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On Ukraine, US Sends Statement on Russian Role Before UNSC  Meeting

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 13 -- Ukraine was listed as a mere footnote on the April agenda of the UN Security Council. But now an emergency consultation has been called for 8 pm on Sunday, April 13, at the request of Russia.

  Barely half an hour before the now-open meeting, the US State Department sent out to the press its evidence:

'Evidence of Russian Support for Destabilization of Ukraine
'On April 12, armed pro-Russian militants seized government buildings in a coordinated and professional operation conducted in six cities in eastern Ukraine.  Many of the militants were outfitted in bullet-proof vests and camouflage uniforms with insignia removed and carrying Russian-origin weapons.  These armed units, some wearing black and orange St. George’s ribbons associated with Russian Victory Day celebrations, have raised Russian and separatist flags over the buildings they seized, and called for referendums and union with Russia.
Even more so than the seizure of main government buildings in Ukrainian regional capitals Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv last weekend, these operations bear many similarities to those that were carried out in Crimea in late February and culminated in Russia’s illegal military intervention and purported annexation of Crimea.  In the earlier Crimean case, highly organized, well-equipped, and professional forces wearing Russian military uniforms, balaclavas, and military gear without identifying insignia moved in first to take control of Crimean government and security facilities before being later replaced by regular Russian military forces.
In an indication that the April 12 operations were planned in advance, the takeovers have occurred simultaneously in multiple locations in eastern Ukraine:  Donetsk, Slavyansk, Krasnyi Liman, Kramatorsk, Chervonoarmiysk, and Druzhkovka.  There are reports that additional attempts to seize buildings in other eastern Ukrainian towns failed.  Inconsistent with political, grassroots protests, these seizures bear the same defining features and tactics across diverse locations, including takeover of government administration buildings and security headquarters, seizure of weapons in the targeted buildings, forced removal of local officials, rapid establishment of roadblocks and barricades, attacks against communications towers, and deployment of well-organized forces.  In Slavyansk, armed units have now also moved beyond the seized buildings to establish roadblocks and checkpoints in the nearby area.  
The Ukrainian Government has reporting indicating that Russian intelligence officers are directly involved in orchestrating the activities of pro-Russian armed resistance groups in eastern Ukraine.  In addition, the Ukrainian Government detained an individual who said that he was recruited by the Russian security services and instructed to carry out subversive operations in eastern and southern Ukraine, including seizing administrative buildings.  All of this evidence undercuts the Russian Government’s claims that Ukraine is on the brink of “civil war.”
In each of these cases, independent media have been harassed and excluded from covering the seizures, while pro-Russian media were granted special access and used to broadcast the demands of these armed groups.  There are also reports that the forces have taken journalists into custody, attacked at least one, and in one case fired weapons as a warning to other journalists.
The events of April 12 strongly suggest that in eastern Ukraine Russia is now using the same tactics that it used in Crimea in order to foment separatism, undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, and exercise control over its neighbor in contravention of Russia’s obligations under international law.
In the face of these provocations, the legitimate government of Ukraine in Kyiv continues to show restraint and has only used force when public safety was at risk and attempts to resolve the situation through dialogue failed.  Prime Minister Yatsenyuk was in the region on Friday, April 11, to discuss the central government’s willingness to work with regions on decentralization – including such issues as local elections, local control of budgets and finances and education, and enshrining Russian as an official language – in advance of the May 25 presidential elections."

  Inner City Press arrived at the Security Council at 7 pm and was reliably informed that there will be an open meeting, and a briefing by UN Assistant Secretary General Taranco (and not Under Secretary General Feltman, who traveled to Ukraine with Ban Ki-moon when he met the leader of the Svoboda Party, and stayed behind for days.

   Still, just before 7 pm there were only three cars parked in front of the UN, tweeted photo here, and no UNTV at the stakeout, where Inner City Press understands that Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin will "probably" speak after the meeting. Will Ukraine's Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev, who used to represent Yankukovych, also come to speak?

  It was only Friday April 11 when Sergeyev was slated to give a talk promoted by UN scribes  at Rutgers University in Newark entitled "Seeing Through the Spin: Sorting Fact from Fiction in Public Information." There should be much spin at the UN on Sunday night. And less than an hour before it started, the word emerged that the Council's chamber was "too hot" - the heat on despite the warm day in New York.

   While UN deputy human rights official Ivan Simonovich's report on Ukraine is slated to be heard, also behind closed doors, on April 15, the UN Secretariat didn't announce it would send any briefing to the Sunday night fight session. Then again, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke on another topic, Western Sahara, with Morocco's King on Saturday but the UN refused to give a read-out, click here for that. Watch this site.

  Back on March 30 it was midnight in Paris when US Secretary of State John Kerry came to take two questions from two media about his meeting with Russia's Sergey Lavrov. One of the two asked about Palestine, Israel and prisoners. That, Kerry declined to answer, saying only that he spoke with Benyamin Netanyahu fifteen minutes before.

   Kerry was asked what was said about the "Russian troops." He replied those troops are on Russian soil, so it's not about legality. To some, this implies that Crimea, or at least Russian presence there, is off the table.

   On Crimea, as if in a parallel universe the UN Security Council will hold an "Arria formula" meeting on March 31 featuring a Crimean Tatar and a journalist from Crimea, organized by Council member Lithuania, it was confirmed to Inner City Press.

   Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev has been calling for another referendum in Crimea.  This meeting comes a day after US Secretary of Stat John Kerry and Russia's Sergey Lavrov meeting at the Russian Ambassador's residence in Paris. While the US talked Crimea, Russia moved on to Moldova.

   Russia's read-out of Putin's call to Obama raised the latter issue and was silent on the former. Much was made of this by talking heads on US Sunday morning shows.

   Perennial David Gergen mocked Kerry for turning his plane around to meet with Lavrov, asking rhetorically if this is the promised diplomatic isolation. A pair of Michaels, Hayden and Morell, mused about a commitment for Ukraine not to join NATO, or even the European Union. But what about the IMF deal?

  Soon to be former elected official Mike Rogers, headed to talk radio, went beyond dark talk of a land bridge to Moldova to speculate about Russia moving from South Ossetia to Armenia. He's running for the Republican Presidential nomination, it seems.

   On March 28 while at the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon took selective questions from the press about Ukraine (and Venezuela), the US White House issued a read-out of a call between President Barack Obama and Russia's Vladimir Putin, here.  Russia issued a different read-out, here. So how relevant is the UN?

   Later a Senior Administration Official explained,

We’re not going to get into the details, but they discussed the latest iteration of a working document that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov have been working on to de-escalate the situation, which has been the guiding concept of our approach.

As you know, previously we discussed general elements of an off-ramp, including: international monitors, pull back of Russian forces, and direct Russia-Ukraine dialogue - supported by the international community - taking into account the Ukrainian government's openness to constitutional reform and upcoming Ukrainian elections. Throughout this process, we have been coordinating closely with the Ukrainians, including on this diplomatic proposal.

And later still:

The U.S. de-escalation proposal was fully coordinated with the Ukrainian government, and responded to points raised in a March 10 Russian paper.  We are awaiting a response from the Russians.

  Back at the UN, Ban Ki-moon mentioned the word "radical."

  It was inevitable: as Inner City Press first reported, while in Kyiv Ban met with the leader of the Svodoba Party, adjudged as both racist and anti-Semitic and most recently beating up a television executive then getting the footage censored from YouTube via a bogus Millennium Digital Copyright Act complaint.

  In fact, on March 27 at the UN General Assembly stakeout Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin told Inner City Press Ban's meeting was "disturbing" and that he looked forward to an explanation in the March 28 Security Council consultations.  Video here. (We hope to have more on this.)

  At the March 28 noon briefing Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq if Ban had known in advance that Svoboda's leader would be present, and if he would address it at the stakeout. Video here.

  Haq declined to provide anything more than the list of parties Ban met with, which was provided after Inner City Press repeatedly asked over two days.

   But when Ban came to speak after briefing the Council, the questioners chosen were AP, CBS (or, the UN's Censorship Alliance), Bloomberg and Voice of America. While noting as an aside that Voice of America tried ot get the investigative Press thrown out of Ban's UN, in a request to Ban's now-spokesman, click here, big picture, all four questioners selected by / for Ban were Western -- all US-based, in fact. Ban was not asked about the Svoboda meeting.

   Moments later, Inner City Press asked outgoing Security Council president for March Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg about Ban meeting Svoboda. She said, among other things, that You should have asked the Secretary General.

  But how? We'll have more on this.

   On March 27 when the UN General Assembly voted on a resolution rejecting the Crimea referendum, it was far from unanimous. There were 100 countries for, 11 against and fully 58 abstaining.

  Afterward, Inner City Press asked Russia Ambassador Vitaly Churkin about citation in the meeting of Kosovo as a precedent, and about UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon having met the leader of the Svoboda Party.

  Churkin took issue with a high US official claiming there was a referendum in Kosovo, and expressed concern about Ban meeting with a party deemed among other things racist and anti-Semitic.

   Inner City Press ran, before 12:10 pm, to the UN noon briefing in order to ask these and other questions. But Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq had begun and ended the briefing before 12:09.

   This contrasts to Ban's Spokesperson's Office having, for example in October 2013, delayed the noon briefing so that a(nother) country's speech could be covered, click here for that.

  When asked on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access what the Spokesperson's Office policy is, Haq said, "You want a policy where it's all about you." We'll have more on this.

  In the GA meeting beyond Kosovo, Nicaragua cited the Honduras coup as an analogy. St. Vincent's cited Grenada, saying the positions are reversed but abstaining because the Ukraine resolution is about the principals, not the principles.

  Uruguay cited Kosovo and also the referendum carried out in the Malvinas / Falkland Islands. UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant was in the room, and tweeted at; if there's a response we'll publish.

   Earlier it was 4:25 am in New York and Washington when the International Monetary Fund announced its preliminary agreement for a $14 - $18 billion loan program with Ukraine.

 Inner City Press asked the IMF to confirm or comment on reports that the Ukrainian "increase the price of natural gas for household consumers by an average of 50%" is attributable to the IMF.

  At the IMF's 9:30 am embargoed briefing, IMF deputy spokesperson William Murray read out the question then said that the program has five components, including energy sector reform.

  He said Ukraine will reduce subsidies to the energy sector, and that current prices in Ukraine are two to three times lower than in neighboring countries. He said, as it did to other questions, that responses were given in a press conference in Kyiv.

 In New York at the UN, a General Assembly meeting started at 10 am. Russia's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin recounted history and said radicals "called the shots" in the change of government. We've noted that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with the leader of the Svoboda party while in Kyiv.

  In Washington later on March 27 the US Congress is expected to act on a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine, but not on the IMF changes the Obama administration requested. Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement welcoming the IMF preliminary deal, concluding that "We also remain committed to providing the IMF with the resources it needs – in partnership with Congress – to provide strong support to countries like Ukraine as well as reinforcing the Fund’s governance to reflect the global economy."
  Two weeks ago on March 13, the day after several US Senators argued that International Monetary Fund quota reform would have to be approved by Congress to enable the IMF to meaningfully assist Ukraine, Inner City Press asked IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice if this is true. Video here, from Minute 12:05.

  Rice genially said several times that the question couldn't or wouldn't be answered while the IMF mission is “in the field” in Ukraine. He initially gave the same answer to Inner City Press' question that had nothing to do with Ukraine: is it true, as Russia reportedly argued at the most recent G-20 meeting, that quota reform could be accomplished without US approval, under some set of rule changes?

  Rice during the briefing repeated this could not be answered while the mission is in Ukraine. Later it was conveyed that the reform is not possible without US approval. The answer is appreciated: a benefit of asking in person. But Inner City Press (and the Free UN Coalition for Access) hope to make the online asking of questions work better from now on.

 And on March 27, for example, IMF deputy spokesperson William Murray read out this question from Inner City Press:

"On Zimbabwe, please confirm IMF is re-opening its office and respond to Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa saying part of the deal included cutting Zimbabwe's wage bill from 70 percent of the budget but this pledge will not be met, 'addressing it overnight would mean very drastic measures which I indicated to them (IMF) I am not prepared to take. That would mean retrenchment of civil servants.'"

  On March 27, Murray said he would not comment directly on what the Finance Minister said, but pointed to a press release we will add a link to.

  Back on March 13 in another non-Ukraine question, Inner City Press asked Rice about a book published earlier this week in Hungary, that the then-economy minister in 2011 told Goldman Sachs that the government would be going to the IMF for a program. Since much currency trading ensued, Inner City Press asked if the IMF has any rules limiting its government interlocutors from trading on or sharing insider information.Video here, from Minute 31:12.

  Rice said there are confidential provisions. But are those only for the contents of communication and not the existence of communications or negotiations? We'll see.

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