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On Ukraine, US Sanctions Rossiya, Ban Fails in Moscow, Hides From Qs

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 20 -- New US sanctions on Russia were described on March 20 by four Senior Administration Officials, including on what they called the "cronies' bank" Bank Rossiya which they said will be prevented from operating to the greatest extend possible.

  Another US Senior Administration Official spoke of restrictions on goods from Ukraine and said this might violate Russia's World Trade Organization obligations. But what about the unilateral sanctions?

  The US said it wants the International Monetary Fund to move fast, and during the background call the IMF put out a press release, that its review is going well and its mission will wrap up on March 25.

   UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's race to Russia for relevance didn't work as he'd hoped. Just after his meetings with Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov, Lavrov went to the Duma for the next step on Crimea.

  Then Ban's spokesperson did a call-in Q&A to the UN press briefing room in New York where only questions pointing one way were selected and allowed. Thus, there were no questions to Ban's spokesperson Stephane Dujarric about the new unilateral sanctions, or the trade embargo allegations.

   On March 19 after US Ambassador Samantha Power said Russia's Vitaly Churkin was creative like Tolstoy or Chekhov, Churkin asked for a right of reply or additional statement at the end of the March 19 UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine.

   Churkin said that from these two literary references, Power has stooped to tabloids, and that this should change if the US expected Russian cooperation. The reference, it seemed, was to Syria and Iran, and other UN issues.

   One wanted to explore this at the stakeout, but neither Power nor Churkin spoke there. In fact, no one did: even Ukraine's Yuriy Sergeyev left, down the long hallways with his leather coat and spokesperson. One wondered why.

   There were many questions to ask. Why did Ivan Simonovic's UN human rights report not mention the Svoboda Party MPs beating up the head of Ukrainian national television?  Will France, despite its Gerard Araud's speech, continue selling Mistral warships to Russia? What of France's role in the earlier referendum splitting Mayotte from the Comoros Islands?

  Araud exchanged a few words with those media he answers to while on the stairs, then left. The UK's Mark Lyall Grant spoke longer, but still left. Why didn't Simonovic at least come and answer questions? Perhaps he will, later in the week.

    When Security Council session began at 3 pm on March 19, Russia was listed as the tenth speaker, after other Council members including not only the US but France. (The order, however, would soon change: Argentina and Russia switched spots.)

  Speaking first, Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson recounted dates and events, such as the US and European Union sanctions of Marcy 17. Inner City Press asked UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric if there was any UN comment on or view of such unilateral sanctions. There was no comment.

   UN human rights deputy Ivan Simonovic spoke next, saying that attacks on ethnic Russians have been neither widespread nor systematic. Simonovic did not mention the widely publicized assault on a national TV executive by Svoboda Party MPs.

  Ukraine's Yuriy Sergeyev mocked the referendum, saying that those who didn't vote were visited at home.

  France's Gerard Araud said that if there are fascists in this story, it is not where they're said to be -- but he did not address the Svoboda Party and its attack on the TV executive. Nor has he addressed the analogy to the referendum France pushed to split Mayotte from Comoros, nor France's ongoing sale of Mistral warships to Russia.

  After Nigeria spoke, Argentina's listed place was taken by Russia, in what has been confirmed to Inner City Press as an exchange. Russia's Vitaly Churkin zeroed in on Simonovic not mentioning the Svoboda MPs' assault, nor evidence that the same snipers should police and protesters in Kyiv.

  US Ambassador Samantha Power called this an assault on Simonovic's report, and said Churkin had been as imaginative as Tolstoy or Chekhov, echoing an earlier US State Department Top Ten list. So what is the US, one wag mused, John Updike or Thomas Pynchon? It was a session meant for words.

   Now that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon races to Russia for relevance, the news was handed out selectively by UN Moscow three hours before Ban's new spokesperson, after a request, confirmed it.

   It's worth remembering Moscow's anger at who called Ban's tune on Kosovo. What will be different now? After Russia, Ban will head to Kyiv to meet Yatsenyuk and the UN human rights monitors.

  It was at 6:20 am in New York when BBC said that "UN Moscow office confirm that Ban Ki Moon coming to Moscow tomorrow. Will meet Putin and Lavrov."

  But no announcement by Ban's Office of the Spokesperson, which has repeatedly refused to confirm Ban trips even when the country visited has already disclosed it.

  And so the Free UN Coalition for Access wrote to Ban's new spokesperson Stephane Dujarric:

"Will you confirm what BBC says UN Moscow told it, that the Secretary General is traveling to Russia tomorrow to meet President Putin and FM Lavrov -- and is so, can you explain why and how this UN news was distributed in that way first, and not through your office, to all correspondents at once? The latter part of the question is on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access as well."

   Forty five minutes later, after a mass e-mail, Dujarric replied:

"Matthew, The official announcement was just made. The UN office in moscow did not announce anything before we did. I did see some leaked reports this morning from various sources but nothing is official until it's announced by this office."

  But it wasn't a "leaked report" -- BBC said that UN Moscow had CONFIRMED it. We'll have more on this. For now it's worth reviewing Ban Ki-moon's response to Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008...

   The day after the Crimea referendum, the US White House announced new sanctions and Russia said Ukraine should adopt a federal constitution.

   Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Stephane Dujarric for Ban's or the UN's comment on either, if Ban thinks sanctions should ideally be imposed through the UN and not unilaterally, and if this might lead to a tit for tat.

  Dujarric said Ban's focus is on encouraging the parties to "not add tensions;" on Russia's federal constitution proposal he said the UN is "not going to get into judging every step."  Video here.

  With Serry gone from Crimea and Simonovic called unbalanced by Russia, what is the UN's role? Is it UNrelevant?

  On the US sanctions earlier on March 17, self-described Senior Administration Official (SAO) 1 described sanctions on individuals in the Russian arms sector. One had and has to wonder: how does this relate to the sale of Mistral warships to Russia by US ally France? Inner City Press asked at the State Department on March 14, click here for that.

  SAO 2 said the US can now impose sanctions on "Russian government cronies." Also on the list: Viktor Yanukovych. Another SAO offered "fun facts" about the referendum, including pre-marked ballots. It was repeatedly noted that the EU list of sanctions individuals, not to be publicly released until March 18, overlaps somewhat but is different from the US list.

  Notably, a Senior Administration Official said that "we" - presumably meaning the US, are moving forward with IMF negotiations. But what is the US' direct role in what the IMF says is an entire independent process?

  SAO 1 acknowledged this will impact the US' bilateral relations with Russia, noting the G8, but saying that Russia is "invested" in the Iran P5+1 process, and in the removal of Syria's chemical weapons. What about Afghanistan, the subject of the UN Security Council's meeting on March 17?

Going into the meeting, UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said that the plan is to have a General Assembly briefing on Ukraine on March 20.

 Even as the Crimea referendum vote was taking place, US Senators returned from a whirlwind trip to Kyiv to appear on the US Sunday morning television shows.

   Senator Bob Corker R-TN said that the Obama administration created a "permissive" atmosphere that led to this; he slammed Secretary of State John Kerry's "wishy-washiness" and gifts with Sergey Lavrov.

    But in the Senate committee mark-up last week, Corker was all bipartisan sweetness and light. What changed?

  Also on Fox News Sunday, Senator Bob Menendez D-NJ insisted that for the International Monetary Fund to help Ukraine, the long-stalled reforms must be passed by Congress.

  But when Inner City Press put this question directly to IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice on March 13, Rice declined to confirm the connection. See video here, at from Minute 12:05.

   Over on CBS' Face the Nation, former US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon bragged how sanctions on Iran showed what could be done to pressure Russia.

  But on NBC's Meet the Press, Senator Jeff Flake R-AZ said it's going to be difficult to "reverse" Crimea with economic sanctions.

   Here's something that should and will be pursued this week: France's continued sale of Mistral warships to Russia, even as its UN Ambassador Gerard Araud rails about Russia losing a rook and chess game in Ukraine. Who's playing games?

   On Ukraine, on March 15 after the UN Security Council vote on a US-drafted resolution calling the Crimea refendum invalid failed with Russia vetoing and China abstaining, Urkaine's Yuriy Sergeyov told the press there are Russian troops on the mainland.

    He said there will be more action next week, mentioning a debate on "revitalization," presumably of the UN General Assembly, aimed at the UN Security Council veto system.

  Little mentioned in Saturday's proceedings is that the US vetos resolutions on Israel, in settlements for example, and votes against non-binding resolution in the General Assembly about the embargo on Cuba, for example.

   Sergeyev is deft, but he refused to answer a question about how the expansion of NATO impacts on this. "Don't provoke me," he said.

  The Free UN Coalition for Access objects to speakers at the UN picking which questions to answer. There are worse cases: France's Gerard Araud for example refused to answer on his country's sale of Mistral warships to Russia. Herve Ladsous of UN Peacekeeping went so far as to direct his spokesman to grab the UN microphone so a question couldn't be asked.  Video here and here.

   The US to its credit in terms of a single standard has questioned, at least implicitly, the French Mistral sale to Russia. Inner City Press on March 14 asked US State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf about the sale:

Inner City Press: on Ukraine, one question that’s come up is, in terms of sanctions is France has this big deal where it’s selling Mistral warships to Russia, and it’s said that it’s going forward. What does the United States think of that sale of military hardware?

MS. HARF: Well, decisions about these kind of sales are obviously a matter for each sovereign state to take into account including a host of factors – obviously, international law, regional stability. We would hope that any country would exercise judgment and restraint when it comes to transferring military equipment that could exacerbate tensions in any conflict region. In general, I think that certainly applies here. Video here, from Minute 20:13.

  Operative Paragraph 5 of the vetoed resolution, which even the UK Mission to the UN put online before the UN itself did, provided

"OP5 Declares that this referendum can have no validity, and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of Crimea; and calls upon all States, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any alteration of the status of Crimea on the basis of this referendum and to refrain from any action or dealing that might be interpreted as recognizing any such altered status"

  So, the Crimea resolution scheduled for March 16 would have no validity. But, as Russian foreign minister Lavrov asked in London on March 14, couldn't the same be said of the French-organized referendum splitting Mayotte from the Cosmoros?

   Inner City Press asked US State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf about both the resolution and the Mayotte analogy on March 14. From the US transcript:

Inner City Press: on Ukraine, there’s talk of the Security Council resolution – seems pretty clear that Russia would veto it, but there’s some discussion of trying – is it the U.S.’s intention to try to get a vote on a resolution declaring the referendum illegal before Sunday?

And also, Lavrov mentioned, and also Churkin as well, this example of Mayotte. They used – I mean, they’ve come up with different examples – Kosovo and others – but one in particular. Both of them raised an island of Comoros where France organized an referendum to break Comoros off – to break Mayotte off from Comoros, and said that this wasn’t authorized by the UN or the African Union. So I just wondered – I mean, maybe you’ll slap it down, but what’s the response to their argument?

MS. HARF: Well, in general, I think that it’s very clear under Ukraine’s constitution that governs Ukraine how this kind of referendum legally could take place. And that would involve a country-wide referendum, basically relying on the premise that any decisions about Ukraine’s territory need to be made by all of the people of Ukraine. So setting aside any comparisons, there are very clear rules in Ukraine’s constitution, which is in effect, that lay out how this kind of referendum could take place. That’s not what we see here. So any comparisons aside, they just don’t have relevancy here.

On the first question, I don’t have anything on a potential Security Council resolution. We’ve been very clear that there will be costs. I don’t have anything to outline for you in terms of what that might look like, but we as the United States, independently, have a number of tools at our disposal that we can use if and when we need to make clear those costs with this referendum going forward. Video here from Minute 18:34.

Back on March 13 when Churkin took the Council floor he had a flourish of analogies: the US Declaration of Independence, the Falkland (or Malvinas) Islands, Puerto Rico, and the recognition by some of Kosovo without even a referendum, he said, only an act of the legislature.

   Churkin said that France organized a referendum to break Mayotte away from the Comoros, in violation of UN resolution and using their veto, he said. Click here for some background.

  Would French Amabassador Gerard Araud respond?

  Of late at the UN, his spokesperson Frederic Jung has called only on friendly journalists; Araud refused for example to answer why France is still selling Mistral warships to Russia, and claimed that Navi Pillay has not reported that France put Muslims at risk in the Central African Republic. The jokes, some say, are getting stale.

   Speaking after former US, now UN official Jeffrey Feltman, Yatsenyuk said if Russia persists, no country will ever again give up nuclear weapons, as Ukraine did.

 Yatsenyuk shifted into Russian to speak directly to Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, just as Ambassador Sergeyev has done.  But Russia wasn't listed to speak and reply until the 14th of 17 slots. After Luxembourg as Council President for March, the next three speakers were the US, UK and France.

  US Ambassador Samantha Power cited the draft UNSC resolution, but didn't opine if China might abstain rather than join Russia in a veto.

  When French Ambassador Gerard Araud spoke, the question in the air which he refused to answer is why France is going forward with the sale of Mistral warships to Russia. Rather than answer it, Araud made stale jokes about Kosovo.

   While in Washington, Yatsenyuk said he knows the International Monetary Fund program is "not the sweet candy." Inner City Press covers the IMF and can only say: ask Greece.

  Here is video of the IMF's March 13 briefing, see Minutes 12:05 and 31:12.

  Asked about allowing any referendum in Crimea, Yatsenyuk said the legislature in Kyiv would have to permit it; he said there could be dialogue about increased autonomy from Crimea, on taxes and language rights.

  He was asked about Jihadis going to Crimea and he answered about the Tatars. He bragged that a deputy prime minister in the new government "represents the Jewish community."  But what about Right Sector?

  The US State Department announced for example that the Department of Defense will be giving Meals Ready to Eat or MREs to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

   Over on Capitol Hill, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee marked-up the "Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014."

  Absent on jury duty, Senator Marco Rubio had a proposed amendment about the G8 and not invading your neighbor read out; it was agreed to.

  Senator Rand Paul proposed an amendment to remove loan guarantees and the International Monetary Fund from the bill. He said the loans would go to back Russia back and noted that the proposed IMF reforms would raise Russia's power in the IMF from 2.5% to 2.71%

  Senator Bob Menendez replied that the IMF wouldn't give a dime unlesss Ukraine commits to changes. Can you say, austerity? Watch this site.


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