Thursday, September 29, 2016

Paul Goble: Eastern Europe arming itself because ‘no one wants to be the next Ukraine’

Staunton, September 28, 2016 In what many are calling “the Putin effect,” countries across Eastern Europe, including even Belarus, nominally Russia’s closest ally, are now arming themselves even when they have to cut social welfare spending because, in the words of one commentator, “no one wants to be the next Ukraine.”
This sacrifice makes them producers of security and not just consumers who rely on others, including NATO and the United States, whatever some Western politicians may say; and it is an indication of just how frightened they are that the Kremlin leader, however bogged down he may be in Ukraine, appears to them as a continuing existential threat.
Some of the increases these countries are making in their defense structures are usefully surveyed today by the Belsat news agency
Poland has done perhaps more than anyone else, beefing up its territorial defense and increasing the size of its military, including the development of a system of reserves modeled on the US National Guard and plans to purchase new weapons systems in the coming years. 
The Czech Republic, Belsat says, has moved in “the very same direction,” approving a security and foreign policy strategy based on the proposition that Russia is now a major threat. It has increased defense spending, as has Slovakia for the same reasons.
The three Baltic countries have increased the size of their forces and their spending on defense. Estonia plans to spend over the next four years more than Belarus does. Latvia is raising its defense spending to two percent of GDP. And Lithuania is forming special forces and a trilateral force with Poland and Ukraine. The Scandinavian countries are also increasing their defense capacity and links with NATO. Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine have retained the draft, and Latvia is thinking about restoring it in order to guarantee a sufficiently large defense force. Finland has a draft, and Sweden is now debating restoring obligatory military service.
Tanks drive during a NATO Response Force (NRF) troops exercise in Zagan, southwest Poland on June 18, 2015. Photo by AFP

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The fortress that has been rescued from obscurity

On September 23rd a huge art exhibition dedicated to the Day of Poltava opened at the Poltava Art Gallery. Many paintings created by local artists were on display to the public. One of those participating in the exhibition is my friend Viktor Babenko, who works as an art teacher  at the Poltava Teachers’ Training University. For many years he has been exploring the history of the Fortress of Poltava, which was built in 1609 by the Kozaks of the Mirgorod Regiment under the command of  Polish Crown Hetman Stanislav Jolkevsky.  In the painting displayed in this exhibition, Viktor has tried to reproduce the vanished features of the fortress, including its many bastions, and to highlight its location on a hillside surrounded by ravines and protected by palisades.

The fortress was the site of one of the most decisive battles in European history. In late April 1709 the Swedish king Charles XII decided to lay siege to the Fortress of Poltava.  Although the Swedish army consisted of about 31,000 men at the time, the king decided to engage only 4 cannons and about 6,000 of his soldiers in the siege.  In order to isolate the Russian troops in the fortress, the Swedish army cut off all access to the fortress, including any possible approaches by the Russians across the Vorskla River. Despite these efforts, the king was defeated soundly by the Russian forces in the Battle of Poltava on June 28, 1709.  As a result Charles XII was forced to abandon the siege and retreat to the south with the remainder of his troops.

In preparation for Tsar Alexander I’s visit to Poltava in 1817 all the remains of the Fortress of Poltava were razed to the ground.  One can, therefore, assume that the Swedish King and his soldiers were the last to see the fortress as it is depicted Viktor Babenko’s painting.  

You may browse other artworks of the painter at his page:

 Sone other paintings by Viktor Babenko

Friday, September 23, 2016

U.S. House Approves Lethal Weaponry For Ukraine

September 22, 2016 (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) The U.S. House of Representatives has backed legislation that calls for supplying Ukraine with lethal weaponry in its fight against Russia and separatists in the eastern Donbas region.
Тhe bill, which passed unanimously on a voice vote on September 21, is the latest effort by Ukraine's staunchest supporters in Washington to bolster its military forces. Kyiv has repeatedly requested from Washington more advanced weaponry - such as Javelin antitank missiles - to aid its fight against separatists. But President Barack Obama's administration has resisted, fearing it would escalate the fighting. Instead, the administration has limited its supplies to things like flak jackets, night-vision goggles, and radar that helps locate where mortars are fired from. The legislation, which goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration, also aims to increase funding to counter Russian propaganda.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Kremlin explains why it refuses from holding Normandy Four meeting

September 15, 2016 (UNIAN Information agency) Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Normandy format meeting at the highest level would be held only when there were "real issues" to be discussed, an UNIAN correspondent in Russia reported.

When asked whether high-level talks in the Normandy format could be restarted in October, Peskov said: "We are not talking about how to restart. The idea is that if there are real prospects for discussing substantive issues, specific issues related to the implementation of the Minsk agreements, then it would make sense to hold a meeting at the highest level in the Normandy format. To this end, we need a situation when there are real issues to be discussed," Peskov stressed. According to Peskov, precisely this was stated by Russian President Vladimir Putin to leaders of France and Germany during meetings in China. Read also Russia blocks Normandy meeting at G20 summit, separate meetings scheduled As UNIAN reported earlier, on May 24, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a telephone conversation. After that, the Russian side has been avoiding negotiations in this format under various pretexts. Read also Europe's top diplomats at forefront of efforts to settle Ukraine conflict On June 21, Putin's press secretary Peskov said that the Kremlin was not ready to hold a meeting of leaders of the Norman Four just "for the sake of holding one". "Certainly, the Russian president and other members of Normandy Four are always ready to talk, hold meetings, and so on ... While we need significant advances to compensate the time lost, to demonstrate readiness to fulfill the Minsk agreements, particularly by Kyiv," Peskov said. On August 10, Putin attributed Russia's refusal to meet in the "Normandy Four" format in China to recent developments in Crimea, which were related to the Russian FSB accusations against the Ukrainian intelligence that had allegedly plotted terrorist attacks in the peninsula. On September 5, French President Hollande stated that a meeting of Normandy Four leaders would be held in the coming weeks. On September 14, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stated that heads of foreign ministries of Ukraine, France and Germany were preparing for a highest-level summit in the Normandy format.