Ukraine slams Russian attempt to ‘tear country apart’


Several hundred pro-Russian demonstrators who have seized government buildings in the city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, urged President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday to send troops to the region as a peacekeeping force, and they demanded a referendum on seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, The New York Times reports:

The renewed unrest in eastern Ukraine, which flared on Sunday with coordinated demonstrations by thousands of pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, reignited fears in Kiev and the West about Russian military action

Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said he believed the protests represented “the second wave of Russia’s special operation against Ukraine, aimed at destabilization, toppling the current government, thwarting elections and tearing the country apart.”

“The enemies of Ukraine are trying to play the Crimean scenario, but we will not allow this,” Turchynov said….The FT reports

….warning that an operation had been launched to arrest perpetrators and the military presence along Ukraine’s borders had been beefed up. Mr Turchynov, also speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, said draft legislation banning parties that back separatism had been submitted for consideration.

“This is not politics. This is a serious crime. We will act swiftly against criminals,” he said.

There is evidence that pro-Russia demonstrators in Ukraine’s east are getting support from Russians inside Ukraine, USA Today reports:

Ukrainian authorities say Russia is working behind the scenes to inflame separatist tension and destabilize eastern Ukraine, where half of the population is Russian-speaking, to create a pretext for sending in Russia troops as was done in Crimea.

“They don’t make up a big share of the demonstrators, but there are up to a thousand Russian volunteers in Ukraine,” said analyst Sergei Markov, a backer of the Russian government who has advised the Kremlin on Ukraine.

Asked if those volunteers would be willing to take up arms if a conflict broke out, Markov said “of course.”

Defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper said there could be a full-fledged Russian military incursion into the three eastern Ukrainian cities, VOA’s Michael Eckels reports:

“The real factor is the battle readiness of the troops that are designated there. And battle readiness seems to be right now at its highest,” he said.

However, that battle readiness can’t be sustained indefinitely, Felgenhauer said, meaning that Russia has a window of opportunity to invade eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian parliament will push through anti-separatist legislation.

“So it’s either now or never. Not maybe never, but at least the same level of battle readiness we have right now will be maybe again reached somewhere in August.”….

Mark Galeotti, a security expert and professor at New York University, said it is within Ukraine’s abilities to use force to remove the pro-Russia activists from the buildings they have seized.

“Kyiv needs to show that it has strength and determination. If it doesn’t, it will embolden the protesters all the more,” said Galeotti.

Only 14 percent of Ukrainians support federalization, according to a poll released Saturday by the International Republican Institute. Federalization was more popular in the south, 22 percent, and the east, 26 percent, The Washington Post’s Kathy Lally reports.

The poll, which included Crimea, was carried out from March 14 to 26 as Crimea was being annexed by Russia. The results contradict the assertions Russia has made to justify its annexation of Crimea and its threats to intervene in eastern Ukraine, instead finding widespread opposition to Russian incursion and a growing preference for ties to Europe rather than Russia….

Russia has described what it calls “atrocities” against Russian-speakers, issuing warnings that suggest it is building a case to send troops into eastern Ukraine as it did in Crimea. The IRI poll released Saturday, however, found Ukraine’s Russian-speakers did not feel under threat. Even in the Russian-speaking east and south, including Crimea, 74 percent said they felt no threat.

“The issue of federalization is absolutely artificial,” said Yuriy Yakymenko, a political expert at the Razumkov think tank in Kiev. “It’s part of Russia’s plan to impose control over Ukraine and prevent it from integrating with Europe.”

IRI is one of the National Endowment for Democracy’s core institutes.


Afghan elections ‘vindicate investments and sacrifices’, suggest waning Karzai influence


After enduring Taliban attacks and security clampdowns, Afghans reveled Sunday in the apparent success of the weekend’s presidential election, as officials offered solid indications that the vote far exceeded expectations, The New York Times reports:

Two senior officials from the Independent Election Commission said the authorities supervising the collection of ballots in tallying centers had counted between seven million and 7.5 million total ballots, indicating that about 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters had taken part in the election. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because results will not be released for weeks.

“This has been the best and most incident-free election in Afghanistan’s modern history and it could set the precedent for a historic, peaceful transition of power in Afghanistan,” said Mohammad Fahim Sadeq, head of the Afghanistan National Participation Organization, an observer group.

Former World Bank executive Ashraf Ghani and opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah appeared to be the two front-runners in Afghanistan’s presidential election, sidelining a candidate viewed as President Hamid Karzai’s favorite, according to partial results tallied by news organizations and one candidate, The Wall Street Journal reports:

A victory for Mr. Abdullah or Mr. Ghani could significantly reduce the influence of Mr. Karzai, who has ruled Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Both candidates say they will sign the bilateral security agreement, which is needed to maintain American aid and a limited U.S. military presence in Afghanistan once the international coalition’s current mandate expires in December. Mr. Karzai has infuriated Washington by refusing to complete the deal.

Graeme Smith, a Kabul-based analyst at the International Crisis Group, said he expected the election to end in a cordial runoff.

“All of the candidates have a deep vested interest in the stability of the Afghan state,” he said. “Though they may rock the boat, they won’t capsize it.”

“I am genuinely encouraged,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington who recently visited Kabul. “The high turnout, modest levels of violence, and good performance of the Afghan army and police are all genuine good-news stories,” he said by e-mail yesterday.

The election was a repudiation of the Taliban. Violence in the run-up to the voting backfired, notes Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations.

“Each attack aimed at discouraging participation seemed to encourage even more people to register. Taliban efforts to intimidate communities at the local level also failed,” he writes for The National Interest. “Even in Pashtun areas in the east and south, turnout was high. With their cause and methods rejected, the armed opposition will undertake needed soul searching,” says Khalilzad, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

Afghan electoral institutions performed well. More so than in previous years, the international community operated largely in a supporting role as Afghans took the lead in conducting elections. Although there were reports of ballot shortages in some polling stations, voting, from an administrative standpoint, went remarkably smoothly. …………..Afghan security institutions were effective. Though some stations remained closed for security reasons, Taliban efforts to disrupt voting produced no major security incidents across the country. Afghans’ confidence in security institutions has increased, portending, perhaps, a new level of trust that could suppress the insurgency.

The National Democratic Institute today underlined the need for observers to follow the tallying and complaints process to help ensure the integrity of the April 5 presidential and provincial elections:

Since the margins among the contestants may be slim and a small number of votes may affect the outcome, it is critical that observers follow the tallying and complaints process closely, NDI said. In a preliminary statement, NDI said a final assessment be made only after the electoral institutions had completed their activities.

NDI fielded an observer delegation of 101 Afghan staff members who visited 327 polling stations in 26 provinces. Many of them helped prepare 46,000 candidate and political party polling agents in the lead-up to the elections.

The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan said ballot counting had begun after voting was extended by an hour.

“Out of 7 million, around 35 percent of them were Afghan women, a great signal to practice democracy,” IEC Chairman Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani said yesterday in Kabul, adding that the turnout was more than twice that of the 2009 elections.

The fact that the election wasn’t disrupted by violence — only 3 percent of polling stations closed for security reasons — isn’t a guarantee the rest of the electoral process will be smooth, said Martine van Bijlert of the Afghan Analysts Network.

“There are still credible reports of fraud from the areas that are difficult to monitor and from where news travels slowly,” said Van Bijlert, co-director of the nonprofit policy group based in Kabul. “And we might still see a very contested count.”

But so far, the election vindicates the large investments and sacrifices of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan,” Khalilzad asserts:

The Afghan people rose to the occasion, creating an environment of hope and expectation. This presents the country, particularly the new President, with an opportunity to build on the positive achievements of the last 12 years. By resisting the temptation for a winner-take-all approach and including the losing candidates and/or their supporters, the new administration can build a national consensus behind the reforms necessary to advance peace building, economic development, the rule of law, and anti-corruption efforts.

Putin rejects the West – in writing

Putins-InterestWhat kind of country is Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

The third year of his third presidential term has offered plenty of clues: the Crimea invasion, the shuttering of uncensored media outlets, prison terms for protesters. Now, Putin is planning to put the intellectual and ideological foundations of the new regime into words, writes Leonid Bershidsky:

A document called “Foundations of the State Cultural Policy” has been under development since 2012. A special working group under Putin’s chief of staff Sergei Ivanov will soon roll it out for a month of “public debate” before Putin gets to sign it. Quotes from the culture ministry’s draft, presumably the basis for the final one, have leaked out.

“Russia must be viewed as a unique and original civilization that cannot be reduced to ‘East’ or ‘West,’” reads the document, signed by Deputy Culture Minister Vladimir Aristarkhov. “A concise way of formulating this stand would be, ‘Russia is not Europe,’ and that is confirmed by the entire history of the country and the people.”

Russia’s non-European path should be marked by “the rejection of such principles as multiculturalism and tolerance,” according to the draft. “No references to ‘creative freedom’ and ‘national originality’ can justify behavior considered unacceptable from the point of view of Russia’s traditional value system.” That, the document stresses, is not an infringement on basic freedoms but merely the withdrawal of government support from “projects imposing alien values on society.”

The draft goes on to explain that certain forms of modern art and liberal Western values in general are unacceptable and harmful to society’s moral health, Bershidsky notes::

Although Putin has mentioned Russia’s “civilizational differences” with the West in his speeches, Russia has never asserted, in so many words, that its ideology is based on the rejection of the European path and of universal values such as democratic development and tolerance toward different cultures. If “Foundations of the State Cultural Policy” is adopted in the form proposed by the culture ministry, isolationism and, yes, intolerance of anything “alien” will be enshrined on an official level.


No shortcut to national dialogue, Sudanese civil society insists

sudan darfurA national dialogue to address Sudan’s endemic crises requires security and basic rights for all citizens, a lifting of the state of emergency and a cessation of hostilities, say Sudanese civil society groups

Eighteen NGOs issued a statement on Thursday demanding that the national dialogue, proposed by President Omar Al Bashir earlier this year, should be inclusive of civil society.

Hafez Mahmoud, Director of the Sudanese Justice Africa, one of the signatories of the statement, told Radio Dabanga that the dialogue process should not be limited to political parties. “They lack the participation of society.”

Other signatories of the statement are the Darfur Bar Association of lawyers, the centre of Alkhatim Adlan for Enlightenment and Human Development, Nuba Relief and Rehabilitation, and Sudan Democracy First.

“We welcome calls for a national dialogue in Sudan, but we are deeply concerned as active civil society organisations that current plans for dialogue fall short of the minimum required,” the statement said:

A common approach to addressing grievances across our country is desperately needed. A de facto one party system has confiscated democratic freedoms and sought to silence dissenting voices even from within its own ranks. Piecemeal approaches to peace have failed, with the Darfur conflict now in its eleventh year and fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile continuing unabated.  

Full enjoyment of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, association and assembly, along with a cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access are required before any meaningful dialogue can start.

“In my many travels to Sudan over the years, I have been inspired by the resilience, courage and vision of civil society leaders and activists,” said Ambassador Princeton Lyman, the former US Special Envoy to South Sudan and Sudan.

“I am impressed by the commitment of these non-partisan Sudanese citizens to advancing the interests of their country through open public consultations on creative proposals to resolve long-standing national problems,” which is why he is especially “concerned that the government has recently been increasingly engaged in a ‘crackdown’ on civil society organizations and leaders,” he wrote for Al-Jazeera.

The dialogue must be inclusive of all stakeholders and not restricted to political parties and alliances within them,” the NGOs added:

The process must not be elitist, limited to like-minded political parties and lack the participation of and accountability to society at large. This will require public access to credible and independent information on the dialogue and the space to debate and reach consensus. The ultimate failure of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was its lack of ownership by the Sudanese people. This time around, representatives of victims of Sudan’s many wars, civil society, youth, women’s groups, trades unions and intellectuals must be included, as well as political parties, and society at large.  The National Congress Party (NCP), National Consensus Forces (NCF), opposition groups, and Sudan Revolutionary Front must all participate.


Who’s the fascist? Putin’s ideologists court Europe’s far right

DUGIN-150x150Today’s Russia lacks the sort of coherent ideology provided by Soviet Communism, but if there is a conceptual thread running through Putin’s rhetoric and actions, it is that of Eurasianism, says analyst Jamie Kirchik…..

….characterized recently in Foreign Affairs by Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn as “authoritarian in essence, traditional, anti-American, and anti-European; it values religion and public submission. And more significant to today’s headlines, it is expansionist.” The man at the forefront of this movement is Alexander Dugin, a “conservative revolutionary” in the fascist mold who frequently appears on Russian state television egging on Putin’s neo-imperialist agenda. In 2005, Putin oversaw the creation of the Nashi youth movement, essentially a personality cult, which, in its idolization of the leader, nationalistic rhetoric, and confrontational approach toward critics bears, as some have noted, more than a passing resemblance to the Hitler Youth.

If Ukraine’s fledgling democracy survives the Russian threat, its extremist problem will likely be contained. Not so in Russia, where the rot of far-right nationalism currently starts at the top, Russia-watcher Cathy Young notes:

Writing in Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s surviving dissident media outlets, journalist Alexander Lipsky has pointed out that smearing opponents as “fascist” was a standard Soviet propaganda ploy. Its revival is particularly ironic today, when some Russians using this slur may fit it far better than their targets do. Take Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who recently lamented on Twitter that Ukrainians, his Soviet-era compatriots, had turned to “Nazis all around.” Rogozin first entered politics as a leader of the nationalist bloc Rodina (Motherland), which got booted from local Moscow elections in 2005 over an ad—featuring Rogozin himself—that used blatantly racist caricatures of Azerbaijani migrants. In 2011, he was the subject of a glowing tribute on the American “white identity” site Occidental Observer.

A far more sinister figure is Alexander Dugin [above left], founder of the “Eurasian movement,” which defines its mission as opposing “liberal hegemony” and modernity. In the 1990s, Dugin, a college dropout active in marginal ultranationalist groups, wrote essays openly advocating fascism as a “third way” alternative to communism and capitalism. Dugin argued that real fascism had never been properly tried (an argument usually made on behalf of communism) and would eventually emerge in Russia; while disavowing the racist “excesses” of Nazism, he also praised the SS as an “intellectual oasis” in the Third Reich and fantasized about the rise of “a race of Nordic warrior priests.”

Last year, Gabor Vona, leader of Hungary’s fascist Jobbik party, met with Dugin as well as leaders of the Russian Duma and spoke at Moscow State University, analyst Kirchik writes for The Tablet: .

There he said that Hungary should leave the European Union and join Putin’s proposed “Eurasian Union” instead. “The role of Russia today is to offset the Americanization of Europe,” Vona declared. It is “clear that Russian leaders consider Jobbik as a partner,” the party boasted on its website. Jobbik applauded the sham Crimean referendum that led to the region’s annexation as “exemplary,” which is hardly surprising given that it too has revisionist aspirations for Europe’s borders. Jobbik speaks openly of regaining the territories Hungary lost after World War I and in which a significant number of ethnic Hungarians still reside, and Putin’s rationale for seizing Crimea is precisely the sort of reasoning that Jobbik uses in its own, ill-fated quest to restore “Greater Hungary.” When I reported on Jobbik for Tablet two years ago, several Hungarians shared their suspicion that the Kremlin is secretly funding the party.

All this would make Dugin merely an odious crank if, by the mid-2000s, he had not emerged as a leading “intellectual” in Russia’s Putin-era political establishment, with ties to top politicians and members of the official media, Young writes for The Weekly Standard:

Dropping the word “fascist,” he began to style himself a “traditionalist”; he also procured a Ph.D. and became the head of the Center for Conservative Studies at Moscow State University. In 2009, his International Eurasian Movement counted among its board members Alexander Torshin, Duma vice speaker and a leading figure in the ruling United Russia party, and Nikolai Yefimov, editor in chief of the army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star). Dugin was cited as an intellectual guru by Ivan Demidov, who headed United Russia’s ideology section in 2008, and currently serves as an adviser to the chairman of the State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin.