A Russian flag flies near a convoy of pro-Russian forces moving from the front line near the eastern Ukrainian city of Starobeshevo in Donetsk region in February 2015. (Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)

Many analysts have worried in recent weeks about a large buildup of Russian military forces along the Ukrainian border. Russian troops have gathered in areas near the ongoing conflict in the Donbas, and some troops relocated to Crimea. Amid border skirmishes, warnings from the Kremlin and escalating rhetoric on Russian state-owned media, what’s going on?

Some experts speculate that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be seeking a confrontation with Ukraine to bolster his position at home. Reports from Russia show personal support for Putin softening, and his unpopular ruling party faces elections in September.

However, the data suggest it may be hard for Putin to use foreign policy to rally support for military intervention.…  Seguir leyendo »

People attend a demonstration of military equipment and hardware on the Defender of the Fatherland Day in Sevastopol, Crimea, on Feb. 23. (Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters)

Wednesday is the sixth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. After a hastily organized and deeply contentious referendum on March 16, 2014, following Russia’s military occupation of the peninsula, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty of accession with Crimean leaders in Moscow two days later.

An avalanche of international criticism followed. Analysts pointed out that this was the first annexation by one state of the territory of a neighboring state on the European continent since World War II. In the United Nations, 100 countries condemned the unauthorized referendum and affirmed their support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

In Crimea itself, the annexation was popular, especially among Crimea’s large population of older ethnic Russians.…  Seguir leyendo »

'The destructive reconstruction of the 16th-century Bakhchysarai Palace is being conducted by a team with no experience of cultural sites, in a manner that erodes its authenticity and historical value.' Photo: Getty Images.

Violations against cultural property – such as archaeological treasures, artworks, museums or historical sites – can be no less detrimental to the survival of a nation than the physical persecution of its people. These assaults on heritage ensure the hegemony of some nations and distort the imprint of other nations in world history, sometimes to the point of eradication.

As contemporary armed conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and Yemen demonstrate, cultural property violations are not only a matter of the colonial past; they continue to be perpetrated, often in new, intricate ways.

Understandably, from a moral perspective, it is more often the suffering of persons, rather than any kind of ‘cultural’ destruction, that receives the most attention from humanitarian aid providers, the media or the courts.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukrainian, Crimean and Crimean Tatar flags during a rally in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, in Kiev’s Independence Square in 2014. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

For Crimean Tatars, a Muslim minority group that returned to their ancestral home in Crimea after 1989, the Russian annexation in March 2014 was a hard blow. Three years later, the European Union is pushing back against the latest U.S. sanctions on Russia, passed by Congress in July. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel even floated the possibility that the E.U. would turn a blind eye to the contested status of Crimea.

Ukrainian officials, typically sensitive to signals about Russian sanctions and the status of the formerly Ukrainian peninsula, have been surprisingly silent. But Crimean Tatars have loudly denounced the E.U. move.…  Seguir leyendo »

An exhibition titled 'Investment projects of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol' at the 2016 Yalta International Economic Forum. Photo via Getty Images.

On 20–21 October, EU leaders will discuss their relationship with Russia and whether to retain, adapt or drop the sanctions regime introduced in 2014 to express discontent with Russia’s actions and to constrain its behaviour. While the debate in Western capitals has focused on the personal and sectoral sanctions to influence Moscow’s policies, little attention has been paid to sanctions erosion.

Businesses and local authorities in Donbas and Crimea have been exploiting loopholes in the sanctions regime, but these transgressions have not so far met with any response from Western governments. Their silence is sustaining the finances of the unrecognized authorities in occupied territory in Donbas and Russian-annexed Crimea.…  Seguir leyendo »

My quest to unearth my Russian roots brings me regularly to Crimea, where my ancestors cultivated a vineyard along the spectacular southern coast for generations until the 1917 Revolution.

This resort was the summer playground of the czar and the aristocracy during the last gilded decades of the empire. In 1954, the Kremlin offered Crimea as a gift to what eventually became an independent Ukraine, and then seized it back in 2014.

Squinting past the Soviet-era concrete excesses, one can sense what drew the elite here: the glittering sea, the mountain air mingling with the perfume of cedar trees and pink mimosa.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russia Is Trying to Wipe Out Crimea’s Tatars

Russia suffered an unexpected defeat in the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday when its singer came in third, while Ukraine, of all countries, took first place.

To add insult to injury, Ukraine’s contestant, Jamala, is of Crimean Tatar descent. And she didn’t sing just any song, but a song about her people’s ruthless deportation by Soviet authorities in 1944, when more than 230,000 Crimean Tatars, an overwhelming majority of the population, were exiled from the Crimean Peninsula. Nearly half died as a result of this ethnic cleansing.

Russian officials criticized Ukraine’s victory as yet another example of the West’s “propaganda and information war” against their country.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ending Crimea’s Isolation

Once a peninsula, Crimea has become an island. For nearly two years, the territory has been unrecognized, cut off from the mainland by a militarized border, embargoed and mostly forgotten by the international community and the media. The early optimism of some Crimeans that Russia would quickly integrate the peninsula and turn it into a showcase territory has evaporated.

Last year, the Russian writer Leonid Kaganov said that the annexation of Crimea was like stealing an expensive cellphone without its charger. He was proved right. The full scale of Crimea’s isolation became apparent recently: On Nov. 22, Ukrainian nationalists and Crimean Tatar activists sabotaged four power lines feeding Crimea with electricity from Ukraine, plunging the peninsula — and its two million residents — into darkness.…  Seguir leyendo »

A pro-Russian separatist holds a stuffed toy found at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 18, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

One year ago, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over the war zone in eastern Ukraine, and one year later we are closer than ever to proving who is ultimately responsible for this tragic act.

I have been compiling and analyzing information gathered over the last 12 months by field reporters and bloggers, statements from the Russian and Ukrainian governments, and the investigations launched by various government and non-government agencies, including the official inquiries of the Dutch Safety Board. The goal is to find and address similarities and discrepancies, and to use new information to verify or debunk parts of the narrative put forth by either the Ukrainian or Russian governments.…  Seguir leyendo »

The one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting down of Flight MH17 over Ukraine is an opportunity to take stock of the costs of Europe's latest, biggest, and apparently most intractable security crisis.

Twelve months after Russia-backed separatists were first accused of shooting down the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet, Europe's relations with Russia -- having advanced by leaps and bounds over nearly three decades since the fall of the Iron Curtain -- have again descended into deep distrust and hostility.

European leaders, initially knocked off balance by Russia's annexation of Crimea and cascading outbreaks of violence in eastern Ukraine, found new resolve when nearly 300 passengers, many of them EU citizens, became victims of the conflict.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman with a boy looks at a tank as it drives through the settlement Khutor Chkalova on its way to the Russian military training ground ‘Kuzminsky’ on the Russians side of the border with Ukraine, May 26, 2015. REUTERS/Maria Tsvetkova

Karl-Georg Wellmann, a representative in the German parliament, flew to Moscow Sunday night on a behind-the-scenes mission to help break the deadlock in eastern Ukraine. But when Wellmann landed at Sheremetyevo Airport, border officials denied him entry, without any explanation, until 2019. Wellmann, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, had to spend the night in a transit lounge and was escorted onto the first flight home the next morning.

Wellmann raised a storm in German and Russian media, and Merkel’s government lodged an official complaint with the Kremlin. Although he was known as a critic of Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict, Wellmann said he had been invited by Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s committee on foreign affairs, and Sergei Glazyev, an adviser to President Vladimir Putin.…  Seguir leyendo »

Just over a year ago, Russia annexed Crimea in the first major land grab in Europe since World War II. The world has paid little attention to Crimea since then, but developments on the Black Sea peninsula provide fearsome insights into both the folly of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, in Ukraine and his campaign of intimidation against Russia’s near neighbors.

Over the past 15 years, Mr. Putin has built a system in Russia in which opposition voices are silenced, individual rights are trampled on, freedom of expression is restricted, organized crime is rampant and property rights are arbitrarily enforced. Since Russia annexed Crimea, Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

It’s been a year since Russia annexed Crimea and the nuclear rumors are flying. Earlier this month, Russian officials speculated about whether or not Russia could place nuclear weapons in Crimea. Admitting ignorance about what weapons were there now or whether there were any plans to deploy such weapons there, Mikhail Ulyanov, an official in charge of arms control for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that “in principle, Russia can do it.”

And in a video apparently intended to mark the anniversary of the annexation, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that he had considered putting Russian nuclear forces on alert at the time of annexation.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hard lessons for the Ukrainian school of war

The ongoing turmoil in Ukraine has frequently been compared to the Yugoslav crisis of the early 1990s — and, indeed, there are many similarities.

But when it comes to understanding why the conflict between Ukraine’s government and Russian-backed separatists has persisted — and why, after a year of increasingly brutal fighting, a resolution seems so remote — the differences are far more important.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tactics in Ukraine do resemble those of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Putin’s misuse of World War II references in propaganda, aimed at fueling intense Russian nationalism, is often said to be a cut-and-paste replica of Milosevic’s disinformation campaigns in the early 1990s, which stirred up anti-Croat sentiment among Serbs.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man pushes a wheelbarrow past a house damaged by fighting in the town of Debaltseve, Ukraine, Feb. 25, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

President Vladimir Putin understands how insurgencies work better than any other Russian leader. We are watching this play out right now in Ukraine.

Before Putin took power, Moscow had long struggled to suppress rebel movements. In the 1980s, for example, the Soviet Union grappled with the Muslim mujahedeen in Afghanistan. Moscow propped up the beleaguered Kabul government with an invasion and occupation — to little avail. After 10 years of grueling conflict, Moscow withdrew, just as the Soviet Union fell apart. A few years later, rebels inflicted another serious blow against the Russian military, in the Russian province of Chechnya. Chechen militants launched attacks deep into Russia.…  Seguir leyendo »

With reports that violence in Ukraine is spreading beyond separatist-controlled areas, it is clear the so-called Minsk-II ceasefire between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels in the Donbas is teetering.

If the United States wants to avoid the prospect of the violence spilling over into a broader conflict, it will need to keep the option of more direct involvement -- including the provision of arms -- firmly on the table.

Until recently, the White House has understandably been focused on countering the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a reality that allowed the Europeans (especially Germany) to take the lead in crafting a response to Russia's aggression.…  Seguir leyendo »

Making the Most of Minsk

With a major battle around the rail hub of Debaltseve ending with the withdrawal of Ukrainian government forces, it looks like the tenuous truce in eastern Ukraine may hold. After violence that has left more than 5,600 dead and displaced about 1.6 million people, world leaders hope the cease-fire can be sustained and Ukraine can start to rebuild — even though the Minsk agreement, concluded last week after talks between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, is regarded skeptically by many, including some of its European Union architects.

Ukraine’s leaders, however, point to one crucial gain: The Minsk agreement treats the Donbass, the eastern region that includes the Donetsk and Luhansk areas declared “people’s republics” by separatist rebels, as an integral part of Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukrainian servicemen who fought in Debaltseve are seen in a bus before leaving for home, near Artemivsk, Feb. 19, 2015. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has suffered another crushing defeat. Less than a week after negotiating the renewal of the so-called Minsk ceasefire agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his soldiers have come limping out of Debaltseve, a road and rail hub in eastern Ukraine that pro-Russian rebels were besieging even as the talks dragged through the night.

Not only does the fierce fighting cast doubt on the chance for a lasting truce, but it puts the Ukrainian president in an increasingly difficult position domestically. As Ukrainians mark the first anniversary of the bloody Maidan protest and former President Viktor Yanukovych’s disgraceful flight from power, many are asking themselves what has been achieved.…  Seguir leyendo »

Members of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic army collect parts of a destroyed Ukrainian army tank in Vuhlehirsk, about 10 km (6 miles) west of Debaltseve, February 16, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

The Feb. 12 Minsk II Ukrainian ceasefire agreement brokered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a fragile arrangement. Most analysts hold modest expectations. The past few days are proving them right.

Separatist and Russian forces have continued their attack on Ukrainian forces at Debaltseve, despite the ceasefire that supposedly took effect on Saturday. Separatist leaders assert the ceasefire does not apply there, while Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman claims that Moscow is not part of the conflict or the agreement.

President Barack Obama and other Western leaders continue to hope that the ceasefire will take hold. But if Minsk II unravels, as did the first Minsk ceasefire of last September, pressure will likely grow on the White House to provide greater military assistance — including defensive arms — to Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

Members of the Ukrainian armed forces ride on a military vehicle near Debaltseve, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 16, 2015. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

“This is the hour of Europe.”

So said a prominent European leader about tense negotiations to end a war that threatened to tear peace and prosperity apart. But those words didn’t come from either German Chancellor Angela Merkel or French President Francois Hollande after they emerged from an all-nighter with presidents Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko of Russia and Ukraine, clutching a hard-won ceasefire in hand.

Without the ink being quite dry on the Minsk Two Agreement, all parties are quick to stress how delicate and fraught enforcing its terms will be, as fighting actually intensified in the hours before the truce began at midnight Sunday.…  Seguir leyendo »