RT News & Ian Collier / Sky News – 2015-01-30 23:24:01
Military-clad English-Speakers Caught on Camera in Mariupol Shelling Aftermath
(January 26, 2015) — Armed people in uniform speaking fluent English with no accent have been spotted in Mariupol in the aftermath of the rocket hit, fuelling allegations that foreign private military contractors are serving among Ukrainian troops.
The port city in eastern Ukraine, under Kiev’s control, saw a surge of violence on Saturday, when several rockets hit a residential area in the east of the city, reportedly killing 30 civilians. Numerous videos from the scene showed destruction in the aftermath of the attack, for which local militia and Ukrainian troops blamed each other. But among footage shot in Mariupol, there are some videos showing armed men in military uniform, who speak English fluently.
One video uploaded on YouTube is apparently raw footage of a local news channel MSN (Mariupol News Service). One episode shows a man passing resolutely by the camera. The man holds a carbine in his hand and is wearing a tactical vest. As the correspondent points her microphone with a request to comment, the man covers his face with the other hand and says in an American or Canadian accent, “Outta my face, outta my face!”
The other piece is longer and apparently shows another armed man in uniform sweeping the area for unexploded munitions. The man behind the camera is apparently a guide, as he speaks in English with a clear accent. But the person he films speaks as if he were a native speaker, perhaps a South African.
“May be exploded, may be not, so blow up in situ,” he instructs the videographer at a crater left by an artillery hit.
The footage then shows a building with shattered windows signposted as the No 42 kindergarten in Mariupol. The building is in Kievskaya Street where the barrage hit. The video description claims the person is an American member of the Azov voluntary battalion, but offers no proof of this. The uniforms features a round blue-and-yellow patch on shoulder, but its details are indistinguishable as is the man’s face.
The presence of foreign volunteers among Ukrainian voluntary battalions is no secret. Earlier media reports said many of them have right-wing leanings or even Nazi sympathies.
However, so far claims of private military contractors (PMCs) like the infamous Blackwater working in Ukraine remain unproven. Such a presence would indicate a more substantial military support for the Ukrainian government by its foreign backers, since governments usually keep an eye on PMCs working in politically challenging environments.
If a Western government didn’t want a PMC to sign a contract with Ukraine, it would find a way to put leverage on it. Finding such specialists complimenting Ukrainian troops would suggest the actual support for Kiev is a tad higher than the purely non-lethal assistance officially offered to Kiev by the West.
Putin: Ukraine Army Is
NATO Legion Aimed at Restraining Russia
(January 26, 2015) — The Ukrainian army is essentially a ‘NATO legion’ which doesn’t pursue the national interests of Ukraine, but persists to restrict Russia, President Vladimir Putin says.
“We often say: Ukrainian Army, Ukrainian Army. But who is really fighting there? There are, indeed, partially official units of armed forces, but largely there are the so-called ‘volunteer nationalist battalions’,” said Putin. He added that the intention of Ukrainian troops is connected with “achieving the geopolitical goals of restraining Russia.” Putin was addressing students in the city of St. Petersburg.
According to Putin, the Ukrainian army “is not an army, but a foreign legion, in this case a foreign NATO legion, which, of course, doesn’t pursue the national interests of Ukraine.”
Kiev has been reluctant to find political solutions to the crisis in eastern Ukraine and only used the ceasefire to regroup its forces, the president stressed. “Unfortunately official Kiev authorities refuse to follow the path of a peaceful solution. They don’t want to resolve [the crisis] using political tools,” Putin said, adding that first Kiev authorities had first used law enforcement, then security services and then the army in the region.
“It is essentially a civil war [in Ukraine]. In my view, many in Ukraine already understand this,” Putin added. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has reacted to President Putin’s words, calling his statement “nonsense.”
“The statement that there is a NATO legion in Ukraine is nonsense. There is no NATO legion,” Stoltenberg told reporters.
Already tense situation in eastern Ukraine gone downhill in past 2 weeks. The escalation of violence came after a controversial incident at a Kiev-controlled checkpoint near the town of Volnovakha, where 12 passengers were killed on January 13. Kiev and the militia blamed each other for the incident.
Following escalation, Kiev ordered “massive fire” on militia-held regions on January 18. The self-proclaimed Donetsk republic’s leader accused Kiev of trying to restart the war.
Violent confrontation between Ukrainian army troops and rebels reached its climax last week, when Mariupol in the Donetsk Region was shelled. At least 30 people were killed and over 100 wounded. Kiev and militia troops traded blame, with rebels insisting they didn’t’ have weapons close enough to the city to carry out such a deadly attack.
Western countries reiterated accusations of Russia backing the rebel forces, and so being partly responsible for violations of the Minsk agreement. They called for more sanctions against Moscow.
On Monday, US President Barack Obama promised the United States would examine options to “ratchet up the pressure on Russia” on the Ukraine issue. At the same time, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Washington has “more tools” available to increase pressure on Russia.
“I think we have seen that the sanctions work to create real stress in the economy. We have more tools. I am not today going to enumerate what the tools are but we have more tools,” Lew told a news conference in Brussels.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski also called on the EU to consider imposing tougher sanctions on Moscow, saying: “The response of the Western world should be very firm.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also hinted at further restrictions, adding that “an attack or a broad offensive on Mariupol would be a qualitative change in the situation to which we would have to react.”
Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov called fresh threats of anti-Russian sanctions “an absolutely destructive and unjustified course that would eventually prove to be shortsighted.”
“Instead of stepping up the pressure on those who refuse to start a dialogue and to solve the conflict in a peaceful way, we hear they want to resume this economic blackmail against Russia,” Peskov noted in his statement.
The Rise of the Right
Ian Collier / Sky News
Ukraine’s bloody conflict against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country has led to thousands of deaths — but it faces a new fight against the rapid rise of far right groups.
BAFTA-winning filmmaker Ross Kemp saw first-hand how militias, made up of football hooligans and current and former soldiers, are now fighting on the front line. Just a few years ago they were on the fringes of society — shunned for their violent behaviour and xenophobic beliefs, but since the 2014 Maidan revolution — and the subsequent fighting against pro-Russian groups — their popularity has grown.
During filming for series four of Extreme World, Kemp met a group of Dynamo Kiev “ultras” who took part in last year’s uprising, and now fight on the front line in the east of Ukraine.
“Before the Maidan, people’s attitudes to the ultras was mixed,” one senior member of the “Terror Family” says. “Everyone thought us to be just hooligans who have fights with others and cause disturbances. But after the Maidan people opened their eyes; they understood that the ultras are actually patriotic young people who are ready to fight — not only on the Maidan, but also at the war for our land.”
But the ideology of these groups goes beyond fighting pro-Russian separatists. These men — seen now by many as heroes — are fighting for the Azov Battalion in Mariupol, Maryinka and Iloviask. The unit was set up in May 2014 to take on the growing threat from Russia and has since become a magnet for nationalists and far right activists.
“To become an Azov fighter you have to be a proper white man.”
Azov Battalion Fighter
Senior members of the battalion have now been given influential positions within Petro Poroshenko’s government. Its commander, Andriy Biletsky, is believed to be in charge of two neo-Nazi political groups, and has been elected to serve in Ukraine’s parliament while the battalion itself has been integrated into the country’s National Guard.
Differences between Ukraine’s far right groups have been put aside as the fighting continues, though one fighter — a teacher and psychologist — told Kemp that to become an Azov fighter you had to be “a proper white man. You can be nationalist, you can be fascist or national socialist. It’s not the main thing.”
“Our future is a war — a war with Russia.”
A ceasefire has been agreed between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists since September. Despite this, the fighting — described by NATO as the biggest threat to European security since the Second World War — continues, and more than a dozen people a day are killed on Ukraine’s front line. On Tuesday 13 January, at least 12 people were killed in a rocket attack as a bus passed through a checkpoint near the town of Volnovakha.
With sporadic fighting continuing during the fragile ceasefire, those who live in eastern Ukraine have no choice but to support the far right militias — many groups are being begged to stay and offer their protection, as an attack is believed to be imminent.
For the new series of Extreme World, Kemp met members of the Azov Battalion near Mariupol — which just months before had been seized by pro-Russian separatists. The country’s second largest sea port, the city is 10 miles from the front line, and its industry is vital to Ukraine’s economy.
The commander of the civil defence for Mariupol is responsible for coordinating the protection of the city from the separatist forces who are based just 15km outside of the city limits.
“They are nationalists, that’s what they call themselves, but they are patriots first and foremost,” she says of the militias. “So we ask them ‘please don’t leave the city. We will help you. We need you, because we want to live in Ukraine.’ Having them here is crucial for us.”
An Azov commander agrees, saying the militias are here to stay. “When the Ukranian army was destroyed near Iloviask, Azov were the ones who held Mariupol. Now we are part of Mariupol. You can’t imagine one without the other.”
And there is no shortage of new recruits — applications from members of far right groups around the country are piling up. “Ukranians love Azov,” he adds. “They are proud of Azov. People step aside and look up to you as a hero.”
Azov are hoping to turn this rising tide of political sympathy into real political power — and this has already started to happen. And while discontent with the current government grows — the influence of the far right only increases.
In October 2014 members of Azov and other similar organisations marched in their thousands through the streets of the capital Kiev. The Azov brigade marched with heavy metal music blaring out, shouting slogans, urging people to follow them.
“The shorthand for this demonstration is ‘we are here’,” says Kemp. “They really are now a force to be reckoned with.”
There seems to be little effort from the government to put a stop to the rise of the far right. As the march gathered momentum — estimates put the crowd numbers at around 10,000, and as Kemp said, there were very few police on the streets. “What I’ve been told is this — they are simply too scared to stop this march.”
Kemp visited Maidan Square where he witnessed a makeshift memorial to more than 100 civilians who were killed during the uprising.
“Any organisation that offers hope, a sense of patriotism and national pride — and also has members that are prepared to lay down their lives for this country — will have people rallying to its cause. But I can’t help thinking the majority of people who laid down their lives in this square didn’t do it to help the rise of the far right.”
What is becoming more worrying is the increasing number of marches across the continent against what some see as the Islamisation of Europe. The controversial anti-Islamic Pegida movement in Germany is proof that anti-immigrant xenophobia is on the rise; the movement has used slogans such as “Lugenpresse” that were regularly used by Hitler’s Nazi Party.
Following the Paris terror attacks, a fresh wave of far right sentiment has been spreading across Europe including Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Ukraine is not alone.
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