Ukraine Liveblog Day 17: Crimean Parliament Votes to Join Russia

March 6, 2014
Photo by © RIA Novosti / Reuter

Crimean parliament has voted to secede from Ukraine. Now, on March 16th, a referendum will be held. The Crimean people get to vote, and they have two options: rejoin Ukraine, or rejoin Russia.

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see see our latest podcast.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs‏.

Below, we will be making regular updates throughout the day:

ATR TV in Simferopol

ATR TV in Simferopol

1033 GMT: ATR, the Crimean Tatar TV channel in Simferopol which is still on the air, ran a poll yesterday regarding public opinion on the issue of joining the Russian Federation. To be sure, this is not a scientific poll, as it is a call-in show, and the audience — mainly Crimean Tatars — is a population group that has generally supported the new government in Kiev. Even so, it’s interesting. Results for the question, “Are you for the annexation of the Crimea to Russia?”

For: 16%
Against: 83%

VSS Vintorez?

VSS Vintorez?

0754 GMT: For weeks, we’ve been hearing anecdotal stories with a few photographs indicating that among the Russian Federation troops in Crimea are spetsnaz (special forces). Some Western and Russian experts have said they believe spetsnaz commandos are fanning out across Ukraine based on photos such as the one shown here outside the Belbek airfield; one unnamed source told AFP he was “200% sure.” Now a new genre is appearing on social media, where Russians are outing Russian Federation soldiers without insignia they believe were careless enough to post their locations on their VKontakte or Facebook pages, and thereby prove they are really in the Crimea.

Here’s one example, from dimka-jd on LiveJournal, which has already reached the “Top 50 Posts” page. He says he has tracked one “Sergei Maximov” who he claims is from the 346th Special Forces Separate Brigade who has supposedly posted photos from his tour of duty in the Crimea.

The problem is that the pictures were actually originally taken by photographer Sean Gallup of Getty Images in Simferopol last week, and appeared in the Wall Street Journal and New York magazine.

To give authenticity to his story for the doubters that pointed out that his link to a VK page was dead (and had another name), dima-jd came up with that Internet debate-clincher, the cache link — this time, still in Yandex, the Russian search engine.

Except the cached version visible for a VK account of “Sergei Maximov” doesn’t contain any of the pictures said to be in the Crimea, nor explain if he is from the spetsnaz. “Maximov’s” page also purports to show his picture of a weapon, except it’s a picture of “My AKS74U” taken by a Scottish man named Liam Baillie on DeviantArt

0625 GMT: Astrid Thors, the OSCE High Commission on National Minorities, issued a statement yesterday saying she is “alarmed about the situation in Crimea.” Earlier, 43 unarmed OSCE police monitors who tried to travel to the region were turned back, although Thors and Tim Guldimann, another envoy sent by Switzerland, the current chair-in-office of OSCE, were able to spend two days talking to officials and civil society in the region.

On her return to Kiev, Thors said:

“I am alarmed about the risk of violent conflict on the Crimean peninsula and the effects this could have on all communities, particularly the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar groups.

Rash decisions on the future status of Crimea are a major source of tension and expose divisions between the peninsula’s communities that have been left unaddressed for decades. Like the Ukrainian community, Crimean Tatars have taken a different position to the majority population, which increases their vulnerability. Relations between ethnic groups on the peninsula are characterized by a growing climate of fear. I remind the authorities in effective control of the Crimean peninsula that they are obliged to ensure security and respect for human rights, including minority rights, for all those present on the territory, regardless of whether they are of Russian, Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar or other origin.”

“There is a real risk of bloodshed. All decisions on essential issues, such as the status of Crimea, language policy or national minority policy, must be taken in dialogue with all parties and be consistent with international law,” said Thors. During her visit to Kyiv and Crimea, the High Commissioner found no evidence of violations or threats to the rights of Russian speakers

Last night Mustafa Dzhemilev, a respected leader of the Muslim Crimean Tatars, appeared on the independent Ukrainian Espreso TV to report that crosses had been daubed on some of the homes of his people. The action appeared to be a provocation in the same vein as hateful graffiti painted on a synagogue in Simferopol.

Al Jazeera picked up the story, but mistranslated a key statement of Dzhemilev’s, claiming that he had said that attacks were taking place “systematically.” In fact, as we can see from the original Ukrainian, Dzhemilev said the attacks were not systematic.

It is important to note that no violent attacks on Muslims, Jews, or any other minority have occurred in the Crimea in the recent weeks of unrest. The Russian government has repeatedly disseminated false reports of such attacks to justify its military presence in the Crimea. In the first week of demonstrations, one woman died of a heart attack and at least one and possibly two people were crushed to death in a large crowd, but details have yet to be confirmed.

0603 GMT: Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the English-language Kremlin propaganda network, long known for her loyalty to President Vladimir Putin, is definitely not happy that Abby Martin, one of her American anchors has dramatically announced her criticism of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on air, and another, Liz Wahl, concluded a live broadcast with her resignation. Martin remains at her job, but Wahl has left, explaining it was a move she had long hoped to make.

Simonyan, long known for her loyalty to President Putin, and also named in December the head of Rossiya Segodnya, the reorganized state international news agency, took to her LiveJournal blog last night to make a classic denunciation:

“These days, in order to work at RT, you have to be a very brave person. There has never been such persecution of our journalists and the entire channel ever before, and it is hard to imagine it. Look at how the unfortunate Abby has been treated. At first she announced on the air that she is not in agreement with Russia’s position, and for several hours, she was literally the hero of America. In response to this, Abby reminded everyone the extent to which she disagreed with America’s position itself, adding that she was proud to work at RT, where she could freely express these views. But not an hour after these clarifications came, Abby was called — well, I don’t know, it’s hard at night to pick the right censored word. It reached the point that the main media of America announced that we had put on this entire action with Abby deliberately for the PR. Abby herself was branded a promoter of conspiracy theories, when her activist past was recalled. In the course of one day she was praised to the heavens, and then stamped on. And all in front of her colleague, Liz Wahl. What was it like to watch that for colleagues? […]

I know why I continue to work at the channel, which alone (!) opposes thousands, tens of thousands of Western TV stations, telling another side to the story, constantly targeted by these media and not managing to fend off attacks. Because this is my Motherland. I don’t have another way. The guys working at RT in various countries, the citizens of other states are now on the verge of a cold war with Russia, they have another way. “Why must I report information different from what my colleagues from other media are putting out?” some of them are likely asking themselves. And not all of them can answer: “Because I am speaking the truth, and except for me, no one will tell it.” Some of them do not find an answer and quietly leave. Some of them loudly resign on the air, guaranteeing themselves fantastic PR which otherwise they couldn’t dream of, and attractive proposals they couldn’t have dreamed of.

It’s hard to be the white raven. Sometimes it is unbearable. To everyone who cannot bear this, I wish success. Those who continue to work for conscience, who know they are right even if the whole world insists otherwise, I’m simply proud of you. PROUD.”

2130 GMT: Is Yanukovych in the hospital? Rumors that the ousted Ukrainian president is in bad health have been circulating off and on since he fled Kiev. But Ekho Moskvy, citing “unofficial information” from a “source” reports that Yanukovych has had a heart attack and is in serious condition.

As of yet, there’s no way to verify or triangulate this report, and while we’ve ignored the previous rumors, the fact that Ekho Moskvy is carrying the rumor now makes it worthy of noting. Obviously, though, this claim should be treated skeptically.

2122 GMT: Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a Russian independent newspaper, has written an article where they also think that the economic fallout, and western sanctions, could “undermine the federal budget.” The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:

In the worst case scenario, Russia will have to pay for the Crimea more than 500 billion dollars. The bulk of this amount are the public and private foreign exchange assets in the United States and the European Union. If the West does not move to freeze our assets, just like they did in case of Iran, the Russian losses will be limited to current expenditures to support the Crimea and other eastern regions in the case they become financially independent from Kiev. Already now the Russian Finance Ministry is considering financial aid, that will include payments of pensions and salaries to state employees in the Crimea. Such assistance may exceed 100 billion rubles.

The Russian Finance Ministry is developing proposals to provide financial assistance to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC). This year the Crimean budget deficit reached 10 billion hryvnia, or 35 billion rubles

NG goes on to ask whether Russia will push further than Crimea, and what that will cost:

Now the Russian leadership discusses financial assistance only to the Crimea. However, it is possible that tomorrow the authorities will start discussing possible support to other regions of Ukraine, for example, to Donetsk and Kharkiv regions, which are home to several times more people than the Crimea. Furthermore, the budget of the Crimea, strictly speaking, does not include Sevastopol, as the city retains a special status and therefore has its own budget. That means, everything related to Sevastopol will also be a separate expenditure item for the Russian budget. However, we can assume that it will be the Crimea, that Russia will try to make into a model region for the rest of Ukraine, similar to Abkhazia, albeit officially a part of Ukraine. That means, the main flow of investment and financial assistance will go to the Crimea.

But as we’ve been reporting for weeks, the Russians are not planning on a particularly harsh response from the United states or the European Union, and so far it’s only the stock markets that have exacted a heavy price for Russia’s actions:

So far experts, interviewed by “NG” do not consider introduction of tough international sanctions against Russia likely. “Russia and the United States, Russia and Europe are interdependent financially. It’s about supplies of raw materials, and other trade agreements under the World Trade Organization,” says Alexander Belyakov, the President of Lionstone Investment Services, Ltd. “After all, the EU needs Russian exports. European natural gas supplies will last for about one year. Where will Europe get fuel after that?” asks Anton Soroko, an analyst with “Finam” investment holding company.

However, this does not mean that the U.S. and Europe will not try to put pressure on Russia by some other means. “Do not rule out a scenario, whereby the West can lift the embargo on Iranian oil. Once Iranian fuel gets to the world market, Russia, of course, will suffer,” says Alexander Belyakov.

Experts have different opinions about the consequences of financial assistance for the Crimea from the Russian budget. “Financial assistance to Ukraine should not be viewed as a purely costly project,” says Victor Kuharski, the CEO of the “Development” group. “Reasonable assistance would cover the regions that are involved in a close economic cooperation with Russia. In Ukraine, a lot of businesses are Russia oriented – in transport, rocket building and aviation.”

But not all experts are equally optimistic. “Now the officials are trying to patch holes in the Russian budget, selling oil for dollars and pumping up the state treasury with cheap rubles,” reminds Alexander Belyakov. “You can’t keep the Russian economy afloat like this for a long time. Objectively speaking, today Russia does not have any funds to inject into Ukraine,” according to the expert.

2100 GMT: The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, has spoken to MSNBC. He says that things are getting more intense, not less.

2035 GMT: Business Insider has profiled a series of American businessmen who are lobbying for Putin in Washington D.C., and among these is one of particular note:

Adam Waldman is the founder, chairman, and president of the Endeavor Group, a D.C. consultancy based about two blocks from the White House. In May 2009, Waldman filed paperwork with the DOJ indicating he would be working with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska to provide “legal advice on issues involving his U.S. visa as well as commercial transactions.”

Deripaska had his U.S. visa revoked in 2006 due to longstanding concerns about his links to organized crime and because the State Department was concerned he lied to American investigators who were looking into his business. However, in August and October 2009, shortly after he began working with Waldman, Deripaska was allowed to make two visits to the U.S. During those trips, Deripaska met with FBI agents about an unspecified criminal probe and with top executives at American companies. The Wall Street Journal reported Deripaska’s 2009 trip included meetings with Morgan Stanley, General Motors, and Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

In his initial FARA paperwork, Waldman indicated Endeavor would receive “a monthly retainer of $40,000” for his work with Deripaska. Waldman also said Deripaska was not being “supervised” or “directed” by any foreign government. However, in October 2010, Waldman made another filing indicating he would be working with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, “gathering information and providing advice and analysis as it relates to the U.S. policy towards the visa status of Oleg Deripaska.”

In fact, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is a registered FARA lobbyist, and Waldman, who claims he is not supervised by a foreign government. Why is this important? One reason is that the US is about to put a lot of Ukrainians and Russians on sanctions lists, and while that’s happening it’s possible that American businessmen, representing foreign governments, are either lobbying to decide who is on that list, or could lobby on behalf of the people who will, thanks to new sanctions, now be unable to lobby for themselves.

2018 GMT: A new US aid package to Ukraine has cleared its first (and likely hardest) hurdle:


2012 GMT: The Crimean Tatar leader, Mejlis Chairman Refat Chubarov, has rejected the Crimean referendum to rejoin Russia, has called for a boycott of the March 16th vote:

“At a time when there are troops on the streets, when there is complete lawlessness, in the absence of legislation, the declaration of any referendum is an act aimed at further destabilizing the situation in Crimea,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, Refat Chubarov, has asked the UN to send a peacekeeping mission to Crimea:

2004 GMT: The OSCE has released a statement today. It’s unclear if the statement was drafted before or after OSCE inspectors were blocked from entering Crimea by Russian forces:

The Personal Envoy of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Ambassador Tim Guldimann, briefing media in Kyiv today, commended the Ukrainian authorities for their efforts to de-escalate the situation on Crimea, adding that “the situation is calm, but very tense.”

Guldimann, together with the High Commissioner of National Minorities, Astrid Thors, visited Crimea over the last two days and had the opportunity to meet with various stakeholders.

“It is a miracle that there has been no blood-shed yet,” he said.

Guldimann deplored the fact that, while in Crimea, he was not able to secure a meeting with Sergey Aksyonov and the commander of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation. He and Thors, however, had extensive talks with representatives from the Crimean Parliament as well as from public administration and civil society, including from the community of the Crimean Tatars. He also met with the representative of the acting Ukrainian President in Crimea.

Guldimann’s visit to Crimea, as well as various meetings with officials in Kyiv during his trip, were an essential step for preparations of further OSCE activities to assist Ukraine to overcome the crisis.

1934 GMT: A pro-Russian crowd in Simferopol turned against two Femen protesters today:

Two Femen protesters were arrested in Crimea’s capital Simferopol on Thursday after staging a topless demonstration against Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in front of the regional parliament.

One protestor was stopped by police within seconds while another ran around, repeatedly shouting “Stop Putin’s War”, which she had also written across her chest.

She was eventually detained and taken away in a van by security forces, while some people who had been watching the protest shouted: “Prostitutes!”

Femen Simferopol

1924 GMT: Liz Wahl, the anchor who quit the network yesterday, has given an interview to MSNBC where she details exactly how manipulative the Russian state-owned network has become:

James Kirchick has also interviewed Wahl for the Daily Beast:

“It actually makes me feel sick that I worked there,” Wahl says. “It’s not a sound news organization, not when your agenda is making America look bad.”

As much as Wahl had to suppress her guilty conscience during the two-and-a-half-years she worked for RT, she believes it’s the networks viewers—1.2 billion on YouTube—who are hurt most by its constant and deliberate distortion of the truth. “In a way I feel bad for those people because they really believe strongly that we’re telling the truth and we’re on the right side. And that’s crazy to me.”

The shocking thing to us, however, is that it took Wahl two-and-a-half-years to come to this realization, or at least to act on it.

1810 GMT: President Obama is speaking, referencing the executive order passed earlier today.

Obama says that the proposed referendum on Crimean independence is in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and international law, and the interim government needs to be included on these decisions. He also renewed a call for international monitors to be allowed into Crimea, a move which Russian troops in Crimea have blocked.

Now Jay Carney is taking questions. He is asked whether the Crimean referendum is being pushed by Putin, and he is asked what moves can be taken against pro-Russian leaders on the Crimean peninsula.

Carney reiterates that he is not identifying individuals who are being named by these new sanctions. Carney also says that Russia’s involvement in this crisis is obvious, and Russia needs to work with the OSCE, the United Nations, and the Ukrainian government to solve this crisis and protect ethnic Russians. In order to do this, fact finders need to be let in (and as we’ve been covering, Russian troops have stopped monitors from entering Crimea).

Carney refuses to “assess motives” as to why Russia is doing what Russia is doing.

1742 GMT: The value of the ruble has dropped again after news of Crimean parliament’s vote to join Russia, despite Moscow’s attempts to stabilize it. AFP reports:

The ruble lost value to trade 50.06 rubles to the euro at 1445 GMT, 0.5 rubles more than the closing price the day earlier, with the pressure increased by optimistic comments by ECB chief Mario Draghi on the eurozone.

The ruble also lost value to trade at 36.186 rubles to the dollar, a rise of 0.1425 rubles from the day earlier…

The Moscow stock markets closed down Thursday. Moscow’s benchmark MICEX dropped 0.97 percent and the other exchange, the RTS, fell 1.47 percent.

Reuters puts this into some real-world perspective:

Analysts at VTB Capital reckon that the ruble is about 8.0-8.5 percent behind the emerging-market average index so far this year, and Ukraine’s political crisis has accounted for 2.0-3.0 percentage points of that.

And the crisis in Ukraine is only 17 days old.

Anders Aslund, of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, says that this crisis may have a serious impact on Russia’s overall economic growth which was already set to be low-to-stagnant:

The Kremlin’s fundamental mistake has been to ignore Russia’s economic weakness and dependence on Europe. On March 3, the Russian Trading System (RTS) stock market index plummeted by 12 percent. In particular, the prices of the stocks of large state-owned companies plunged. The Gazprom stocks fell by 15 percent and the state bank VTB by 20 percent. The ruble fell by 1.9 percent in relation to the US dollar, and the Central Bank of Russia was forced to raise its policy rate from 5.5 percent to 7.0 percent to impede the run on the ruble. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine started a financial panic in Moscow. The Russian economy was earlier set to stagnate, but now it is likely to contract.

And here are two stocks to keep an eye on: the Russian state-owned oil and gas giants Gazprom and Rosneft:

OGZD London Intl Stock Quote   Gazprom OAO   Bloomberg

Rosneft OAO   Bloomberg

1720 GMT: The European Union has released the names of 18 Ukrainian individuals that they are passing sanctions against:

Decision 2014/119/CFSP provides for the freezing of funds and economic resources of certain persons identified as responsible for the misappropriation of Ukrainian State funds and persons responsible for human rights violations in Ukraine, and natural or legal persons, entities or bodies associated with them, with a view to consolidating and supporting the rule of law and respect for human rights in Ukraine

The full list of those sanctioned can be found here, but it includes the former president Viktor Yanukovych, his son and former member of the Verkhovna Rada, the former Minister of Internal Affairs Vitalii Zakharchenko, and the former Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka and his son who was also a prominent member of the Rada.

1708 GMT: Before former President Viktor Yanukovych froze Ukraine’s move towards the EU (sparking this crisis), the EU had planned on giving Ukraine large loans. When Yanukovych froze the EU integration process, Russia promised $15 billion in loans (and delivered $3 billion). But for weeks now it’s been uncertain where Ukraine would get the $12 billion that Russia is now refusing to deliver.

Today the EU announced that it would be giving Ukraine a $15 billion loan:

“The package combined could bring an overall support of at least 11 billion euros over the next couple of years, from the EU budget and EU-based international financial institutions,” said [José Manuel Barroso, PResident of the EU]. “It is a package designed to assist a committed, inclusive and reforms-oriented Ukrainian government.”

Ukraine will have to go through a series of reforms, some of which will require austerity measures. Earlier in the week, interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said that he would be willing to accept whatever demands the IMF and the international community had as far as reforms and austerity:

“Today I had a telephone conversation today with [IMF Managing Director] Christine Lagarde. The only thing that I can state is that the government will fulfill all IMF requirements for the simple reason that we have no choice,” Yatseniuk said.

1700 GMT: An interesting update from Damon Wilson of the Atlantic Council, who says Russian commanders have blocked another fact-finding group in Crimea, less than 24 hours after pro-Russian gunmen forced the UN envoy in Crimea to go to the airport and leave Ukraine:

Reuters has more details:

Dozens of military observers invited by Ukraine to monitor the situation in Russian-occupied Crimea had to turn back on Thursday after failing to get past roadblocks, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said.

The mission of 43 unarmed observers from 23 OSCE countries was now heading back to the Ukrainian town of Kherson, halfway between Odessa and the Crimean peninsula, to decide how to proceed, the Vienna-based security organisation and democracy watchdog said.

“They tried two checkpoints, they didn’t get through … Nobody attacked them, they were just not allowed to go through,” an OSCE spokeswoman said.

1636 GMT: The United States is deploying fighter jets and soldiers to Poland in response to this crisis. Maks Czuperski translates for The Interpreter

12 US F16s and 300 soldiers will arrive on March 10th… This is a response to the on going tensions in Crimea where Russian forces continue to violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine. … During an appearance before the House of Representatives [US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel] announced that during this crisis the United States would increase military aid to its allies.. including Polish and Baltic countries.

1618 GMT: Free Press is under attack in Crimea, but armed gunmen and Russian government television officials have just killed a good portion of it at the point of a gun. Kyiv Post has this disturbing report:

“Armed men, along with representatives of Russian television and radio companies, entered Simferopol Radio and Television Transmitting Station at 1000 on March 6. They illegally stopped the broadcasting of Channel 5 and 1+1 Channel and turned on the television signal of Rossiya 24 to a network of transmitters of the Black Sea Television and Radio Company, and are making illegal attempts to turn on other Russian channels. Coverage of the Crimean territory by the Black Sea Radio and Television Company is 84%,” reads the statement.

1605 GMT: Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli-British journalist who has done an excellent job in covering the crisis in Crimea, has written an article for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the issue of antisemitism in Ukraine. He says that, contrary to Russian media spin, he has found the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people very welcoming, even when showing his Israeli passport at checkpoints. He also discusses Ukraine’s Jewish leaders who are torn between two sides, both of whom they may need the support of depending on how this ends:

The Jewish spokespeople on either side are suspect; They have to get along with their respective governments and continue living there. Speaking with serious professionals from international Jewish organizations operating in both Russia and Ukraine, people with no political axe to grind, I can only point to the conclusion that the rise [of antisemitism] has been minimal so far.

“There is anti-Semitism lurking beneath the surface in both Russian and Ukrainian societies,” one of them told me. “But since the breakup of the Soviet Union, all governments in Moscow and Kiev have done a pretty good job of keeping it in check. There has been a small number of attacks in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities since the Maidan protests broke out, but those can be attributed mainly to the breakdown in law and order, not to a concerted campaign, and we can’t rule out the possibility of pro-Russian provocations. What is certain is that Putin is using the anti-Semitism card for his own propaganda.”

Read the entire article here.

1545 GMT: The Russian forces occupying Crimea continue to grow in size and strength — and in their threatening posture towards Ukrainian military assets. Earlier we reported that the Russian navy has scuttled a ship to block off part of Ukraine’s waters, a move that will help Russia enforce a blockade. Now, Russian troops appear to be turning up the heat on these Ukrainian bases on the Crimea that are surrounded by Russian forces:

1536 GMT: The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress; a large organization of Jewish religious leaders, businessmen, public leads and thinkers; has written an open letter to Vladimir Putin. Here is an excerpt:

You have stated that Russia wants to protect the rights of the Russian-speaking citizens of the Crimea and all of Ukraine and that these rights have been flouted by the current Ukrainian government. Historically, Ukrainian Jews are also mostly Russian-speaking. Thus, our opinion on what is happening carries no less weight than the opinion of those who advise and inform you.

We do not believe that you are easy to fool. You consciously pick and choose lies and slander from the massive amount of information about Ukraine. And you know very well that Victor Yanukovich’s statement concerning the time after the latest treaty had been signed that “…Kyiv is full of armed people who have begun to trash buildings, places of worship, churches. Innocent people have begun to suffer. People have simply been robbed and killed in the street…” are lies, from the first word to the very last.

The Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine are not being humiliated or discriminated against, their civil rights have not been limited. Meanderings about “forced Ukrainization” and “bans on the Russian language” that have been so common in Russian media are on the heads of those who invented them. Your certainty of the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine also does not correspond to the actual facts. It seems you have confused Ukraine with Russia, where Jewish organizations have noticed growth in anti-Semitic tendencies last year.

Right now, after Ukraine has survived a difficult political crisis, many of us have wound up on different sides of the barricades. The Jews of Ukraine, as all ethnic groups, are not absolutely unified in their opinion towards what is happening in the country. But we live in a democratic country and can afford a difference of opinion.

They have tried to scare us (and are continuing their attempts) with “Bandera followers” and “Fascists” attempting to wrest away the helm of Ukrainian society, with imminent Jewish progroms. Yes, we are well aware that the political opposition and the forces of social protests who have secured changes for the better are made up of different groups. They include nationalistic groups, but even the most marginal do not dare show anti-Semitism or other xenophobic behavior. And we certainly know that our very few nationalists are well-controlled by civil society and the new Ukrainian government – which is more than can be said for the Russian neo-Nazis, who are encouraged by your security services.

Yet more evidence that the Jewish community is on a different page with Russia on this issue.

Read the whole letter here.

1524 GMT: The Russian navy has scuttled a ship in order to block off part of Ukrainian waters:



1500 GMT: Another potential blow to the already-threatened freedom of speech in Russia:

The draft law was prepared by Yevgeny Fyodorov, of Putin’s United Russia political party. It would amend a law to combat terrorism and extremism by giving criminal penalties to journalists who publish “false anti-Russian information, and/or provide information and support to extremist anti-Russian separatist forces, including the reflection of events beyond the borders of Russia.”

“Beyond the borders of Russia…” In other words, if Crimea votes to join Russia, journalists who criticize what happens next could be tried for separatism. Even short of that, if journalists publish anything that the government views as “false anti-Russian information,” then the journalists could be subjected to the same penalties.

By the way, just two months ago Russia increased the penalty for expressing “separatist views.”

Under the law submitted to the State Duma by the Communist Party, people will face a fine of up to 300,000 rubles ($9,200) for calling for action against Russia’s territorial integrity.

Lawmakers said the legislation was an effort to curb increasing public support for the idea of relinquishing mainly Muslim territories in the North Caucasus but the measure has also drawn criticism for drawing attention away from more serious problems in Russian society.

1450 GMT: Olga Ivshina, a BBC Russian Service reporter, was”marched off at gunpoint” today outside the Belbek airbase in Crimea. She described her experience as she and a few colleagues broke away from a pack of other journalists only to then be harassed by the Russian soldiers who are effectively blockading the base which is still in the control of the Ukrainian military. The journalists were searched, accused of being spies, and, from the sounds of it, were sexually harassed:

“Do you have tattoos?” [one soldier asks]

“No,” I answer.

“Take your clothes off, we’re going to check.”

“Check the guys, but leave the girl alone!” a man barks. He has just approached us, and seems to be the senior officer. “Olga – you’re a Russian citizen? Come with me – we need to talk.”

The officer takes me to one side and explains how important it is now to avoid provocations, how biased Western journalists are, and how important it is for everyone to do an honest job.

“And don’t come here anymore,” he says finally. “After all, you and I are Russian citizens. I don’t want to shoot my own people.”

Before saying goodbye the soldiers photograph us on their mobile phones. They say they will do a search on a database and find out about our spying.

They show us how to get back to the main road and ask us again not to look back.

“Olga, you and I will still meet again in Moscow,” adds the officer, with a wry smile.

Read the entire story here.

1440 GMT: Speaking of RT, the media world is buzzing after one anchor, Abby Martin, gave an angry editorial about how Russia’s intervention in Ukraine was unacceptable.

At the time, RT embraced Martin’s editorial as it was a sign of their editorial independence.

Now, it seems, that RT is growing impatient with the “independence” of their anchors. Liz Wahl quit yesterday out of anger with Russian policies and RT’s coverage which “white washes the actions of Putin” of them.

Well that was a bridge too far for RT, which released this statement:

Ms. Wahl’s resignation comes on the heels of her colleague Abby Martin’s recent comments in which she voiced her disagreement with certain policies of the Russian government and asserted her editorial independence. The difference is, Ms. Martin spoke in the context of her own talk show, to the viewers who have been tuning in for years to hear her opinions on current events – the opinions that most media did not care about until two days ago. For years, Ms. Martin has been speaking out against US military intervention, only to be ignored by the mainstream news outlets – but with that one comment, branded as an act of defiance, she became an overnight sensation. It is a tempting example to follow.

When a journalist disagrees with the editorial position of his or her organization, the usual course of action is to address those grievances with the editor, and, if they cannot be resolved, to quit like a professional. But when someone makes a big public show of a personal decision, it is nothing more than a self-promotional stunt.

1430 GMT: This is interesting:

rt changes the map

Note that we’ve added the arrows: The blue is the Black Sea, the green is Ukraine, which is grayed out, and the red is Crimea — but it’s the same color as Russia now.

1405 GMT: The new Ukrainian government has put 24 former government and law enforcement officials on a list of suspected mass murderers. The list is in direct response to the killing of 100 people in the first five days of the Ukrainian revolution which started just 17 days ago. The top of the list — ousted president Viktor Yanukovych. Also on the list: Andriy Klyuyev, the former presidential chief of staff; Oleksandr Yakymenko, the former chief of the Security Services of Ukraine; Viktor Pshonka, the former prosecutor general; Vitaly Zakharchenko, the former interior minister; and Sergiy Kosiuk, the former head of the now-infamous Berkut riot police. The full list can be read here.

1355 GMT: US President Barack Obama has announced visa bans on individuals who have “taken steps to undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” The names of the officials have not been released, and the US is prepared to take additional measures to seize assets of responsible individuals, though there is a process that must be carried out to ensure that the seizures would hold up in court. The New York Times reports:

President Obama also issued an executive order that provides the legal basis for imposing additional penalties on “individuals and entities” who have undermined Ukraine’s territorial integrity, misappropriated Ukraine’s assets or have asserted authority over parts of Ukraine without the approval of the Ukrainian government, a reference to officials in Crimea who claim they have broken free of Ukraine and are seeking Russian protection.

The executive order would permit the government to go further. Under the order, Washington could issue new visa bans that would allow the targets to be named publicly and it could authorize asset seizures. But officials cautioned that it would take time to develop those financial measures because, unlike with a visa ban, they have to have evidence that would hold up against a court challenge.