Ukraine

Pentagon to create “Ukraine command”

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This is a serious development.

As I have said over and over, the Kremlin’s go-slow limited military operation is a fatal mistake resulting in a wider war. An operation that should have been concluded in a week is now in its seventh month and seems destined to continue indefinitely as the Kremlin does nothing to disrupt the Ukrainian government’s war effort or the endless supplies of weapons that the West pours into Ukraine. The long-running conflict has allowed Western propaganda to portray the Russian military as unsuccessful and to convince Western decision-makers that Russia can be defeated in Ukraine. This conviction has led to ever higher states of Western involvement.

With the Pentagon’s creation of a “Ukraine Command,” we move closer to the introduction of US troops. In fact, US military forces are already involved. They train Ukraine’s soldiers at the US Army’s European Headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany, thus committing Germany to the intervention in Ukraine. US military personnel provide targeting information for Ukraine’s attacks on Russian positions. Yet, despite the growing involvement of US/NATO, the Kremlin holds on to its limited operation, dangerous in its failure and miscalculation, as Russia’s dilly-dallying has convinced the West that the Kremlin has no stomach for real conflict, encouraging Washington to take another step toward sending troops by forming a “Ukraine Command.”

Putin’s emphasis on legalisms might be the undoing of Russia. The Kremlin could have avoided the Ukraine conflict by doing in 2014 what it is doing, belatedly, in 2022–accept the Donbass Russians’ request to be returned to Russia. The Kremlin could have avoided the US/NATO military commitment to Ukraine by knocking out Ukraine before the West had time to react.

Blunders have a cost, and the cost of the Kremlin’s blunders is developing into direct conflict between US and Russian soldiers.

Exclusive: Russia Rebuffs Ukraine’s Claim over 7 Sri Lankans

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Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently in a video address claimed that seven Sri Lankan citizens who had been held by the Russian forces since March were rescued.

However, when Sri Lanka Guardian contacted a top-ranking officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID) in Moscow, has vehemently refused the Ukrainian claim by saying that was a “cooked up story” by the Ukrainian authority.

“Russia did all it could to ensure the safe return of foreign students. In total, hundreds were assisted in returning to their home countries even in absence of Russian visas,” the official told the Sri Lanka Guardian.

“Why on earth would 7 poor students be ‘held in a basement?’ Question to Sri Lanka Embassy and Ukrainian regime which is desperately seeking international attention to keep the war going,” the official questioned.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Guardian tried to get a detailed account of the incident from Mohamed Rizvi Hassen, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary (Resident) at the Embassy of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka in Ankara, Turkey, which oversees Ukraine too but was unsuccessful.

Where Does Russia Receive Its Aid From?

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On August 24, Ukraine’s independence day, the U.S. provided a $3 billion military aid package to the country. The additional assistance adds to more than $80 billion worth of support that Kyiv has already received between January 24 and August 3, the majority of which was provided by the U.S., the UK, and the EU. In addition to gaining access to Western weapons systems, military data, and training, the Ukrainian armed forces have further been augmented by foreign volunteers serving in the International Legion.

With third parties caught aiding Russia risking the imposition of financial penalties by the U.S., open support for the Kremlin has been largely limited to rogue states already isolated from Washington and Brussels. Russia’s seclusion was documented in a UN Resolution on March 2, where 141 countries voted to deplore Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 35 abstained, and just four—Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Eritrea—supported the Kremlin.

Even most of Russia’s key post-Soviet allies belonging to its international organizations, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), have avoided supporting Moscow. Kazakhstan, for example, a member of both institutions, took steps in July to begin exporting its oil across the Caspian Sea, bypassing Russian-controlled oil pipelines. This directly undermines the Kremlin’s strategy of restricting oil to Europe to compromise the region’s energy security.

The key exception among post-Soviet states has been Belarus. Over the last decade, President Alexander Lukashenko has steered Belarus further into Russia’s orbit. Enticed by cheap Russian oil and gas and lucrative transit fees as both these commodities continue on to Europe, Lukashenko has also increasingly relied on Russian security forces to enforce his rule—notably evident during the 2020 Belarusian protests.

Lukashenko’s response to the popular protests in 2020 essentially cut off all avenues for cooperation with the West. But growing Belarusian support for Russia against Ukraine has been evident for years. In 2017, Belarusian authorities detained a 19-year-old Ukrainian man who had traveled to Belarus and deported him to Russia to face terrorism charges. It was therefore no surprise when Lukashenko allowed Russian troops to invade Ukraine from Belarusian territory in February 2022.

Belarus continues to aid the Russian military campaign, including permitting Russia “to fire ballistic missiles from the Belarusian territory, enabling transportation of Russian military personnel and heavy weapons, tanks, and military transporters, allowing Russian military aircraft to fly over Belarusian airspace into Ukraine, providing refueling points, and storing Russian weapons and military equipment in Belarus,” stated the European Council.

Belarus has also repeatedly conducted its own troop movements near the Ukrainian border since the beginning of Russia’s invasion to distract Ukrainian forces. And though Belarus has not committed its armed forces to the Ukraine conflict, Russia has had access to a stream of foreign volunteers, largely from Europe, since Russia’s initial military action in 2014 in Crimea.

Russia’s volunteer strategy has evolved since the launch of Russia’s invasion. Though a far cry from Western think tank estimates of as high as 40,000 Syrian fighters making their way to Russia in March, hundreds of mercenaries from Syria and Libya, where the Russian military is also engaged, were active in Ukraine by April. Rotating allied forces alleviates the Kremlin’s need for more soldiers without resorting to conscription.

Additionally, the Syrian government recognized the independence of Russian-supported eastern Ukraine breakaway republics, Luhansk and Donetsk, in June.

The Iranian government, meanwhile, declared in July that it supported Russia’s war in the face of NATO aggression. Heavily sanctioned by the West, Iran’s armed forces have been fighting alongside the Russian military in Syria since 2015. The two countries have also expanded bilateral relations through energy and weapons deals since the Ukraine invasion, building on years of growing ties in both these areas.

While Russia has typically supplied weapons to Iran, Russian forces have faced a drone deficit in Ukraine. Russian officials have allegedly repeatedly visited Iranian airfields in recent months to review Iranian-made drones, with the first shipments of these drones from Iran to Russia arriving in August.

According to U.S. officials, Russia asked China for financial and material assistance in March, but these accusations were denied by Moscow and Beijing. Both Russia and Ukraine have been using Chinese drones to target one another, prompting China’s Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI), the world’s premier civilian drone maker, to halt sales to both countries in April. However, Russians have continued to access AeroScope, a surveillance software used in DJI drones, to target Ukrainian DJI aircraft along with the position of the drone’s operator.

China has also provided the Russian military with significant aid along with electronic components and raw materials vital to sustaining its campaign in Ukraine. In June, five Chinese companies were accused of aiding the Russian military and were blacklisted by U.S. officials. Chinese military aid may accelerate following U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan on August 2, which caused a significant downturn in U.S.-China relations.

Additionally, Chinese loans and access to its consumer markets, particularly in energy, have helped Russia cushion the blow of Western sanctions and falling exports. Despite China’s wariness over the threat of Western sanctions and comparisons between the Russia-Ukraine conflict and its dispute with Taiwan, Beijing’s cautious support for Moscow has been crucial since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and continues to help Russia sustain its confrontation with the West.

North Korea has also provided strong support to Russia, with Pyongyang recognizing Ukraine’s two breakaway republics in July. On August 15, Putin wrote a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un proposing the forging of closer ties. This could include additional North Korean workers being sent to occupied Ukraine to help in reconstruction and other sectors. For decades now, North Koreans have traveled to Russia largely to work in highly competitive construction jobs in Siberia, with roughly 20,000 North Korean workers living there today.

Recent saber-rattling between the U.S. and North Korea in the region has also raised the prospect of North Korean soldiers being sent to Ukraine to fight for Russia. Like Syrian and Libyan mercenaries, they could be funneled into Russia through private military companies. North Korean military advisers have been present in Syria since the 1970s, while North Korean soldiers have been suspected of serving in Syria since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011.

Venezuela, Sudan, Cuba, Nicaragua, and other states harboring anti-U.S. sentiment have all reaffirmed their commitment to Russia since the invasion. But more subtle displays of support have come from around the world—even if countries remain cautious of inviting Western financial penalties and perceptions that they are harming Ukraine by supporting Russia.

The 35 abstentions at the UN vote in March represent more than half of the global population, and during a second resolution to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council in April, 93 countries voted in favor, 58 abstained, and 24 voted against.

Distrust toward the West and acknowledgment of Russia’s position as a primary global energy and food supplier have incentivized sustained cooperation with Moscow throughout the world. India, for example, has continued to purchase weapons from Russia, as well as rapidly increasing its energy imports from Russia. Other Western partners and allies, including Turkey, have refused to take part in sanctioning Russia, alongside countries across the Global South.

Inconsistencies and a lack of clarity between Western states have, meanwhile, hampered the effectiveness of Western sanctions, but entities aligned with the West have also wittingly complemented Russia’s war effort. In June, the U.S. Commerce Department added financial actors from several countries, including Lithuania and the UK, to its list of blacklisted companies for helping Russia bypass sanctions and support its war effort.

Russia’s military campaign would also not be possible without the continued purchase of Russian energy by European countries since the beginning of the invasion.

Thus, while countries opposed to the U.S. order have been more open about their support for Russia, the Kremlin continues to receive, openly and subtly, substantial support from other states. This underlines the notion that the war in Ukraine continues to be a conflict between the West and Russia, with most other countries seeking to avoid being drawn in, and reinforces the influential role that Russia continues to play in global affairs.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

The UN Proved Its Usefulness in Crafting Ukraine Grain Deal

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The United Nations has some bragging rights in Ukraine after months of criticism it could not stop the disastrous war, devising a deal with Turkey, Ukraine and Russia that could deliver much-needed corn, grain and wheat.

The landmark pact was announced on July 22 after two months of talks brokered by Turkey and the UN and was aimed at freeing up nearly 25 million metric tons of grain meant for the international markets that was trapped inside Ukraine’s blockaded Black Sea ports since February. Meanwhile, a separate agreement eases the shipment of grain and fertilizers from Russia.

Before the war, Ukraine exported more than 45 million metric tons of grain annually to the global market. The war has caused grain prices to rise dramatically.

“Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the signing of the agreement on July 22. “A beacon of hope—a beacon of relief—in a world that needs it more than ever.”

Bombing and Nuclear Leaks

As the war continues, Russia could bomb the Ukrainian Black Sea ports of Odesa (again), Chernomorsk and Yuzhny, and this may result in goods being redirected toward the much slower Danube waterway. And now the world fears a nuclear disaster with the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, having fallen under Russian occupation.

Some 84 Ukrainian ships, many of them carrying grain, were stuck in the Black Sea till June. On August 19, port officials in Istanbul reported grain and foodstuffs exported from the three Ukrainian ports amounted to 656,349 metric tons under the Black Sea Grain Initiative. This figure is half of how much Ukraine was exporting on a daily basis before the start of the war. The operation is, however, dependent on commercial shippers and their insurance companies.

Although UN officials say the venture has lowered the price of foodstuffs worldwide, getting grain or wheat to the neediest countries is now up to the UN World Food Program (WFP). The WFP chartered the Liberia-flagged Brave Commander to carry 23,000 metric tons of wheat to Ethiopia, one of the 43 countries facing acute food insecurity, which is bordering on famine. Other vessels are expected to follow. On August 16, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States had contributed $68 million to the operation.

Taking an unprecedented risk, Secretary-General Guterres traveled to Lviv, Ukraine, some 43 miles from the Polish border, on August 18 to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who arranged the meeting. The object of this meeting was to boost grain exports from Ukraine and discuss security around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.

Chief UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, who was on the trip to Lviv, said Guterres visited the Black Sea port of Odesa to view the resumption of exports under the UN-brokered deal, and he boarded a pilot boat in the Sea of Marmara on August 20 where he examined a ship ready to leave the port. The secretary-general then went to the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, Turkey, comprising Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials, who were overseeing exports of Ukraine grain and fertilizer under the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Much of the heavy lifting in setting up the agreements was done by Martin Griffiths, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, and Costa Rica’s former Vice President Rebeca Grynspan, now the secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, who negotiated for the export of fertilizers from Russia amid sanctions.

Damage to Nuclear Plant Is ‘Suicide’

Russian troops captured the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine in early March. The Russian and Ukrainian governments have accused each other of shelling the power plant site. With its six reactors and a net output of 5,700 megawatts, it is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

Guterres, while speaking to reporters during his visit to Lviv, emphasized the need to withdraw Russian military equipment and personnel from the plant and further called for efforts to ensure that the site is not the target of military operations. But Russia has rejected calls to demilitarize the area.

“Any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide,” Guterres said.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has asked to visit the nuclear plant complex, and everyone has agreed for months. But with shelling in the area, his route to the plant is dangerous.

“The IAEA has received information about this serious situation—the latest in a long line of increasingly alarming reports from all sides,” Grossi said. He, however, indicated that he may still be open to visiting the site “within ‘days,’” during an interview with France 24 on August 25.

All this occurred amid a Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) that takes place once every five years. The conference focused on the nine countries with nuclear weapons (the U.S., Russia, the UK, France, China, North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel)—and the rest of the world.

Argentine diplomat Gustavo Zlauvinen, president of the conference, said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant could endanger the safety of civilians. The conference drew “lessons learned” on the need for “safety for civilians” from nuclear facilities.

Now What?

The United Nations is a sprawling organization with many agencies and programs, not all under the auspices of the secretary-general. But its 15-member Security Council and 193-seat General Assembly allow those opposed to the war to score positive votes.

“Even in an increasingly divided and competitive strategic environment, the United Nations offers a stage for major powers to vent their grievances—and a channel for them to find a few remaining ways to cooperate,” said Richard Gowan, the UN director at the International Crisis Group, in an article for War on the Rocks.

The debate continues. The war, the slaughterhouse, goes on.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Ukraine Is a Wake-Up Call for Europe

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It is becoming clear that U.S. neoconservatives have succeeded in creating a warmongering, anti-Russian mood in Europe through an unprecedented information war, the consequences of which will take some time to assess. It is, however, possible to identify the signs of what is to come.

Losers: We do not yet know who will win this war (or if anyone will win it, apart from the arms industry). But we do know who will lose the most: the Ukrainian and European people. Parts of Ukraine are in ruins, millions of people have been displaced, and the euro has fallen; these are signs of defeat. In the seven decades since the destruction caused by World War II, Europe had risen again. Led by high-profile politicians and supported by the United States in its anti-communist crusade, Western Europe managed to establish itself as a region of peace and development (even if, alas, at the expense of colonial and neocolonial violence and appropriation). All it took to put the peace and development at risk was one ghost war: fought in Europe, but not led by Europe, and not even in the interest of Europeans.

Energy transition: Carbon dioxide (CO2), which is responsible for global warming, remains in the atmosphere for many thousands of years. It is estimated that 40 percent of the CO2 emitted by humans since 1850 remains in the atmosphere, according to a Deutsche Welle report that cited the 2020 international Global Carbon Budget study. So, although China is the largest emitter of CO2 today, the fact is that, if we look at the CO2 emissions data for 1750 to 2019 (from Deutsche Welle’s analysis of Our World in Data figures), Europe was responsible for 32.6 percent of emissions, the U.S. for 25.5 percent, China for 13.7 percent, Africa for 2.8 percent, and South America for 2.6 percent of the total emissions during that period. Given the cumulative emissions debt that Europe has rung up over the course of 269 years, the story of its recent credit toward balancing the global carbon budget by leading the fight for renewable energy in recent decades is a qualified success—it is the least they can do. We may be critical of an energy transition that is underpinned by the ecology of the (mostly European) rich, but at least it was heading in the right direction. The war in Ukraine and the fossil fuel energy crisis it triggered were enough to make all projects related to this energy transition evaporate. Coal has returned from exile, and oil and nuclear energy are being rehabilitated. Why is perpetuating the war more important than advancing the energy transition? What democratic majority has decided to follow in that direction?

Political spectrum: The approaching economic and social crisis will have an impact on the political spectrum in European countries. On the one hand, it is worth noting that it is the most authoritarian governments (like Hungary and Turkey) and far-right parties that have shown the least enthusiasm for the warmongering, which is encapsulated in the anti-Russian triumphalism that has dominated European politics in recent months. On the other hand, the left-wing parties, with few exceptions, have given up their own (left-wing) position on the war. Some of those parties who had distinguished themselves in the past with their stance against NATO have remained silent in the face of its senseless and dangerous expansion to all continents. When the continuation of the war and the expansion of military budgets begin to cause the impoverishment of families, what will the citizens think in terms of political choices made in the name of protecting them? Will they not be attracted to opt for the parties that have shown the least enthusiasm for the warmongering jingoism that caused their impoverishment?

Citizen safety: In June 2022, Interpol made public its concern that a large number of the weapons supplied to Ukraine could enter the illegal arms market and end up in the hands of criminals. This situation is all the more serious since some of the equipment provided to Ukraine includes heavy artillery. The experience of what has happened in the past in other theaters of war justifies this concern. For example, much of the war material supplied by the U.S. to Afghanistan ended up in the hands of the Taliban against whom the U.S. army was fighting. The U.S. tragedy of successive massacres caused by armed civilians is well known. What will happen in Europe if the easy accessibility of these weapons leads to them ending up in the wrong hands?

Normalization of Nazism: Shortly before the war in Ukraine, several intelligence services and security think tanks had been warning about the strong presence of neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine, their military training and equipment, and the way they were being integrated into the regular military forces, which is unprecedented. Understandably, the outbreak of war has put this concern to rest. What is at issue now is whether Nazism can be turned into a nationalist ideology like any other and whether its recurrent attacks on progressive politicians in Ukraine can be converted into patriotic acts. It remains to be seen what impact this will have in Europe, against the background of the growth of the extreme right.

Phantom anti-communism: The anti-Russian hatred that has been exacerbated in Europe by the invasion of Ukraine subliminally contains anti-communist hatred, even if it is known that the Communist Party is a minority in Russia and that President Vladimir Putin is a right-wing politician who is a friend of the European far right. For sectors of the ultra-right, communism is now an empty signifier and serves as a weapon to demonize political opponents, to justify canceling those opponents on social media, and to promote hate speech. It is to be feared that this hangover will remain in political life beyond the war in Ukraine.

Crime and injustice in the Balkans: The war in Ukraine has had the effect of bringing to the attention of more informed Europeans the arbitrary way Yugoslavia was destroyed, the NATO bombing of civilian targets in 1999, and the war crimes that were committed by all sides in former Yugoslavia. Historical and religious anti-Balkan prejudice—Chancellor Klemens von Metternich of the Austrian Empire (in office 1821-1848) used to say that Asia began on Landstrasse, the street in Vienna where Balkan immigrants lived—has come to be reflected in the way some countries in the region have been waiting for many years to join the EU.

It is too early for a general assessment of the times we are living through, but the signs are disturbing and do not bode well.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.