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I knew I had to quit. I’d been a correspondent for RT—the English-language international cable network funded by the Russian government—for about two and a half years. I’d looked the other way as the network smeared America for the sake of making the Kremlin look better by comparison, while it sugarcoated atrocities by one brutal dictator after another. I’d been thinking about leaving for a long time, but was trying to hang in there until I figured out my next move.
Then Russia invaded Ukraine, and I came to see just how dangerous a propaganda tool the network was. I couldn’t be a part of it any longer. I decided, somewhat arbitrarily, that March 5th would be my last day. And when that day came, after some particularly egregious coverage of the Ukraine crisis, I knew my resignation had to be public; I couldn’t just silently disappear. That afternoon, I went to the bathroom to scribble down some thoughts before making my dramatic exit. During the 5 p.m. broadcast, after the coverage of Ukraine wrapped up, I made my closing statements:
“I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin,” I said. “I am proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth. And that is why, after this newscast, I am resigning.”
My heart racing, I took my earpiece out and got up from the anchor chair. As I gathered my belongings, the news director said he wanted to have a word with me in his office. He asked me why I did it, as though I had some reason other than the one I had just announced on live TV. I explained that it really was because of the propaganda RT was pushing about Ukraine. Then I left the building and walked a couple blocks to a restaurant to sit down and let the reality of what I did settle in.
Fifteen minutes later, my phone started ringing.
More than 5,000 pro-Russia residents of a major city in Ukraine's east demonstrated on Saturday in favor of holding a referendum on whether to seek to split off and become part of Russia.
The rally in Donetsk came less than a week after the Ukrainian region of Crimea approved secession in a referendum regarded as illegitimate by the Western countries. After the referendum, Russia moved to formally annex Crimea.
With Crimea now effectively under the control of Russian forces, which ring Ukrainian military bases on the strategic Black Sea peninsula, concern is rising that Ukraine's eastern regions will agitate for a similar move.
Russia has brought large military contingents to areas near the border with eastern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said there is no intention to move into eastern Ukraine, but the prospect of violence between pro- and anti-secession groups in the east could be used as a pretext for sending in troops.
Eastern Ukraine is the heartland of Ukraine's economically vital heavy industry and mining and the support base for Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who fled to Russia last month after being ousted in the wake of three months of protests in the capital, Kiev.
Russia and Yanukovych supporters contend Yanukovych's ouster was a coup and allege that the authorities who then came to power are nationalists who would oppress the east's large ethnic Russian population.
"They're trying to tear us away from Russia," said demonstrator Igor Shapoval, a 59-year-old businessman. "But Donbass is ready to fight against this band which already lost Crimea and is losing in the east."
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine and to defer all travel to the Crimean Peninsula and eastern regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lugansk due to the presence of Russian military forces in the Crimean Peninsula, and in Russia near the Ukrainian border. Russia is taking actions in support of its attempt to annex the Crimean Peninsula and is likely to continue to take further actions in the Crimean Peninsula consistent with its claim. The United States and Ukraine do not recognize this claimed annexation, and the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv is constrained in its ability to provide assistance to U.S. citizens visiting or residing in the Crimean Peninsula. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Ukraine dated March 7 and Emergency Message dated March 14, 2014, to provide updated information on the situation in the Crimean Peninsula and the eastern regions of Ukraine.
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens who travel to or reside in Ukraine to evaluate carefully the risks posed to their personal safety, particularly in the Crimean Peninsula and the eastern regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kharkiv. While the transition to a new government has been largely peaceful in most parts of Ukraine, the potential for violence between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian groups still exists. Since February 27, demonstrations and clashes have occurred in several cities in Ukraine, some of which were violent and resulted in deaths and injuries. Additionally, groups advocating closer ties to Russia have taken on a more strident anti-American tone, especially in Crimea, where some U.S. citizens have reported being detained and questioned by armed men. U.S. citizens in areas where there are pro-Russian demonstrations should maintain a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings.
Peace Corps Volunteers departed Ukraine on February 25, 2014, and remain out of the country at this time. U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s Consular Section is open for all public services. The Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens in other parts of Ukraine, especially in southern and eastern Ukraine, is limited.
Ground transportation may be disrupted throughout the country. Drivers, especially in the Crimean Peninsula, may encounter roadblocks that restrict access on certain roads. Commercial air travel, especially out of the Crimean Peninsula, could be delayed or cancelled with little or no notice. Travelers should check with their airlines for possible flight delays or cancellations prior to travel.
The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly. U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine should avoid large crowds. Those in Kyiv should keep away from the downtown areas of Kyiv near Independence Square and government buildings. U.S. citizens should be prepared to remain indoors for extended periods of time should clashes occur in their vicinity.
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović today arrived in Crimea for a two-day visit to lay the groundwork for a UN human rights monitoring mission to set up a presence in Crimea.
Led by Šimonović, the four-person team from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights plans to meet in Simferopol today Mr. Sergei Aksenov, Mr. Vladimir Konstantinov, as well as representatives of the Ombudsperson, civil society, journalists and regional organisations. The team also plans to meet Ukrainian servicemen and their families. Meetings have also been scheduled with Mr. Refat Chubarov, Chair of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, Prosecutor-General Ms. Natalya Poklonskaya, as well as the Russian Consul-General.
The team plans to visit Sevastopol tomorrow for further meetings before returning to Kyiv.
During an earlier official mission to Ukraine this month, from March 6-18, Šimonović announced the formation and immediate deployment of a UN human rights monitoring team, led by Armen Harutyunyan, throughout Ukraine to help establish the facts surrounding allegations of human rights violations and serve to de-escalate tensions.
The names on the latest list of sanctions released by the White House on Thursday read like a who’s who of Vladimir Putin’s innermost circle — ex-KGB colleagues, top advisors and the men believed to hold the Russian president’s personal pursestrings.
There’s Boris and Arkady Rotenberg, who Putin brought with him from St Petersburg and who have grown enormously wealthy since. There is Gennady Timchenko, a secretive oil trader who handles a large bulk of Russia’s lucrative oil shipments and who once sued The Economist for merely calling him Putin’s friend. The two are said to be judo buddies. There’s Vladimir Yakunin, the head of Russian Railways and a top champion of the Russian Orthodox Church. The list goes on and on and includes ministers, lawmakers, businessmen all with two things in common: their wealth and their proximity to Putin.
The Kremlin must be freaking out.
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. I wanted to provide an update on the situation in Ukraine and the steps that the United States is taking in response.
Over the last several days, we’ve continued to be deeply concerned by events in Ukraine. We've seen an illegal referendum in Crimea; an illegitimate move by the Russians to annex Crimea; and dangerous risks of escalation, including threats to Ukrainian personnel in Crimea and threats to southern and eastern Ukraine as well. These are all choices that the Russian government has made -- choices that have been rejected by the international community, as well as the government of Ukraine. And because of these choices, the United States is today moving, as we said we would, to impose additional costs on Russia.
Based on the executive order that I signed in response to Russia’s initial intervention in Ukraine, we’re imposing sanctions on more senior officials of the Russian government. In addition, we are today sanctioning a number of other individuals with substantial resources and influence who provide material support to the Russian leadership, as well as a bank that provides material support to these individuals.
Now, we’re taking these steps as part of our response to what Russia has already done in Crimea. At the same time, the world is watching with grave concern as Russia has positioned its military in a way that could lead to further incursions into southern and eastern Ukraine. For this reason, we’ve been working closely with our European partners to develop more severe actions that could be taken if Russia continues to escalate the situation.
As part of that process, I signed a new executive order today that gives us the authority to impose sanctions not just on individuals but on key sectors of the Russian economy. This is not our preferred outcome. These sanctions would not only have a significant impact on the Russian economy, but could also be disruptive to the global economy. However, Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community. The basic principles that govern relations between nations in Europe and around the world must be upheld in the 21st century. That includes respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity -- the notion that nations do not simply redraw borders, or make decisions at the expense of their neighbors simply because they are larger or more powerful.
One of our other top priorities continues to be providing assistance to the government of Ukraine so it can stabilize its economy and meet the basic needs of the Ukrainian people. As I travel to Europe next week to meet with the G7 and other European and Asian allies, I once again urge Congress to pass legislation that is necessary to provide this assistance -- and do it right away. Expressions of support are not enough. We need action. I also hope that the IMF moves swiftly to provide a significant package of support for Ukrainians as they pursue reforms.
In Europe, I’ll also be reinforcing a message that Vice President Biden carried to Poland and the Baltic states this week: America’s support for our NATO allies is unwavering. We’re bound together by our profound Article 5 commitment to defend one another, and by a set of shared values that so many generations sacrificed for. We’ve already increased our support for our Eastern European allies, and we will continue to strengthen NATO’s collective defense, and we will step up our cooperation with Europe on economic and energy issues as well.
Let me close by making a final point. Diplomacy between the United States and Russia continues. We’ve emphasized that Russia still has a different path available -- one that de-escalates the situation, and one that involves Russia pursuing a diplomatic solution with the government in Kyiv, with the support of the international community. The Russian people need to know, and Mr. Putin needs to understand that the Ukrainians shouldn’t have to choose between the West and Russia. We want the Ukrainian people to determine their own destiny, and to have good relations with the United States, with Russia, with Europe, with anyone that they choose. And that can only happen if Russia also recognized the rights of all the Ukrainian people to determine their future as free individuals, and as a sovereign nation -- rights that people and nations around the world understand and support.
Thank you very much, everybody.