Tag Archives: Ukraine

Intercepted Phone Calls Show Russia Directing Separatists to Seize MH17’s Black Boxes

The Ukrainian government has released recordings of alleged phone calls between pro-Russian separatists discussing the fate of Malaysian Flight MH17’s black boxes.

Ukrainian security officials released the tapes on Sunday, claiming that they proved Russia had directed the separatists to find and hide the black boxes.

The call is between Alexander Khodakovsky, leader of the Vostok (East) battalion of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and one of his men (“Oleksiy”) at the crash site. You can listen to the conversations below:

In the first of the recordings, Khodakovsky urges Oleksiy to find MH17’s black boxes, saying,

“Do it really quick, urgently. Moscow is asking where the boxes are… [they] must be under our control”.

In a second call less than an hour later, Khodakovsky talks to another man at the crash site (“Andriy”), telling him,

“I have a request for you. It is not my request. Our friends from high above are very much interested in the fate of the black boxes. I mean people from Moscow.”

He also tells Andriy to,

“Try to take everything that you find so that it doesn’t get into somebody else’s hands.”

Around the time that the recordings were released, Reuters released footage of what appears to be the black boxes being removed from the crash site by the separatists:

Earlier this morning, the news service Interfax reported that rebel Russian separatists in Ukraine had handed over the black boxes to Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee.

Andrei Purgin is the self-proclaimed deputy prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the separatist government in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. Purgin told Interfax:

“Of course, we most likely will give them [the black boxes] to the Interstate Aviation Committee, to Moscow. High-level experts, who will be able to determine exactly the reason of the catastrophe, work there.”

So it seems that the black boxes are on their way to Moscow, if they’re not there already. This will definitely raise a lot more suspicion about Russia’s involvement in the MH17 tragedy.

But, for the sake of objectivity, it is definitely worth noting that these tapes have not been independently verified yet, and are being released by the Ukrainian government, who has every reason in the world to want Russia to be responsible for the tragedy.

That doesn’t mean I believe the tapes are fabricated- it’s just a reminder to tread carefully when trying to make sense of such a complex issue.

The Russian Government Just Edited the Wikipedia Page for the Plane Shot Down In Ukraine

On Thursday, Malaysian flight MH17,  headed to Amsterdam from Kuala Lampur, was shot down by a surface to air missile over Ukraine. All 298 of the passengers were killed.

As information started to come out, it became apparent that the missile that took the plane down came from an area controlled by pro-Russian separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine.

People walk through the debris of MH17 near the village of Grabovo (Photo: AP)

These pro-Russian groups refused to recognize the new government in Kiev after the Ukrainian revolution and have established strongholds in a number of cities on Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia.

Although the separatists have denied responsibility, much of the evidence points to them. Also, the fact that they are denying investigators access to the crash site while looters steal cash, credit cards and jewelry from the victims doesn’t seem to support their cries of innocence.

It is no secret that the separatist groups have the support of Russia, and many people think Russia holds some of the responsibility for the disaster. The main reason for this is that the missile used, an SA-11, requires a very complex weapons system operated by highly-trained personnel.

Some info about the missile system most likely responsible for taking down MH17. Click to enlarge

Yesterday, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby weighed in:

“It strains credulity to think that they could do this without some measure of Russian support and assistance. It is a sophisticated system.”

Then, yesterday evening, a Twitter bot added another piece to the story.

The bot, @RuGovEdits is basically a Russian version of @CongressEdits- it informs people any time a Wikipedia page has been edited by a Russian government IP address.

The Russian Twitter bot announced yesterday that the Wikipedia page for flight MH17 had been edited by the Russian government. What was changed?

Well, the original submission stated the plane was shot down by,

“…by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic with Buk system missiles, which the terrorists received from the Russian Federation.”

The new edited version says that,

“…the plane [flight MH17] was shot down by Ukrainian soldiers.

Russia has maintained that they were not involved in the tragedy and that the flight was brought down by Ukrainian forces, but this new revelation definitely raises questions about the truth of that statement.

(h/t Gizmodo)

Thought We Were Just “Helping” Ukraine? Their New President Has Been On U.S. Payroll Since 2006

Petro Poroshenko is Ukraine’s new president, elected after a popular uprising that overthrew the former president Viktor Yanukovych and his regime.

The uprising was a reaction to Yanukovych’s decision to turn down offers to join the EU in favor of closer economic ties with Russia. The United States, close allies with the EU, enthusiastically supported the overthrow of Yanukovych and the election of Poroshenko, a pro-EU candidate.

Ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych at a news conference in Russia (Photo: AP)

But the more time goes on, the more it seems that the U.S. government may have played a bigger role in the Ukrainian uprising and aftermath than they would have us think.

Classified cables posted to the website wikileaks.org reveal that Poroshenko was on the payroll of the U.S. State Department as early as April of 2006. Poroshenko was one of the leaders of Our Ukraine or OU, a major political party in the country- the wikileaks cables refer to him as the U.S.’s “Our Ukraine insider”.

Another cable, from May 2006, reveals that the U.S. government knew Poroshenko to be corrupt:

“Poroshenko was tainted by credible corruption allegations, but wielded significant influence within OU; Poroshenko’s price had to be paid.”

Some of the most interesting communications between the U.S. and Poroshenko came in 2009, when Poroshenko told then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton that he was very in favor of,

“the opening of a U.S. diplomatic presence in Crimea… He emphasized the importance of Crimea, and said that having U.S. representation there would be useful for Ukraine.”

New Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at a press confernce with Hillary Clinton last month (Photo: Reuters)

Crimea, as you know, is the disputed peninsula in the Black Sea which Russia occupied early on during the Ukrainian revolution.

These revelations, though not damning, are certainly suspicious at the very least. It’s very hard to imagine that Poroshenko won the Ukrainian presidency without any help from the U.S. after seeing that he has been providing the U.S. with insider information on Ukraine since 2006.

Some argue that Poroshenko’s work for the U.S. was an act of treason, since it’s extremely likely that some of the information provided by him was used to help oust Yanukovych back in February.

Combine these revelations with that the fact that Hunter Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s son, was selected to the board of Burisma Holdings (Ukraine’s largest private gas producer) in May, just a month before Poroshenko was inaugurated into office, and things start to get really fishy.

Joe Biden and his son Hunter

Ukraine has Europe’s third-largest natural gas reserves at 42 trillion cubic feet, and the country’s pipelines are a major gas route between eastern and western Europe. It makes sense that the U.S. and the EU would do everything they could to hold onto it.

Click to enlarge

Read the original story from SGC News here.

There’s No Politics In Space: ISS Astronauts Dismiss Ukraine Issues By Taking Selfies Together

The three-man crew of American astronaut Reid Wiseman, German Astronaut Alexander Gerst, and commander Maksim Suraev of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency departed from Earth yesterday (5/28) headed for the ISS.

Ahead of the launch, the astronauts took questions from the media. One member of the media asked how the recent events in Ukraine affected the astronauts, seeing as Russia’s relations with Germany and the U.S. have been very strained since the turmoil began.

The astronauts response was awesome:

The three men have built a strong friendship over the years while training together.

“I think it means a lot if you look at our crew as not just a team of three different guys from three different nationalities or continents – we are actually a group of friends… Space is without borders, we fly to an international space station where we do experiments that come back to Earth and benefit all of us – they benefit all humankind,”

said Gerst in response to a question from a German journalist. They took this selfie during the interview to reiterate their unity.

The three colleagues and friends have actually taken a number of other awesome pictures together over the years, including these two.

The crew will spend six months aboard the ISS and will return in November.

Read more from RT here.

Ukrainian Forces Seize 100,000 Ballots Pre-Marked “Yes” For Separatist Referendum

The situation in Ukraine has been all over the place lately, with conflicting reports constantly coming from both sides, so I don’t blame you if you haven’t been keeping up with it.

There have been a few recent developments, however, that are worth noting. Since the overthrow of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia’s subsequent annexation of the Crimean peninsula, there has been significant unrest in Ukraine’s eastern cities, specifically in the coal-mining region of Donetsk.

A number of pro-Russian separatist groups have emerged in eastern Ukraine since all the tension began. Though they typically wear uniforms that bear no particular flag and claim to be Ukrainian, many people believe that a significant portion of these groups are actually covert Russian forces.

Separatist forces seize Donetsk’s main administrative building on April 7th (Photo: AFP)

The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) is the most organized and most visible of these groups. They recently announced that they would be holding a referendum in the Donetsk region and the neighboring Luhansk region on May 11th.

Originally, the referendum was to be a vote on whether or not to legitimize the new Ukrainian government. Then, members of the DPR said people would be asked whether they wanted to leave Ukraine and join Russia, “Crimea-style”.

Click to enlarge

As of May 8 however, the referendum simply asks, “Do you support the act of state self-reliance of the Donetsk People’s Republic?”. DPR representatives have said that a follow-up referendum will be held on the 18th to decide on whether or not to join Russia.

The Ukrainian government and the international community have denounced the referendum (as well as the DPR’s self-proclaimed state) to be illegitimate and illegal.

However, separatist forces are in control of a number of towns and cities in the region, and have commandeered 80 local schools to hold the votes (the feature image for this story was taken at one of these schools), so local governments have been forced to comply.

Separatist forces patrol the streets of Donetsk waving both a Russian flag and one that reads, “People’s volunteer corps of Donetsk” (Photo: AFP)

Then earlier today, the Kiev Post reported that Ukrainian anti-terror forces in Slaviansk had captured a small group of armed separatists who had 100,000 ballots for tomorrow’s referendum that were pre-marked “yes”. The Kiev Post called the group “Kremlin-backed rebels”, but the publication is known to be supportive of the new government in Kiev so it’s possible that their report may be a bit sensationalized.

Check out the original report from the Kiev Post here. Read more from the BBC about the upcoming referendum here.

Feature image courtesy of AFP

Russian Deputy PM to NASA: Have Your Astronauts Take A Trampoline to the Space Station

Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, is among the list of Russian officials who the U.S. has economically sanctioned in response to the situation in Ukraine.

Apparently, those sanctions are beginning to irk him a bit. Yesterday, he posted this tweet to his Russian twitter account:

Translation: “After reviewing the sanctions against our space industry, suggest United States delivering their astronauts on the ISS using trampoline.” (I could have fixed the sentence structure on the translation but I found it was much funnier to leave it as is and read it with a Russian accent)

If you were unaware, we have been paying the Russian space agency to launch our astronauts up to the International Space Station ever since NASA ended the American Space Shuttle program in the summer of 2011.

Russian Space Shuttle “Buran”

Speaking with journalists in the Crimea region (which was controversially annexed from Ukraine recently) , Rogozin went on to say,

“Essentially, the Americans want to clear us out of the space services market … I am sick and tired of these sanctions, to be honest, they don’t understand that the sanctions will hit them like a boomerang.”

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, a private space company who NASA has been working with increasingly in recent years had this response:

Read more from NBC here.

The Flyer That Said Jews In the Ukrainian City of Donetsk Had To Register Is A Fake

You may have seen news earlier today that a flyer circulated in the east Ukrainian city of Donetsk stated that Jews in the area would have to register with the local authorities.

It prompted an immediate response across the globe. John Kerry, who was just finishing up talks of de-escalation with leaders from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in Geneva, Switzerland, called the leaflets, “intolerable”, “grotesque”, and “beyond unacceptable”.

Here’s a picture of the flyer

Lesley Weiss is the deputy director of the National Conference Supporting Jews (NCSJ), an organization which focuses on promoting the right of Jewish people in eastern Europe.

The organization spoke directly with jewish leadership in the area, who informed them that the flyers were fake: no one had to register and no one would be deported.

Officials from the United States believe that the flyers were the work of the Donetsk People’s Republic, an unrecognized pro-Russian Separatist group that seeks to make Donetsk a part of Russia. Their leadership denies responsibility, however.

Read more from The Daily Dot here and from CBC News here.

Russia’s Attempt to Annex Crimea Gets Them Kicked Out of G8 (Video)

Today (March 24) President Obama along with other world leaders have aligned in suspending Russia’s membership in the G8.

According to The White House…

President Barack Obama and other world leaders have decided to end Russia’s role in the group of leading industrialized nations (G8) “

This move to suspend Russia as a member of the G8 is the latest direct response from major countries allied against Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The G8 is made up of  the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and Italy. Russia was added to their group in 1998 – transforming the group from the G7 to the G8.

According to Obama and other G8 members, Russia’s recent activities in Crimea are against international law and Europe and the U.S. stand against Russia on the issue.

According to CNN…

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier in the day that being kicked out of G8 would be no big deal. G8 is an informal organization that does not give out any membership cards and, by its definition, cannot remove anyone. All the economic and financial questions are decided in G20, and G8 has the purpose of existence as the forum of dialogue between the leading Western countries and Russia.”

Western powers have imposed other sanctions and penalties to Russia and specifically to individuals close to President Vladimir Putin.

According to CNN…

Obama and other leaders agreed that further steps to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin could include sanctions on energy, banking and defense sectors — all areas where Europe is deeply engaged economically with Russia.”

The United States have publicly stated that we do not wish to get our military involved and that we are looking at the situation from a diplomatic and economical stand point. The U.S. does not wish to escalate the situation and for the time being is hoping Russia will change its course of action.

Below is a video of Secretary of State John Kerry speaking on the issue.

Check Out the full story from CNN here!

How Responsible Are the United States and NATO for Russia’s Recent Actions? (Poll)

Jack Matlock was the last American ambassador to the Soviet Union, serving in that office from April 6, 1987 until August 11, 1991, as the Soviet Union dissolved.

He recently spoke to Democracy Now! about the current turmoil in eastern Europe. Here’s some of what he said:

“I think that what we have seen is a reaction, in many respects, to a long history of what the Russian government, the Russian president and many of the Russian people—most of them—feel has been a pattern of American activity that has been hostile to Russia and has simply disregarded their national interests.

“They feel that having thrown off communism, having dispensed with the Soviet Empire, that the U.S. systematically, from the time it started expanding NATO to the east, without them, and then using NATO to carry out what they consider offensive actions about an—against another country—in this case, Serbia—a country which had not attacked any NATO member, and then detached territory from it—this is very relevant now to what we’re seeing happening in Crimea—and then continued to place bases in these countries, to move closer and closer to borders, and then to talk of taking Ukraine, most of whose people didn’t want to be a member of NATO, into NATO, and Georgia. Now, this began an intrusion into an area which the Russians are very sensitive.

“Now, how would Americans feel if some Russian or Chinese or even West European started putting bases in Mexico or in the Caribbean, or trying to form governments that were hostile to us? You know, we saw how we virtually went ballistic over Cuba. And I think that we have not been very attentive to what it takes to have a harmonious relationship with Russia.”

I think a lot of Matlock’s points are pretty valid, but when it comes to trying to find causes for major political changes, it will always be somewhat unclear how responsible certain past events were.

So what do you think?

Here’s the full video of the interview if you’re interested.

Russia Annexes Crimea and Gets Kicked Out of G8; Ukraine Preparing for War

Here’s a quick timeline of the most recent events in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.

On Sunday (March 16), residents of Crimea voted on a referendum of whether to leave Ukraine and join Russia- the measure passed by upwards of 90%. It is important to note, however, that all signs point to a pretty illegitimate vote.

For one, the ballot didn’t even include an option to stay with Ukraine- the two options were to leave Ukraine and join Russia, or leave Ukraine and become independent.

Secondly, it’s obvious that there was plenty of intimidation involved- Russian soldiers and armed “unmarked militia” (that pretty much everyone agrees are pro-Russian forces) patrol the streets of Crimea. This blog from Jon Lee Anderson at The New Yorker describes some of the intimidation tactics he saw employed by the “thugs” in the streets of Crimea.

Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, march outside an Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye

Lastly, some of the actual results are simply ridiculous. For example, 123% of the major Crimean city of Sevastapool cast votes on the referendum. Mykhaylo Malyshev, chair of the committee overseeing the vote, announced on the evening of the 16th that 1,250,426 people had voted, but said that figure did include Sevastopol’s electorate. Including that city, he said, 1,724,563 total people voted.

The difference between these numbers (474,137) should be the number of votes cast in Sevastapool, right? Well, last year’s census put the voting-age population of Sevastapool at 385,462…very suspicious to say the least.

The next day (March 17), Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh responded to the results of the referendum by saying,

“Crimea was, is, and will be our territory.”

Ihor Tenyuhk (Photo: Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)
Ihor Tenyuhk (Photo: Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

When asked if Ukrainian troops would fight to defend Crimea, he replied carefully, saying,

“The armed forces will execute their tasks… Ukrainian forces will stay [in Crimea] until all their tasks have been completed.”

While Tenyukh said that Ukraine would “do everything possible to prevent war”, he noted,

“the threat of war is real…We are strengthening our defense capacity. Ukraine is ready to defend its territory.”

Then earlier today (March 18), Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a treaty which effectively annexed Crimea, making it a part of Russia.

Putin speaking in front of Russian parliament earlier today (Photo: BBC)
Putin speaking in front of Russian parliament earlier today (Photo: BBC)

Putin said the moves corrected a “historical injustice”, as well as saying that Crimea has “always been a part of Russia”.

Naturally, the Ukrainian foreign ministry responded, saying,

 “We do not recognise and never will recognise the so-called independence or the so-called agreement on Crimea joining the Russian Federation.”

A few hours later, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced in an interview with Europe-1 radio that the other members of the G8 (a forum for the 8 leading industrialized countries) had decided to suspend Russia’s membership.

Fabius did, however, say,

“We are continuing dialogue with the Russians, despite the fact that we do not agree with them.”

BONUS: After the US announced (relatively inconsequential) sanctions against some Russian officials including the freezing of their American visas, Putin’s top aide said:

“The only things that interest me in the US are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”

Props for being a Tupac fan at least!

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