Friday, April 18, 2014
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2014.04.17 07:25:20

NATO stated today that it was strengthening its military presence in the east of Europe. The alliance's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said: "You will see deployments at sea, in the air, on land to take place immediately, that means within days."

Here's an analysis of what was announced:

  • More air patrols over the Baltic region. The Baltic is a couple of countries over from Ukraine.
  • More ships deployed to the Baltic.
  • No mention of more naval patrols in the Black Sea although, according to Rasmussen, "more will follow if needed". Any increase in the Black Sea would be taken by Russia as an act of aggression.
  • More allied military staff - that's staff, rather than grunts on ground - to be sent to unspecified areas to improve training and exercises.

None of this will affect the situation in Ukraine, but NATO's hands are tied in that respect. As Adrian Croft of Reuters reports, NATO is focusing instead on boosting temporarily its presence in eastern Europe in a drive to reassure allies, such as the ex-Soviet Republics in the Baltics, that NATO would protect them if they ever faced Russian aggression.

  Ukraine | Russia | NATO
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2014.04.17 07:23:48

Ukraine crisis will be discussed in Geneva between Washington, Brussels, Kiev and Moscow on Thursday:

Russia: Moscow says it wants Ukraine to become a federalized state in order for ethnic Russians to be more protected, but it really wants Kiev to be cooperate with Russia and abandon aspirations of joining the EU and NATO.

Ukraine: Kiev says it will never recognize annexation of Crimea by Russia and demands from Moscow withdrawal of troops from border with Ukraine. However, Ukrainian government is believed to be seeking to find a compromise with the Kremlin to prevent losing more territory and does not hold hopes about getting Crimea back.

US: Washington says it wants Russia to give up its claims on Crimea, but is not expected to push the issue behind the curtains in order to prevent more action from Moscow in not only Ukraine, but also in neighboring Moldova and Georgia.

EU: Brussels says it just wants to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine. It seeks to lessen Ukraine's economic dependency on Russia and keeping it on the track of closer ties with the EU.

  Ukraine | Russia | United States
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2014.04.17 01:49:30

Russia's military moved equipment and weaponry around the border area on Wednesday but there was no clear evidence they were preparing either to pull back or advance.

A Reuters team went independently to three locations where Russian units are temporarily deployed, first visiting at the end of last week and again on Wednesday.

On the second visit on Wednesday there was a marked increase in activity, with more military trucks on the roads in the area, and more service personnel in evidence at the deployment sites.

At one location, in open country near the village of Valuyki, in Belgorod region about 20 km from the Russian-Ukrainian border, a squadron of Mi-24 attack helicopters that was there on Friday had flown away. Local people said the helicopters left on Monday evening.

But at the same site new forces had arrived. The Reuters reporters saw 10 large army tents and 20 trucks, significantly more than last week. The trucks had their hoods up and soldiers were inspecting the engines. The site was surrounded with a barbed wire fence which was not there last week. [Reuters]

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.17 01:48:30

A column of Ukrainian troops in the restive east on Wednesday began disabling their guns on the demands of a crowd of pro-Russian activists that had surrounded their armored vehicles, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

The soldiers in the town of Kramatorsk handed over the firing mechanisms of their rifles to a pro-Moscow protest leader in return for a promise that they would be allowed to leave in their vehicles.

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.17 01:47:38

In Donetsk, a city of one million inhabitants and the secessionist hotspot, demonstrators stormed the government building on April 6, and are still holed up there. On April 7 they proclaimed the "Donetsk People's Republic" and vowed to hold a referendum on joining Russia. On Wednesday, pro-Russian gunmen entered the mayor's office in the city center.

In the run-down industrial town of Slovyansk (100 km north of Donetsk), pro-Russian gunmen dressed in camouflage uniforms and balaclavas took over the police station and local security services building on Saturday. On Tuesday, authorities in Kiev launched an "anti-terrorist" operation to oust the separatists, sending some 20 tanks towards the town of some 100,000. On Wednesday, six armored vehicles and light tanks displaying Russian flags appeared on the streets of Slovyansk and were greeted warmly by pro-Moscow locals.


On Saturday, in neighboring Kramatorsk (70 km north of Donetsk), masked and uniformed gunmen armed with Kalashnikovs attacked the police and municipal headquarters. On Tuesday, Kiev helicoptered in reinforcements to a key airbase on the outskirts of the town and tightened its controls over the installation. On Wednesday, 14 Ukrainian armored vehicles and tanks entered the center of Kramatorsk after pro-Russian gunmen vacated the police station.

In Luhansk, an industrial city of 400,000 people, armed pro-Russian militants forced their way into and occupied a building belonging to Ukraine's security services on April 6. They demanded that separatist leaders arrested days earlier be released. They have dug in despite the rising risk of an assault to dislodge them. On Wednesday, Kiev's defense ministry pledged a firm response after two Ukrainian servicemen were allegedly taken hostage by pro-Russian forces near Luhansk.

In the main eastern city, which has 1.5 million inhabitants, clashes erupted on April 6 between more than 2,000 pro-Russian protesters who took over the offices of the regional governor and nationalists loyal to Kiev. A day later they were made to leave the building. Three days of riots followed. On Sunday, demonstrations unsuccessfully tried to enter the town administration headquarters. [AFP]

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2014.04.17 01:27:02

Jordan's airforce hit and destroyed military vehicles trying to cross from Syria, Jordanian state television said on Wednesday.

"The Royal Airforce destroyed a number of military vehicles which tried to cross the Jordanian-Syrian border," the television said, without giving more details. [Reuters]

  Syria | Jordan
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2014.04.17 01:25:52

An Egyptian court sentenced 119 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood of former president Mohamed Morsi to three years each in prison on Wednesday in connection with protests last October against his overthrow, judicial sources said.

More than 50 people were killed in the October 6 protests called by Morsi supporters.

Judge Hazem Hashad acquitted six people in the case. They faced charged including unlawful assembly and thuggery.


  Egypt | Muslim Brotherhood | Mohamed Morsi
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2014.04.17 01:24:30

Activists say that Syrian airstrikes have killed at least four people in the town of Zabadani, one of the last rebel-held towns on the Lebanese border.

Activist Ammar al-Hassan says the strike occurred early on Wednesday, Associated Press reported. He says shelling also had increased on the town lying in the rugged hills of the Qalamoun region. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported on the strikes.

Zabadani protrudes into the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon. The town and the nearby community of Madaya are effectively the last rebel strongholds in the Qalamoun, serving as an opposition supply route. [AP]

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2014.04.17 01:05:23

Ukraine's acting Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval has left for the separatist east of the country to check on the  progress of his forces' push against pro-Kremlin insurgents, a top cabinet official said.

"The defense minister went to the scene and will later report what is happening there," news agencies quoted First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema as telling a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. [AFP]

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.17 01:04:17

Ukraine's defense ministry has claimed that pro-Russian militants had taken two of its soldiers "hostage" in the  separatist eastern region of Lugansk.

The ministry said on Wednesday that an officer and a soldier were seized by "extremists" on Tuesday and taken to an unknown destination after they pulled over to repair their vehicle.

It said several branches of Ukraine's armed forces were involved in a search for the missing soldiers, and vowed a "firm response" against those who attack Ukrainian troops. [AFP]

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.17 01:03:22

About 20 pro-Russian protesters armed with Kalashnikov rifles entered the mayor's office in Ukraine's eastern industrial city of Donetsk, an AFP correspondent reported.

The men, who met no resistance from the building's security personnel, said on Wednesday that their only demand was for the heavily Russified region to stage a referendum on  turning Ukraine into a federation with broader local rights. [AFP]

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.17 01:02:27

Armored vehicles bearing the Russian flag have driven through the eastern Ukraine town of Kramatorsk and the city of Slovyansk, a day after authorities in Kiev launched an operation to oust pro-Moscow separatists.

Dozens of armed men in camouflage were seated on top of the three vehicles as they drove through Kramatorsk accompanied by a military truck on Wednesday, according to Agence France Presse news agency.

The Associated Press is also reporting that six combat vehicles flying Russian flags rolled into Slovyansk, and were "enthusiastically greeted" at pro-Russian checkpoints outside the city.

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.17 01:00:42

Lugansk in eastern Ukraine has tightened security measures after a new wave of unrest erupted in Ukraine's east over last weekend.

Pro-Russia activists seized several government buildings in the eastern cities of Lugansk, Donetsk and Kharkov, demanding a referendum on autonomy and closer ties with Russia.

With a population of around 240,000, Lugansk is an industrial center in Ukraine. Most of local residents work in coal- or steel-producing plants.

Situations in the city was generally stable as of Tuesday, with pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine residents holding peaceful rallies respectively to express their political appeals. [AP]

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.16 08:44:58

Two bomb blasts have wounded at least five people in the Egyptian capital.

Two police officers and a civilian were wounded in an attack on Tuesday that blew the roof off a shelter manned by traffic police at a busy intersection in the Dokki neighborhood.

A second bombing wounded two people in western Cairo, according to a security source, who declined to indicate whether the injured were civilians or members of the security forces.

Egypt has been rocked by a series of bombings and shootings since July, when the military ousted Hosni Mubarak.


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2014.04.16 08:44:13

The liberal Constitution Party will hold a press conference on Wednesday to announce its stance regarding Egypt's upcoming presidential elections, state-run Ahram online reported.

On Monday, a source speaking on the condition of anonymity told Ahram Online that the party will likely announce its support for Hamdeen Sabahi's candidacy during Wednesday's conference.

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2014.04.16 08:42:58

Former Egyptian finance minister Youssef Boutros Ghali was arrested in France this week on an international warrant over corruption charges from his time in Hosni Mubarak's government, the French foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

Boutros Ghali was sentenced in absentia to 30 years in prison for corruption and abuse of power following the uprising that unseated Mubarak in 2011. He was one of a group of influential economic policymakers close to Mubarak's son Gamal. [Reuters]

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2014.04.16 08:41:45

France has said it will table a proposal  before the United Nations Security Council authorizing the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against humanity in Syria, according to France's ambassador to the UN.

Gerard Araud said on Tuesday that France hoped to introduce the resolution in the next few weeks, after a presentation to council members showed thousands of gruesome photographs of starved and tortured detainees in prisons run by the Syrian regime.

"We are going to try to obtain authorization for the ICC to act," Araud said. "We now have proof," he added.


  Syria | France
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2014.04.16 08:15:13

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin has warned the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, that Ukraine is lurching towards a state of war. The leaders were discussing in a telephone conversation forthcoming international talks on the crisis.

"The Russian president remarked that the sharp escalation of the conflict has placed the country, in effect, on the verge of civil war," the Kremlin said in a statement after the conversation.

But the leaders both "emphasized the importance" of the planned four-way talks on Ukraine on Thursday between top diplomats of Russia, the European Union, the United States and Ukraine.

We'll be publishing our new lead story on the events in the next few minutes.

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.16 08:14:15

In this video, General Vasily Krutov, the Ukraine commander in Kramatorsk, is seen urging a group of pro-Russians to disperse. They take his microphone from him and repeatedly surround him chanting. A shot is heard at 6m 47s, with more at about 8m 35s. According to journalist Alec Luhn, two people were injured.

The video was posted to Youtube by the local news site, on April 15.

  Ukraine | Russia
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2014.04.16 08:11:46

This video, posted on Youtube by reportedly shows a fighter jet flying over the airport in Kramatorsk, north of Donetsk, on April 15. Local reports said an unidentified jet was fired on while trying to land, and flew away, and that aircraft had then strafed the area. This footage shows planes flying over the airport with a pro-Russian group visible in balaclavas.

The plane's silhouette resembles a Sukhoi Su-25, a ground support aircraft.

  Ukraine | Russia
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