Good News!

My Wednesday Music blogging event has finally made it onto the blogging events page over at The Daily Post.

And here I thought they’d forgotten about me or were ignoring my request to be listed!

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Does NATO Have Troops In Ukraine?

So. You may have heard that the war in Ukraine heated up yesterday and today with an attack on Mariupol, a Ukrainian city near Crimea. The pro-Ukrainian people are blaming the Russians, the pro-Russian people are blaming the Ukrainians, and the whole thing is a mess because civilians are getting hurt and dying.

This video is making the rounds in the Ukraine-watching blogosphere. It was shot in Mariupol after the attack. It’s only 40 seconds long, so I’d really appreciate it if you could watch it, especially if you’re a native English speaker. In it, a woman tries to interview a man wearing combat fatigues and carrying an assault rifle. He replies brusquely, “Out of my face, out of my face, please.” And yes, he says that in English. Natively-accented English, I might add. Don’t believe me? Watch the video:

Now, there could be several explanations for this:

  • The video wasn’t actually shot in Ukraine. (How does one explain the Russian spoken in the background then?)
  • The video has been edited and spliced, as in it was shot in Ukraine but a man speaking English was added in. (Possible… but unlikely, in my opinion.)
  • The video was shot in Ukraine and the soldier is Ukrainian and happens to be a brilliant linguist who has eliminated every single trace of a foreign accent from his speech, enabling his pronunciation, cadence, and colloquial vocabulary to fool multiple educated native English speakers. Is this possible? Of course. Is it likely? Absolutely not. Take me for example: I am good at Russian. But even I have a foreign accent in Russian. No matter how much I work on my pronunciation, my cadence and intonation give me away. My point here is not to brag, but simply to say that accents are made up of more than pronunciation of words. A ton of stuff goes into an accent and it is very hard to “fix” all of this to match native speakers of a language you’ve learned later in life.
  • There’s some other logical explanation that I’m not seeing. Always a possibility, of course.
  • Or, finally, the video was indeed shot in Ukraine and there are foreign troops from NATO countries currently there. Since this hasn’t been on the news, one must assume that these troops are clandestinely there, unbeknownst to the public in their native countries, and may have been in Ukraine for some time. In fact, they probably wouldn’t have been noticed at all, had this man not slipped up.

What do you think? Is that soldier a native English speaker? Is he a foreigner from Ukraine? And just where is his accent from? A ton of people on Twitter are saying he’s American. This American writing this has her doubts, though! You see, I hear a trace of a Commonwealth accent there. I’m not sure I’d say British, though there seems to be a British influence, which is why I have talked about NATO troops, not American troops.

Ukraine Holds Elections In The East

Today, one week after the Kiev regime held elections, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics are holding their own elections. Ukraine, the United States, and the European Union have condemned these elections, but Russia supports them. From the BBC:

Presidential and parliamentary polls are being held in the two self-proclaimed people’s republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Ukraine, the US and EU say they will not recognise the elections but Russia has given its support to the polls.

[…]

The Donetsk and Luhansk regions fell to separatists after months of fighting in eastern Ukraine that ended with the Minsk ceasefire deal in September.

Rebel leaders say that as independent states they are not required to observe Ukrainian law and therefore did not participate in Ukraine’s national elections last week.

They say three million ballots have been printed for the polls, which will provide for directly elected presidents and parliaments.

And who will lead these two republics, you ask?

Alexander Zakharchenko, current and future leader of Donetsk. I think he's the one with the roll of papers.
Alexander Zakharchenko, current and future leader of Donetsk. I think he’s the one with the roll of papers.

Alexander Zakharchenko, the acting head of government in Donetsk, is widely tipped to become the region’s president.

Meanwhile, Igor Plotnitsky is being touted by Russian media as the favourite to win in Luhansk.

But the elections come amid continuing violence in eastern Ukraine.

From what I’ve read on Twitter today, the Russians and others in favor of these elections have said they went off without a hitch. I also saw one source that said Zakharchenko is currently polling at 80% of the vote. The language was very unclear, though: I don’t know if he had 80% of the ballots, or if the article was trying to say that 80% of the ballots cast have been counted.

Harvard Researcher Publishes Flawed Study, Congratulates Himself

Sigh. This article is proof that even at a so-called “top university,” foolishness and anti-Russianness reigns. From Voice of America, we have an article called Harvard Study Shows Russian-speaking Ukrainians Backing Kyiv.

A new study conducted at Harvard University suggests that Russian-speaking Ukrainians may be significantly more supportive of Kyiv’s standoff against Moscow and the pro-Russian separatists than has previously been reported.

The study, authored by researcher Bruce Etling at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, is one of the first serious explorations of Russian-, Ukrainian- and English-language social media content regarding the turmoil there over the last 11 months.

“Our general reading of newspapers and traditional media about the protests was that Russian speakers tended to disapprove [of the protests] and Ukrainian and English speakers tended to approve, and that would then just bleed into social media,” Etling said. “We wanted to see if that was what really happened.”

This study is flawed from the start. The research has failed to consider one important point: the sorts of people who use social media, who write blogs, who go on the internet a lot, are young people. These young people are a lot more likely to hold liberal, pro-European views (and therefore support the current government in Kiev), no matter what language they speak, than other age groups in Ukraine. Coupled with the fact that there isn’t consistent electricity (and therefore limited internet and social media access) in some parts of Eastern Ukraine that are pro-Russia and you can see that we are not getting a decent cross-section of the population. It’s certainly not statistically valid and doesn’t allow us to draw meaningful conclusions.

It’s sad that this sort of shoddy research actually passes for scholarship.

Putin Wins In Ukraine

I really should be leaving for work, but I wanted to post a link to this article I just read: Rebels to get self-rule in Ukraine.

Rebel-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine have been granted self-rule and fighters have been given an amnesty, under a new law adopted by parliament.

The measures are in line with the 5 September ceasefire agreement signed by President Petro Poroshenko.

[…]

The amnesty means pro-Russian separatists taken prisoner in the fighting should now be released.

There have been some prisoner releases already during the ceasefire.

Rebels holding government buildings in the east are now supposed to leave them, hand over captured Ukrainian soldiers and other prisoners and surrender their weapons.

However, many of the rebels are demanding full independence, and speak of creating a new state called “Novorossiya”, something Russian President Vladimir Putin has also mentioned in speeches.

Meanwhile, there has been heavy shelling around the government-held airport of Donetsk, despite the fragile ceasefire.

I’m really surprised Poroshenko is actually willing to allow parts of eastern Ukraine to have self-rule. I’ll be interested to see how this goes…

Kiev Is A Lawless City

This video is seriously scary, everyone. A bunch of Ukrainian nationalists are beating up some poor policeman, screaming “Glory to Ukraine!” the entire time. As an aside, I can’t stand hearing the phrase “Glory to Ukraine” anymore. Seeing a video in which Pravy Sektor (Right Sector, a violent political party in Ukraine) members slit a policeman’s throat while shouting these words is very traumatizing.

I found this via the Novorossiya Twitter feed.

You have to understand, I was in Kiev in 2009 and it was not like this. There were police in the city, as I saw a few, but it was normal. People were civilized and normal. It was just like a peaceful European city. Everyone was very nice and the city was very safe.

Apparently, it’s now turned into a violent madhouse, which makes me so sad. Look how far it has fallen in just seven months.

Poroshenko Will Sign EU Agreement

Poroshenko in Parliament, Thursday, June 19
Poroshenko in Parliament, Thursday, June 19

Pyotr Poroshenko, the chocolate tycoon turned president of Ukraine, gets worse and worse. Today he said that he will sign an EU association agreement later this month. From the BBC:

The new president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has said he will sign a controversial association agreement with the EU on 27 June.

His elected pro-Russian predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown in February after refusing to sign the deal at the last moment.

Heavy fighting has erupted between troops and pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk region despite talk of a truce.

That’s nice of the BBC to admit that Yanukovych was elected. Because, you know, Yanukovych did come to power in a free and fair election in 2010.

I don’t know many details about the association agreement yet, so I will have to look that up. I remain skeptical on whether it will actually help Ukraine’s economy or not. I’m anti-EU, so I fail to see how close ties will be a good thing, but we’ll see.

A Solution For Ukraine

From the opinion pages of The New York Times comes a wonderful piece by Samuel Charap on Ukraine:

But Western pronouncements, particularly America’s, have misleadingly portrayed the violence as merely an unfortunate backdrop to otherwise successful elections, not as a symptom of an emerging rupture in the Ukrainian polity that could have profound consequences.

While noting the difficulties of voting in Donetsk and neighboring Lugansk, and praising the “courage and determination” of those who worked the polling stations there, a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry on the election did not even condemn the bloodshed, even though the death count in fierce battles between the Ukrainian military, backed by the newly formed (and poorly trained) National Guard, and armed insurgents had already reached triple digits.

Any government has the right to assert its writ on its own sovereign territory. But this “anti-terrorist operation” is being conducted in regions where the population was already overwhelmingly opposed to the government in Kiev. A mid-April poll found that over 70 percent of the population in both Donetsk and Lugansk consider that government “illegal.” A separate survey indicated that 80 percent believe it does not represent all of Ukraine.

[…]

The Ukrainian government and its Western partners need to focus on three priorities that would do far more to stabilize and unite Ukraine than the recent presidential poll: an end to the “anti-terrorist operation” and a good-faith attempt at a negotiated settlement with separatists in the east; formation of a more inclusive government; and constitutional reform that decentralizes power.

Rather than escalate the assault on the insurgents, thus ensuring more killing of Ukrainians by Ukrainians, the government in Kiev needs to halt it and make a good-faith, high-profile effort at a negotiated solution. The crackdown should resume only if the government can credibly demonstrate to the local population that the separatists refuse to accept a reasonable compromise.

Second, the Ukrainian government must bring regional balance to a government that is currently dominated by representatives from western Ukraine: About two-thirds of ministerial-level and higher portfolios have gone to those regions, which represent only 12 percent of the population. The presidential elections demonstrated that the cabinet is not only regionally skewed, it’s also politically unrepresentative; the far-right Svoboda party, whose leader got less than 2 percent of the vote, has a third of the senior portfolios. Some of these should be allocated to southerners and easterners

I’ve never heard of this Samuel Charap before, but he’s spot on. The last paragraph I quoted is especially important: the US has backed a heavily-Western Ukrainian interim government. Is it any wonder that people in the East are angry and say this government doesn’t represent them? (Hint: they’re right; it does not represent them.)

Do go and read the entire article. It’s very good.

News Flash: Kiev Police DIDN’T Kill Protestors in February

Berkut policemen shoot rubber bullets at protestors. Source
Berkut policemen shoot rubber bullets at protestors. Source

Remember those protests in Kiev at the end of last year and earlier this year? Remember how Viktor Yanukovych, the rightful president of Ukraine, was accused of ordering the special police force Berkut to fire on his own people?

Well—surprise, surprise—it turns out that Berkut didn’t kill the protestors after all! A parliamentary commission in Ukraine that is investigating what happened says that the bullets that killed the protestors didn’t match the weapons issued to Berkut.

There is no forensic evidence linking the victims of mass killings in Kiev on February 20 with officers from the Berkut police unit, the head of the parliamentary commission investigating the murders told journalists.

[…]

The MP [Gennady Moskal] made the statements at a media conference on Tuesday gathered to announce preliminary results of his commission’s probe. He assured that despite the Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s office having arrested 12 Berkut officers on allegations of committing the mass killings, forensic evidence suggests their innocence.

He said the bullets that killed people in Kiev on the bloodies day of confrontation between protesters seeking to oust President Viktor Yanukovich and riot police didn’t match any of the firearms issued to Berkut’s special unit, which, unlike the majority of riot police, was allowed to carry lethal weapons.

Moskal added that the first shot was fired at police, not the protesters. He alleged that the shooters were agents of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) acting from the ranks of the protesters, but admitted that genuine protesters could have been the culprits.

[…]

The sniper case is one of the hottest issues in Ukraine, where the new authorities accused the ousted president of ordering the mass killings. Both he and several former Ukrainian officials accused the new authorities of sending the snipers to provoke bloodshed and topple the government.

Yanukovich said he never ordered anyone to shoot at Ukrainian people.

The same version was voiced privately in a leaked conversation between EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet.

Russia says that activists of the radical Right Sector ultranationalists are the most likely culprits.

The whole situation is so frustrating. Of course, there will be no mention of this in the Western media, just as there is no mention of the civilians being killed in Eastern Ukraine since the election of Pyotr Poroshenko on May 25.

Also, keep in mind I’ve been saying this from the start. The government forces only turned to violence in order to act in self-defense. The protestors were the ones who began behaving violently first.

Saichenko’s Forced Confession?

Update, 11:55 PM: The journalists have been released! For some odd reason, they flew out of Ukraine on Ramzan Kadyrov’s plane. (Kadyrov is the head of Chechnya.) At least they appear to be no worse for the wear…

Several days ago, two Russian journalists, Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko with the pro-Russian news agency LifeNews were captured by anti-Russian forces in Ukraine. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty obtained and translated a video in which Saichenko makes a purported confession of breaking the law. I’ve embedded it below:

(Click here to watch on the RFE/RL website.)

What do you think? Do you think Saichenko’s confession was made under duress? He certainly doesn’t look very happy in that video (not that many people would be happy about being arrested).

As of this writing, the two men still have not been released and even those who do not agree with LifeNews’s reportage on Ukraine have urged the authorities to release them.