31 October 2014 Last updated at 01:02 GMT Ukraine conflict: The „cyborg” defenders of Donetsk airport After months of fighting rebels, the soldiers at Donetsk airport are viewed by Ukrainians as superhuman Mention a cyborg to a Ukrainian these days and they probably won’t think of „cybernetic organisms”, or man-machines of science fiction. Instead, the word now conjures up images of rugged, heavily-armed men holed up inside what remains of Donetsk Airport in war-torn eastern Ukraine.The airport has become a symbol of Ukraine’s fight against separatists, and the „cyborgs” are Ukrainians who have held on to it despite persistent rebel attack.The nickname was first used online and has since become a media staple in Ukraine. It stuck, because to some the Donetsk airport defenders’ exploits have appeared superhuman.The separatists have been trying to capture the airport since May, allegedly with backing from the Russian military.The airport’s main terminal is now a shell, only two years after it was opened Even though a ceasefire was declared in early September, the airport remains a scene of fierce fighting almost every day.It is located on the northern edge of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine’s biggest city and a key rebel stronghold, which separatists use as a springboard for their attacks.And against this backdrop of violence, the pro-Russian rebels are to hold elections on 2 November, in this region and in rebel-held areas of neighbouring Luhansk, in defiance of Ukraine, but with the support of the government in Moscow.The airport is sandwiched between the Ukrainian and separatist-controlled zones, which means that surrounding it and cutting off supplies completely is difficult.Built only a couple of years ago, ahead of the Euro 2012 football championships co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland, the airport is estimated to have cost around $860m (£537m; €685m).The control tower with its Ukrainian flag has become a symbol of the fight against separatistsBut now the glittering showcase has been reduced to a heap of twisted metal, and its runway is littered with burnt-out tanks and shattered airliners.Rebels are very close to the main terminal building and have even entered some of its floors.The Ukrainians, however, are holding out on others. So far, this has been enough to keep the separatists at bay.Knocked-out tanks litter the runwayThere are tanks at the terminal building, too It is not clear how many people on either side have died in the fighting for the airport; retrieving the bodies is so dangerous that some are reportedly left to lie among the debris.So why are both sides so determined for control over the airport?Clearly it would allow munitions, hardware and manpower to be airlifted into the conflict zone. But, given its current sorry state, it is going to be a while before the airport is able to handle flights.For now, its significance is as symbolic as it is practical.Some of the hardware used by the „cyborgs” is ancient, like this Maxim machine gun from the 1920sJust like many airports around the world, Donetsk had a luxury car on display in its main terminal In addition to deliveries from the army, the airport’s embattled defenders receive many of their supplies from Ukraine’s volunteer movement. President Petro Poroshenko himself donated some night-vision goggles.But behind the media image of the cyborgs, there is a grim reality to the soldiers’ lives.Some of the Ukrainian fighters inside the ruins of the airport have taken to social media to describe what it is like being there.”It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s dangerous all the time. All this affects how you think. You get used to shots being fired pretty quickly,” writes Maxim Muzyka. „You get used to everything,” he adds.Just like civilians outside the conflict zone, the soldiers take selfies andpost videos of what is going on around them.”Not everyone likes the name,” says Vasily Holoveshchenko who paints a sobering picture of life at odds with the superhuman image they have been given.”We are humans. Almost every one of us is married with children. Our thoughts are human too – we want this to be over soon.”Both regular army soldiers and volunteers are defending Donetsk airportThe soldiers are treated as heroes by Ukrainians, here as they return to Mykolayiv in southern Ukraine BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring,click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.
Ukraine, Moscow clinch deal on Russian gas supply By RAF CASERT5 hours ago BRUSSELS (AP) — Moscow and Kiev on Thursday clinched a multi-billion dollar deal that will guarantee that Russian gas exports flow into Ukraine and beyond to the European Union throughout the winter despite their intense rivalry over the fighting in eastern Ukraine.Related Stories
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, whose offices mediated the talks for months, said the EU will also help cash-strapped Ukraine with the payments through aid and guarantees.”There is now no reason for people in Europe to stay cold this winter,” he said. Barroso added that he was „hopeful that the agreement can contribute to increase trust between Russia and Ukraine.”EU energy chief Guenther Oettinger said that „we can guarantee a security of supply over the winter,” not only for Ukraine but also for the EU nations closest to the region that stood to suffer should the gas standoff have worsened.A similar standoff in 2009 had caused serious disruptions in gas flowing from Russia into the EU and it was a prospect the bloc sought to avoid.The agreement long hinged on the question whether Ukraine was in a position to come up with the necessary cash to pay for the gas. „Yes, they are,” a confident Oettinger said. Oettinger said the $4.6 billion deal should extend through March.Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller, left, and Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolev sign an agreement that guarantees R …”We can claim and pay for amounts that we need. That question has been totally settled,” said Yuriy Prodan, Ukrainian Minister for Energy. „There will be no problems.”Under the deal, Ukraine would pay for its outstanding debt by making a $1.45 billion deposit without delay, and $1.65 billion by year’s end. The final sum of debt would be determined through arbitration.For new gas, Russia will only deliver after pre-payment and Ukraine intends to buy some $1.5 billion by the end of December.The EU said in a statement it had been „working intensively” with international institutions and Ukraine to secure funds to pay for gas delivery in the coming winter.”Unprecedented levels of EU aid will be disbursed in a timely manner,” it said.Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller arrives for a media conference after the EU Russia and Ukraine signed an a …The deal only stretches through March and the difficulties of the talks were immediately evident when the Russians and Ukrainians started disagreeing on terms and prices of gas for next summer.Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, agreed earlier this month on the broad outline of a deal, but financial issues, centering on payment guarantees for Moscow, had long bogged down talks.But with each week, the need for a resolution becomes more pressing, since winter is fast approaching in Ukraine, where temperatures often sink below freezing for days.Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in June after disputes over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March. Ukraine since then has been relying on gas transfers from other European countries and its own reserves._Associated Press writer Peter Leonard in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report._Raf Casert can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert
Poland Is Preparing For A Potential Russian InvasionJOHN SCHINDLER, THE XX COMMITTEESee AlsoPutin: Europe Can’t Stop Buying Russian GasHere’s How The Ukraine Crisis Is Deepening Military Ties Between China And RussiaSweden’s Epic Hunt For A ‘Russian’ Sub Shows Europe Is Terrified Of Putin As Vladimir Putin’s Russia continues to threaten Ukraine after stealing Crimea in the spring and exerting de facto Kremlin control over much of the Donbas this summer, war worries are mounting on NATO’s eastern frontier.New reports of Russian troop movements on the Ukrainian border this week are not reassuring to those Atlantic Alliance members who suffered Soviet occupation for decades, and still live in Moscow’s neighborhood.Neither are Russian air force incursions into Western airspace calming nerves with their reborn Cold War antics: yesterday, NATO fighters intercepted no less than nineteen Russian combat aircraft, including several heavy bombers.No NATO countries are more worried about Kremlin aggression than the Baltic states, with their small militaries and lack of strategic depth — countries that are frankly indefensible in any conventional sense without significant and timely Alliance assistance.But Poland is the real issue when it comes to defending NATO’s exposed Eastern frontier from Russian aggression.Only Poland, which occupies the Alliance’s central front, has the military power to seriously blunt any Russian moves westward. As in 1920, when the Red Army failed to push past Warsaw, Poland is the wall that will defend Central Europe from any westward movement by Moscow’s military.To their credit — and thanks to a long history of understanding the Russian mentality better than most NATO and EU members — Warsaw announced a revised national security strategy emphasizing territorial defense this past fall, a point when the violent theft of Crimea was still just a Kremlin dream.Eschewing future American-led overseas expeditions like those to Iraq and Afghanistan that occupied Poland’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) during the post-9/11 era, this new doctrine makes defending Poland from Eastern aggression the main job of its military.Presciently, then-Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, contradicting optimistic European and NATO presumptions of our era that conventional war in Europe was unthinkable, stated in May 2013, “I’m afraid conflict in Europe is imaginable.”Particularly in light of the fact that both NATO and the Obama administration rejected my advice to seriously bolster Alliance defenses in the East with four heavy brigades, including the two brigades that Warsaw explicitly asked NATO — meaning, in practice, the United States — for after this year’s Russo-Ukrainian War began in earnest, the issue of Poland’s military readiness is of considerable importance to countries far beyond its borders.Instead of creating a militarily viable NATO tripwire that would deter Russian aggression, the Alliance, and Washington, DC, have opted for symbolic gestures — speeches, military visits, small exercises — that impress the Western media, but not the Russians.Could Poland Resist Russia? Simply put: Can Poland defend itself if Putin decides to move his aggression westward? Even if NATO rides to the rescue, as they would be required to under Article 5 — and that is now an “if” question to many in Warsaw — will the Polish military be able to buy sufficient time for the Alliance to come to its aid?Notwithstanding that Poland (and Estonia) are the only “new NATO” members that take their Alliance obligations fully seriously, spending more than the required two percent of GDP on defense — a standard almost all longstanding NATO members can’t manage to meet — there are serious doubts about the ability of Poland’s armed forces to defend against a major Russian move to the West.Kacper Pempel/ReutersThere is good news.When it comes to resisting what I term Special War — that shadowy amalgam of espionage, terrorism, and subversion at which the Kremlin excels — Warsaw, with its long acquaintance with sneaky Russian games, is probably better equipped than almost any NATO country to deter and defeat Putin’s secret offensive.The recent arrests of two Polish agents of Russian military intelligence (GRU), one of them a Polish military officer assigned to the MoD, sent a clear message to Moscow that Special War will be met with aggressive counterintelligence.When it comes to conventional defense, however, the news from Poland appears less rosy. Despite the fact that no one questions the basic competence of the Polish armed forces, nor the impressiveness of their current defense acquisition program, there is the matter of size. The recent MoD announcement that it is moving thousands of troops closer to the country’s borders with Belarus and Ukraine, where any threat would emerge, is encouraging but not sufficient (thanks to the Cold War, when Poland’s Communist military was directed westward, most of its major military bases are closer to Germany than they are to the East).Since the abandonment of conscription five years ago, a cumbersome process that caused readiness problems for some time, Warsaw’s armed forces come to only 120,000 active duty troops, with less than 48,000 in the ground forces (i.e. the army). That number is insufficient to man the army’s structure of three divisions with thirteen maneuver brigades (ten of them armored or mechanized).A solution to this manpower shortfall was supposed to be found in the establishment of the National Reserve Forces (NSR), with 20,000 fully trained part-time volunteers who would flesh out the order of battle in a crisis.Yet the NSR, which was announced by the MoD five years ago with much fanfare, has had considerable teething problems, with shortages of recruits and inadequate training budgets. Recent reports indicate both morale and readiness are low among NSR soldiers, who feel poorly treated by the regular military, while none dispute that the force has only recruited and trained 10,000 troops, half the target figure.Quality can compensate for deficient quantity to an extent, and Poland’s recent acquisition of more late-model Leopard II tanks from Germany, adding to the 124 it already has, means they will be able to replace most of their Soviet-model legacy armor, and meet any Russian incursion on an equal footing in terms of quality, if not quantity.By approximately 2020, the air force will have wholly replaced its Soviet-era helicopters, buying 150 modern airframes, while the MoD plans to purchase thirty-two late-model attack helicopters by 2022, which would pose a significant threat to Russian armor.The „Polish Fangs” More interesting still are plans taking shape to give Warsaw asymmetric deep-strike capabilities to resist Russian aggression. The navy and the army intend to acquire long-range missiles to counter superior Russian numbers, but the cornerstone of the deterrence concept called “Polish Fangs” by Warsaw is the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), to be carried by the air force’s F-16 fleet (the wing of forty-eight F-16’s is the backbone of Polish airpower).Combined with drones and Poland’s excellent special operations forces, which are among the best in NATO, Warsaw believes that the American JASSM on the American F-16 will give them an important qualitative advantage over the Russians, including the ability to precisely hit targets up to 370 kilometers behind enemy lines.Yet even the most optimistic forecasts predict that “Polish Fangs” will not be fully operational for three more years — five seems a more realistic estimate — so there is the pressing matter of deterring Putin’s rising aggression right now.To provide additional deterrence, Warsaw is taking the remarkable step of creating home guard forces to harass the Russians in the event of occupation, a condition that Poles are only too familiar with. Unlike Ukraine, Poland plans to be prepared should Putin opt for war.The Creation Of A Home Army Ever since Moscow’s aggression against Kiev became overt in the spring, the Polish MoD began quietly standing up volunteer forces to bolster the armed forces, should the Russians come again. Word of this became public this week with a story in the Polish edition of Newsweek that details what’s been going on behind the scenes.Building on shooting clubs that exist all over the country, possessing several hundred thousand members, the MoD has been supporting the establishment of paramilitary units that would bolster the army if needed. Their intent would be to counter Russian irregulars, GRU’s “little green men” that caused such havoc in Crimea a few months ago.How many volunteers have already been enrolled is unclear, though it’s evident that the number far exceeds the 10,000 belonging to the NSR.In late September, and explicitly invoking the legendary Home Army (Armia Krajowa — AK) that resisted Nazi occupation in the Second World War, the first volunteer unit was sworn in at Świdnik, near the eastern border, with modest public fanfare, despite the fact that the MoD considers the existence of this new shadow army to be officially classified.Advocates of the reborn Home Army speak of finding 100,000 volunteers soon, but that seems a rather long-term goal.While this project has attracted the support of some Polish right-wingers — the sort who tend to join rifle clubs — its MoD manager is Major General Bogusław Pacek, the director of the National Defense Academy, a veteran of Poland’s Cold War Communist military not known for dirigiste views. Pacek’s quiet enthusiasm for a new Home Army has been noted and it can be expected that before long “AK 2.0″ may constitute more than a nuisance to any invader.This begs the question of why Poland, a leading member of the Atlantic Alliance, thinks it needs to worry about an actual Russian invasion.In the first place, the Poles have been invaded and occupied by Moscow too many times over the centuries, including twice during the last one, to think this is just a fantasy. Putin’s harsh and threatening language gets more attention in Warsaw than just about anywhere else.Doubting NATO The Poles also understand that Article 5 only works as a deterrent if everyone understands that NATO will actually go to war to defend a member under threat. Here, again, recent history gives room for doubt. All of Europe was happy to sit back and watch Poland fight off the Red Army in 1920, alone, while Kremlin sympathizers in Western Europe blocked desperately needed arms shipments headed to Warsaw.More germanely, the joint Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 brought none of the Allied help that Poland was obligated to receive under treaty. Although both Britain and France were supposed to come to Poland’s direct military aid, they were content to declare war on Germany and essentially do nothing, letting Hitler and Stalin dismember Poland completely.Warsaw’s war plans assumed they needed to buy time — perhaps six weeks — until the British and French arrived. That promised rescue force never came, and every Pole today knows it.REUTERS/Kevin LamarqueHence NATO assurances are met with a certain skepticism in Warsaw, including — perhaps especially — in defense circles.Then there is the touchy issue of President Obama.The Polish Right was never enamored of him, noting with disgust how Obama in 2009 cancelled a US/NATO missile defense system in the country, a move termed a “betrayal” by Poland’s president. Making the announcement on September 17, the seventieth anniversary of Stalin’s invasion, added insult to injury.More than a few Polish right-wingers have doubted the staying power of Obama, particularly given his youthful dislike of President Reagan, a revered figure to many Poles for his major role in ending the Cold War and regaining Poland’s freedom.Obama’s talky dithering on foreign and defense issues and his rough dealings with America’s friends have led to Polish worries spreading well beyond the country’s right wing.I deal regularly with Polish defense and intelligence officials, and over the last few years their doubts about Washington, DC’s courage and wisdom have mounted steadily.Poles understand that without American leadership there is no NATO in any military sense. Since the onset of Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, those fears have multiplied and there are now many in Warsaw who wonder if Obama would really honor Article 5 in a crisis.Yesterday I spoke with a top Polish MoD official, a man of sober and strongly pro-American views whom I’ve known for years. Referring to this week’s needless White House crisis with Israel, another American ally who has doubts about the current administration, he noted, “I didn’t need the Beltway media to tell me who the real chickens— is.” „They really have no idea what they are doing,” he opined about Obama and his national security staff, “and we know it. You have no idea how many promises we’ve been given, even by the President himself, but there’s never any follow-up, it’s all talk. He thinks he’s on Oprah.”When I asked if he thought America would come to Poland’s aid in a crisis, he said laconically, “I’d flip a coin.”In a similar vein, a senior Polish intelligence official, another veteran of long collaboration with Washington, DC, expressed his skepticism to me.“Is it 1939 again? I don’t know,” he explained, “but I think Obama isn’t even a Chamberlain,” citing the British prime minister who left Poland in the lurch at the beginning of World War Two.Given such doubts, combined with Putin’s obvious desire to break the Atlantic Alliance, Poland will prepare to resist the Russians alone, while hoping and praying it does not have to.Read more: http://20committee.com/2014/10/30/poland-prepares-for-russian-invasion/#ixzz3HhMrdMER
Russian court orders seizure of oligarch’s oil stake 12 hours agoVladimir Yevtushenkov (C), president of Sistema, receives a welcome plaque at the London Stock Exchange on February 14, 2005 (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen) Moscow (AFP) – A Moscow court on Thursday ordered the nationalisation of a stake in an oil firm held by a detained oligarch, raising concern about signs of a state-orchestrated asset grab.A judge at Moscow’s Arbitration Court ordered the return to the state of the stake held by billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov’s holding firm Sistema in oil company Bashneft.The court order followed claims by prosecutors that the stake was illegally privatised, Russian agencies reported.Sistema responded by saying in a statement that it „does not agree with the court decision and is considering filing an appeal.”Sistema has one month to appeal against the verdict.It warned that the court case „could have a significant negative influence on Sistema’s investment strategy, its financial state and debt obligations, especially if today’s court decision… enters force.”Yevtushenkov is currently being held under house arrest after being dramatically arrested last month on money laundering charges connected to the Bashneft sale, in a move that drew comparisons with the prosecution of former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.Russia’s 15th-wealthiest man with a fortune of $9 billion (7 billion euros) according to Forbes, Yevtushenkov has now been reduced to wearing an electronic bracelet.The probe against him centres on how his holding company Sistema acquired Bashneft and comes after speculation that Russia’s biggest oil producer Rosneft — run by Putin’s loyal lieutenant Igor Sechin — was keen to get its hands on the oil firm.Sistema is a vast holding which has major interests in the country’s biggest mobile telephone company MTS and a range of other assets.The company said Thursday that its subsidiaries „are working normally and most are profitable and do not require financing from Sistema.”Yevtushenkov is the most high-profile business figure to fall foul of the authorities since Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man and head of the now-defunct Yukos oil firm, who spent a decade in jail in what his supporters say was revenge for challenging the Kremlin.
The State Department is too top-heavy with Obama political picks, says foreign service group It matters because ‘The world is a mess,’ the association says By Olivier Knox11 hours ago U.S. President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at the Diplomatic Corps …President Barack Obama’s fondness for rewarding big donors with plum diplomatic postsoverseas made international headlines earlier this year when a few of them embarrassed themselves in confirmation hearings.Now, the association that represents career U.S. diplomats is sounding the alarm about leadership at the very top of the State Department, warning that foreign service professionals are losing ground to “political” picks.“The world is a mess,” American Foreign Service Association President Bob Silverman told Yahoo News in a telephone interview. “We need our most experienced people – people who have actually managed embassies, who have actually managed international programs – in the mix at the top of the leadership.”With the retirement of Bill Burns, the highly regarded foreign service officer who served as the State Department’s No. 2, just one of the top nine jobs in American diplomacy is held by a career diplomat: Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy. (The number rises to 2 out of 10 if State Department Counselor Tom Shannon is included).It’s not clear whether Obama will pick a career foreign service officer to replace Burns. Deputy National Security Adviser Antony Blinken is widely seen as a top contender and would be a political appointment. Reached by email, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan declined to comment on prospectshttps://publish.yahoo.com/app/# for Burns’s successor.“It should be a career person. At least one of the top three at State should be a career person,” said Silverman. “That has been the tradition over many, many decades.”Unlike the “ambassadonors,” though, it’s not primarily a question of shoehorning people who have shown they are supremely good at raising money into diplomatic posts for which they are questionably competent. The undersecretary of political affairs, Wendy Sherman, is a “political,”for instance, but has an impressive resume. She is the No. 3 at the State Department.But Silverman said career diplomats understand the “machine” in Foggy Bottom and see how the parts fit together to make policy. He also noted that bringing in too much outside help damages morale among the career officials.Obama has overseen an expansion of political appointments at the State Department. He haschosen fewer career diplomats for ambassadorial postings than his recent predecessors. And his administration has tripled the number of noncareer appointments under so-called “Schedule B authority,” which have soared from 26 to 89 employees between 2008 and 2012 at the senior levels.“We’re not opposed to politicals. We welcome outsiders, talented outsiders. It’s just a matter of balance, and it’s out of balance right now. There are too many politicals right now,” said Silverman.The AFSA president emphasized that he wants to be, well, diplomatic about pressuring the administration.“We’re not rabble-rousers. We’re not going to be burning down the building,” he said. “I don’t want to say ‘angry.’ But we are concerned about the growing politicization throughout the State Department.”Still, Silverman says, it’s time for “a mid-course correction,” with two years left in the Obama administration.“I think this can be rebalanced. We have good partners in the administration, particularly among Secretary (of State John) Kerry’s top staff,” he said. “The system is not broken, it’s just a bit out of balance.”Come Tuesday, AFSA could have an unlikely ally: Senate Republicans. A top GOP aide, asked what would happen to the stalled “ambassadonor” nominations, signaled that those would-be diplomats shouldn’t pack their bags.When it comes to confirmations of Obama nominees in a Republican Senate, the aide said dryly, “partisan picks and Obama bundlers won’t be at the top of the list.”