Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 19.03.2018
Russia is preparing a rapid invasion of Ukraine. But the Ukrainian armed forces are mounting a Joint Forces Operation to defend the homeland that should make Putin think twice.
Russia is turning Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula into a heavily-armed fortress. In eastern Ukraine, Russian armed forces invading and occupying part of Donetsk region and part of Luhansk region are organized into two battle formations. In Donetsk the Russians have the 1st Army Corps, or so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic.” In Luhansk there is the 2nd Army Corps, or so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic.” The Russians give the names of Federal Security Service (FSB) created and led terrorist groups – “DPR” and “LPR” – to these formations, and Russian propaganda called them “pro-Russian separatists” or “rebels.” They are in fact formations of the Russian armed forces. The 1st and 2nd Army Corps are manned by Russian soldiers: contract soldiers; “Wagner Group” private military company soldiers; mercenaries; and regular soldiers of the Russian army who have removed or changed their insignia. The 1st and 2nd Army Corps are led by Russian officers, armed and supplied by Russia, paid by Russia, and when they die they are shipped as ‘Cargo 200’ back to Russia or buried without a name in Donbas.
The 1st and 2nd Army Corps of the Russian armed forces that are invading and occupying part of Donbas number about 35 thousand soldiers. Putin’s army in eastern Ukraine has 300 multiple launch rocket systems, 700 tanks, more than 1000 armoured vehicles, and more than 1000 artillery systems.
The Western Military District of the Russian Federation is across the eastern border of Ukraine. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014, the Putin regime has reorganized and strengthened its military posture against Ukraine. The military build-up makes Russia capable of launching a rapid invasion of Ukraine, beyond the trench warfare that has been going on for well over three years in Donbas. President Poroshenko reported on the presence of new Russian motorized divisions deployed for invasion, and the readiness of Russia to strike from the north and the east of Ukraine.
President Poroshenko appointed Lieutenant-General Serhiy Nayev (on photo) to be the commander of the Joint Forces Operation. Gone is the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” which was started in 2014, but which was obsolete by the time of the intervention by regular forces of the Russian army at the Battle of Ilovaisk. It makes sense for an anti-terrorist operation to be under the command of the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU). But what’s happening in Donbas is an invasion by a foreign army from Russia, and under these circumstances the Armed Forces of Ukraine need to take charge. The Joint Forces Operation will command every aspect of the defence of Ukraine. Every unit now takes orders from Lt.-Gen. Nayev: the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the National Guard, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, the SBU, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, and the National Police. The real benefit of the Joint Forces Operation is realism. The real enemy is the Russian army invading Donbas. “Pro-Russian separatists” do not exist.
Russia is preparing a rapid invasion of Ukraine. That doesn’t mean that Russia will expand its existing invasion of Ukraine in Crimea and Donbas anytime soon. The Ukrainian armed forces are in a state far better than the one they were in when Russia first invaded in 2014. The change from the Anti-Terrorist Operation to the Joint Forces Operation demonstrates that Ukraine is serious about the defence of the homeland – and indeed the defence of all Europe – from Russian invasion.
Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 18.03.2018
Making Ukrainians vote for his re-election completes the destruction of Putin’s legitimacy as the president of Russia.
By invading Ukraine and then holding an ‘election’ on the Crimean part of Ukrainian territory he occupies, Putin deprives himself of democratic legitimacy as president of Russia. Russia invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014 and then purported to have ‘annexed’ Crimea to the Russian Federation soon afterwards. Russian invader-occupiers have been persecuting Ukrainians who live in Crimea, particular the autochthonous people, the Crimean Tatars. Russia has deprived Ukrainians of their citizenship, conscripted them into the foreign Russian army, abducted Ukrainian activists and Crimean Tatar leaders, stolen land and property, and committed grave violations of international human rights law.
Among other crimes, the Russian invader-occupiers of Crimea force Ukrainians to participate in what the Kremlin calls ‘elections’ but which are in fact public affirmation exercises and demonstrations of Putin regime domination. Putin has no understanding of the power and legitimacy that derives from genuine, contested, free and fair elections. Putin therefore makes two fatal mistakes when it comes to the election theatre that he chooses to conduct instead of real elections. First, Putin doesn’t allow any opponent who could win the election to go up against him. Boris Nemtsov would definitely have been such an opponent if he had not been murdered three years ago, and there’s a chance that Alexei Navalny might have been such an opponent if Putin had not barred him from running. Choosing to face only ‘technical’ candidates, Putin comes off as weak: he is inadequate to the task of actually campaigning to win an election that he could possibly lose. Putin is not good enough to be a democratic politician: he has never argued in a debate with a worthy opponent and he has never persuaded a skeptical voter who was free to make up his or her mind. Second, Putin, Putin poisons his mandate by making people who are not Russians vote in a Russian election. Forcing Ukrainians in Crimea to vote in a his certain re-election will make Putin a leader who was ‘chosen’ by different classes of voters: Russians in Russia and Ukrainians in a territory which is under the de facto administration of Russia.
Ukraine has appealed to the United Nations to point out that Russian presidential elections in occupied Crimea violate the UN Charter. “The outcome of such illegal elections will be null and void,” wrote Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UN, Volodymyr Yelchenko. Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, had earlier said that he and Foreign Minister Klimkin and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine would campaign to get the international community to refuse to recognize the ‘elections’ in Crimea and to introduce sanctions against their organizers. Canada and Estonia have already stated that they will not recognize Russian presidential elections in Crimea. Ambassadors in Kyiv from the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Russia’s plan to conduct elections in Crimea and they reaffirmed support for sanctions until Crimea is de-occupied by Russia. On March 14, the President of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen, said: “From the point of view of Austria, it is clear that the annexation of Crimea is unlawful. And this is also the position of the European Union. Therefore, legitimate elections to the Russian Parliament and the elections of Russian President cannot take place in Crimea.”
The European Union came out strongly against illegal elections in Crimea. The foreign policy chief of the EU, Federica Mogherini, said that the EU will not recognize Russian presidential elections in the ‘annexed’ Crimea and she condemned the militarization of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian occupiers as a threat to the peace and security of the Black Sea region. In a written statement, Mogherini stated: “In violation of international humanitarian law, Russian citizenship and conscription in the armed forces of the Russian Federation have been imposed on Crimean residents.” She then condemned the construction of a bridge over the Kerch Strait (an international strait) without the consent of Ukraine and for imposing a maritime blockade on Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea (Berdyansk and Mariupol).
Putin will face silence or condemnation from real democracies over his certain ‘re-election’ on Sunday. He should have seen this coming, from the reception he got the last time illegal Russian elections were held in Crimea. On 18 September 2016, parliamentary ‘elections’ were held in Russia and in Russia-occupied Ukrainian Crimea. They were rigged so that Putin’s “United Russia” party won the overwhelming number of seats. Ukrainians in Crimea were compelled to vote in the foreign election. But the six so-called ‘deputies’ who were said to have been selected from Crimea were all placed on the sanctions list of the European Union, the United States, Canada and other democratic countries. The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, was corrupted not only by its lack of a genuine democratic mandate but by the taint of Ukrainian deputies posing as Russian ones. Putin will be in the same quandary when he will claim to have won the presidential ‘election’ on Sunday. He will have no democratic legitimacy and his mandate will suffer the taint of the forced participation of the captive population of Russia-occupied Ukraine.
Putin has made a grave miscalculation. He has isolated himself and Russia further by his unrelenting aggression and violations of international law. Putin has taken away any chance he had of appearing to be the legitimate leader of Russia by the profoundly stupid act of invading Ukraine. No democratic country will recognize the Russian presidential election in Crimea. No country should recognize the re-election of Putin, period.
Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 17.03.2018 
The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, made a surprise visit to Luhansk region on March 16. The visit was unannounced because the President went right up to the battlefront where Ukrainian defenders are holding off the Russian army invading Donbas. Poroshenko went to the village of Katerynivka and the town of Zolote.
Katerynivka is a small village right on the ‘contact line’ between the Russian invaders and the Ukrainian armed forces. Poroshenko met with villagers at a point that was only a few hundred metres from the front. Katerynivka has only recently been liberated from Russian occupation, having been under Muscovy control since the fighting of autumn 2014. News of the liberation of Katerynivka was revealed on 2 February 2018, shortly after a successful and non-violent operation by the Ukrainian army. The villagers of Katerynivka had been without essential services for over three years, but are now re-integrated with free Ukraine.
Zolote is a town only 3 kilometres to the north-east of Katerynivka. It is supposed to be the site of a ‘safe crossing’ for vehicle traffic between Russia-occupied Luhansk region and the rest of Luhansk region in free Ukraine. The Ukrainian side and the overseeing Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (OSCE SMM) have been ready to open the Zolote checkpoint for months. The Russian side refuses to remove mines from its side of the crossing, constantly shells and shoots at defenders and civilians on the free Ukraine side, and prevaricates indefinitely about opening the crossing. Internally displaced persons and the captive population of Luhansk living under Russian occupation must cross the ‘contact line’ on foot and only at one point: Stanytsia Luhanska. Poroshenko spoke to the press in Zolote and pointed out that Russia was violating the terms of the Minsk Agreements yet again by failing to open a safe crossing for civilians to travel by cars and buses in Luhansk.
President Poroshenko showed courage and resolve by visiting Katerynivka and Zolote. The 2nd Army Corps (Luhansk or so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic”) of the Russian armed forces is entrenched only metres away from where he was in Katerynivka. The Russians attack Ukrainian defenders and civilians regularly in the area, in the villages and towns of Novozvanivka, Popasna, Novooleksandrivka, Katerynivka, and Zolote. The Russians fire artillery, launch grenades, and shoot guns from Ukrainian towns they occupy, Pervomaisk and Kadiivka.
Leaders of Western democracies who are friends of Ukraine should do what President Poroshenko did. The foreign minister of Lithuania, Linas Linkevičius, visited the front-line village of Shyrokyne in March 2016, and even came under Russian shell fire while he was there. Minister Linkevičius showed that Lithuania is a real friend of Ukraine and proved by his action the resolve of Lithuanians to stand by Ukrainians in their fight against Russian aggression.
Poroshenko and Linkevičius faced the enemy. Other Western leaders should too. The West will achieve victory over Muscovy, but only by showing courage, resolve, and unity against Putin’s army invading Europe in Ukraine. Standing on the battlefront and standing up to Russian aggression is the start. The liberation of Donbas and Crimea is the next step.
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