NATO Commander Says He Sees Potent Threat From Russia

Gen. Philip M. Breedlove said Wednesday that the Russian troops near Ukraine were poised to attack on 12 hours’ notice.

Credit Armend Nimani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BRUSSELS — NATO’s top commander said on Wednesday that the 40,000 troops Russia has within striking distance of Ukraine are poised to attack on 12 hours’ notice and could accomplish their military objectives within three to five days.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia told Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Monday that the Kremlin was beginning to withdraw troops from the border area near Ukraine.

But the NATO commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, said in an interview with The New York Times that so far only a single battalion, a force of 400 to 500 troops, was on the move and that NATO intelligence could not say whether it was actually being withdrawn.

“What we can say now is that we do see a battalion-size unit moving, but what we can’t confirm is that it is leaving the battlefield,” said General Breedlove, of the United States Air Force. “Whether that movement is aft to a less belligerent configuration or returning to barracks, we do not see that.”

General Breedlove said that the Russian force that remained was a potent mix of warplanes, helicopter units, artillery, infantry, and commandos with field hospitals and sufficient logistics to sustain an incursion into Ukraine.

Read more at The New York Times.

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Paris Elects Its First-Ever Female Mayor / Turkey’s Erdogan declares victory in local elections

Paris Elects Its First-Ever Female Mayor

Paris has elected its first-ever female mayor, the Spanish-born Socialist Anne Hidalgo, even as elsewhere in the country more right-wing candidates won their races. Hidalgo received 54.5 per cent of the vote.

Hidalgo promised major investment in housing, transportation, and green spaces, hoping to stay the exodus of middle and working-class families from the city, aiming specifically to create 10,000 new social housing units and 5,000 kindergarten places.

Read more at Gawker

Turkey’s Erdogan declares victory in local elections

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Image attribution: Gobierno de Chile [CC-BY-3.0-cl (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/cl/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan declared victory in local polls that had become a referendum on his rule and said he would “enter the lair” of enemies who have accused him of corruption and leaked state secrets, saying “they will pay for this”.

But while Erdogan’s AK Party was well ahead in overall votes after Sunday’s elections, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) appeared close to seizing the capital, Ankara.

Erdogan, fighting the biggest challenge of his 12-year rule, addressed supporters from a balcony at the AKP headquarters at the end of a long and bitter election campaign in which he has labelled his opponents “terrorists” and an “alliance of evil”.

The harsh tone of his balcony address suggested he felt he now had a mandate for strong action against his enemies. “From tomorrow, there may be some who flee,” he said.

The election campaign has been dominated by a power struggle between Erdogan and a moderate US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of using a network of followers in police and judiciary to fabricate graft accusations in an effort to topple him. Erdogan has purged thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors since anti-graft raids in December targeting businessmen close to him and sons of ministers.

Read more at France 24

Turkish Court Orders Release of Jailed General

FILE – A person holds photos of Ilker Basbug, former Chief of Staff, as family members of jailed Turkish army officers, accused of coup plot, demonstrate in Ankara.

A Turkish high court has ordered the release of a former army chief serving a life prison sentence for plotting to topple Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ilker Basbug was freed Friday – a day after it was ruled a lower court violated his rights by failing to publish a detailed explanation of the verdict last August.

Read more at Voice of America

In related news: Erdogan: Turkey Could Ban Facebook and YouTube via Voice of America

Russian Revisionism

Putin’s Plan For Overturning the European Order

An armed man stands outside the cabinet of ministers building in Simferopol in Crimea, March 3, 2014. (Thomas Peter / Courtesy Reuters)

Russia’s willingness to violate Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty is the gravest challenge to the European order in over half a century. The conflict pits a vast nuclear power against a state equal in size to France, an autocratic regime against a revolutionary government. The Russian intervention in Ukraine raises questions about the security guarantees that the West made to Ukraine after the country gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994, and it flies in the face of many Europeans’ belief that, in recent years, a continental war has become all but impossible. The end result may be the emergence of a third Russian empire or a failed Ukrainian state at the center of Europe.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine should not be understood as an opportunistic power grab. Rather, it is an attempt to politically, culturally, and militarily resist the West. Russia resorted to military force because it wanted to signal a game change, not because it had no other options. Indeed, it had plenty of other ways to put pressure on Kiev, including through the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, the Ukrainian city in which the force is based; playing with gas prices; demanding that Ukraine start paying off its government debt to Russia; and drumming up anti-Ukrainian sentiment among Ukraine’s sizable Russian population. Further, senior American figures had already noted that the Ukrainian crisis could not be solved without Russia, and European leaders had expressed their unhappiness about a new (and unfortunate) law that Ukraine’s transitional government passed soon after it was formed, which degraded the status of the Russian language. In other words, resorting to force was unnecessary.

It was also dangerous: Ukraine is a big country, and its public, still in a revolutionary mood, is primed to fight for a patriotic cause. Moscow’s intervention will provoke strong anti-Russian sentiments in Ukraine and will perhaps bring what’s left of the country closer to the EU and NATO. Military intervention in Ukraine also risks unleashing a real humanitarian crisis within Russia. According to Russian sources, nearly 700,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia over the last two months. Around 143,000 of them have asked for asylum. A war in Ukraine could triple these numbers. Finally, it is easy to foresee that Moscow’s use of force will increase Russia’s political isolation. It has already resulted in some economic and political sanctions, which could be a knockout punch to Russia’s stagnating economy. By some estimates, the direct costs to Russia of a war in Ukraine could reach over three percent of Russian GDP (over $60 billion).

Yet Putin decided to throw caution to the wind. Anger is one of his reasons for doing so. Putin was defeated twice in Ukraine: first during the 2004 Orange revolution, which brought to power a pro-Western coalition led by Yulia Tymoshenko, and second during the recent protests, which booted President Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician, out of office. Moscow had bet on Yanukovych and had tried to hold him hostage to its own interests. For example, it pressed him to refuse to sign an Association Agreement with the EU (his failure to sign was what first sparked the protests in Ukraine) and loaned Ukraine nearly $15 billion, thus making the country dependent on Russia. But it was really Putin who became hostage to the increasingly unpopular Yanukovych and his hapless cronies. When Yanukovych lost power, Putin suddenly and unexpectedly lost his strategic partner. Putin’s escalation, at least in part, is an attempt to cover up the failures of his Ukraine policy.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

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Is the U.S. Backing Neo-Nazis in Ukraine?

Exposing troubling ties in the U.S. to overt Nazi and fascist protesters in Ukraine.

U.S. Senator John McCain, right, meets Ukrainian opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk, left, and Oleh Tyahnybok in Kiev, Ukraine, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013.
Image via Business Insider

As the Euromaidan protests in the Ukrainian capitol of Kiev culminated this week, displays of open fascism and neo-Nazi extremism became too glaring to ignore. Since demonstrators filled the downtown square to battle Ukrainian riot police and demand the ouster of the corruption-stained, pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich, it has been filled with far-right streetfighting men pledging to defend their country’s ethnic purity.

White supremacist banners and Confederate flags were draped inside Kiev’s occupied City Hall, and demonstrators have hoisted Nazi SS and white power symbols over a toppled memorial to V.I. Lenin. After Yanukovich fled his palatial estate by helicopter, EuroMaidan protesters destroyed a memorial to Ukrainians who died battling German occupation during World War II. Sieg heil salutes and the Nazi Wolfsangel symbol have become an increasingly common site in Maidan Square, and neo-Nazi forces have established “autonomous zones” in and around Kiev.

An Anarchist group called AntiFascist Union Ukraine attempted to join the Euromaidan demonstrations but found it difficult to avoid threats of violence and imprecations from the gangs of neo-Nazis roving the square. “They called the Anarchists things like Jews, blacks, Communists,” one of its members said. “There weren’t even any Communists, that was just an insult.”

“There are lots of Nationalists here, including Nazis,” the anti-fascist continued. “They came from all over Ukraine, and they make up about 30% of protesters.”

One of the “Big Three” political parties behind the protests is the ultra-nationalist Svoboda, whose leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, has called for the liberation of his country from the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.” After the 2010 conviction of the Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk for his supporting role in the death of nearly 30,000 people at the Sobibor camp, Tyahnybok rushed to Germany to declare him a hero who was “fighting for truth.” In the Ukrainian parliament, where Svoboda holds an unprecedented 37 seats, Tyahnybok’s deputy Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn is fond of quoting Joseph Goebbels – he has even founded a think tank originally called “the Joseph Goebbels Political Research Center.” According to Per Anders Rudling, a leading academic expert on European neo-fascism, the self-described “socialist nationalist” Mykhalchyshyn is the main link between Svoboda’s official wing and neo-Nazi militias like Right Sector.

Read more at AlterNet

This is outstanding reporting by Max Blumenthal.

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The Russian Stronghold in Ukraine Preparing to Fight the Revolution

Lawmakers and worried citizens in the pro-Russia Crimea consider their options

A Ukrainian woman holds a Soviet flag during a rally in the industrial city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, on Feb. 22, 2014

The busload of officers only began to feel safe when they entered the Crimean peninsula. Through the night on Friday, they drove the length of Ukraine from north to south, having abandoned the capital city of Kiev to the revolution. Along the way the protesters in several towns pelted their bus with eggs, rocks and, at one point, what looked to be blood before the retreating officers realized it was only ketchup. “People were screaming, cursing at us,” recalls one of the policemen, Vlad Roditelev.

Finally, on Saturday morning, the bus reached the refuge of Crimea, the only chunk of Ukraine where the revolution has failed to take hold. Connected to the mainland by two narrow passes, this huge peninsula on the Black Sea has long been a land apart, an island of Russian nationalism in a nation drifting toward Europe. One of its biggest cities, Sevastopol, is home to a Russian naval base that houses around 25,000 troops, and most Crimean residents identify themselves as Russians, not Ukrainians.

So when the forces of the revolution took over the national parliament on Friday, pledging to rid Ukraine of Russian influence and integrate with Europe, the people of Crimea panicked. Some began to form militias, others sent distress calls to the Kremlin. And if the officers of the Berkut riot police are now despised throughout the rest of the country for killing dozens of protesters in Kiev this week, they were welcomed in Crimea as heroes.

For Ukraine’s revolutionary leaders, that presents an urgent problem. In a matter of days, their sympathizers managed to seize nearly the entire country, including some of the most staunchly pro-Russian regions of eastern Ukraine. But they have made barely any headway on the Crimean peninsula. On the contrary, the revolution has given the ethnic Russian majority in Crimea their best chance ever to break away from Kiev’s rule and come back under the control of Russia. “An opportunity like this has never come along,” says Tatyana Yermakova, the head of the Russian Community of Sevastopol, a civil-society group in Crimea.

On Wednesday, just as the violence in Kiev was reaching its cadence, Yermakova sent an appeal to the Kremlin asking Russia to send in troops to “prevent a genocide of the Russian population of Crimea.” The revolution, she wrote in a missive to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is being carried out by mercenaries with funding from Europe and the United States “with only one goal in mind: the destruction of the Russian world.”

Read more at TIME

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Why the United States Is Getting Tough With Turkey

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden, May 16, 2013. (Kevin Lamarque / Courtesy Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu did something extraordinary when they emerged from a January 12 bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Friends of Syria conference in Paris. Such occasions are usually marked by predictable boilerplate rhetoric about how productive the talk was and how closely both countries are working to solve pressing global issues, and Davutoğlu’s comments followed the standard script. What happened next was more unusual. After Davutoğlu finished speaking, Kerry took the opportunity to chide his Turkish counterpart for neglecting to mention an important component of the talks: Kerry’s emphatic rejection of Turkish claims that the United States had been meddling in Turkish politics and trying to influence the Turkish elections. As Davutoğlu sheepishly looked at the floor, Kerry continued that Davutoğlu now understood the score, and said that the two countries “need to calm the waters and move forward.”

Kerry’s addendum came in response to what has become a familiar Turkish government strategy of shifting the blame to outside powers, and particularly to the United States, when faced with any sort of internal opposition. During the Gezi Park protests in June, for example, Turkish government figures blamed Washington, CNN, and “foreign powers” for inciting unrest. More recently, when an ongoing corruption scandal exploded into the open in late December, Turkish ministers were quick to insinuate that the United States was the hidden hand behind the graft probe. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to expel U.S. ambassador Francis Ricciardone for allegedly provoking Turkey and “exceeding limits,” a reference to allegations that the ambassador was somehow meddling in Turkish affairs and prodding the investigation of government officials.

It isn’t surprising that the Turkish government has blamed the United States for self-inflicted wounds. But it is surprising that the United States has finally responded forcefully. And, if Turkey’s behavior after the flap is any indication (it made a quick about-face on a number of issues that have been particularly angering the United States), the Obama administration should make getting tougher with Turkey a priority.

PROBLEM PARTNER

Turkey voted in the UN Security Council against additional sanctions on Iran; helped Iran get around the international sanctions regime; and even hinted at Iran’s natural right to a nuclear program.

Turkish officials like to describe the last few years as a golden age in bilateral relations. Davutoğlu, in particular, likes to wax on about the “model partnership” between the two countries. What he is responding to is the United States’ decision early in Obama’s first term to treat Turkey with kid gloves despite an increasingly long track record of troubling Turkish behavior. The United States had two main motivations. The first was the hope that Turkey could serve as a democratic example for other Muslim countries. For a variety of reasons, including Turkey’s unique history and its distinctive combination of structural pressures, it was never going to be a good model, but that did not prevent Washington from pushing it wholeheartedly.

The second motivation was a conviction that Turkey could serve as an interlocutor between the West and the Middle East. With its ties to groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its relationship with Iran, Turkey was seen as irreplaceable, and Washington was reluctant to alienate it. Even when the United States instituted a policy directly intended to counter problematic Turkish behavior, Turkey was still given an inordinate amount of leeway. For example, in January 2013, when Congress passed legislation specifically outlawing trade in gas for gold to stem Turkish sanctions-busting in Iran, Turkey was granted a six-month buffer period. The only thing the backpedaling did was enable ever-bolder Turkish probing of U.S. red lines.

And probe it has. As has been documented repeatedly, Turkish democracy has been off the rails for some time. Since winning re-election in 2007, the AKP has systematically squeezed political opponents, consolidated state power, and done all it can to marginalize the feckless opposition. It has jailed journalists in unprecedented numbers, prosecuted citizens for insulting the prime minister, subjected companies that have run afoul of the government to crushing fines, and convicted military officers on charges based on forged evidence. All the while, the United States has largely sat on the sidelines with its mouth shut. State Department officials repeat the mantra that Turkey is more democratic now than it has ever been, and in 2012, President Barack Obama listed Erdogan as one of the five world leaders with whom he has the closest and most trusting relationship.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

Be advised that access to this article is free with nominal registration. It’s how modern internet media entices us to check out their stuff. Foreign Affairs is quality journalism. I think that just about everyone understands that old fashioned print media is in its death throes, and that is why it is now more important than ever to support quality online journalism. A free press is absolutely indispensable to any free and democratic society. It’s why I so vigorously promote sites that I myself have no financial interest in–because, as recent history has amply demonstrated over and over again–they are so very, very important to our future as free, well informed, and self-determined human beings.

Prosecutor Overseeing Turkish Graft Inquiry Is Removed From Case

A departing Turkish minister, Erdogan Bayraktar, waved Thursday as he left his post. He has called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign.

ISTANBUL — An Istanbul prosecutor who had been overseeing a sprawling corruption investigation of the prime minister’s inner circle was removed from the case on Thursday, in a new sign of a profound power struggle over Turkey’s judiciary and police forces.

The prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, issued a condemnation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, accusing it of interfering in the judiciary and preventing him from carrying out his work.

Mr. Akkas said that the government had prevented the police forces from pursuing a new round of suspects in the widening inquiry. Among those suspects, according to several Turkish news media reports, is Mr. Erdogan’s son, whose name was on a summons that was leaked to the press on Thursday evening.

“The judiciary has clearly been pressured,” Mr. Akkas said in a written statement, charging his superiors with “committing a crime” for not carrying out arrest warrants, and saying that suspects had been allowed to “take precautions, flee and tamper with evidence.”

The prosecutor’s removal from the case came a day after the resignations of three ministers whose sons had been implicated. One of them, the environment and urban planning minister, Erdogan Bayraktar, broke precedent by calling for the prime minister to resign, too.

Read more at The New York Times

This is a huge story. Here we have shades of Nixon and Watergate in Turkey. This looks like the beginning of the unraveling of AKP’s power. For those of us who are deeply interested in human history and politics, this seems like one of those unique historic moments. Now would be a good time to start paying close attention.

Without Notice, Putin Dissolves a News Agency


MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin exerted new control over Russia’s state news media on Monday, dissolving by decree one of Russia’s official news agencies, RIA Novosti, along with its international radio broadcaster as he continues a drive to strengthen the Kremlin’s influence at home and abroad.

Dmitry K. Kiselyov, a Kremlin backer, was appointed the head of a new news agency.

The decision shutters a decades-old state-run news agency widely viewed as offering professional and semi-independent coverage, while putting a reconstituted news service in the hands of a Kremlin loyalist. Since returning for a third time as president last year, Mr. Putin has taken several steps that critics have denounced as a strangulation of political rights and open debate, concentrating power in an ever tighter circle of allies.

The decree comes at a time when Russia has become increasingly assertive on the world stage, most recently in the tug of war with the European Union over political and economic relations with Ukraine, a country with deep historical and cultural links that Mr. Putin and others here believe bind it to Russia, not the West.

The Kremlin’s intense lobbying and strong-arming of Ukraine’s embattled president, Viktor F. Yanukovich, have been a principal grievance of the hundreds of thousands who have poured into the streets in the last two weeks. The reorganization of Russia’s state news media occurred only days after a meeting between the two leaders — and unconfirmed rumors that they had reached a secret deal to forge a strategic partnership — served to intensify the protests.

Mr. Putin’s presidential chief of staff, Sergei B. Ivanov, said the decision to close the news service was part of an effort to reduce costs and make the state news media more efficient. But RIA Novosti’s report on its own demise said the changes “appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.” Its executive editor, Svetlana Mironyuk, the first woman to lead the agency, appeared before her stunned colleagues and apologized for failing to preserve what she called the best news organization ever built by state money, according to a video recording of the meeting.

Read more at The New York Times

Turkish Discontent: Gezi Protests Spawn New Party

In late May 2013, a larger protest was sparked after police violently broke up a sit-in in Gezi Park. Protesters were demonstrating against plans to raze the park, one of the last green spaces in the center of the European part of Istanbul, and replace it with a shopping center.

The protests that erupted in Turkey in May 2013 saw a local environmental protest bloom into a nationwide pro-democracy movement. A new political party has formed to channel this dissatisfaction into political power, but the hurdles to success are high.

Gezi stands for democracy. For freedom. For having a political say and personal responsibility. For parks and trees. And for daring to say “no” to those in power. And for being able to believe in, hope for and love whatever you wish, exactly as you please. That’s what makes it a bit of a miracle that suddenly all sorts of different people were uniting behind a common goal.

But Gezi has run out of steam. The protests that were sparked when Turkey’s government announced plans to raze Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in the center of the European part of Istanbul, and replace it with a shopping center, have now subsided. In June, thousands took to the streets, first in Istanbul, and then throughout the entire country. Now, the demonstrations are few and far between.

“That’s exactly why we’ve decided that we have to take it a step further and found a party,” says Cem Köksal. The 37-year-old with shoulder-length brown hair is greeted by young people on the streets here in the Kadiköy district of Istanbul. Köksal is a rock musician and guitarist who also writes and produces music. He and his comrades-in-arms want to challenge Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Their plan is to grow a political force from the seeds of a pro-democracy movement.

“Erdogan said to us demonstrators that we shouldn’t protest on the street, but instead stand for election if we want to change something,” says Teoman Kumbaracibasi, 42. “That’s us!” Known as “Teo,” he is also widely known as an actor on a TV series.

‘Our Goal Is Not the Opposition, but the Government’

In October, Kumbaracibasi and Köksal founded the Gezi Party (GZP) with 26 others. The party is a colorful mix of young and old, left-wing and conservative, blue-collar worker and university student. What unites them is a shared dissatisfaction with Erdogan and his authoritarian government. On Saturday, the GZP will open itself to new members. “There are hundreds who want to join us even though they have no idea exactly what we want,” says Kumbaracibasi. “Thousands,” Köksal corrects him. Just a month after launching, he adds, the party has already attracted 31,000 fans on its Facebook page.

Indeed, Facebook is where all these people found each other. “A few months back, we didn’t know each other at all. Now we are constantly working with each other, like each other, love each other,” says Nursun Gürbüz, who works for an export company. Together, they want to achieve something big. This ambition is broadcast by their party logo: a man whose legs are taking root in the ground like tree trunks and whose arms are holding a green ball. The message here is: We embrace Gezi, we embrace the entire world. The group wants to field candidates for the 2015 parliamentary elections. “And our goal is not the opposition, but the government,” Köksal says.

Read more at Der Spiegel

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