The Interpreter

A special project of Institute of Modern Russia

Ukraine Liveblog Day 38: Russia “Likely” to Invade Ukraine, Says U.S. Intelligence

A classified U.S. intelligence assessment gives a high likelihood of Russia’s invading eastern Ukraine, as Russia amasses approximately 30,000 troops on the border.

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

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


2100 GMT: Reshat Ametov, a Crimean Tatarm went missing on March 3rd after being involved in an anti-Russian rally in Crimea. His body was found on March 16th, and there were signs that he may have died under torture. A Youtube video has surfaced claiming to show Reshat Ametov being kidnapped.

A poster eulogizing Ametov, which can be used to compare the image in the video:

A poster eulogizing Reshat Ametov, a Crimean Tatar whose body was found on March 16th.
A poster eulogizing Reshat Ametov, a Crimean Tatar whose body was found on March 16th.

It could be a match. The man in the video is carried away by several uniformed men, in broad daylight and near police (note the siren), possibly suggesting that this was a sanctioned arrest by Crimean “self-defence” forces. He is loaded into a car with tinted windows, which then speeds off.


2048 GMT: It’s important to keep in mind, as time moves on, that even many Ukrainians who are more pro-Russian or anti-EU may still not support a Russian invasion of mainland Ukraine.


2028 GMT: Over the last few days we’ve confirmed the movement of a significant amount of Russian firepower to the borders with Ukraine. Today we’ve been reporting that some intelligence agencies, including the CIA, are tracking the same thing. John Schindler, Professor at the Naval War College, suggests that this could very well be a preparation for invasion, but the actual invasion may still be days or weeks from now:

And Voice of America provides a disturbing, though not independently confirmed, detail:

Countering Moscow’s claims that Russian troops positioned near the border with Ukraine are conducting routine military exercises, the Pentagon says that there is no indication supporting that.

“They continue to reinforce, and it continues to be unclear what exactly the intent there is… We’ve seen no specific indications that exercises are taking place,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby on Thursday.

An incursion into eastern Ukraine, if deep enough, could enable Russia to establish a land connection to Crimea. Currently, Russia has access to the Black Sea peninsula only by air and sea.

From local sources, VOA has learned that the Russian military has established a field hospital in the Bryansk region, about 20 kilometers from the Russia-Ukraine border, that some 60 train cars have arrived near the border with supplies and that the frontier is being patrolled by more than a dozen Russian drones.


2014 GMT: The Right Sector rally has dispersed.


1925 GMT: The rally outside the Rada is smaller than it first appeared, and and Max Seddon reports that the crowd has already begun to thin out.

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1920 GMT: RFE/RL has more on both the US loan and the IMF loan, both of which were passed today:

Each bill would provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to cash-strapped Ukraine.

It would also sanction those responsible for human rights abuses against antigovernment protesters in Ukraine as well as Russian officials responsible for corruption in Ukraine.

Earlier today, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) promised to loan up between $14 and $18 billion to cash-strapped Ukraine.

The loan hinges on structural reforms that Kyiv has pledged to undertake.

It will help prop up Ukraine’s struggling economy following three months of antigovernment protests and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.


1910 GMT: The Right Sector is holding this rally on the same day that the Rada passed significant legislation, including an amendment to the 2014 budget:

The new budget will be an important one, as decreasing the deficit is a precondition for IMF funding.

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1903 GMT: More from outside the Rada at the Right Sector rally:

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1900 GMT: Following the mysterious death of a Right Sector leader, some say at the hands of police this week, Right Sector activists and leaders are holding a rally right now to demand the resignation of Ukraine’s top cop. Things are tense. Below is a livestream:



Live streaming video by Ustream

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1850 GMT: The Russian economy is in the red again today, a day after stock indexes made a small recovery, and a week after stocks hit a significant low. The MICEX is down 1.36% today, nearly erasing yesterday’s gains, and the ruble is down against the dollar by .11%:

INDEXCF Quote   MICEX Index   Bloomberg march 27

At this point, with long-term, medium-term, AND short-term trends all pointing down, any increase in the Russian markets looks more like a market correction than a rally.


1836 GMT: The UN has voted on a resolution on declaring Crimea’s referendum was illegal. Despite the fact that 100 countries voted that the referendum was invalid, 11 countries voted in the negative, and 58 abstained, Russia’s ambassador to the UN made statements on this vote that indicate, according to the government-operated RIA Novosti, that “Russia is not alone on the world arena.”

Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe joined Russia in rejecting the document.

“The result is rather satisfying for us as we have won a moral and a political victory,” Vitaly Churkin said.
“It clearly shows that Russia is not isolated [by the international community],” the diplomat said.

That wasn’t even the most outrageous statement made by Ambassador Churkin:

There is simply no evidence for this. In fact, the evidence on pro-Maidan snipers presented by Russian media has proven weak, misleading, or false — and in fact evidence suggests that the snipers were Ukrainian Interior Ministry Special Forces, units clearly under the control of the pro-Russian and then-President Viktor Yanukovych. See some of this investigation here.


1819 GMT: Is antisemitism rising in Ukraine? Did armed provocateurs really reduce Kiev to anarchy? We’ve often discussed the Russian government’s narrative on what’s happened in Ukraine, and noted the amount of propaganda that has fallen far short of the truth. In an article in The Atlantic, David Frum argues that Putin has tried to point the finger at a “phantom neo-Nazi menace,” but the reality is that the end of the Cold War ended most of the worst horrors that Ukraine’s Jews faced. Frum interviews a room filled with Jewish leaders who laugh at his question about the antisemitism they have face, he explores the few infamous antisemitic incidents that have taken place, and he notes that among Ukraine’s many problems, most of them are caused by the legacy of Russia or Yanukovych:

Take the most visually spectacular incident: the daubing of a swastika and anti-Semitic slogans on a synagogue in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea. The incident occurred the night before the Russians invaded, creating convenient photographic confirmation of one of Moscow’s pretexts for invasion: the supposed neo-Nazi menace inside Ukraine. The synagogue’s security camera recorded that a lone individual, never subsequently identified, was responsible for the graffiti. There had been no previous such incident in the nearly two decades since the local Jewish community recovered the synagogue from communist-era confiscation.

The circumstances surrounding the two violent anti-Semitic incidents are even murkier. The victim of one is a well-known and respected figure in Kiev’s Jewish life, who wears his hair and dresses in a visibly Jewish way. He was attacked suddenly from behind at night and stabbed in the leg, never managing to identify who assaulted him. The second incident involved a couple bursting into a local synagogue one night and claiming that they had been surrounded by a gang and physically threatened, but had hailed a taxi and escaped just in time.

In early March, leaders of Ukraine’s Jewish community—which today, according to most estimates, numbers in the low hundreds of thousands—published an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin in which they declared their support for a “sovereign, democratic, and united Ukraine.” “Your certainty about the growth of anti-Semitism in Ukraine … does not correspond to the actual facts,” they wrote.

Read the entire article here.


1617 GMT: Aslund replies to Slaughter. Russia expert and international economist Anders Aslund has taken strong exception to a column published today in the Washington Post and written by New America Foundation president Anne-Marie Slaughter. In her piece, Slaughter argues that the West will only exacerbate tensions with Vladimir Putin by taking a tough line on his annexation of Crimea. “More broadly,” she writes, “the United States would do well to tone down its sanctimony. Putin’s annexation of Crimea violated international law. But so did the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the NATO intervention to protect Kosovo, even if the latter was, to many, including me, a legitimate violation. Insisting that this is a new era because Moscow is bent on violating international law may indeed propel the world into a new era. But that would be a choice of our making, not Russia’s.”

Slaughter also credits Russia for its forbearance in not invading the rest of Ukraine (so far), which she says the Soviet Union would have done “at the first sign a pro-Soviet government was in trouble.”

Aslund first sent his reply to Slaughter’s column to Economist editor Edward Lucas, who published it anonymously on his Facebook page. We have reproduced it in full with both Lucas’ and Aslund’s permission:

The last two last major unprovoked annexations in peacetime are Saddam Hussein’s of Kuwait in 1990 and Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria in 1938.

Every argument that this piece makes would defend the Anschluss.

The US did not annex Iraq. it left that country. Parallels with the US invasion of Iraq are inaccurate. Moreover, Bush being wrong on Iraq does not legitimise other military attacks elsewhere

Kosovo a) has a long history of separatist sentiment and b) suffered a a violent attack from Serbia. Neither of this is true of Crimea. Sergey Aksyonov, the Crimean “prime minister” was appointed by the Russian military after they had taken over the Crimean parliament. In the last regional Crimean elections his party received 4% of the vote. Nobody has shown discrimination against Russians (however defined) in Crimea, or anywhere in Ukraine.

What on earth is meant by “Insisting that this is a new era because Moscow is bent on violating international law may indeed propel the world into a new era.” Should we accept wars of aggression and annexation without protest? Putin violated the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, the Alma-Ata Treaty on the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Budapest Memorandum on the denuclearisation of Ukraine, the Russia-Ukraine Friendship Treaty of 1997, etc.

Do you think that international law is irrelevant, or even harmful?

Neither Ukraine, nor any other country apart from Russia has recognized Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. It is misleading to write “a new Ukrainian government just signed an association agreement with the European Union. That is a Ukraine without Crimea.” No, it was a Ukraine with Crimea. Crimea is legally still apart of Ukraine, which you denies.

Amid reports about Russian elite troops gathering on Ukraine’s borders and subversion taking place within them, you want to hold Ukraine’s government accountable. What about helping?

1605 GMT: Sex strikers. Ukrainian women have started a campaign called “Don’t Give It to a Russian” — to deny sex to Russian men over Moscow’s invasion of Crimea. Lizzie Crocker at The Daily Beast reports:

The women behind the sex-strike campaign, called Don’t Give It to a Russian, are doing their part to contribute to a larger boycott of Russian-made goods, urging other Ukrainian ladies via their Facebook page to “fight the enemy by whatever means”—to keep their legs crossed at all costs, in this case.

The campaign reportedly borrowed its “Don’t Give It to a Russian” slogan from Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s 1838 verse—Kateryna: “Fall in love, O dark-browed maidens, but not with Moskaly [the Russians].” And the initiative already has its own line of T-shirts bearing the slogan and their not-so-subtle logo (two hands cupped together to resemble a vagina).


1600 GMT: The calls for a boycott of Russian-made products in Ukraine are intensifying. In some supermarkets, goods are now being divided according to their place of origin:

 


1530 GMT: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov sounded off last night about the closure of Russian Federation channels in Ukraine by the new Kiev government, ITAR-TASS reported. Our translation:

“This is deprivation of the public of Ukraine of the right to freely receive information, to freedom of speech,” he emphasized. “This is proof of the dysfunction of the leadership.”

We wonder what Peskov would have to say about the news earlier this month when armed men took over most of the local channels in the Crimea to forcibly install Russian federal TV. They substituted Russia’s RTR for Channel 5, Russia’s Channel One for 1+1, NTV World for Internet, TV Russia 24 for Black Sea TRK and others.

And then there was the time when masked gunmen pointed rifles at the heads of journalists in Simferopol, or when armed “self-defense” units shot at journalists or beat them or pushed them to the ground at military bases or other locations.


1504 GMT: The Balts are nervous. Roland Flamini at World Affairs Journal writes that Russia’s takeover of Crimea has got the Baltic states — which have sizable ethnic Russian populations — ramping up their defenses:

Estonia’s defense minister, Urmas Reinsalu, has called on more Estonian citizens to join the Estonian Defense League (Estonia’s version of the US National Guard). He told Estonian Public Broadcasting, “The Ukrainian crisis shows that the idea that defending the state is the problem of professional military only is outdated.”

Estonia’s national defense plan calls for membership of the Defense League to be expanded to 30,000 by 2022, more than double the current 14,000. An informal online poll conducted by the daily Postimees last weekend yielded more than 8,000 responses, with 32 percent saying they would seriously consider joining, 14 percent saying they might do so in the future, and 36 percent saying they would not. Twelve percent said they were already members.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet’s phone call with EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton was intercepted recently and then leaked, almost certainly by the Russian security services.


1459 GMT: President Obama is encouraging America’s European allies to lower their dependence on Russian natural gas and to back U.S. efforts to target sectors of the Russian economy with sanctions. Also, Obama met with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to discuss greater NATO-Ukrainian military cooperation. The Wall Street Journal reports:

European officials responded to the prodding by agreeing to take steps to reduce their dependence on Russian natural gas and to improve the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s security posture.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary-general, said the alliance will “intensify our military cooperation with Ukraine,” including helping modernize Ukrainian forces. “We will review the viability of our relationship with Russia,” he said. “We will not seek confrontation, but we will not waver if challenged.”


1456 GMT: A U.S. intelligence assessment shared with CNN finds that Russia is “likely” to invade the rest of Ukraine. According to CNN:

Two administration officials described the assessment but declined to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the information.

The officials emphasized that nothing is certain, but there have been several worrying signs in the past three to four days.

“This has shifted our thinking that the likelihood of a further Russian incursion is more probable than it was previously thought to be,” one official said.

Also, Reuters’ Mark Hosenball reports that the exact number of Russian troops amassed at the border may be unclear but it is more than what would be needed to conduct a military “exercise,” which the Kremlin gives as the reason for this mass mobilization:

The 30,000 figure represents a significant increase from a figure of 20,000 Russian troops along the border that was widely reported in U.S. and European media last week.

But U.S. and European security sources noted that these estimates are imprecise. Some estimates put current troop levels as high as 35,000 while others still suggest a level of 25,000, the sources said.