Troops from Russia‚Äôs Pacific Far East Region Are Prominent in a War 4,200 Miles to the West
The Russian island of Sakhalin, in the Pacific Ocean just north of Japan, is fully a continent away from the war raging in southeastern Ukraine. But Konstantin Gorelov, a 22-year-old, active-duty Russian naval infantry commando, made the 4,200-mile trip as a ‚Äúvacation‚ÄĚ to join other members of his force in the intensive battle this month over the international airport in Donetsk.
Gorelov‚Äôs account, in an interview with a Sakhalin-based website, CitySakh.ru, confirms reports by Ukraine, NATO, and news media that active-duty Russian troops were key in the seizure of the airport from Ukrainian forces. In the Donbas war, ‚Äúthere are a lot of Russian military, they are not very visible, but they are working quietly and effectively,‚ÄĚ Gorelov says. He gives few details about how he took leave from his marine unit in the Pacific to join the battle, saying simply that he was recruited by a fellow marine to go ‚Äúhelp out the guys.‚ÄĚ
Gorelov and other Russian marines fought in a Donetsk-based militia unit, called Sparta, commanded by a stocky, Russian ex-marine named Arseniy Pavlov. (Pavlov, who is better known in Ukraine and on the Internet by his nom de guerre, ‚ÄúMotorola,‚ÄĚ has gotten press coverage not only for his fighting, but for taking a day off last July to get married in his camouflage uniform.) Sparta integrates the active-duty Russians so efficiently that, Gorelov says, the militia received him in Donetsk on December 25 and sent him, armed, to the front line the next day. Russian marines were filmed fighting the airport battle in their Russian uniforms.
While the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin characterizes the war in Ukraine as a spontaneous uprising by local residents against Kyiv‚Äôs rule, the rebellion has been led, armed, funded and fought by Russians who, like Gorelov, often proudly tell their stories to Russian local and regional news organizations. Last month, the main news website of Yekaterinburg, a Russian city in the Ural Mountains, interviewed a recruiter there for the war who said he was part of a nationwide network recruiting Russian ex-servicemen through veterans‚Äô groups.
In Sakhalin, CitySakh.ru also has reported recruitment of army vets through an extreme right-wing Russian Orthodox paramilitary group, Russian National Unity (or Yedinstvo). While Russia‚Äôs Far East is distant from the Ukraine war, news agencies and war monitoring groups have reported a regular role in the fighting by Russian troops from Sakhalin and nearby regions. In July, amid the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, the Associated Press quoted a Donbas rebel leader about a rebel unit near the shootdown ‚Äúabout half of which was made up of men from far eastern Russia, many from the island of Sakhalin off Russia's Pacific coast.‚ÄĚ A volunteer war-monitoring group run by Ukrainians, Georgians and others, InformNapalm.org, noted this week a continued presence of Russian units from the Far East in the Rostov region, which serves as Russia‚Äôs arena for positioning, training and inserting Russian troops into adjacent Ukraine.
In his interview, the Sakhalin marine, Gorelov, echoes the Kremlin‚Äôs official position that Russian soldiers like Gorelov may fight in Ukraine individually on their vacation time, but that Russian military units are not deployed in Ukraine. However, Russian women with the Mothers‚Äô Soldiers‚Äô Committees, and reports in local media such as the regional newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya, have confirmed that Russian units also have been ordered into the Ukraine war‚ÄĒand that the Russian army covers up details of those killed there. And Ukraine has captured Russian troops fighting with their units in the Donbas region.
Back at home in Sakhalin, a photo shows Gorelov relaxing on a sofa with a glass of beer and smiling as he displays a war souvenir‚ÄĒa street sign for the Donetsk airport. The Ukrainians who defended the airport, referred to by both sides as ‚Äúcyborgs‚ÄĚ for their tenacious fighting, were drug users, Gorelov insists: ‚ÄúThey took some kind of drugs and could only be killed by shooting them in the head.‚ÄĚ
Asked why the Russians finally were able to oust the Ukrainians, Gorelov says they did so by fighting under rules that would not ‚Äústand up in court.‚ÄĚ
Inside the Russian-backed offensive in Ukraine, ‚Äúmaterially the situation there is normal,‚ÄĚ Gorelov said, ‚Äúbut militarily, not so good.‚ÄĚ Despite the help from Russia, many among the mish-mash of pro-Russian militias‚ÄĒwhich have included Cossacks, Chechens, locals, Serbs, Russian veterans, and active-duty troops such as himself‚ÄĒare not fighting efficiently. ‚ÄúIf everyone fought like Sparta, they would have knocked those ukropy [a disparaging term for Ukrainians] out of the Donetsk People‚Äôs Republic a long time ago.‚ÄĚ
Atlantic Council analyst sees resurgence of militants as three US contractors are killed in KabulThe death of three US contractors in a shooting incident at Kabul's airport on Thursday and attacks on a checkpoint and funeral in other parts of Afghanistan prove that the Taliban is ‚Äúfar from being a spent force,‚ÄĚ according to Atlantic Council analyst Claude Rakisits.
‚ÄúThe worry now is that with the drawdown of US and NATO troops, all the heavy lifting will have to be done by the [Afghan National Security Forces] themselves,‚ÄĚ Rakisits, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center, said in an interview.
Atlantic Council analysts see threat from Boko Haram, sore losers
The fact that the militant group Boko Haram controls vast swaths of territory in northeastern Nigeria will likely disenfranchise voters and has elevated the danger of post-election violence, according to Atlantic Council analysts.
‚ÄúBecause of insecurity in the northeast, one party may believe that its supporters may not have had the opportunity to support them, and in a close election that could call into question the electoral outcome,‚ÄĚ said Robert Lloyd, nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council‚Äôs Africa Center.
White House official cites US-China deal, EU pledges, and India's embrace of renewable energy
A landmark US-China climate change deal, EU pledges to cut emissions, and a new commitment from India‚Äôs prime minister, Narendra Modi, to expand the use of renewable energy as a way to reduce greenhouse gas pollution are all encouraging signs of ‚Äúmomentum‚ÄĚ toward a global climate agreement at a United Nations summit in Paris in December, according to a US climate policy official.
‚ÄúWe have a rough sense of the shape of the elephant, but we don‚Äôt know exactly what will come out of Paris yet,‚ÄĚ said Rick Duke, Deputy Director for Climate Policy in the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change.
Chaos in North African nation creates ‚Äėnatural environment‚Äô for jihadist groups, Atlantic Council‚Äôs Mezran says
Fighters loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are taking advantage of the chaos in Libya to expand their presence in the North African nation.
On Tuesday, an affiliate of ISIS in Libya claimed responsibility for an attack on a luxury hotel in the capital Tripoli in which five people were killed.
‚ÄúIn the vacuum that has been created in Libya since the beginning of last year we have a natural environment for jihadi organizations, whether they are affiliated to ISIS or not, to proliferate and prosper,‚ÄĚ said Karim Mezran, a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council‚Äôs Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
Ukrainian Officer-Pilot Reaches 45 Days on Hunger Strike Against Her Abduction and Politicized Trial
Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian army officer and pilot who was captured in Russia‚Äôs invasion of Ukraine and spirited to prison in Moscow, may die in captivity there on the hunger strike she has pursued for 45 days, her lawyer wrote yesterday. As attorney Mark Feygin urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a letter to release Savchenko, her supporters mounted a global campaign of rallies and Twitter messages, and the European parliament members voted a resolution in her defense.
Backing Kyiv‚Äôs Independence Will Contain Russian Expansionism‚ÄĒAnd Damage From the Next Russian Revolution
Although ‚Äúregime change‚ÄĚ has become a dirty phrase, the best thing that could happen to Russia, its neighbors, and the world would be a change from Vladimir Putin‚Äôs brand of strongman authoritarianism to some form of democracy.
In the first ‚ÄĒ and by far the more important of the two ‚ÄĒ the ECB, faced with disinflation bordering on deflation, finally announced a large expansion of its asset purchases to include securities issued by central governments. It was the last to do so amongst the central banks of the developed world.
Leftist Syriza‚Äôs victory likely to roil debate over austerity, fiscal discipline, Montanino says
The victory of an anti-austerity leftist party in Greece‚Äôs elections may roil the debate in Europe over questions of austerity and fiscal discipline, says Atlantic Council analyst Andrea Montanino.
Alexis Tsipras was sworn in as Greece‚Äôs new prime minister on January 26 after his far-left Syriza party swept to victory in elections held over the weekend. Syriza‚Äôs victory is seen as a repudiation of the tough austerity measures imposed to deal with Greece‚Äôs debt. Syriza has vowed to renegotiate bailouts worth $268 billion.
‚ÄúWhat this election in Greece may create is more tension about how to create inclusive growth in Europe, what is the right timing for doing reforms, for making investments, and do this with fiscal discipline,‚ÄĚ Montanino, director of the Atlantic Council‚Äôs Global Business and Economics Program, said in an interview.
Of 2 Million Refugees in Kurdish Zone, Most Languish Outside Camps, With Little or No Aid
Amid the world attention focused on 3.8 million Syrians uprooted by the violent spread of the ISIS Islamist army, a little-noted part of that crisis is the flood of perhaps 2 million refugees from both Syria and Iraq into Iraq‚Äôs Kurdistan region.
As of November, Kurdistan had received more than 250,000 Syrians and 1.5 million Iraqis fleeing the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The office in the Kurdish regional capital that tracks displaced persons estimated 2 million of them in the region as of the end of the year. For the Kurdish region‚Äôs own population, estimated at 5-6 million, this is a crushing tsunami of human misery. It‚Äôs analogous to the United States suddenly absorbing between 90 million and 120 million people‚ÄĒthe total population of, say, the Philippines or Mexico.