A Soft Annexation In Donbas

Brian Whitmore

They’re already using the Russian currency. They may soon be issued Russian passports. And in a couple of months, they plan to vote in a stage-managed referendum to formally join Russia.

It sure is beginning to look a lot like an annexation in Donbas. Or at least a well-orchestrated bluff.

Separatist officials in the self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic this week formally made the Russian ruble their main currency.

The ruble, of course, has long been in circulation in the breakaway eastern Ukrainian enclave. But effective September 1, it will be the official monetary unit for taxes, the budget, wages, pensions, and other social benefits.

The goal, separatist officials say, is to bring the territory fully into the ruble zone and eliminate the hryvnya.

The move followed announcements that separatist-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts will hold a referendum on uniting with Russia in late October or early November.

And this all comes amid persistent press reports claiming that the Kremlin is mulling the option of issuing Russian passports to residents of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.

We’ve of course seen this movie before — in Transdniester, in South Ossetia, and in Abkhazia. But if in those cases, forcing a frozen conflict and creating a Russian protectorate was part of an offensive strategy meant to exert pressure on Moldova and Georgia, respectively.

But in eastern Ukraine, they are a sign that Moscow is losing the diplomatic and political tug-of-war that is the Donbas endgame — and losing it badly.

And that is because Russia’s goal in eastern Ukraine — at least in the small chunk of territory it now controls – has never been annexation or the establishment of a de facto protectorate.

Moscow doesn’t want the separatist territories separated from the rest of Ukraine, but integrated into it. The Kremlin wants Kyiv to carry the burden of reconstructing the region, and it wants Moscow’s proxies to act as a fifth column to disrupt Kyiv’s westward drive.

But the authorities in Kyiv aren’t letting this happen.

“Ukraine’s position is that it will not play according to the Kremlin’s script in Donbas,” Vladimir Gorbulin, a former secretary of Ukraine’s National Security Council, wrote in NZ recently. “The reintegration of Donbas into Ukraine in Russia’s terms will not happen,”

MIsplaced Fury

Sure, Ukrainian nationalists are up in arms about proposed amendments to the constitution that will devolve power to the regions and stipulate that a vaguely defined special status will be granted to the separatist-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Those changes, part of the Minsk cease-fire agreement, passed their initial reading in parliament this week, sparking the worst violence Kyiv has seen since the Euromaidan revolution when far-right protesters hurled grenades at police, killing three.

But if you look closely at what is going on, it is clear that the nationalists’ fury is misguided.

President Petro Poroshenko and his government are obviously slow-walking the process and have no intention of granting the separatist-held territories special status any time soon.

Kyiv is insisting that the pro-Moscow rebels disarm, Russia withdraw its troops from Donbas, and that separatist-controlled areas of the border be returned to Ukraine’s control before there can be any discussion about the territories’ status.

Poroshenko says the decentralization amendments won’t even come up for a final vote until the end of the year.

“Whether or not the Kremlin removes its troops, equipment and proxies from the Donbas or not — and one has to suspect not — the final decentralization vote does not seem likely to occur anytime before Easter 2016,” political analyst and blogger Nikolai Holmov wrote recently.

Holmov adds that it’s highly unlikely they will pass with the required super-majority as long as the clause about the rebel regions’ status is included.

And what about that clause? It simply states that “The particulars of local government in certain districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are to be determined by a special law.”

In other words, even if the amendments pass, the status of these territories won’t be determined until an entirely new law passes.

This is clearly going to take a while — which is the point.

The Poroshenko government is being careful to tick all the boxes on the Minsk accords, while at the same time running the clock out until the end of the year, when Moscow is obliged to fulfil its end — returning the border to Ukraine’s control.

Unpalatable Options

All of this puts Russia in a very tough spot.

The Kremlin had been heavily lobbying the West to pressure Ukraine to grant the separatist areas autonomy before it ceded the border, but these efforts appear to have failed.

This became apparent, according to political analyst Taras Chornovil, following Poroshenko’s meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Berlin on August 24.

“There was a breakthrough moment in Berlin,” Chornovil told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “Germany and France for the first time admitted openly that they support the Ukrainian side in its interpretation of the Minsk agreements.”

Moscow can’t force Ukraine to take the rebel-held territories back on its terms. And this leaves it with three unpalatable options: restart the war, annex the territories, or freeze the conflict and turn them into a protectorate.

The moves to formally introduce the ruble in the separatist regions, the threats to hold a referendum on joining Russia, and the noise about issuing Russian passports are a last-ditch effort to pressure Kyiv. And Kyiv isn’t budging.

Which leaves Moscow stuck taking its least worst option: call it a soft annexation.

And this removes the last bit of leverage Russia has over Kyiv.

“Ukraine will never now be a gray neutral territory between East and West,” Ukrainian political analyst Serhiy Taran told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “Either we won’t emerge alive from this hell or else we will emerge very strong. I am convinced it will be the latter, if only because this is what everyone except Russia wants.”

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/a-soft-annexation-in-donbas/27225009.html

US federal agent investigating Silk Road admits $800,000 bitcoin theft

A Bitcoin ATM site in Toronto, Canada. Photograph: Mark Blinch/Reuters

A new currency means new temptations.

Shaun Bridges, a former secret service member, pleads guilty to money laundering after another member of same task force admitted to similar crimes

A former US secret service agent has pleaded guilty to stealing over $800,000 worth of bitcoin during an investigation into online drug marketplace Silk Road.

Shaun Bridges, 33, appeared in federal court in San Francisco and admitted to money laundering and obstruction of justice.

Silk Road operated for more than two years until it was shut down in October 2013 having generated more than $214m in sales of drugs and other illicit goods using bitcoin, prosecutors said.

Ross Ulbricht, Silk Road’s creator, who authorities say used the alias Dread Pirate Roberts, was sentenced to life in prison after a federal jury in Manhattan found him guilty of charges that included distributing drugs via online sales.

Bridges belonged to a Baltimore-based federal task force that investigated Silk Road. Another member of that unit, former US Drug Enforcement Administration agent Carl Force, has admitted extortion, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

An attorney for Ulbricht said those charges “remove any question about the corruption that pervaded the investigation of Silk Road”.

In court on Monday Bridges admitted his theft had made Ulbricht believe that another individual was stealing from Silk Road and helped lead Ulbricht to try to hire someone to kill that person.

Sentencing for Bridges was scheduled for December.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/sep/01/us-federal-agent-investigating-silk-road-admits-800000-bitcoin-theft

Wikileaks is a Front for Russian Intelligence

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 9.58.42 PMA wee bit of background.

Apparently Russian Intelligence is attempting to smear the author’s name, this from sensitive sources.

Is this a coincidence that suddenly a very damaging story about the author (anonymous here) had a very injurious story published about him?  Actually, republished, as the story is over one year old.  I recognized the pictures from June 2014, did a little digging, and found the date on the article.

August 31, 2015

The part played by Wikileaks in the Edward Snowden saga is an important one. The pivotal role of Julian Assange and other leading members of Wikileaks in getting Snowden from Hawaii to Moscow, from NSA employment to FSB protection, in the late spring of 2013 is a matter of record.

For years there have been questions about just what Wikileaks actually is. I know because I’ve been among those asking. Over two years ago, little more than two weeks after Snowden landed in Moscow, I explained my concernsabout Wikileaks based on my background in counterintelligence. Specifically, the role of the Russian anti-Semite weirdo Israel Shamir, a close friend of Assange, in the Wikileaks circle merited attention, and to anyone trained in the right clues, the Assange group gave the impression of having a relationship with Russian intelligence. As I summed up my position in July 2013, based on what we knew so far:

It’s especially important given the fact that Wikileaks is playing a leading role in the Snowden case, to the dismay of some of Ed’s admirers and even members of his family. Not to mention that Snowden, as of this writing, is still in Moscow. One need not be a counterintelligence guru to have serious questions about Shamir and Wikileaks here. It may be a much bigger part of the story than it appears to the naked eye.

Evidence that Wikileaks is not what it seems to be has mounted over the years. Assange’s RT show didn’t help matters, neither did the fact that, despite having claimed to possess secret Russian intelligence files, Wikileaks has never exposed anything sensitive, as they have done with the purloined files of many other countries. To say nothing of Assange & Co. taking unmistakably pro-Russian positions on a host of controversial issues. Questions logically followed.

Now answers are appearing. It’s long been known that Wikileaks, by their own admission, counseled Ed Snowden in June 2013 to leave Hong Kong and head to Moscow. Contrary to the countless lies propagated by Snowden Operation activists, Snowden’s arrival in Russia was his choice; it had nothing to do with  canceled passports in Washington, DC.

An important gap has been filled this week by Julian Assange, who admittedthat Snowden going to Moscow was his idea. Ed wanted to head to Latin America, Julian asserted, especially Ecuador, whose London embassy Assange has been hiding out in for years on the lam from rape changes in Sweden. As Assange explained, “He preferred Latin America, but my advice was that he should take asylum in Russia despite the negative PR consequences, because my assessment is that he had a significant risk he could be kidnapped from Latin America on CIA orders. Kidnapped or possibly killed.”

Only in Russia would Ed be safe, Julian counseled, because there he would be protected by Vladimir Putin and his secret services, notably the FSB. One might think that seeking the shelter of the FSB — one of the world’s nastiest secret police forces that spies on millions without warrant and murders opponents freely — might be an odd choice for a “privacy organization.” But Wikileaks is no ordinary NGO.

Why Assange knew Russia would take in Snowden — it could be a big political hassle for Moscow — is a key question that any counterintelligence officer would want answered. Was Julian speaking on behalf of the FSB or did he just “know” Ed could obtain the sanctuary plus protection he sought?

Just as telling is the recent report on Assange’s activities in Ecuador’s London embassy, where it turns out Ecuadorian intelligence has been keeping tabs on him. Which is no surprise given the PR mess Assange has created for Ecuador with his on-going antics.

Especially interesting is the revelation that, while holed up in London, Assange “requested that he be able to chose his own Security Service inside the embassy, suggesting the use of Russian operatives.” It is, to say the least, surpassingly strange that a Western “privacy advocate” wants Russian secret police protection while hiding out in a Western country. The original Spanish is clear: Assange “habría sido la elección de su propio Servicio de Seguridad en el interior de la embajada, llegando a proponer la participación de operadores de nacionalidad rusa.”

Why Assange wants FSB bodyguards is a question every journalist who encounters Julian henceforth should ask. Until he explains that, Wikileaks should be treated as the front and cut-out for Russian intelligence that it has become, while those who get in bed with Wikileaks — many Western “privacy advocates” are in that group — should be asked their feelings about their own at least indirect ties with Putin’s spy services.

P.S. For those familiar with espionage history, there is a clear precedent for such an arrangement. In 1978 the magazine Covert Action Information Bulletin appeared to expose the secrets of US and Western intelligence. Its editor was Phil Agee, a former CIA officer who had gotten into bed with Cuban and Soviet intelligence; think of Agee as the Snowden of the pre-Internet era.CAIB was in fact founded on the direction of the KGB and for years served as a conduit for Kremlin lies and disinformation that seriously harmed Western intelligence. While CAIB presented itself as a radical truth-telling group, in actuality it was a KGB front, though few CAIB staffers beyond Agee knew who was really calling the shots. One suspects much the same is happening with Wikileaks.

Source: http://20committee.com/2015/08/31/wikileaks-is-a-front-for-russian-intelligence/

ISIS burns 4 hog-tied men alive in new video

(Video screenshot)

ISIS, please take a lesson from Al Qaeda.

Everytime you post a horrific video, you increase the resolve against you.

You make me sick, ISIS. Sick to the point where I want to assist taking you down.

ISIS set four captured Iraqi men on fire by hog-tying them upside down, hanging them from a pole, then burning them alive.

Once again, the savage execution was captured on video and shared on social media accounts friendly with the terror group as part of its propaganda and fear campaign.

The four men in orange jumpsuits introduce themselves on camera and are made to watch videos of other ISIS executions before they’re marched out to the desert, with chains around their wrists and ankles, to their fate.

After a man wearing camouflage and a mask explains how the men must be “punished with an equivalent of that with which you were harmed,” in accordance with the Qur’an, the men are next seen hanging, hog-tied from a pole.

A line of fuel leading to the men is lit on fire. It slowly makes its way to a line of fuel-soaked straw under the hanging men, setting the four alight to die agonizing deaths.

The latest ISIS video comes just two days after a similar brutal video was released by Shi’a militants.

The militants who are fighting ISIS filmed the brutal fighter known as Abu Azrael — the Angel of Death — hacking the flesh off an executed ISIS militant, who was also apparently burnt to death.

Swinging a sword at the charred body, the hulking, bald fighter says to the camera:

“ISIS, this will be your fate. We will cut you like shawarma.”

According to reports, the footage was taken in the Iraqi city of Baiji.


Russian propagandist misuses Gaza war photo for Ukraine conflict

Tweet showing misappropriated Israeli picture of Eliran Fitoussi, used for Russian propaganda purposes. (photo credit:TWITTER)

During the Gaza war last summer, Eliran Fitusi became a media sensation in Israel when a photograph of him shielding an infant with his body during a missile alert went viral, making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter and showing up on news websites.

Last week, Russian Pavel Ryzhevsky, a columnist blogger for the pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper and a prominent youth activist with the ruling United Russia party posted the picture for his 200,000 followers on Twitter, claiming the Beersheba-based disc jockey was a civilian in separatist- controlled Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

“During the bomb attack a father saves a child with his own body. These are Donchane (Donbas people),” Ryzhevsky wrote, according to a translation provided by journalist Shimon Briman, who discovered the appropriated image.

This was the second time Ryzhevsky reused images from last summer’s Gaza war, said Briman, pointing out an picture of an Israeli woman kneeling over her child that he tweeted last year.

Ironically, Ukrainian Jewish leader Josef Zissels last year compared Ukraine and Gaza, invoking the specter of the on-again, off-again conflict between Israel and Hamas to express his pessimism regarding the future of organized Jewish life in the east of his country.

“The conflict that is frozen in Abkhazia and elsewhere in Georgia… where Russia came in with its own soldiers, there is no war there,” he said, referring to the 2008 Georgia war in which Russia conquered several territories.

“There are Jews there. Donbass is still hot [active fighting] and it’s going to stay that way for a very long time. It’s going to be just like Gaza, sometimes hot, sometimes cold.”

Jews have proven central to propaganda by both sides of the conflict, both of which have tried to show their opponents as anti-Semitic.

Several false news reports regarding anti-Semitic pogroms and the murder of community leaders have been issued by both sides.

However, while anti-Semitic rhetoric is a part of the conflict, locals have asserted that they feel more threatened by the war than by any specific threat against them as Jews.

Source: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Russian-propagandist-misuses-Gaza-war-photo-for-Ukraine-conflict-413729

U-BoatsAnd Octopuses Collide In These WWI Propaganda Maps

Propaganda has dramatically changed since World War I.

These “propaganda” maps are creative and really drive their point home in a very simple way.

Don’t forget, please, that propaganda like this is what prompted Hitler to emphasize its use in the Nazi Party in Germany.

While the soldiers of World War I fought on various fronts across Europe, artists and governmental departments on the home front engaged in their own propaganda battle via posters, postcards, and patriotic memorabilia.

Antiquarian map dealer Rod Barron’s collection of World War I propaganda maps provides a fascinating look at the range of persuasive images being produced by both the Allied and Central sides during the war. Below are some highlights from his collection. 

The British propaganda postcard above shows the ships of the British fleet in the formation of a tough and wary British bulldog. The dog’s eyes are fixed on the German port of Kiel, a major naval base during World War I.

In addition to being printed in poster and postcard form, propaganda maps were also produced as scarves and handkerchiefs. The above hankie shows a British soldier, or “Tommy,” leaving home to fight on the front in Northern France. One of the women depicted waving him a fond farewell is in the middle of knitting socks for the soldiers—a patriotic pursuit that earned respect on the home front.
Continued at http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/uboats-and-octopuses-collide-in-these-wwi-propaganda-maps

Report: Nuclear-Backed “Little Green Men:”

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 11.43.19 AM

ht to bp



Nuclear-Backed “Little Green Men:”

Nuclear Messaging in the Ukraine Crisis



© Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych, 2015 Copy editor Brien Barnett Technical editor and cover designer Dorota Dołęgowska This study was commissioned by the Nuclear Security Project (NSP) of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). The views expressed in this report are entirely the author’s own and not those of the Nuclear Security Project. For more information, see the NSP website: http://www.nuclearsecurity.org.


Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine have exposed the challenge of Moscow’s approach to conflict.1 The element most highlighted is its use of “hybrid warfare,” epitomised by the so-called “little green men”—Russian soldiers albeit without insignia who played an instrumental role in the annexation of Crimea. These “little green men” were used in conjunction with other hybrid tactics such as the covert engagement of Russian forces on the ground, economic pressure, and an unprecedented disinformation campaign. The hybrid warfare tools were, however, not used alone. The credibility and effectiveness of this hybrid warfare campaign was backed up by Russia’s potential to use its full spectrum of military capabilities, including conventional and nuclear forces. Russian tactics that exploited ambiguity of intent and attribution have been surprising and confusing, and they have created difficulties for NATO, which is determined to effectively address them.

Of all the components of Russia’s approach to warfare, the nuclear element is the most controversial. There are divergent opinions whether Russia’s nuclear weapons have played any important role during the Ukraine crisis and whether the crisis should have any implications for NATO’s nuclear policy. According to some observers, the Ukraine crisis did not have a nuclear dimension, or at least not to a significant degree. For example, according to a report by the International Security Advisory Board of the U.S. Department of State from December 2014:

The annexation of Crimea and continued attempts to destabilise eastern Ukraine constitute a crisis. This crisis involves nuclear states but is not a nuclear crisis and we should take no action implying otherwise. The United States and NATO have a clear nuclear policy. Nothing about the Ukrainian crisis warrants changing that policy.

The conclusions of this report differ from the above judgment. There is evidence that indicates that nuclear weapons have played an important role during the Ukraine crisis. One may, for example, describe the Ukraine crisis as a nuclear crisis per the logic of Paul H. Nitze’s argument:

Whether or not atomic weapons are ever again used in warfare, the very fact of their existence, the possibility that they could be used, will affect the future of wars. In this sense Korea was an atomic war even though no atomic weapons were used. In this sense even the Cold War is an atomic cold war.

However, during the Ukraine crisis not only the “very fact of nuclear weapons existence” has played a role. Russia’s activities in and around Ukraine have been accompanied with unprecedented dissemination of nuclear weapons-related information, originating from the Kremlin. It is reasonable to infer that during the crisis Russia has deliberately sent nuclear messages 1 The author would like to thank William Alberque, Artur Kacprzyk, Łukasz Kulesa, and Prof. David S. Yost for their invaluable comments and suggestions to earlier drafts of this report. The report greatly benefited from the author’s research at the National Security Affairs Department of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, funded by an “Etiuda 2” scholarship awarded by the Polish National Science Centre. The author is also thankful to U.S. experts and officials with whom he conducted interviews in Washington D.C. in June 2015, participants in the PISM seminar “NATO Deterrence and Defence: In the Shadow of the Ukraine Crisis” in December 2014, and for the invitation to NATO’s Nuclear Policy Symposium in October 2014 in Wrocław, Poland, where some arguments included in the report were initially presented. Any shortcomings are, however, the author’s sole responsibility. 2 For insightful analysis of Russia’s approach to warfare, see: D. Johnson, Russia’s Approach to Conflict— Implications for NATO’s Deterrence and Defence, NATO Defence College Research Paper No. 111, April 2015, http://www.ndc.nato.int/news/current_news.php?icode=797. 3 “Report on U.S.–Russia Relations,” International Security Advisory Board, U.S. Department of State, 9 December 2014, p. 14, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/235118.pdf. 4 P.H. Nitze, “Atoms, Strategy and Policy,” Foreign Affairs, January 1956; one of the epigraphs in: R.K. Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance, The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C., 1987, p. 1. 6 The Polish Institute of International Affairs to NATO and that Russia’s nuclear muscle flexing has been an integral part of Moscow’s approach to warfare in the Ukraine crisis. Since March 2014, an abundant number of Russian statements and activities have fallen under the definition of a nuclear threat, understood as:

[A]ny official suggestion that nuclear weapons may be used if the dispute is not settled on acceptable terms. Such threats can be signals of intentions—hints through public statements, diplomatic channels, or deliberate leaks about internal discussions or plans. Or they could be signaled through observable preparation or exercising of nuclear capabilities beyond normal peacetime status, indicating greater readiness to execute wartime missions. In general, the latter should seem the more potent gesture, on the principle that actions speak louder than words.

The nuclear dimension of the Ukraine crisis also is corroborated by NATO’s response to Russia’s nuclear messages. The Alliance has responded in a very restrained manner and rightly avoided engaging in tit-for-tat nuclear messaging with Russia. At the same time, however, the Ukraine crisis exposed NATO’s communication gaps and corresponding challenges to the effectiveness of NATO’s nuclear deterrence and assurance.

While some steps, such as basing nuclear weapons in Central and Eastern Europe, would be inappropriate,6 NATO adaptation to a new nuclear landscape in Europe is required. NATO has wide options that go beyond doing nothing or undertaking the unnecessary steps. NATO Allies should consider rebalancing their thinking towards nuclear deterrence, a re-examination of their nuclear crisis-management tools and exercises, refreshing declaratory policy and re-designing their nuclear communication strategy.

pdf: https://www.pism.pl/files/?id_plik=20165