine and increasingly assertive nationalists at home urging him to champion the mutiny and send in the Russian army.The Malaysian plane disaster this week triggered another round of U.S. and EU sanctions, which for the first time targeted entire sectors of the Russian economy, severely limiting Putin’s room for maneuver. He may be eager to sever ties with the rebels, but he would need to find a way to do so that would allow him to save face — an exceedingly hard task amid growing Western pressure.Bowing to Western demands would potentially spell political suicide for the Russian leader, who has built his popularity on standing up to the West. Under pressure, he may choose instead to escalate the crisis and risk an all-out confrontation.Putin didn’t plan for it to happen this way.Last fall, he used a combination of pressure and subsidies to prevent Ukraine from signing an association agreement with the EU and lure it into a Moscow-led alliance. When mass protests chased the Russian-leaning Ukrainian president from power in February, Putin saw it as a Western plot against Russia and quickly moved to annex Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea to head off what he said was the imminent threat of Ukraine joining NATO.Putin then sought to maintain pressure on the West by fomenting a pro-Russian insurgency that flared up in Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking industrial east in April, apparently hoping that a slow-burning conflict would help persuade the West to strike a compromise that would allow Russia to keep Ukraine in its orbit.View galleryChildren walk past a piece of wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines jet downed over Ukraine, in Petrop …That strategy has failed. The West, especially Europe, long showed unwillingness to take a strong punitive stand against Putin. But the downing of the Malaysian passenger plane was the unforeseen event that overturned the dynamic, and compelled the West to act.It appears that the Russian leader now is desperately looking for a way out from the crisis in hopes of containing the gravest threat to his rule to date. Here are some possible scenarios that may play out:RUSSIA STRIKES COMPROMISE From the start, Putin wanted to a deal with a West that would allow Russia to maintain its leverage over Ukraine, and he has steadily tempered his ambitions.At the onset of the turmoil, Putin hoped that Ukraine would join a Russia-dominated economic alliance. When such hopes evaporated with the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow began pushing for a „federalization” of Ukraine that would give broad powers to its provinces and allow them to deal directly with Moscow. Rebels later backed those demands by conducting independence referendums that both Ukraine and the West declared a sham.The Kremlin then softened its rhetoric and started calling vaguely for a „dialogue” between the central government and the regions that would give the provinces a bigger say over local issues.View galleryUkrainian government army’s soldiers stand guard next to the cars of Convoy of the OSCE mission …Now with his hand weakened by the plane disaster, Putin may be eager to accept any vague deal that would allow Moscow to maintain just a symbolic degree of influence. Such a deal, however, would have to involve concessions by both parties, something that is hard to achieve amid continuing fighting and growing distrust.The West has demanded that the Kremlin disown the rebellion in eastern Ukraine. While Putin may despise the ragtag band of retired Russian officers and Moscow political consultants that have helped foment the mutiny, it would be hard for him to distance himself from them without denting his support base.The Malaysian plane disaster, however, could offer a face-saving way of publicly condemning the rebel leadership. If an international investigation confirms that the missile that downed the plane on July 17 was launched by the rebels, Putin may say that Russia can’t support those who were responsible for the tragic death of nearly 300 innocent people. Such a statement could pave the way for talks.MORE SANCTIONS PROVOKE TOUGH RESPONSE Putin possibly fears that any concessions would only lead to more Western pressure and may choose to remain defiant. If he keeps refusing to distance himself from the rebels, the West will remain reluctant to engage in any talks. Fighting in the east, which already involves heavy artillery and rockets pummeling residential areas, will raise the pressure on Putin to intervene militarily.Putin is already facing scathing criticism in Russian nationalist publications and online forums for betraying Russian speakers in Ukraine by failing to send in the army.View galleryA Malaysian air crash investigator takes pictures of wreckage at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines …At some point, fearing that the damage to his popularity could become irreparable, Putin may send more weapons to the rebels. More Western sanctions will not stop his hand, but rather may push him into a situation where any compromise would look like kowtowing to the West.Pressed against the wall, Putin may even decide to send troops into Ukraine. They would likely crush the weak and disorganized Ukrainian military within days. The West would be unlikely to intervene militarily, but it would freeze virtually all ties with Moscow, sending the Russian economy into a tailspin. Living standards will plummet quickly, possibly spawning social unrest.GROWING TURMOIL, UNPREDICTABLE CONSEQUENCES Some in the West may hope that the sanctions will encourage members of the Russian elites as well as the broad public to demand a change of course.However, the tightly controlled Russian political system leaves little room for dissent. Billionaire tycoons, some of whom have close personal links to Putin, stand to lose a lot from Western sanctions and would like Putin to soften his policy. But hopes that they may somehow persuade the president to pull out of confrontation seem futile, as the oligarchs are too scared to form any kind of united group, and official loyalties are closely controlled by Putin’s fellow KGB veterans who dominate the officialdom.Many in Washington expected Putin’s businessmen friends who were hit by U.S. sanctions in March to push him toward de-escalation. The opposite has happened. Instead of encouraging a pro-Western opposition, more sanctions will likely further strengthen the Kremlin hawks, who may push Putin toward an even more confrontational and isolationist course.In a sense, the Russian leader has become hostage to his own propaganda that has cast the West as an enemy of Russia.Putin’s approval ratings so far have remained high, but if the economy starts collapsing under the brunt of Western sanctions his popularity would dwindle quickly. It doesn’t mean, though, that pro-Western democratic forces would have any chance to expand their presence on Russia’s political scene.Amid the war in Ukraine and Western sanctions, the weak and disorganized Russian liberals have become increasingly marginalized, while extreme nationalist forces have strengthened considerably.Economic meltdown would further allow nationalist groups to expand their sway, and Russian volunteers now fighting in eastern Ukraine may become an explosive element in a changing political equation.The prospect of potential unrest could re-ignite fears that accompanied the 1991 Soviet collapse. Thousands of nuclear warheads, smoldering conflicts between a myriad of ethnic groups, separatist movements and crumbling industrial infrastructure that could lead to technological disasters make any instability in Russia deadly dangerous for the rest of the world._Isachenkov has covered Russia and other ex-Soviet nations for the AP since 1992.
Ukraine premier stays on, envoys agree on crash site routeBy By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets9 hours agoView gallery Ukrainian tanks move along a road near Eastern Ukrainian village of Novoselivka Persha July 31, 2014. …By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets Related Stories
KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s parliament rejected Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk’s resignation on Thursday and finally passed legislation he said was needed to finance an army offensive against a separatist rebellion in the east and avert a national default on its debts.The assembly’s about-turn on laws it refused to back a week earlier offers relief to Kiev’s Western backers, who had feared Ukraine was sliding deeper into political chaos and might renege on an international bailout as it heads into an election period.”There are two pieces of news today. The first is that Argentina has defaulted, and the second is that Ukraine has not defaulted and never will,” Yatseniuk told the chamber, making clear he would stay in office.The political battle has been taking place against the backdrop of a military campaign to win back parts of the Donbass region, which borders Russia, from the pro-Moscow rebels.Having recaptured the rebel stronghold of Slaviansk in early July, government forces are now moving on the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, with the latter now all but encircled and electricity and food supplies cut off.View galleryUkraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk arrives for a news briefing in Kiev July 31, 2014. REU …Both sides stopped shooting long enough for an initial group of international experts, after several days of trying, to reach the site where a Malaysian airliner came down in rebel-held territory in the east on July 17, killing 298 people on board.The experts hope a larger team of investigators will also soon have access to the site to recover the remains of the last missing victims and look for evidence showing what brought the plane down.”It’s been almost a week since we have been on the site and we haven’t noticed many changes. Experts said they have detected human remains on the site,” said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for an observer team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which escorted the experts.The group also said fighting around the crash site started again immediately after they left.Western leaders accuse the rebels of shooting down the Malaysian plane and have imposed sanctions on Russia, which they accuse of arming the separatists, a charge Moscow denies.View galleryHead of Australian Federal Police mission Commander Brian McDonald (L), Alexander Hug (C), deputy he …There is scant hope of a quick end to the crisis, during which Moscow has annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine, but envoys from Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE met in the Belarussian capital, Minsk.Kiev said the sides had agreed to keep open the route to the crash site that was used on Thursday, despite fighting in the vicinity.„CONSOLIDATION, NOT CONFRONTATION” Thursday’s vote in parliament was an important sign of political unity from Kiev, which is struggling to deal with an economic crisis as well as the war against the Moscow-backed rebels in the east.In sharp contrast to a stormy parliamentary session last week at which Yatseniuk bellowed at legislators and accused them of betraying Ukraine by blocking reforms, deputies stood and applauded him after backing the amendments.View galleryA Ukrainian tank moves along a road near Eastern Ukrainian village of Novoselivka Persha July 31, 20 …President Petro Poroshenko said the new votes in parliament would help Kiev in its fight against separatists.”We need consolidation, not confrontation,” Poroshenko said. „We have to be united against external aggression.”Parliament’s support was needed to amend the 2014 budget to take account of falling revenue and release an additional 9.1 billion hryvnia ($758 million) to finance the military.The government also wanted parliament to back legislation allowing consortiums with European or U.S. companies to operate the ageing gas distribution system.Yatseniuk had said the government would have defaulted on debt payments and missed out on the release of further funds under a $17-billion International Monetary Fund bailout if it had failed to pass the legislation.View galleryUkraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk speaks to the media in Kiev July 31, 2014. Ukrainian p …”The laws the government is insisting on are unpopular and difficult, but very necessary,” Poroshenko said, adding that they would „enable the economy, the state as a whole, to function”.Laws passed on Thursday also introduce an additional 1.5-percent personal income tax until the end of the year to cover the military. Taxes were raised on tobacco and the mining, oil and gas sectors. Nearly 2 billion hryvnias were earmarked for rebuilding of infrastructure damaged by fighting in the east.The exit of two parties from the ruling coalition last week amounted to the start of a campaign for seats in a legislature still packed with former allies of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich, who was ousted by street protests in February.Western governments have come to regard Yatseniuk as a key interlocutor in the worst standoff between Russia and the West since the Cold War ended. His departure would have been seen as leaving a vacuum at the heart of decision making.The United States and European Union imposed sanctions on Moscow this week that were far tougher than earlier measures. Russia has been hitting back.It announced a ban on fruit and vegetable imports from Poland on Wednesday and a day later placed an embargo on Ukrainian fruit juice. Greek fruit and U.S. poultry could follow, Russian media said.(Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Donetsk, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska and Timothy Heritage, Editing by Will Waterman)
‘Complacent’ NATO unprepared for Russian threat: British lawmakersBy By Kylie MacLellan14 hours ago TouchVision CEASE-FIRE IN UKRAINE CEASE-FIRE IN UKRAINE ISRAEL & HAMAS AGREE TO NEW CEASE-FIRE By Kylie MacLellan LONDON (Reuters) – NATO is not prepared for the threat of a Russian attack on one of its members, British lawmakers said on Thursday, calling for more equipment and troops to be positioned in the Baltic States, which, they said, were particularly vulnerable.Parliament’s Defence Select Committee said events in Crimea and eastern Ukraine had revealed „alarming deficiencies” in NATO’s preparedness and should be a „wake-up call”.The military alliance has stepped up exercises in eastern Europe since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March. Ukraine is not a member of NATO.Ukraine’s neighbour and NATO-member Poland has said it wants the alliance to permanently station troops in the region as a guarantee against Russian intervention. But most NATO members are reluctant because of the cost and the risk of further antagonising Moscow.Britain and NATO have been too focused on counter-insurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan and radical reform is needed to be able to respond to current threats, the committee said.”NATO has been too complacent about the threat from Russia, and it is not well prepared,” said Rory Stewart, chairman of the committee, made up of lawmakers from the ruling Conservatives, including Stewart, and Liberal Democrats as well as from opposition Labour.”The instability in Russia, President (Vladimir) Putin’s world view and the failure of the West to respond actively in Ukraine means that we now have to address urgently the possibility, however small, of Russia repeating such tactics elsewhere. In particular, the NATO member states in the Baltic are vulnerable,” he said.A spokeswoman for NATO said the alliance’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had made it clear that NATO needed to adapt to the changed security environment.”We are looking closely at how we deploy our forces for defence and deterrence,” she said. „We are also considering reinforcement measures … We are reviewing our defence plans, threat assessments, intelligence-sharing arrangements and early-warning procedures.”The committee’s report said a NATO summit in September in Wales should agree plans to position equipment in the Baltic States – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia – as well as a continuous presence of NATO troops for training in the region and large-scale military exercises including representatives from all 28 NATO members.NATO should also improve its existing rapid-reaction force, the committee said, and consider establishing a standing reserve force and a headquarters focused on eastern Europe and the Baltic.INFORMATION WARFARE Britain this week said it would send 1,350 military personnel and more than 350 vehicles to Poland for a NATO exercise in October, aimed at reassuring its allies in eastern Europe. British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said more NATO countries should follow suit. „We are committing now to longer-term, large-scale exercises, we want other countries through NATO to participate as well. We are also looking at pre-positioning equipment on the eastern border and we are looking at more that can be done in terms of deterrence,” Fallon told BBC Radio. „It is right now that NATO, as it pulls back from Afghanistan, should look to see what more it can do to deal with these very immediate threats on the borders of NATO.” The committee said the alliance also needed to be better prepared to deal with unconventional tactics, such as cyber attacks, information warfare and irregular militia.Substantial Russian minorities and the influence of Russian media make Estonia and Latvia particularly vulnerable to the type of information warfare that the committee said had been used to incite disturbances in Ukraine.”The use of asymmetric warfare tactics present a substantial challenge to a political military alliance such as NATO,” the report said. „These tactics are designed to test the lower limit of the alliance’s response threshold, are likely to involve deniable actors, and work to exploit political division.”The European Union and the United States on Tuesday agreed further sanctions against Russia, in the strongest international action yet over Moscow’s support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.Moscow denies it is arming the rebels, protestations that are ridiculed in the West.(Additional reporting by Matin Santa in Brussels; Editing by Toby Chopra and Susan Fenton)
Israel vows to crush Gaza tunnels, snubs UNBy Mai YAGHI7 hours ago WABC – NY Israel vows to destroy Hamas tunnels, cease-fire or not Israel vows to destroy Hamas tunnels, cease-fire or not Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Israel vowed Thursday to keep its troops in Gaza until they finish destroying a network of cross-border tunnels, despite sharp UN and US criticism over the Palestinian death toll.Related Stories
Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not accept any ceasefire that did not allow troops to continue destroying tunnels used by militants to attack Israel.”Until now, we have destroyed dozens of terror tunnels and we are determined to finish this mission — with or without a ceasefire,” he said at the start of the meeting.”So I will not accept any (truce) proposal that does not allow the (military) to complete this work for the security of Israel’s citizens.”His remarks came after the army confirmed mobilising another 16,000 reservists, hiking the total number called up to 86,000. Israel does not say how many troops are currently fighting inside the Gaza Strip.But the UN Security Council called for humanitarian pauses in Gaza and renewed its appeal for an immediate ceasefire.View galleryPalestinian firefighters try to extinguish the flames in a van that was reportedly targeted by an Is …The Council expressed „grave disappointment” that repeated appeals for an end to the fighting had not been heeded.Washington said it had agreed to restock Israel’s dwindling munitions supplies, despite increasing international concern over the death toll in Gaza, where 1,437 people have been killed in 24 days of violence.But the White House on Thursday said there was little doubt Israeli artillery was the source of a „totally indefensible” strike that killed 16 people at a UN school in Gaza, the day before.”It does not appear there’s a lot of doubt about whose artillery was involved in this incident,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said”There is clearly more that can and should be done to ensure the safety of innocent civilians,” he added.View galleryIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (L) attend the cabinet m …UN figures indicate two-thirds of the conflict’s victims are civilians, nearly half them women and children.The top UN refugee official in Gaza told the Security Council on Thursday that his UNRWA Palestinian refugee agency was stretched to breaking point by the massive humanitarian fallout from the fighting.”I believe the population is facing a precipice and appeal to the international community to take the steps necessary to address this extreme situation,” Pierre Krähenbühl said.- Tunnel vision -The European Union on Thursday condemned the hit on the school, in the Jabalia refugee camp, which had been turned in a shelter for people forced out of their homes by the fighting.View galleryA wounded Palestinian girl who was sheltering in a UN school receives treatment at the Kamal Edwan h …”It is unacceptable that innocent displaced civilians, who were taking shelter in designated UN areas after being called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes, have been killed. These incidents must be investigated with immediate effect,” it said.The shelling of the school also drew sharp condemnation from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who described it as „reprehensible”.But Israel’s army suggested the deaths may have been the result of a misfired Palestinian rocket.”It is not clear if the school was hit by fire from IDF soldiers or from Hamas terrorists,” military spokesman General Moti Almoz told army radio.Despite rising international calls for a halt to the bloodshed, the Israeli security cabinet decided Wednesday to press on with the Gaza operation.View galleryA Palestinian man taking shelter at a UN school carries his wounded child to the Kamal Edwan hospita …The offensive began on July 8 with the aim of ending militant rocket fire, but expanded on July 17 with a ground operation aimed at destroying a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels which Israel has vowed to dismantle.Despite a heavy death toll in Gaza on Wednesday when 111 Palestinians were killed, including the 16 at the school and 17 who died in a strike on a crowded market place, Washington said it had restocked the Israeli army’s munitions supply.- 15 hurt in UN school -There was no let-up Thursday in the bloodshed with at least 50 Palestinians killed, another 14 dying from injuries suffered in earlier attacks and a growing number of bodies pulled from under rubble in areas near Khan Yunis, medics said.Eleven were killed in an Israeli air strike on a house in the central Gaza Strip’s Nusseirat refugee camp, while three more were killed in night-time strikes in the south of the strip, and a body was recovered from rubble in the town of Khan YunisView galleryIsraeli shell cases are stacked up at an army deployment area near the border with the Gaza Strip, o …Gaza’s emergency services put the toll at 1,437 dead, with more than 8,100 wounded.And another 15 people sheltering in the UN school in Jabaliya refugee camp that was struck on Wednesday were wounded when Israeli warplanes attacked a mosque next door, medics said.