Russian aid convoy 'disappears' on way to to Ukraine

Lustig Andrei
Reply Mon 1 Sep, 2014 12:42 pm

(Reuters) - NATO leaders will respond to the Ukraine crisis by agreeing this week to create a "spearhead" rapid reaction force, potentially including several thousand troops, that could be sent to a hotspot in as little as two days, officials said on Monday.

The 28-nation alliance already has a rapid reaction force but U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders meeting for a NATO summit in Wales on Thursday and Friday are expected to create a new force that would be able to respond more quickly to a crisis.

The speed with which Russian forces infiltrated Ukraine's Crimea region in March has focused minds at NATO on speeding up its ability to respond if a similar crisis ever occurred on NATO territory.

Maybe we're finally catching on?
0 Replies
Reply Sun 12 Oct, 2014 12:12 am
@Lustig Andrei,
On September 3, Barack Obama traveled to Tallinn, the Estonian capital, to reaffirm NATO's commitment to the three Baltic states, all of which have been members of the alliance since 2004. Two days later Eston Kohver, an Estonian intelligence officer investigating smuggling across Estonia's remote and poorly defended southeastern frontier, was, claims Tallinn, grabbed by a group of gunmen and dragged across the border into Russia. His support team at the Luhamaa frontier post nearby were distracted and disoriented by flash grenades and their communications were jammed: They were in no position to help.

Shortly afterwards, Kohver turned up in Moscow's notorious Lefortovo prison. According to Russia's rather different version of events, the Estonian was captured while on a mission on the Russian side of the border. Kohver faces espionage charges that could mean decades behind bars. He has "decided" to drop the lawyer that the Estonian government had arranged for him. Court-appointed lawyers will fill the gap. The stage is being set for a show trial, complete, I would imagine, with confession.

After a year of Russian lies over Ukraine, I'm inclined to believe democratic Estonia over Putin's Russia. The timing was just too good. Barack Obama descends on Tallinn with fine words and a welcome promise of increased support, and Russia promptly trumps that with a move clearly designed to demonstrate who really rules the Baltic roost. In the immediate aftermath of Kohver's kidnapping the Estonians signaled that they were prepared to treat the whole incident as an unfortunate misunderstanding. No deal. The power play stands, made all the more pointed by the way that it breaks the conventions of Spy vs. Spy, a breach that comes with the implication that Estonia is not enough of a country to merit such courtesies.

If anything could make this outrage worse, it is the historical resonances that come with it. There are the obvious ones, the memories of half a century of brutal Soviet occupation, the slaughter, the deportations, the Gulag, and all the rest. But there are also the echoes of a prelude to that: the kidnapping of a number of Estonians in the border region by the Soviets in the days of the country's interwar independence, intelligence-gathering operations of the crudest type. These days Russia prefers more sophisticated techniques: Earlier this year, it polled people in largely Russian-speaking eastern Latvia for their views of a potential Crimean-type operation there (as it happens, they weren't too keen).

But whatever the (pretended) ambiguities of the Kohver case, there were none about what came next. Moscow reopened decades-old criminal cases against Lithuanians who acted on their government's instructions and declined to serve in the Red Army after Lithuania's unilateral declaration of independence in March 1990. That government may not have won international recognition at that time, but recognition​--​including from Moscow​--​followed within 18 months. To attempt to overturn now what it approved in the interim comes very close to questioning the legitimacy of Lithuanian independence today.

This could turn out to be more than merely symbolic harassment. The Lithuanian government has advised any of its citizens theoretically at risk of Russian prosecution on these grounds not to travel beyond EU or NATO countries. That's not as paranoid as it sounds​--​Russia has been known to abuse Interpol's procedures in ways that can make for trying times at the airport for those it regards as its opponents.

As if that was not enough, injury has since been added to insult: A week or so later, Russia detained a Lithuanian fishing boat in waters that are international but within Russia's exclusive economic zone. Lithuania acknowledges that's where the vessel was, but argues that it had every right to be there. Russia maintained that the boat had been illegally fishing for crab, and took it back to Murmansk. Such disputes blow up from time to time, but once again the timing is, well .  .  .

And of course these actions are unfolding against a background not only of Russian aggression in Ukraine, but heightened verbal violence against the Baltics. We can be confident that when (as it seems he did) Putin boasted to Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, last month that Russian troops could be in the Baltic capitals (and, for good measure, Kiev, Bucharest, and Warsaw) "within two days," he did so safe in the knowledge that his threatening braggadocio would be passed on.

Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian foreign ministry's Special Representative for Human Rights, Democracy, and the Rule of Law (yes, really), obviously didn't want to rely on third parties to get the message out: He went straight to Riga to deliver the message that Russia "would not tolerate the creeping offensive against the Russian language that we are seeing in the Baltics." He pledged Russia's "most serious" support to its purportedly embattled "compatriots." No matter that they are, in reality, considerably freer (and generally better off) than Russians in Russia itself.

To be sure, Balts have heard this sort of talk before, but it's hard not to suspect that this time something wicked might be on its way. A direct assault remains highly unlikely. This is not 1940. But the probing, the baiting, and the bullying will intensify, and so will efforts to foment trouble among the large Russian minorities in Latvia and Estonia. The October 4 election in Latvia passed peacefully, but the fact that "Russian" parties took about a quarter of the vote nationally (out of an electorate that excludes 300,000 mainly Russian "noncitizens") and over 40 percent in Latgale in eastern Latvia will not, to put it mildly, have been overlooked in Moscow.

As to what Putin might want out of the Baltics in the end, it's hard to say. If he succeeds in proving that NATO's shield is nothing more than bluff (with all the consequences elsewhere that such an unmasking would bring in its wake), leaving Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia with nominal independence​--​flags, folk dancing, presidents, elections, and all that​--​would probably be acceptable so long as real power resided in Moscow. Continued Baltic membership in the EU might still be possible, even desirable: A Trojan horse or three within the EU could come in handy one day. Guesses too far? Maybe, but what we know is that Putin will try to take what he thinks he can get away with.

Lustig Andrei
Reply Sun 12 Oct, 2014 12:22 am
Thnx for that, Oralloy. I hadn't seen it. Totally agree with you that if it's a choice between believing the Russians or the Estonians, there is no choice.
0 Replies

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