Ukraine Crisis | Al Jazeera America

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Ukraine Crisis

Breaking news, updates, and analysis on the uprising and crisis in Ukraine.

  • Confused about the upcoming elections in Ukraine? Al Jazeera America has you covered with the following infographic that breaks down the candidates and political structure of the country.

    The widely accepted frontrunner is 'chocolate king' Petro Poroshenko, who has edged out Yulia Tymoshenko and her famous hair braid. 

    However, security concerns are still swirling around election day, especially in eastern Ukraine, which is largely controlled by pro-Russian forces.

  • Russia's second-largest bank, VTB, will have higher banking reserves as a result of the Ukraine crisis and this will have an impact on the lender's first-quarter profit, Chief Executive Officer Andrei Kostin said on Friday.

    [Reuters]
  • A senior Russian minister said on Friday Moscow's strategic goal is the integration of the post-Soviet region and those who oppose this could not be considered partners.

    "This is our strategic goal," First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, and he said he did not understand why the United States opposed those efforts.

    "It is necessary to create an attitude abroad that all those who are against our goal, they are not our friends, not our partners. Those are people who are trying to destroy the basis of our economic strength."

    [Reuters]
  • Russia will pull back all forces deployed to regions near its border with Ukraine "within a few days", its deputy defense minister said on Friday, a move that if carried out could ease tensions before Ukraine's presidential election on Sunday.

    Moscow has concentrated tens of thousands of troops across the border from eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists have declared two independent states.

    Kiev and its Western allies see the Russian troops as a potential invasion force should Moscow choose to back the rebels openly, fuelling pre-election tensions. The United States and EU hope the vote will strengthen the embattled central government.

    Asked whether Russia would comply with Western calls for a withdrawal of its troops near the Ukraine frontier, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told Reuters: "They will see it - 100 percent ... We will leave less than nothing behind."

    He said that Russia had already moved 20 transport planes and 20 trains worth of personnel and military equipment out of the provinces of Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk flanking Ukraine after completing what he said were military exercises there.

    A full withdrawal of forces deployed to the regions could be completed "within a few days," he said.

    [Reuters]
  • Russia's finance minister signals he is confidence he will find a reasonable solution for Visa and MasterCard business in the country, Reuters reports.
  • According to a spokeswoman for the acting president, 13 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in an overnight clash with pro-Russian separatists near Donetsk, Reuters reports.
  • Poroshenko's campaign has become very simple in its last hours: help me get past 50% so we don't have 3 more weeks of elections/instability.
  • Party of Regions signs for Kyiv city elections say: "War or Peace? Vote responsibly" & "Checkpoints or bridges? Vote responsibly" #Ukraine
  • Confusion at Volnovakha hospital after attack in which at least 8 Ukrainian soldiers died. Frightened locals think Kiev staged the attack.
  • Pro-Russia forces ambush checkpoint, kill 11 Ukraine troops

    At least 11 Ukrainian troops were killed and about 30 others were wounded Thursday when pro-Russian armed men attacked a military checkpoint, the deadliest raid in weeks of fighting in eastern Ukraine. The attack comes three days before the country's presidential vote.

    The bodies of 11 troops were scattered around the checkpoint on the edge of the village of Blahodatne, about 20 miles south of the city of Donetsk, according to The Associated Press. Witnesses said the attack left more than 30 troops wounded, some in grave condition.

    Three charred Ukrainian armored infantry vehicles, their turrets blown away by powerful explosions, and several burned trucks were at the site. A military helicopter landed nearby, carrying officials who inspected the area.

    The Ukrainian Defense Ministry confirmed the attack but wouldn't comment on casualties. There was no report of casualties on the pro-Russian side.

    In the town of Horlivka, a rebel commander claimed responsibility for the raid and produced an array of weapons the rebels said they had seized.

    "We destroyed a checkpoint of the fascist Ukrainian army deployed on the land of the Donetsk Republic," said the commander, who wore a balaclava and identified himself by his nom de guerre "Bes," Russian for "demon."

    "The weapons you see here have been taken from the dead. They are trophies," he said, showing several dozen items, including automatic and sniper rifles, rocket grenade launchers and bulletproof vests carefully laid out in the courtyard in the Horlivka city police headquarters occupied by the rebels.

    "People living in western Ukraine: Think about where you are sending your brothers, fathers and sons, and why you need any of this," the commander said.

    Scores have been killed in recent weeks in fighting between pro-Russian rebels, who have seized government buildings, and government troops in eastern Ukraine.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • NATO military commander Breedlove says the Russian force on the Ukrainian border is still very large and remains in a 'coercive posture,' Reuters reports.
  • According to RIA, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Shuvalov says the West's 'informal pressure' on Russia is having serious consequences for the economy, Reuters reports.
  • According to Interfax, the Russian defense ministry says 20 trains and 15 planes full of troops were moved out of the border area with Ukraine, Reuters reports.
  • A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry says that if reports Prince Charles likened President Putin to Hitler are accurate, the remarks were 'unacceptable, outrageous and low,' Reuters reports.
  • Russia says Ukraine's government is stepping up military operations in the east and failing to make efforts to resolve the current crisis, Reuters reports.
  • NATO has seen limited Russian troop activity near the Ukraine border that may suggest some Russian forces are preparing to withdraw, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Thursday.

    It is the first time during the Ukraine crisis that NATO has given any credence to Russian statements that it is withdrawing troops from near the Ukraine border, where NATO said it had built up a force of around 40,000 soldiers.

    "Late yesterday, we have seen limited Russian troop activity in the vicinity of the border with Ukraine that may suggest that some of these forces are preparing to withdraw. It is too early to say what this means, but I hope this is the start of a full and genuine withdrawal," Rasmussen told reporters during a visit to Montenegro.

    However, he said that, at present, most of the "previously deployed" Russian force remained near the Ukrainian border and the Russian military was continuing to carry out exercises in the same area.

    "If we see any meaningful, comprehensive and verifiable withdrawal, I would be the first to welcome it. This would be a first step from Russia into the right direction of living up to its international commitments, especially as Ukraine is preparing to hold important presidential elections on Sunday," Rasmussen said.

    Russia said on Wednesday that troops deployed for exercises near the Ukrainian border had dismantled equipment and were moving to train stations and airfields for return to their permanent bases. The United States and NATO said then they saw no clear signs of a pullout.

    NATO also disputed earlier statements by Moscow that it was withdrawing its troops from the Ukraine border.

    [Reuters]
  • According to Associated Press journalists, at least 11 Ukrainian troops were killed Thursday.

    From the AP:

    At least 11 Ukrainian troops were killed and about 30 others were wounded Thursday when pro-Russian insurgents attacked a military checkpoint, the deadliest raid in the weeks of fighting in eastern Ukraine.


    AP journalists saw 11 bodies scattered around the checkpoint on the edge of the village of Blahodatne, near the town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region. Witnesses said that more than 30 Ukrainian troops were wounded when the insurgents attacked the checkpoint, and some of them were in grave condition.


    Three charred Ukrainian armored infantry vehicles, their turrets blown away by powerful explosions, and several burned trucks stood at the site of the combat.


    In the town of Horlivka, a group of rebels claimed responsibility for the raid and produced an array of weapons they said they had seized. Their claims couldn't be independently confirmed.


    A military helicopter landed on the site, carrying officials who inspected the area. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry confirmed the attack, but wouldn't comment on casualties.


    Scores have been killed in fighting between pro-Russian insurgents, who have seized government buildings and engaged in clashes with government troops in eastern Ukraine.


    Thursday's carnage cast a shadow over Ukraine's presidential vote on Sunday, which insurgents in the east have pledged to derail. The authorities in Kiev see the vote as a chance to defuse tensions and stabilize the country, although they admitted that it will be impossible to stage the vote in some areas in the east, where election officials and voters have faced intimidation and threats from the rebels.


    Many in the east resent the government in Kiev, which came to power after the ouster of a pro-Russian president in February following mass of protests, seeing it as a bunch of nationalists bent on repressing Russian speakers. But many local residents have grown increasingly exasperated with the rebels, whom they blamed for putting civilians in the crossfire.


    In the village of Semenovka on the outskirts of Slovyansk, artillery shelling that appeared to come from government positions badly damaged several houses Thursday.


  • Associated Press journalists report seeing 11 people killed at a Ukrainian military checkpoint, according to the news organization.
  • According to a Ukrainian politician, 17 law enforcement officers were killed during the EuroMaidan Revolution, the KyivPost reports. 

    From KyivPost:

    Seventeen law enforcement officers were killed from gunshot wounds on Feb. 18-21 amid the violence of the EuroMaidan Revolution, a committee led by lawmaker Hennadiy Moskal said on May 21. The committee examined events from Nov. 30 to Feb. 22, when Viktor Yanukovych fled the presidency and the country, ending up in Russia as a fugitive.


    “During this period, 1,127 militia officers received injuries of various severity,” Moska, the former deputy head of the Interior Ministry and Security Service of Ukraine said, accourding to Ukrainska Pravda.


    Aside from the 17 law enforcement deaths, more than 100 civilian protesters were also killed from Feb. 18-21.


    The deaths weren’t properly investigated at the time, the Batkivshchyna lawmaker said, with the bullets extracted from the bodies were left in hospitals. The ad hoc committee also concluded that the three opposition parties during that time -- Batkivshchyna, Svoboda and Vitali Klitscho's Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform -- didn’t have armed forces on EuroMaidan. 



  • The United States did not link the sanctions - which expand a list of individuals targeted in 2012 over lawyer Sergei Magnitsky's death - to those imposed by Washington this year over Moscow's annexation of Crimea and unrest in eastern Ukraine.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry did, however, accuse the United States of "double standards" for not speaking out about what it says are abuses by Ukrainian authorities in fighting pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.

    "We view the decision by the U.S. administration to impose visa and financial sanctions against 12 Russian citizens ... as unfounded and dictated by a cynical desire to use human tragedy for unscrupulous political goals," it said in a statement.

    "The American side is trying to moralize by showing false concern for the fate of the late Sergei Magnitsky at a time when the U.S. protégés, the Kiev authorities, are using force ... against the population in southeastern Ukraine."

    The statement highlighted the depth of the crisis in relations between the two former Cold War superpowers.

    The interim Kiev government's Western allies accuse Moscow of sowing rebellion in Ukraine and illegally annexing Crimea. Russia denies fomenting unrest, saying that popular uprisings are taking place against an illegitimate government installed in Kiev through a coup.

    Since 2012, the United States has accused a number of Russians of human rights abuses and sought to punish them by freezing their U.S. assets and barring them entry under a law named for Magnitsky, who had alleged major tax fraud by Russian officials.

    The State Department has identified 18 Russians as subject to sanctions, but also imposed measures on other figures whose names have not been made public.

    Magnitsky was last year convicted posthumously of tax evasion. Those placed on the sanctions list on Tuesday included prison doctors, the judge who oversaw his posthumous trial and a banker alleged to have masterminded the conspiracy he uncovered.

    [Reuters]
  • Turchynov: Possibility that "the terrorists will try to disrupt the vote, but... the elections will be held in normal conditions." #Ukraine
  • Interim President Turchynov: Military is "ready for the final phase of the anti-terrorist operation" #Ukraine
  • According to the foreign ministry, Russia says it will respond in kind to US sanctions against 12 Russians for human rights violations, Reuters reports.
  • Russia, China sign massive gas deal

    Russia and China have at long last signed a natural gas supply contract valued at over $400 billion, in the first major deal signaling Russia's defiance of Western isolation since the crisis in Ukraine unfolded.

    The deal between Russia’s state-owned OAO Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corp. will involve 38 billion cubic meters of gas flow from fields in eastern Siberia into China over the next 30 years. It marks an important transition by Russia – a petrostate that holds the world’s largest reserve of natural gas – toward burgeoning Asian markets.

    “This is the biggest contract in the history of the gas sector of the former USSR,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said shortly after the deal was announced. “Our Chinese friends are difficult, hard negotiators,” he added, noting that talks on the deal, which has stalled over pricing for nearly a decade, went on until 4 a.m. Wednesday.

    Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping witnessed the deal in Shanghai, where Putin was on a visit to forge ties as part of a gradual rapprochement between the two Eastern powers. A day earlier, the two leaders presided over an unprecedented agreement to bypass the U.S. dollar and use local currencies in certain international transactions – a shot across the bow of U.S. global financial hegemony.

    The gas deal was struck at a pivotal moment for Moscow, which has vaunted its prospects for forging economic and political independence from the West in the wake of sanctions imposed as punishment for perceived Russian aggression in Ukraine. In the face of growing geopolitical isolation, Putin even threatened to shut off the Gazprom pipelines that supply Europe with about 30 percent of its natural gas.

    “B. Obama should abandon the policy of isolating Russia: It will not work,” said Alexei Pushkov – a Putin loyalist and senior member of the Russian parliament who was personally subject to U.S. sanctions – in a tweet after the Gazprom deal was finalized.

    Regarding the commercial benefit of the deal, the devil is in the details for Russia. Price had been the key hurdle that held up the deal for nearly a decade, with Russia demanding a higher price than China was willing to pay.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • NATO has still seen no "visible evidence" of a Russian troop withdrawal from the border with Ukraine, the alliance's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said on Wednesday.

    "I wake up every morning hoping to see a real and meaningful withdrawal of Russian troops, but I have to tell you that so far we have not seen any visible evidence of a withdrawal of Russian troops," Rasmussen told a news conference in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

    [Reuters]
  • President Vladimir Putin called the detention of two Russian journalists in Ukraine unacceptable on Wednesday and suggested it highlighted wider questions about the legitimacy of political power in Ukraine.

    The detention of the journalists, working for the pro-Kremlin Internet news outlet LifeNews, has added to tensions between Moscow and Kiev, which accuses Russia of destabilizing Ukraine's Russian-speaking east ahead of a presidential vote on Sunday.

    "It's absolutely unacceptable and of course the question arises over the legitimacy of all political procedures in Ukraine," Putin said, speaking to journalists.

    Ukraine's Defense Ministry said this week that soldiers had detained two unknown men who had identified themselves as journalists and were filming separatists.

    Putin also dismissed as "nonsense" an allegation from the ministry saying the two journalists had been carrying portable air Defense systems.

    Both Ukrainian and Russian media have traded accusations of lying during the conflict.

    Ukraine has temporarily blocked Russian television channels pending a court decision over their legality, but separatists who seized a television tower in eastern Ukraine have turned Russian channels back on, including Life News.

    Pro-Russian separatists have also abducted a number of Ukrainian journalists, including Irma Krat who runs an online news outlet and Serhiy Lefter.

    Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, passed a statement calling on Kiev to release the journalists Marat Saychenko and Oleg Sidyakin.

    "We will succeed in freeing our two journalists and guarantee the freedom of their activities in Ukraine, including during large upcoming internal political events in Ukraine - the presidential election," said the Chairwoman of Russia's Upper House of Parliament Valentina Matvienko.

    Pro-Kremlin TV channel RT also reported the detention of one of its contributing journalists, Graham Philips, though the information could not be independently confirmed. The British Foreign Office said it was aware of the detention of a British national, but would not confirm his name.

    "We are in contact with the Ukrainian authorities and stand ready to provide consular assistance," said a Foreign Office spokeswoman.

    Russia has repeatedly criticized the detentions saying that it shows Ukraine's lack of respect for press freedoms.

    "This kind of lawlessness directed against Russian journalists, which has become a regular practice, confirms once again that the Ukrainian side is ignoring basic norms of democracy, in particular, freedom of speech," said a Foreign Ministry statement.

    OSCE Representative on the Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic called on both sides this week to stop targeting journalists.

    [Reuters]
  • Speaking from Sarajevo, NATO chief Rasmussen says he has not seen 'any visible evidence' of a Russian troop withdrawal from the Ukrainian border region, Reuters reports.
  • While there have been allegations for weeks that pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine were taking journalists hostage, now reports are surfacing that Ukrainian forces are doing the same, VICE News reports.

    From VICE News:

    Pro-Russia separatists have been doing it for weeks already: arresting journalists they deem unsympathetic to their cause and locking them up to stop them from doing their jobs.


    Several Ukrainian and foreign journalists — including VICE News' own Simon Ostrovsky — have been detained or beaten by the separatist militias that have taken over many cities in eastern Ukraine.


    But on Sunday, it was the Ukrainian military doing the detaining, as it arrested two reporters with Russian TV channel LifeNews at a checkpoint near the city of Kramatorsk. On Tuesday, Graham Phillips, a British freelancer who had been stringing from Ukraine for the Russian government's RT network was also held.


    Ahead of Phillips' arrest, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) condemned the detention of journalists by both parties in the escalating conflict.


    “Journalists covering the Ukraine crisis are convenient targets of the conflicting sides. I reiterate my call to all sides to stop intimidating and threatening members of the media and to let them do their jobs,” OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement on Monday. “Journalists must be free to do their job without fear for their safety. In times of conflict the plurality of voices and opinions are needed more than ever in order for the citizens to be informed.


    Vladislav Seleznyov, a Ukrainian military spokesman, didn't confirm or deny Phillips' detention to VICE News.



    VICE News' Simon Ostrovsky was taken hostage by pro-Russian forces in April and released after a few days. 
  • An extensive investigative project by Reuters alleges that a 'billion-dollar medical project' helped to fund Russian President Putin's ornate property on the Black Sea.

    From Reuters:

    Two associates of President Vladimir Putin profited from a state scheme to buy expensive medical equipment - and sent money to Swiss bank accounts linked to a property known as “Putin’s palace”


    MOSCOW - In 2005, President Vladimir Putin personally ordered up a vast programme to improve Russia’s poor healthcare facilities. Five years later, authorities found that suppliers were charging some hospitals two or even three times too much for vital gear such as high-tech medical scanners.


    Dmitry Medvedev, serving as Putin’s hand-picked successor at the time, went on national television to denounce the alleged scam. The perpetrators, he said, had engaged in “absolutely cynical, loutish theft of state money.” Medvedev instructed Russia’s top law enforcement agencies to make sure that “everyone who participated in this is seriously and sternly punished.


    Suspects were rounded up in far-flung places, and in 2012 the police ministry said 104 people had been charged in connection with overpriced scanners. Several local officials and business executives were convicted of fraud and sent to prison.


    But a Reuters investigation has found that two wealthy associates of Putin engaged in the same profiteering and suffered no penalty.


    They sold medical equipment for at least $195 million to Russia and sent a total of $84 million in proceeds to Swiss bank accounts, according to bank records reviewed by Reuters. The records also indicate that at least 35 million euros ($48 million) from those accounts were funnelled to a company that then helped construct a luxury property near the Black Sea known as “Putin’s palace” - a nickname earned after abusinessman alleged that the estate was built for Putin. The Russian leader has denied any connection to the property.


    These findings are part of a Reuters investigation into how associates of the Kremlin profit from state contracts in the Putin era. This and a later article examine what became of the president’s grand hospital undertaking. Another story, drawing on a confidential database of Russian bank records, will explore billions of dollars in spending on state railway contracts.


    The wealth of Putin’s comrades has come under global scrutiny amid sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe on the president’s associates over the crisis in Ukraine.


    Russia has been renowned for graft since the Soviet Union fell a generation ago. Under the first post-Soviet leader, Boris Yeltsin, “oligarchs” gained control of state-owned industries and grew fabulously wealthy. Those wild days are long over.


  • Opinion: Russia seeks new world order with China's help

    As Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Shanghai to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the battle spaces of the 21st century are coming into focus in Eurasia. It is the Kremlin’s opinion that the balance of power at this moment is shifting away from the U.S. and its reluctant NATO allies, which dominated the second half of the 20th century, eastward to Russia, China and their Shanghai Cooperation Organization allies.

    Evidence of the transformation is not only in Ukraine and Eastern Europe — where Moscow holds a strong position to win what it wants in a decentralized Ukraine as well as to lay claim to a say in the affairs of the near abroad states of the old Soviet empire — but also in East Asia, where the reawakened potency of the Kremlin can be seen in the behavior of Russia’s rising ally, China.

    China rising

    After a year of standoffs in the East China Sea between China and its traditional rivals Japan and South Korea, there is fresh conflict in the South China Sea. On May 1, China suddenly moved an oil platform into contested waters 150 miles off Vietnam in the Paracel Islands. This is well within Vietnam’s claimed exclusive economic zone, yet China is enforcing a 10 kilometer security perimeter around its rig.

    Anticipating trouble, China surrounded the drilling platform with coast guard vessels and, all told, more than six dozen ships of all sizes. This swift, calculated swarming into contested territory closely resembles other maneuvers by China against its neighbors, especially against the Philippines, such as the recent news of China’s building a landing zone on the cross-claimed Johnson’s Reef.

    Vietnam erupted at the news of the Chinese aggression. Fierce anti-Chinese demonstrations in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other locations led to the deaths of Chinese nationals and a diplomatic fusillade that has not died down, despite calls from Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for order. China, not trusting that the Vietnamese nationalist reactions have played out, has launched the evacuation of thousands of Chinese nationals.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Analysis: Russia, China sign deal to bypass US dollar

    In a symbolic blow to U.S. global financial hegemony, Russia and China took a small step toward undercutting the domination of the U.S. dollar as the international reserve currency on Tuesday when Russia’s second biggest financial institution, VTB, signed a deal with Bank of China to bypass the dollar and pay each other in domestic currencies.

    The so-called Agreement on Cooperation — signed in the presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is on a visit to Shanghai — could be followed by a long-awaited announcement this week of a massive natural gas deal 10 years in the making.

    “Our countries have done a huge job to reach a new historic landmark,” Putin said on Tuesday, making note of the $100 billion in annual trade that has been achieved between the two countries.

    Demand for the dollar, which has long served as a safe and reliable reserve currency in international transactions, has allowed the U.S. to borrow almost unlimited cash and spend well beyond its means, which some economists say has afforded the United States an outsize influence on world affairs.

    But the BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — a bloc of the world’s five major emerging economies, have long sought to diminish their dependence on the dollar as a means of reshaping the world financial and geopolitical order. In the absence of a viable alternative, however, replacing it has proven difficult.

    For its part, “China sees the dominance of the dollar in international trade transactions as remnant of American global dominance, which they hope to overthrow in the years ahead. This is a small step in that direction, to reduce the primacy of the dollar in international trade,” said Michael Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College.

    Some have been tempted to view Tuesday's deal in the context of Putin's showdown with the West over the crisis in Ukraine. After the U.S. and Europe imposed sanctions on Moscow for its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, Putin may have finally come good on promised retaliation against what he views as Western hegemony in Russia's near abroad.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Russian President Putin says it will be hard for Russian to build relations with Ukrainian authorities that come to power at a time of growing tension, Reuters reports.
  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden says Russia must be punished if it seeks to derail Ukraine's presidential elections this weekend.

    "If Russia undermines these elections ... we must remain resolute and impose greater costs to Russia and (be) equally resolute to invest in the NATO alliance," Biden said Wednesday after talks with Romanian President Traian Basescu.

    Speaking during a tour of Eastern European nations, he urged European allies to use their influence and "promote a stable and positive environment" so Ukrainians can vote unhindered on Sunday.

    The U.S. and the EU have imposed travel bans and asset freezes on President Vladimir Putin's inner circle over Russia's annexation of Crimea and have threatened to target entire sectors of the Russian economy if Russia tries to grab more land.

    [The Associated Press]
  • China signed a long-awaited, 30-year deal Wednesday to buy Russian natural gas worth $400 billion in a financial and diplomatic boost to diplomatically isolated President Vladimir Putin.

    Negotiations on the price for the gas had continued into the final hours of a two-day visit by Putin to China, during which the two sides had said they hoped to sign a deal. Putin was in Shanghai for an Asian security conference.

    The agreement calls for Russia's government-controlled Gazprom to supply state-owned China National Petroleum Corp. with 38 billion cubic meters of gas annually, Gazprom spokesman Sergey Kupriyanov told The Associated Press.

    Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller told Russian news agencies that the contract was worth a total of $400 billion.

    CNPC announced it had signed a deal but it gave no details.

    The sale will help Russia to diversify its markets for gas exports, which now go mostly to Europe. China gets supplies that could help to ease gas shortages in the world's second-largest economy.

    China and Russia have been negotiating the deal for more than a decade but had been hung up over the gas price.

    [The Associated Press]
  • The White House released the following fact sheet detailing the United States' commitment to its NATO allies in light of 'Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Ukrainian territory.'

    From the White House:

    FACT SHEET: Overview of NATO and Bilateral Reassurance Measures in Romania


     


    As a result of Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Ukrainian territory, the United States has taken several immediate steps to demonstrate our continued commitment to Article 5 collective defense and reassure our NATO allies, including Romania, who are closest to the crisis.  The United States and NATO are committed to maintaining an augmented, persistent forward presence in Central and Eastern Europe through at least the end of 2014.


     


    New U.S. Measures:



    · Maritime Deployments to the Black Sea: In early April, the United States deployed the USS Donald Cook to the Black Sea where the Cook conducted operations to improve interoperability, increase readiness, and develop professional relationships with Allies.  The Cook conducted presence operations and a port visit in Constanta, Romania, as well as a passing exercise (PASSEX) with the Romanian Navy.



    · In late April, the USS Taylor, a frigate and our contribution to the Standing NATO Maritime Group, was deployed to the Black Sea where Taylor conducted bilateral operations with Romania and Georgia, including port visits to both countries.



    · The USS Vella Gulf will soon enter the Black Sea to conduct port visits and combined maritime training with Allied naval forces.



    · Air-to-Air Refueling Missions: Since mid-March, the United States has been flying refueling missions in support of NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS) flights over Poland and Romania.



    ·NATO Response Force (NRF): The Department of Defense is exploring options for increasing the readiness of its U.S.-based, NRF-committed Brigade Combat Team.


     


    Enhancements to Previously Planned U.S. Operations:



    ·USS Truxtun: The USS Truxtun entered the Black Sea through the Turkish Straits on March 7 to conduct a port call in Constanta, Romania and a PASSEX with Romanian and Bulgarian naval forces.  Truxtun extended its stay in the Black Sea until March 21 to conduct a port visit in Varna, Bulgaria, hold an onboard maritime planning conference with Bulgarian and Romanian officers, and conduct a second PASSEX.


     


    U.S. Ongoing/Steady State Measures:



    · There are approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Romania, including Marines, sailors, airmen and soldiers.



    oBlack Sea Rotational Forces (BSRF): This force, based out of Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) Air Base, Romania, includes 250 Marines and sailors tasked with maintaining positive relations with partner nations; enhancing regional stability; and increasing interoperability while providing the capability for rapid crisis response in the Black Sea, Balkan, and Caucasus regions.  In May, BSRF personnel are participating in exercise PLATINUM LYNX; infantry field training with the Romanian military to enhance familiarity and interoperability between U.S. and Romanian forces.



    oNearly 500 of these U.S. troops are permanently stationed at MK Air Base conducting transit center operations.  



    o175 U.S. Marines will be temporarily based out of MK Air Base as part of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF).  The SPMAGTF is postured to respond to a broad range of military operations in the EUCOM/AFRICOM region, including:  fixed-site security, non-combatant evacuation operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel, theater security cooperation, and other missions as directed. 



    o   Currently, more than 80 U.S. Airmen are currently participating in Exercise Carpathian Spring in Romania.  The exercise runs from April 12th to 21st and is designed for aircrew to receive upgrade training and build partnership capacity with the Romanians.  



    ·European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA):  The United States’ contribution to European missile defense includes plans for four Aegis destroyers to be home ported in Rota, Spain (USS Cook recently arrived) and two planned Aegis Ashore sites; one in Romania (2015) and one Poland (2018).  The Romania Aegis Ashore site is critical to NATO missile defense and is the fundamental infrastructure for Phase 2 of the EPAA.  It will consist of a radar with 360-degree coverage, vertical launch tubes with SM-3 Block IB missile defense interceptors, and the associated command and control systems to integrate the radar and the interceptors.  The interceptors could be launched from the site in Romania to defend NATO in the case of a missile attack from the Middle East.   The groundbreaking at the Romania site was completed in 2013, and the site is firmly on budget and on schedule to be operational by the end of 2015. 



    ·U.S. Force Presence in Europe:  There are approximately 67,000 service members in Europe.  Approximately 57,000 active duty service members are assigned to U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and approximately 10,000 support other organizations, such as U.S. Africa Command. 



    ·NATO Response Force (NRF) Commitment:  The United States previously pledged several thousand service members to the NATO Response Force including a brigade combat team from the Texas-based 1st Cavalry Division, a hospital ship, air-to-air refueling tankers, and escort ships.



    · Army Rotational Forces:  The United States will send a battalion-sized unit from the United States to Europe twice a year for up to two months per rotation.  In May, the unit will participate in a USEUCOM-hosted multinational exercise, COMBINED RESOLVE II.  The exercise, which includes Romanian participation, will take place in Germany.


  • NATO has still not seen any sign of a Russian troop withdrawal from the Ukraine border despite reports that Russian troops were preparing to return to their bases after military exercises, a NATO military officer told Reuters on Wednesday.

    "We still have not seen any evidence of a Russian withdrawal of troops from the Ukraine border area," the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    Russia's state-run RIA news agency, quoting the Defense Ministry, said earlier that Russian troops that took part in military exercises in three provinces bordering Ukraine had packed up and were preparing to return to their permanent bases.

    [Reuters]
  • The United States has spotted some Russian troop movements near the Ukraine border but no sign of a large-scale withdrawal, U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh said on Wednesday.

    "What we know thus far is that there has been certain troop movements, but I have received no confirmation, either through Pentagon sources or NATO sources, that there has been a wholesale repositioning of those troops off the border," McHugh told a news conference during a visit to Estonia.

    Russia's state-run RIA news agency quoted the Defense Ministry earlier as saying Russian troops that took part in military exercises in three provinces bordering Ukraine had packed up and were preparing to return to their permanent bases.

    [Reuters]
  • Russian troops that took part in military exercises in three provinces bordering Ukraine have dismantled equipment and are moving to train stations and airfields for return to their permanent bases, the Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

    The Kremlin said on Monday that Putin had told his defense chief to order troops back to their bases after drills in the Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions, but NATO and the United States say they have seen no signs of a withdrawal.

    A ministry statement said the units in question had spent 24 hours dismantling field camps, packing and preparing military vehicles and were now "moving toward train stations and airfields" to return to their bases, RIA news agency reported.

    The Defense Ministry confirmed it had issued the statement, but did not say how many troops would leave the border provinces. A substantial withdrawal could ease tensions before Sunday's presidential election in Ukraine.

    NATO has said Russia had amassed some 40,000 troops near the border, adding to tension between Moscow and the West over upheaval in Ukraine and Russia's annexation of its Crimea region. Relations have hit a post-Cold War low.

    Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said on Tuesday Washington had seen very small unit movements to and from the border area but would like to see the "departure of significant numbers of troops back to their home bases".

    "President Putin said he's ordered them back to their home bases, which to us means a wholesale withdrawal of all the forces that are readied on the Ukrainian border. We have not seen that yet," Kirby told reporters.

    [Reuters]
  • European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a letter on Wednesday that it is up to Gazprom to ensure gas is supplied to Europe in contracted volumes, the European Commission said.

    Russia has said state-controlled exporter Gazprom will not supply transit nation Ukraine with gas for its own use in June if Kiev fails to pay in advance and has warned a cut-off could affect supplies to European consumer nations via Ukraine.

    [Reuters]
  • According to Gazprom, Russia and China have signed a 3-year natural gas supply deal but no price has been announced, The Associated Press reports.

    Gazprom, Ukraine's relationship with Russia over gas, has been a focal point in the Ukrainian crisis.
  • The State Department and Treasury Department have levied additional sanctions against Russians under the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, according to a news release from the State Department: 

    Today the State Department, in concert with the Treasury Department, submitted to Congress a list of persons who have been sanctioned under the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. The Act allows for the designation of individuals responsible for Magnitsky’s detention, abuse, and death. It also allows for the designation of those who profited from Magnitsky’s detention, abuse and death, who helped cover up the legal liability for it, or who were involved in the criminal conspiracy that Magnitsky sought to bring to light. Additionally, the Act allows us to designate those responsible for gross human rights violations against individuals seeking to expose illegal activity by Russian officials, or seeking to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms in Russia.


    Persons on this list are ineligible to receive visas and to be admitted into the United States. Their property and interests in property subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and transactions in such property or interests in property are prohibited. The names may be found at the following link: http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20140520.aspx


    According to the Treasury Department, the newly sanctioned individuals are:

    ALISOV, Igor Borisovich; DOB 11 Mar 1968 (individual) [MAGNIT].


    GAUS, Alexandra Viktorovna (a.k.a. GAUSS, Alexandra); DOB 29 Mar 1975 (individual) [MAGNIT].


    KHLEBNIKOV, Vyacheslav Georgievich (a.k.a. KHLEBNIKOV, Viacheslav); DOB 09 Jul 1967 (individual) [MAGNIT].


    KLYUEV, Dmitry Vladislavovich (a.k.a. KLYUYEV, Dmitriy); DOB 10 Aug 1967 (individual) [MAGNIT].


    KRATOV, Dmitry Borisovich; DOB 16 Jul 1964 (individual) [MAGNIT].


    KRECHETOV, Andrei Alexandrovich; DOB 22 Sep 1981 (individual) [MAGNIT].


    LITVINOVA, Larisa Anatolievna; DOB 18 Nov 1963 (individual) [MAGNIT].


    MARKELOV, Viktor Aleksandrovich; DOB 15 Dec 1967; POB Leninskoye village, Uzgenskiy District, Oshkaya region of the Kirghiz SSR (individual) [MAGNIT].


    STEPANOV, Vladlen Yurievich; DOB 17 Jul 1962 (individual) [MAGNIT].


    SUGAIPOV, Umar; DOB 17 Apr 1966; POB Chechen Republic, Russia (individual) [MAGNIT].


    TAGIYEV, Fikret (a.k.a. TAGIEV, Fikhret Gabdulla Ogly; a.k.a. TAGIYEV, Fikhret); DOB 03 Apr 1962 (individual) [MAGNIT].


    VAKHAYEV, Musa; DOB 1964; POB Urus-Martan, Chechen Republic, Russia (individual) [MAGNIT].

    Despite the administration's claims that Russia is feeling the effects of sanctions, Russia doesn't seem too perturbed. Russian officials openly mocked the first round of sanctions. And while successive rounds have started to target the economy and have gotten tougher, Russia shows no signs of relenting its position in Ukraine. 
  • The United Nations has provided the following summary of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's meeting with Russian President Putin:

    Readout of the Secretary-General's meeting with H.E. Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation


    Shanghai, China, 20 May 2014


    The Secretary-General met today in Shanghai with H.E. Mr. Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, on the margins of the Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia. They exchanged views on how to address current challenges to international peace and security, in particular the situations in Ukraine and Syria.


    On Ukraine, the Secretary-General and President Putin agreed that the crisis can only be resolved politically and through an inclusive political dialogue.  The Secretary-General noted that the forthcoming presidential elections are an opportunity to move forward towards long-term peace and stability in the country.


    On Syria, the Secretary-General and President Putin discussed opportunities for a long-overdue political solution and the urgent need to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons.


    Noting the imperative for a legal agreement on climate change by the end of next year, the Secretary-General reiterated his invitation to world leaders to attend the September 2014 Climate Summit in New York.


    The Secretary-General offered condolences for today’s train accident in Russia and wished those injured a speedy recovery.


  • EU nations should carry out stress tests before the coming winter to work out how vulnerable they are if the crisis over Ukraine leads to a major gas supply disruption, according to a draft European Commission document seen by Reuters.

    EU leaders early this year called on the Commission, the EU executive, to draw up a list of measures for the short and longer term after Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region raised concerns of possible supply disruption.

    Before next winter, it calls on member states to perform a stress test of the EU energy system in the light of supply disruption risks and to develop back-up mechanisms such as increasing gas stocks and finding short-term ways to cut demand.

    It also wants other major supplier countries to increase energy production, where possible, and global gas resources, such as liquefied natural gas, to be redirected to Europe.

    Also, for the short-term, it suggests pooling part of existing EU energy stocks into a "virtual common capacity reserve".

    [Reuters]
  • Russia says troops begin pullback as fighting continues in eastern Ukraine

    Pro-Russian insurgents fighting Ukrainian government forces faced a public setback on Tuesday as Russia's Defense Ministry said its units had started to dismantle their camps in border regions and pull back to home bases in Russia.

    A day after President Vladimir Putin issued a pullout order in an apparent attempt to ease tensions with the West over Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry said that its forces in the Bryansk, Belgorod and Rostov regions were preparing for a journey to their home bases.

    NATO, which estimates that Russia has 40,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, said it is watching the situation closely but could not yet confirm a change. NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu challenged Russia on Tuesday "to prove that they are doing what they are saying."

    The Russian Defense Ministry said it would take time for troops to dismantle their camps and load equipment on trucks for a march to railway stations. It did not say how many troops were being pulled out from the three regions or how long it would take.

    Footage broadcast by Russian television showed what it said were troops on their way out, but their exact locations and routes remained unclear.

    Regardless of the specifics of the pullout, Putin's order made it clear that he has no immediate intention of sending the Russian army into eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian insurgents have seized government buildings and clashed with Ukrainian government forces in weeks of fighting that has left dozens dead.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • President Putin may not have yet inked a gas deal with China on his visit to the country but he has scored support on Ukraine, Reuters reports. 

    From Reuters:

    China and Russia failed to sign a $400 billion gas supply agreement on Tuesday, despite growing urgency for the Kremlin to seal a deal as it faces economic and political isolation in the West over the crisis in Ukraine.


    Negotiators from both countries have been unable to bridge differences on price, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Shanghai, meaning that the contract was not signed on Tuesday as many in the industry had predicted.


    But there is still a chance that the two sides could agree before Putin leaves China on Wednesday, or, more likely, in time for an economic forum in the Russian city of St. Petersburg later this week.


    Despite disappointment so far over an energy deal seen as vital to both countries' long-term economic interests, Putin did receive a rare nod of support from Chinese President Xi Jinping over the Ukraine crisis.


    In a statement issued after the two leaders met, Russia and China called for the de-escalation of tensions in Ukraine and for "peaceful, political ways to resolve existing problems." The countries also referred to the crisis as "domestic".


    Across much of the rest of the world, Putin stands accused of fomenting pro-Russian sentiment in neighboring Ukraine, which has already lost the peninsula of Crimea after it was annexed by Moscow.


    In more recent conciliatory steps, Putin ordered Russian forces massed on the Ukraine border to return to bases and welcomed what the Kremlin called initial contacts between the Ukraine government and those calling for more power for largely Russian-speaking regions in the east.


    China's Xi has underscored the importance of ties with Russia, and Moscow was the first capital he visited after assuming the presidency last year. Xi also attended the Winter Olympics in Sochi at Putin's invitation.


    While observing a joint naval exercise conducted outside of Shanghai, Xi and Putin said the two neighbors would cooperate to maintain stability in the region.


    But, while the two see eye-to-eye on many diplomatic issues including the conflict in Syria, and generally vote as one on the United Nations Security Council, China has been less willing to support Russia openly on Ukraine.


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