Thursday, March 20, 2014

"The language Putin understands is force and power." - ROGER COHEN | Power also compared Russia’s takeover of Crimea to theft. “A thief can steal property, but that does not confer the right of ownership on the thief,” she said. - U.S., Russia Exchange Threats at Tense U.N. Meeting

How to Punish Putin -

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MOSCOW — AS I write this, I am under house arrest. I was detained at a rally in support of anti-Putin protesters who were jailed last month.
In September, I ran for mayor of Moscow as a pro-reform, pro-democracy opposition candidate and received almost a third of the vote despite having no access to state media. Today, my blog, which was until recently visited by over two million readers per month, has been blocked as “extremist” after I called for friendly ties with Ukraine and compliance with international law.
For years, I have been telling journalists that President Vladimir V. Putin’s approval rating would soon peak and then tumble. Russia’s economy is stagnant, I said, and the Russian people would soon weary of the president’s empty promises. Even a rally-round-the-flag military adventure — a “little war,” as it’s known in Russia — would be impossible, I believed. Russia no longer had enemies.
Then, on Feb. 28, Russia sent troops to Ukraine in precisely such a “little war.” I admit that I underestimated Mr. Putin’s talent for finding enemies, as well as his dedication to ruling as “president for life,” with powers on par with the czars’.
As a citizen and patriot, I cannot support actions against Russia that would worsen conditions for our people. Still, I recommend two options that, if successfully implemented, I believe would be welcomed by most Russians.
First, although Mr. Putin’s invasion has already prompted the European Union to impose sanctions on 21 officials, and the United States on seven, most of these government figures cannot be considered influential. They do not have major assets outside Russia and are irrelevant to Mr. Putin; sanctioning them will not change Russia’s policy. After all the tough talk from Western politicians, this action is mocked in Russia and even seen as a tacit encouragement to Mr. Putin and his entourage, who seem to possess some magical immunity.
Instead, Western nations could deliver a serious blow to the luxurious lifestyles enjoyed by the Kremlin’s cronies who shuttle between Russia and the West. This means freezing the oligarchs’ financial assets and seizing their property.
Such sanctions should primarily target Mr. Putin’s inner circle, the Kremlin mafia who pillage the nation’s wealth, including Gennady N. Timchenko, head of the Volga Group; Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, influential businessmen and former judo sparring partners of Mr. Putin; Yuri V. Kovalchuk, a financier believed to be Mr. Putin’s banker; Vladimir I. Yakunin, president of Russian Railways; the oligarchs Roman A. Abramovich and Alisher B. Usmanov; and Igor I. Sechin and Aleksei B. Miller, the heads of Rosneft and Gazprom, respectively.
The sanctions must also hit the oligarchs whose media outlets parrot the regime lines, and target Mr. Putin’s entire “war cabinet”: the TV spin doctors, compliant Duma members and apparatchiks of Mr. Putin’s United Russia Party.
The invasion of Ukraine has polarized members of Russia’s elite, many of whom view it as reckless. Real sanctions, such as blocking access to their plush London apartments, will show that Mr. Putin’s folly comes with serious costs.
Second, Western authorities must investigate ill-gotten gains from Russia within their jurisdictions. The Anti-Corruption Foundation, which I established in 2011, has revealed dozens of major cases of graft. In 90 percent of those cases, Russian money was laundered in the West. Sadly, American, European Union and British law enforcement agencies have stymied our efforts to investigate such criminal plunder.
“Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of people,” Mr. Putin claimed this week. But even among the most nationalist and pro-Soviet of our people, a longing to restore Crimea to Russian rule faded years ago.
Yet Mr. Putin has cynically raised nationalist fervor to a fever pitch; imperialist annexation is a strategic choice to bolster his regime’s survival. Mobilizing the masses by distracting them from real problems like corruption and economic stagnation can take place only beneath the banner of fighting external enemies.
What is truly alarming in Mr. Putin’s rash behavior is that he is motivated by the desire for revenge against the Ukrainian people for revolting against a Kremlin-friendly government. A rational actor would know that the precedent of holding a local referendum to determine sovereignty is risky for Russia — a federation of more than 80 disparate regions, including more than 160 ethnic groups and at least 100 languages.
It is true that the consensus in both Russia and Crimea is that the peninsula has historically been closer to Moscow than to Kiev. But the notion that this reunification should be achieved at the end of the barrel of a gun is supported only by Mr. Putin’s hard-core base. The opposition has spoken clearly. The antiwar protest held in Moscow over the weekend was the largest in two years, and it exceeded any counterdemonstration mustered by pro-Kremlin movements.
There is a common delusion among the international community that although Mr. Putin is corrupt, his leadership is necessary because his regime subdues the dark, nationalist forces that otherwise would seize power in Russia. The West should admit that it, too, has underestimated Mr. Putin’s malign intent. It is time to end the dangerous delusion that enables him.
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Russia and the Group of 8

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Expelling Russia from the Group of 8 — as demanded by hawks on the Hill and mooted in conflicting signals from Europe — is the wrong way to punish President Vladimir Putin for annexing Crimea from Ukraine.
Certainly when the French foreign minister says Russia has been suspended from the G-8, and the German chancellor says it has not been, and the British prime minister says it should be if it takes further steps against Ukraine, they demonstrate the disunity and lack of coordination Mr. Putin hoped to see.
But the question is whether expelling Mr. Putin from the G-8 at this stage is a productive way to either penalize Mr. Putin or change his conduct. The Group of 8 leading industrialized countries is not an institution and not even a bureaucracy. It is a forum for leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States to come together once a year to discuss matters of global importance.
The G-8 may not be as relevant as it once was — the more inclusive G-20 may be the more important grouping — but within the eight, Mr. Putin comes face to face with the leaders of top democracies; expelled by them, he would retreat into his trademark claim that the West has always held Russia in disdain.
Maintaining an engagement with the Soviet Union during the Cold War was the logic behind keeping Moscow in the United Nations Security Council and other international institutions. When Communist rule collapsed, including Russia in what was then the G-7 was seen as a way to foster Russia’s turn to democracy and market economy.
Certainly the leaders of the G-8, who are scheduled to meet without Russia next week, should consider how to make clear that they deem the manner of Russia’s seizure of Crimea utterly unacceptable.
Their response should, of course, include a firm decision not to attend the G-8 meeting in Sochi, Russia, that Mr. Putin is supposed to host in June as the holder of this year’s rotating chairmanship of the group.
Beyond that, the United States, its European and other allies must also continue searching for effective economic ways to punish Mr. Putin and his inner circle, and for ways to deter him from further aggression against Ukraine. These deliberations, as Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain has said, should include the possibility of expelling Russia from the G-8 altogether should it further violate Ukrainian sovereignty and thus close the door to any fruitful dialogue.
But continuing to engage Russia in international forums must be regarded as the preferable route as long as it is possible. And, in any case, there is nothing to gain in the sort of partisan saber-rattling that the House majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor, indulged in, or in the confused signals from Europe.
An international crisis is a time for America’s leaders to come together, and not to try to score political points — and certainly not to descend into the sort of partisan squabbling in the House and Senate that has blocked a bill to provide loan guarantees to Ukraine.
It is a time for the West to demonstrate common purpose and discipline. Let’s hope that the G-8-minus-1 meeting scheduled for next week can do a better job of projecting a unified front against Mr. Putin’s arrogance and contempt for international law.
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Cold Man in the Kremlin

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WASHINGTON — Stephen Hanson, the vice provost for international affairs at the College of William and Mary, summed up what life has been like these past decades for people in his line of work. “I’m a Russia specialist,” he said. “Nobody has been interested in me for 20 years.”
Sure, relations with Moscow could be prickly, and there was that bloody little invasion of Georgia in 2008 that led to Russia recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia (close to 20 percent of Georgia’s territory) as independent states, but the consensus was that the Cold War struggle with Moscow was over, replaced by a “reset” relationship that hovered somewhere between cooperation and rivalry but would not lapse again into the outright confrontation of two ideologies.
In this scenario, experts like Hanson were not in heavy demand. Their field had become secondary. Russia was 20th-century news. New members of NATO like Poland or Estonia squawked from time to time about the enduring threat from Vladimir Putin’s Russia, but their anxieties were dismissed as the hangover of decades within the mind-twisting Soviet empire.
Nothing was so certain to put audiences to sleep as talk of “trans-Atlanticism” or the need for increasing European military budgets. As the trauma of 9/11 faded and America’s wars wound down, “pivot to Asia” became the modish geopolitical phrase in Washington. Pivot to Europe was a laughable idea.
None of this was lost on Putin, who actually meant it when he described the breakup of the Soviet Union as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century, and for a decade and a half now has been intent on righting Russia’s perceived post-Cold-War humiliation in order to recreate, if not quite the Cold War, then a bipolar system in which Washington and Moscow offer opposing world views. Hanson says Putin “never embraced the borders of the Russian federation” and was always convinced “the West only likes leaders in Moscow, such as Gorbachev and Yeltsin, who weaken Russia.”
Putin’s push for a revived Soviet-like space reached its apotheosis (after the trial run in Georgia) with the annexation of Crimea (the German word for annexation is “Anschluss”), a watershed moment for Europe, where such an event had not happened since World War II. The Continent is once again combustible. The United States faces a foe in Moscow who laces his comments about America with contempt. This does not mean the Continent is about to lapse into war. It does mean trans-Atlantic unity is once again critical; imposing sanctions on a few second-level Putin lieutenants will not cut it as a Western response.
The language Putin understands is force and power. 
His meandering annexation speech made clear that he regards eastern Ukraine as wrongly usurped from Russia. If further Russian designs on Ukraine are to be stopped, President Obama has to respond to the Russian president in the idiom he understands. Providing U.S. Army rations as military support to Kiev amounts to history repeated as farce.
Ukraine, my colleague Michael Gordon reports, is seeking communications gear, mine-clearing equipment, vehicles, ammunition, fuel and medical gear, and the sharing of intelligence. Provide it. Hurt the oligarchs with their London mansions and untold billions parked in Western banks. Crimea may not be recoverable but the West must make clear it will not accept a Russian veto on E.U. and NATO expansion. But, some say, a firm response will end Russian cooperation on vital issues like Iran. Not so: Russia has its own interest in stopping nuclear proliferation, and even the Cold War did not preclude cooperation in some areas.
For Putin, “Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites” have seized power in Kiev. For Putin, “After the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet, we no longer have stability.” (Never mind that hundreds of millions of people gained their freedom.) The United States, the Russian president suggests, knows only “the rule of the gun.”
As during the Cold War, he will find his sympathizers and fellow travelers in the West with such paranoid gambits. Still, his words have to be taken seriously. They are those of a man trained in a totalitarian system and now proposing an alternative civilization of brutality, force, imperial expansion, systemic corruption, a cowed press, conspiracy theories and homophobia.
Tinatin Khidasheli, a member of the Georgian Parliament, told me: “After Georgia in 2008 I was asked what’s next and I said Ukraine and everyone laughed. But Putin was testing the West with us and saw he could proceed. People in Georgia are now very scared, and they are most scared of the inability of the West to give an adequate response. The only political consensus we have is that we want to join the E.U. and NATO, but in Brussels they don’t even want to call us a European state.”
Putin knows what he wants. A supine and disunited West does not. That’s why he’s winning — or has already won.
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With Russia, as With China, Unnerved U.S. Allies Seek Reassurances

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Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania gave joint statements at the presidential palace in Vilnius to address Russia’s intervention in Crimea.
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. found himself in a fraught but familiar place this week: holding the hands of American allies fearful of being bullied by a larger, aggressive neighbor.
This time, it was Poland and the Baltic states, rattled by Russia’s move to annex Crimea and its potential designs on the rest of Ukraine. Three months ago, it was Japan and South Korea, unnerved by China’s sudden imposition of an air defense zone in the East China Sea.
The cases differ in obvious respects: The tensions in Asia have eased somewhat after the Chinese government showed prudence in policing its air defense zone, while in Europe, the confrontation with Russia over Crimea seems to be only escalating.
But there are also striking parallels: Russia and China are both ambitious powers, riding a tide of nationalism and nursing grievances over historical slights at the hands of the West.
Both may be exploiting a belief that the United States is turning inward, exhausted by years of war and reluctant to get drawn into costly foreign entanglements.
And both are led by self-confident strongmen — Vladimir V. Putin and Xi Jinping — though the popularly elected Mr. Putin may have a tighter grip on his society than the Communist Party boss, Mr. Xi, who must contend with an independent-minded military.
For President Obama, deciphering the motives, means and next moves of these suspicious giants will require a mix of psychology and geopolitics. Kremlinology and Sinology may end up as the major foreign policy preoccupations of the remainder of his presidency.
So far, the administration’s response to the threats has been similar: to emphasize the ironclad treaty commitment of the United States to its allies and to offer measured displays of force: sending a pair of B-52 bombers to fly through the contested Chinese airspace; giving the Baltic states 10 more fighter jets to patrol their skies.
“We stand resolutely with our Baltic allies in support of the Ukrainian people and against Russian aggression,” Mr. Biden said after meeting in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, with the country’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite, and President Andris Berzins of Latvia.
“As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing economic and political isolation,” he said.
For now, administration officials say, Russia presents a harder case than China. Mr. Putin has been brazen in his takeover of Crimea and troubling in his assertion that Russia will protect Russian-speaking populations in the nations that ring his country, while Mr. Xi has only inched forward with Beijing’s territorial claims in the South and East China Seas.
Russia has shrugged off European and American sanctions and ridiculed assertions that it is flouting international law, while China appeared to heed widespread condemnation and Mr. Biden’s show of solidarity with American allies after it imposed its air defense zone.
China has yet to impose a second such zone over the South China Sea, as many in the region had predicted it would. American military commanders say the Chinese Air Force has been prudent in patrolling the zone, allaying fears of a miscalculation if Chinese fighter jets were scrambled to intercept a Japanese plane flying through it.
None of this is to suggest that the tensions in Asia have ebbed. A simmering confrontation between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea flared up recently when Chinese ships turned away Philippine ships trying to deliver supplies to a small military detachment.
American officials still live in fear that China will land troops on the Senkaku Islands, which it claims under the name Diaoyu Islands, but which are controlled by Japan. The United States would be obligated by treaty terms to defend Japan in a military clash with China. And the concerns about China’s muscle-flexing are not limited to these islands.
“China’s military is expanding dramatically, creating concern for a host of American allies,” said Ian Bremmer, founder of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. He said he viewed China as a greater threat than Russia, “and by a very large margin.”
The United States can draw comfort from the fact that Mr. Xi’s overriding goal, experts say, is to maintain stability outside China’s borders so he can manage a host of problems at home, including a slowing economy and tensions over official corruption.
Indeed, China has expressed qualms about Mr. Putin’s adventurism. Normally a stalwart ally of Russia in the United Nations, it declined on Saturday to oppose a Security Council resolution rejecting the referendum for secession in Crimea, abstaining instead.
For all of Mr. Putin’s bluster, some experts doubt that he would risk a wider conflict.
“Putin is also rational and respects U.S. power,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former under secretary of state who teaches at Harvard. “It is very unlikely he would threaten a NATO ally such as Estonia, Latvia or Poland due to NATO’s security guarantee.”
Mr. Burns said the president should draw clear red lines with Russia and China and show that the United States is prepared to defend its treaty obligations. That was the main purpose of Mr. Biden’s visit this week, with his mantra-like repetition of Article V, the clause of the NATO treaty that commits members to regard an armed attack on any one of them to be an attack on all.
It is also worth remembering, Mr. Bremmer said, that Russia has been losing influence steadily for 20 years, “demographically, diplomatically, economically and militarily.”
Mr. Putin’s actions, he said, are evidence more of insecurity than of strength.
Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said: “Russia is a traditional military power sitting atop a declining economic and industrial base. In contrast, China is a military power rooted in a strong and growing economic foundation.”
That may explain why Mr. Obama, after meeting with European allies in Brussels next week, will travel a month later to Asia. There, he will follow in Mr. Biden’s footsteps with a tour of China’s anxious neighbors: Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.
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Tempered Cheers in Ukraine for Ex-Premier, Tied to Political Past

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KIEV, Ukraine — Released from prison last month by the rebellious Ukrainian Parliament, Yulia V. Tymoshenko raced to Independence Square in Kiev to join the celebrations. But the appearance of Ms. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, was curiously subdued, and not just because she was in a wheelchair.
While the thousands gathered there welcomed her, the cheers were tentative, sending a message of appreciation for her suffering but also skepticism.
“I, as a politician, repent,” she said, quickly sensing the mood. “Up until today, politicians were unworthy of you.”
As Russia cemented its hold on the Crimean Peninsula on Tuesday in a pomp-filled ceremony in Moscow, Ms. Tymoshenko emerged as a pivotal, if not beloved, figure in a nation that finds itself directly astride the East-West divide, forced to accommodate its muscular neighbor even as much of its population clamors for closer ties to the West.
Ms. Tymoshenko, 53, who is on her way back to Kiev after treatment for her back in Germany, is uniquely suited to both roles. She is a symbol of Ukraine’s blighted, corrupt, oligarchic past and its possible future. She is both heroine and villain, an architect of Ukraine’s rotten politics and its victim, too, having spent two and a half years in prison on what are widely considered politically motivated charges of corruption brought by her nemesis, the ousted president, Viktor F. Yanukovych.
While she may be tainted by her past brushes with power, she is expected to run for president, analysts say, though most doubt she can win.
But that may not matter. Considered an excellent politician, realistic and intelligent, she already exercises enormous behind-the-scenes influence in the fledgling Kiev government and seems sure to remain a force in Ukraine’s politics for the foreseeable future. Shrewd, with a ruthless streak — the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, once called her “the only man in Ukrainian politics” — she, perhaps more than anyone else, will determine whether Ukraine can be cleansed of corruption and transformed into the Western-style state that the protesters of the Maidan, or Independence Square, have said all along was their ultimate goal.
But it will be difficult to repair her image in a country that deeply distrusts its old guard. A presidentialpreference poll by one of Ukraine’s leading research institutions, SOCIS, put her third, at 9.7 percent, well behind Petro Poroshenko, 48, an oligarch known as the chocolate king, who is pro-European but politically independent, with 21.7 percent. Vitali V. Klitschko, the former boxer, 42, came second with 14.6 percent. The poll’s margin of error is 2.2 percentage points.
Vladimir Fedorin, former editor of the Ukrainian edition of Forbes, said that the Maidan protests were a “political awakening” for Ukrainians and that Ms. Tymoshenko’s blend of populism and patronage politics would no longer suffice to win an election. “It would be only fair for Tymoshenko to step off the political stage together with Yanukovych,” he said.
The effective leader of the Fatherland Party, the traditional rival to Mr. Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions, she was the former president’s fiercest opponent, and yet she is considered to have been cut from the same cloth.
Both thrived on a system of commercial and political intimacy and corruption, deeply dependent on deals with Ukraine’s largest businessmen, the oligarchs, and on complicated relations with Moscow. The two systems had become symbiotic: powerful leaders dominating compliant Parliaments and enriching themselves through oligarchs, who themselves manipulated the interconnections between Russia and Ukraine.
“Tymoshenko is ready to bend morals and values just as much as Yanukovych,” said Orysia Lutsevych, a Ukrainian analyst at Chatham House, a foreign policy research institute in London. “It’s why people said he had no right to judge her, because they come from the same gang.”
In his speech in Moscow, President Vladimir V. Putin defended Russia’s actions in Crimea by pointing out past Western “interventions,” including Libya and Afghanistan, at length.
Mykhailo Minakov, who teaches at the University of Kiev-Mohyla Academy, said that the short history of independent Ukraine is the competition between the presidency and Parliament. “Parliament has a mix of democracy and oligarchy, and the presidency, a mix of dictatorship and oligarchy,” he said. “We need to be rid of that, and if Tymoshenko wins, we will not.”
But she remains extremely powerful and is expected to play an important role. Not only are acting President Oleksandr V. Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk leading members of her Fatherland Party, but so is the powerful interior minister, Arsen Avakov, an oligarch from Kharkiv. And so is the new chief of the National Security Council, Andriy Parubiy, who was a commander on the Maidan and a member of Parliament.
Yuriy V. Lutsenko, a prominent opposition strategist who was Ms. Tymoshenko’s interior minister, described his vain efforts to get the new acting government to appoint powerful oligarchs with strong local ties as governors in the largely Russian-speaking east. For more than 24 hours, he said, Mr. Turchynov and Mr. Yatsenyuk mulled appointing party loyalists instead. Then he went to Ms. Tymoshenko. “It took her 15 minutes to understand, and she accepted it,” Mr. Lutsenko said.
Igor Kolomoisky, a banker who owns a soccer team, was appointed to run Dnepropetrovsk, where Ms. Tymoshenko was born. Serhiy Taruta, an oligarch rich on metals, runs Donetsk.
The naming of the oligarchs was a strong message to Moscow, but for many here, the symbolism was poor, foretelling politics as usual. “We should judge by the appointments,” Mr. Minakov said. “A party that was rather an outcast on Maidan has a lot of power now,” leading to deep dissatisfaction so far among those who favor a more European, democratic society.
In Moscow, Mr. Putin views Ms. Tymoshenko as a Ukrainian patriot, but someone with whom he can do business. “She would never pretend she was anything but a coldblooded person with a thirst for power and money, and it’s easier to deal with such people,” said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
“It’s comfortable for us to work with Tymoshenko’s government,” Mr. Putin said in 2009. She was his favored candidate in 2010, while Dmitri A. Medvedev, then Russian president, favored Mr. Yanukovych. But it is indicative that Moscow found reason to be content with either candidate.
Ukraine is being pulled in different directions: one toward Russia, the other toward Western Europe.
“This revolution may have done away with a regime, but not with a system,” Mr. Trenin said. “The leaders and Parliament are all the old faces, from the old system, and Tymoshenko was one of them.”
For that reason, he suggested, Ms. Tymoshenko is more likely to play a background role. That view was echoed by Steffen Halling of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, who said that she might choose not to run for the presidency until Ukraine stabilizes. The position is now weaker, he said, and “it could be a big risk for her to run and fail.”
Ms. Tymoshenko grew up Russian-speaking and poor; her father left home when she was 1, her mother was a taxi dispatcher, and she took her mother’s maiden name.
She studied economics and engineering, married young and started a video rental business with her husband. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, she turned to the energy business and made a fortune, founding United Energy Systems of Ukraine, a middleman for Russian imports of natural gas. She became known as the gas princess, and one of her associates, Pavlo Lazarenko, a former prime minister, ended up in an American jail on charges including fraud and money laundering.
She proved adept and adaptable, switching from the Russian language to Ukrainian, which she learned as an adult, and from brunette to blonde, with her distinctive, peasant-style braid.
A fiery speaker, in 2004 she led half a million people in the streets during the Orange Revolution, warming the crowd, flirting with it, energizing it and winning, only to be double-crossed, as her supporters see it, by Viktor Yushchenko, the man she helped install as president. His allies accused her, as prime minister then, of undermining him, and he fired her in September 2005.
She was reappointed in 2007, and became controversial again for signing a 2009 deal with Russia that ended a shut-off of gas over unpaid debts but did so at a high price. She narrowly lost the presidential race in 2010 to Mr. Yanukovych by 3.4 percent of the vote, and the next year his courts sent her to prison.
During her trial, she refused to stand for the judge, sitting and fixing him with an icy stare while he called a parade of Mr. Yanukovych’s political allies to testify against her. To stand before him, she said, would mean “kneeling” before the government.
Mr. Lutsenko does not count her out. “All politicians are actors, but Tymoshenko is a better actor than all the others,” he said. “She plays to the hall, and not to the sponsors on the balcony. And she knows the secret trap doors on the stage.”
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NATO Weighs Assistance for Ukraine to Dissuade Further Moves by Moscow

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WASHINGTON — The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said on Wednesday that the alliance was considering providing assistance to Ukraine to help deter Russia from another military intervention there.
“We have intensive consultations with the Ukrainians right now,” Mr. Rasmussen said during an appearance at the Brookings Institution. “I agree that we should step up our assistance to Ukraine, and I am sure it will happen.”
He noted that Ukraine had requested the aid and said that he expected the foreign ministers of the alliance to decide what to provide at a meeting on April 1-2.
Mr. Rasmussen did not say what help might be provided now that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has sent troops to Crimea and positioned other forces near eastern Ukraine. But other Western officials said that Ukraine was seeking communications gear, mine-clearing equipment, vehicles, ammunition, fuel and medical gear, and the sharing of intelligence.
Adm. James G. Stavridis, who led NATO’s military command until his retirement last year, said in an interview that the assistance should be provided and that the alliance should also consider sending military advisers to Ukrainian command centers to coordinate the sharing of intelligence and the distribution of equipment and supplies. NATO should also help Ukraine deal with potential cyberwarfare attacks, he added.
“The odds of reversing what has happened in Crimea are very low, so I think the focus needs to shift to ensuring there is no further encroachment into Ukrainian territory,” said Admiral Stavridis, now the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
“This would not be risk-free; on the other hand, for NATO to do nothing is the most dangerous course,” he added. “The odds of Putin moving further go down with NATO involvement at the level I have described.”
Mr. Rasmussen, who was in Washington to consult on the crisis in Ukraine, did not meet with President Obama. But he conferred Tuesday evening with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Susan E. Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser.
In his speech at the Brookings Institution, Mr. Rasmussen described the Russian military intervention in Crimea as the “gravest threat” to European security since the end of the Cold War. He said the annexation of Crimea was especially serious for three reasons: the size of the military intervention, the fact that it affected a nation of 45 million, and Ukraine’s location on NATO’s doorstep.
“This is a wake-up call, for the Euro-Atlantic community, for NATO and for all those committed to a Europe whole, free and at peace,” he said. “We had thought that such behavior had been confined to history, but it’s back, and it’s dangerous because it violates international norms of accepted behavior.”
Mr. Rasmussen said the alliance was reviewing the full range of its cooperation with Moscow and had suspended its plans to escort Russian ships that are ferrying chemicals for making poison gas from Syria. The alliance has also canceled staff-level meetings between NATO and Russian officials, though it has kept the door open to political talks.
NATO members have also taken a series of relatively modest military steps to reassure its East European members. The United States has sent six F-15 fighters to Lithuania to bolster NATO’s air policing mission in the Baltic states and has sent 12 F-16s to Poland, which borders Ukraine.
Two NATO surveillance planes are patrolling Polish and Romanian airspace. Britain also recently announced that it planned to send several Typhoon aircraft to join the Baltic mission.
Mr. Rasmussen said that he expected additional steps, but he did not say what they might be.
Some experts say the Western alliance should reconsider the assurance it provided Russia in 1997 that NATO would not deploy a substantial number of ground forces on the territory of its Central and East European members. That assurance was part of an agreement on cooperation between NATO and Russia.
“We ought to take another look at having a visible forward presence on the ground and in the air in Central and Eastern Europe,” said Ivo H. Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, who recently served as the United States ambassador to NATO.
Other experts have also focused on that possibility.
“To build further confidence in NATO’s collective-security commitments to members in its eastern area, Washington should return to Europe a third brigade combat team,” William Courtney, the former American ambassador to Georgia and Kazakhstan, and Job C. Henning, a fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, wrote in The National Interest. “If requested by Poland, it ought to be based there.”
The Obama administration has not signaled what additional steps it is prepared to take, but noted that it would participate in a previously planned multinational military exercise in Ukraine this summer, called Rapid Trident. Mr. Hagel spoke by phone with his Ukrainian counterpart, Ihor Tenyukh, on Wednesday. Carlos Pascual, the State Department’s special envoy for international energy affairs, left on Wednesday for a meeting in Kiev on how to lessen Ukraine’s energy dependence on Russia.
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U.S., Russia Exchange Threats at Tense U.N. Meeting |

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(UNITED NATIONS) — Russia and the United States exchanged threats Wednesday at a tense U.N. Security Council meeting over the Ukraine crisis, with Moscow’s envoy warning that the U.S. ambassador’s “insults” are jeopardizing Moscow’s willingness to cooperate with Washington on other diplomatic matters.
It was the council’s eighth meeting in less than three weeks on Ukraine, a show of determination by Western powers to highlight Russia’s diplomatic isolation over the Crimean Peninsula — even if the council is powerless to act because of Moscow’s veto power as a permanent council member.
The meeting came as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon left for Russia and Ukraine in a bid to seek a diplomatic way out of the crisis. Ban will meet with President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials in Moscow on Thursday and travel to Kiev on Friday for talks with Ukraine’s acting president and prime minister, the U.N. said.
“He’s made clear we’re at a crossroads and … the focus must be to engage direct dialogue between Moscow and Kiev aimed at agreeing on specific measures that will pave the way towards a diplomatic solution,” U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
At the council, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was once again alone in defending his country’s actions in Crimea.
He began his speech by celebrating the treaty signed a day earlier by Russian President Vladimir Putin declaring Crimea part of Russia, saying it honored the will of the Crimean people and complied with international law.
“Yesterday, something truly historic happened,” Churkin declared. “A historic injustice has been righted.”
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the United States rejects “Russia’s military intervention and land grab in Crimea.”
She warned that the U.S. and its allies, who imposed sanctions on Russia two days ago, “are prepared to take additional steps if Russian aggression or Russian provocations continue.”
Power also compared Russia’s takeover of Crimea to theft. “A thief can steal property, but that does not confer the right of ownership on the thief,” she said.
The Russian ambassador shot back: “It is simply unacceptable to listen to these insults addressed to our country.”
He added, “If the delegation of the United States of America expects our cooperation in the Security Council on other issues, then Mrs. Power must understand this quite clearly.” By then, Power had left the meeting to her deputy.
Churkin did not elaborate. The United States and Russia are the key players in efforts to establish peace talks in Syria, and also are involved in talks over Iran’s nuclear program.
The council also heard a briefing from Ivan Simonovic, assistant U.N. secretary-general for human rights, who expressed particular concern over the security of Tatars and other ethnic minorities in Crimea.
He highlighted the disappearance of a Crimean Tatar activist after participating in a March 3 protest. Simonovic said the activist was found dead March 16 and his body bore marks of “mistreatment.”
Simonovic announced that the United Nations is deploying a 34-member human rights monitoring mission to Ukraine, scheduled to be in place by Friday.
He said he was not able visit Crimea because the authorities there refused to receive his mission or ensure its security until it was too late. But he said he spoke to representatives of displaced Tatars and victims of arbitrary arrests, torture and other human rights violations.
Churkin dismissed Simonovic’s assessment as “one-sided.”
He also blamed snipers — not Russian soldiers — for the killing of a Ukrainian soldier and an unarmed member of a local self-defense brigade in Crimea on Tuesday, saying the two were deliberately targeted to provoke confrontation.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this story.
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European leaders weigh additional sanctions against Russia

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Speaking from Brussels, interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he believed Russia would not stop at Crimea. “It’s crystal clear for us that Russian authorities will try to move further and escalate the situation in southern and eastern Ukraine,” Yatsenyuk told Bloomberg.
The gathering came as the Ukrainian presence in Crimea continued to ebb. Ukrainian banks were closed Thursday, with signs taped to the doors saying they no longer have authority to operate in Crimea because they are on foreign territory. They said they are making arrangements to reopen and depositors will not lose their savings.
Ukraine said on Wednesday it would seek U.N. support in declaring Crimea a demilitarized zone so that its troops could be relocated to Ukraine proper, effectively acknowledging that it had lost the region despite vows it would never cede to Russia.
In the announcement, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Andriy Parubiy, said his country would hold joint military exercises with the United States and Britain. He did not provide details, but a Pentagon spokesman in Washington said the annual multinational exercises were previously planned and will be held in the summer.
Parubiy also said Ukraine would leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, an alliance of 11 nations that were part of the Soviet Union before it broke up
in 1991. It is led by Russia, and Ukraine’s departure echoes steps taken by Georgia after two of its territories broke away in 2008 with the support of Moscow.
Russia’s storming of the military facilities, and the positioning of forces outside another base, was a tense reminder of how unresolved the situation on the ground remains in Crimea even as Russia declares its absorption of the region an established fact. Ukrainian troops largely gave way without resistance Wednesday, though tension may be building as they face an apparent choice of becoming Russian soldiers and sailors, or moving from Crimea and maintaining their allegiance to Kiev.
Russia is also unlikely to agree to the terms of a demilitarized zone, which would require it to withdraw troops from the region while Ukraine pulls its forces out.
Russia moved swiftly to step up its occupation of Crimea, a day after President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty annexing the peninsula. Its most significant action was the takeover of the Ukrainian navy headquarters in Sevastopol, where pro-Russia militias and Russian regular troops stormed the base and checked Ukrainians at the gate as they left toting bags of personal belongings.
The Ukrainian rear admiral in command was taken out of the compound in a car, and Ukrainian officials charged that the Russians had taken him hostage.
Ukrainian military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said the commander, Adm. Serhiy Haiduk, and some other officers and staff were hurt during a scuffle at a military meteorological unit near the town of Yevpatoria, but those were the only reported injuries. He would not specify how many military installations in Crimea remain under Ukrainian control.
Haiduk was released Thursday morning, according to the office of Ukraine’s acting president. Several pro- Ukrainian activists also were set free.
At the naval headquarters in Sevastopol, about 200 attackers rammed through the gate of the office complex in a truck and raised the tricolor Russian flag. It was difficult to identify the attackers, but they were well organized and carried out the takeover without incident. After it was over, men wearing unmarked uniforms and holding automatic weapons guarded the gate.
Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov gave Crimean authorities three hours to release Haiduk and stop harassing the Ukrainian military. If the admiral is not released, he said in a statement on his Web site, Ukraine will take “appropriate measures.” The deadline passed without apparent action.
In another sign of shifting control, Ukrainian Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh was refused entry to Crimea when he tried to visit the region Wednesday.
Referring to the reports of attacks on Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea, Vice President Bidenwarned Wednesday, “As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing political and economic isolation.”
Speaking in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, Biden said the United States would respond to any Russian aggression against its NATO allies. Standing with the presidents of Lithuania and Latvia, Biden said President Obama plans to seek commitments from allies to ensure that NATO can safeguard its collective security.
Scrambling for a response
In Moscow, Russian authorities began issuing passports to residents of Crimea on Wednesday, said Konstantin Romodanovsky, head of the Federal Migration Service in Russia. He said Crimeans had become Russian citizens Tuesday.
The Russian government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, meanwhile, began publishing in Crimea with an initial print run of 5,000 copies.
For its part, the Ukrainian government in Kiev approved a plan on procedures to evacuate Crimeans who want to move to the mainland.
Ukraine, unwilling to fire shots that would provoke an even greater show of Russian force, has been left scrambling for a response. The Ukrainian military, with about 130,000 troops, few of them considered combat-ready, is far smaller than Russia’s 845,000-member armed forces.
Military analysts say Ukraine has enough tanks to inflict some damage but not to overpower Russia. Last week, Ukrainian officials issued a call for volunteers to join a national guard, an attempt to harness the fighting spirit that emerged among demonstrators in Kiev who forced the ouster of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych last month.
But that national guard force — expected to number about 40,000 eventually — would operate under the Interior Ministry, helping to keep order and protect power plants and other important facilities.
‘It’s a world drama’
In Kiev on Wednesday, Ukrainians were discussing ways to get more help from Kiev’s friends in the West. There was little bravado about taking on Russia by themselves.
“It’s not just Ukraine’s drama,” said Yuriy Shcherbak, a former Ukrainian ambassador to the United States. “It’s a world drama.”
Vasyl Filipchuk, a former Ukrainian diplomat who is now a political analyst, said the United Nations should suspend Russia from membership in the Security Council to demonstrate that the world is serious about punishing it for annexing Crimea.
“Russia thinks Ukraine is weak,” Filipchuk said. “Russia thinks the world is weak and frightened.”
Neither Europe nor the United States has produced the kind of sanctions that would give Russia serious pause about widening its incursion into Ukraine, he said. The U.S. sanctions, he said, would do little more than keep a few of Putin’s friends from going to Miami Beach.
Ukraine hopes to sign a partnership agreement Friday with the European Union — the very agreement that Yanukovych refused to sign, setting off the protests that eventually toppled him.
Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, said in Moscow that legislation ratifying the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol could be submitted Wednesday and perhaps given a final vote Thursday.
He described the annexation in grand terms, calling it a new stage in world history and making an oblique reference to Russia’s staring down malevolent ­forces unleashed by the West. “This is a turning point in the confrontation between good and evil,” he said.
Griff Witte in London contributed to this report. Lally reported from Kiev.
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Russian forces seize two Ukrainian bases in Crimea

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SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine/MOSCOW (Reuters) - The United States warned Moscow it was on a "dark path" to isolation on Wednesday as Russian troops seized two Ukrainian naval bases, including a headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol where they raised their flag.

The dramatic seizure came as Russia and the West dug in for a long confrontation over Moscow's annexation of Crimea, with the United States and Europe groping for ways to increase pressure on a defiant Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing political and economic isolation," said U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, referring to reports of armed attacks against Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea.

Biden was in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, as part of a quick trip to reassure Baltic allies worried about what an emboldened Russia might mean for their nations. Lithuania, along with Estonia and Latvia, are NATO members.

"There is an attempt, using brutal force, to redraw borders of the European states and to destroy the postwar architecture of Europe," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said.

The head of NATO warned that Putin may not stop with the annexation of Crimea and urged Europe to step up defense spending in response to the crisis.

"Crimea is one example. But I see Crimea as an element in a greater pattern, in a more long-term Russian, or at least Putin, strategy," Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a Washington think tank. "So of course our major concern now is whether he will go beyond Crimea.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon meets Putin in Moscow on Thursday and travels to Kiev on Friday. He will urge a peaceful end to a crisis that began when Ukraine's president abandoned a trade pact with the European Union and turned instead to Moscow, prompting violent street protests that led to his overthrow.

Russian lawmakers raced to ratify a treaty making Crimea part of Russia by the end of the week, despite threats of further sanctions from Washington and Brussels.

The Russian military moved swiftly to neutralize any threat of armed resistance in Crimea.

"This morning they stormed the compound. They cut the gates open, but I heard no shooting," said Oleksander Balanyuk, a captain in the navy, walking out of the compound in his uniform and carrying his belongings.

"This thing should have been solved politically. Now all I can do is stand here at the gate. There is nothing else I can do," he told Reuters, appearing ashamed and downcast.

Ukrainian military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said the commander of the Ukrainian navy, Admiral Serhiy Haiduk, was driven away by what appeared to be Russian special forces.

Russian troops seized another Ukrainian naval facility in Crimea late on Wednesday.

"Russian troops came and asked us to leave the base, which we did," Ukrainian navy Major Eduard Kusnarenko told Reuters outside the base in Bakhchisaray, about 30 km (20 miles) southwest of the regional capital, Simferopol.

In Washington, the White House condemned Russian moves to seize Ukrainian military installations, saying they were creating a dangerous situation.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who has imposed sanctions on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials, said Washington would keep up its diplomatic push to bring pressure on Russia, but added in a television interview: "We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine."


Russia sent thousands of soldiers to Crimea in the buildup to a referendum last weekend in which the Russian-majority region voted overwhelmingly to leave Ukraine and join Moscow, reflecting national loyalties and hopes of higher wages.

But there is unease among pro-Ukrainian Crimeans who have complained about the heavy armed presence across the region.

"I was born here, my family is here, I have a job here and I am not going anywhere unless there is an all-out military conflict," said Viktor, a 23-year-old salesman. "It is my home but things will not be the same anymore."

A few hundred meters away, the local authorities attached new, Russian letters spelling "State Council of the Crimean Republic" on the building of the local assembly.

Ukrainian security chief Andriy Parubiy said the Kiev government would urge the United Nations to declare Crimea a demilitarized zone.

"The Ukrainian government will immediately appeal to the United Nations to recognize Crimea as a demilitarized zone and take necessary measures for Russian forces to leave Crimea and prepare conditions for redeployment of Ukrainian forces," Parubiy said.

Ukraine announced plans to introduce visas for Russians, and Russia said it might respond in kind.

Putin said his move to annex Crimea was justified by "fascists" in Kiev who overthrew pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovich last month.

Ukraine and Western governments have dismissed the referendum as a sham, and say there is no justification for Putin's actions.


Germany's Cabinet approved EU plans for closer political cooperation with Ukraine, a government source said, clearing the way for Chancellor Angela Merkel to sign part of a so-called association agreement at an EU summit later this week.

The 28-member bloc is expected to sign a more far-reaching trade accord with Ukraine later.

But maintaining aggressive rhetoric reminiscent of the Cold War, Russia accused Western states of violating a pledge to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and political independence under a 1994 security assurance agreement, saying they had "indulged a coup d'etat" that ousted Yanukovich.

Moscow, which has said it will retaliate for so far largely symbolic Western sanctions targeting Russian officials, announced on Wednesday it was closing its military facilities to a European security watchdog for the rest of the year.

The Russian Defense Ministry was quoted as saying the signatories of a 2011 Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe agreement had exhausted their quotas to inspect Russian military facilities and a planned inspection in the coming days would be the last.


Biden said in Warsaw on Tuesday the United States may run more ground and naval military exercises to help Baltic states near Russia beef up their capacity after what he called Putin's "land grab" in Ukraine.

The Truxtun, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer, started a one-day military exercise with the Bulgarian and Romanian navies in the Black Sea on Wednesday, a U.S. Naval Forces official said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel praised the restraint of Ukraine's armed forces in a phone call on Wednesday with his Ukrainian counterpart.

A brief Pentagon statement about Hagel's conversation with Ukraine's acting defense minister, Ihor Tenyukh, made no mention of any Ukrainian requests for assistance. Kiev has asked for lethal and non-lethal military support from the United States, which has so far only approved military rations.

Washington and Brussels said further sanctions would follow the visa bans and asset freezes imposed so far on a handful of Russian and Crimean officials, drawing derision from Moscow.

But Ukraine's foreign minister, Andriy Deshchytsya, told Reuters the steps taken by the West were "a very concrete step forward," and added: "I believe these countries will not stop at this level of support.

On a visit to Japan, which has joined the Western chorus of condemnation of Moscow's action, close Putin ally Igor Sechin, chief executive officer of Russian oil major Rosneft, said expanding sanctions would only aggravate the crisis.

European Union leaders will consider widening the number of people targeted by personal sanctions when they meet on Thursday and Friday, diplomats said, as well as signing the political part of an association agreement with Ukraine's interim government.

EU officials say they have identified more than 100 potential targets. Some media reports say Sechin and the head of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom are on the wider list.

(Additional reporting by Mike Collett-White and Gabriela Baczynska in Simferopol; Elizabeth Piper and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Ronald Popeski in Kiev; and Phil Stewart and Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Mike Collett-White and Peter Cooney; Editing by Anna Willard, Giles Elgoodand Lisa Shumkaer)

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