KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia | DMN — A search and rescue operation is under way after Malaysia Airlines said a plane carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew had gone missing en route to Beijing. The company said it lost contact with the aircraft two hours after take-off and it was working with authorites who had deployed search and rescue teams to locate the aircraft, whichleft Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am local time on Saturday. FlightAware.com indicates the aircraft was at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet at normal speed when it was last reported at 11:02AM CST.
The flight, MH370, had been expected to land at Beijing at 6.30am. The passengers on board included two infants, according to the airline, which also released a telephone number which members of the public could call to seek information. A statement published on Facebook by the airline said : “Malaysia Airlines confirms that flight MH370 has lost contact with Subang Air Traffic Control at 2.40am, today (8 March 2014). ”Flight MH370, operated on the B777-200 aircraft, departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am on 8 March 2014. MH370 was expected to land in Beijing at 6.30am the same day. The flight was carrying a total number of 227 passengers (including 2 infants), 12 crew members. ”Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their Search and Rescue team to locate the aircraft. ”The airline will provide regular updates on the situation. Meanwhile, the public may contact +603 7884 1234 for further info.”
The last major accident involving a Malaysia Airlines flight was in September 1995, when one of its aircraft crashed in the Malaysian city of Tawau, killing 34 people on board and injuring nine on the ground. The plane had been attempting to land at the airport when it overshot the runway and plunged into neighboring houses. In December 1977, a Malaysia Airlines flight was hijacked and crashed in Tanjung Kupang, killing all 100 on board. A Boeing 777, part of Boeing’s most popular family of large twin-engine jets, was involved in a crash in July last year in San Francisco in which three people died. One of the passengers who died was hit by a fire truck in the aftermath of the crash. Despite the deaths, and injuries suffered by many of the plane’s 291 passengers, safety experts subsequently said that the safety features of the aircraft “helped to prevent” a much worse disaster.
One of the planes crash-landed short of a runway at Heathrow airport in January 2008, ripping off part of its undercarriage. All 136 passengers and 16 crew escaped from the British Airways flight from Beijing. It crashed after losing power because of a restricted fuel flow to both engines, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said afterwards. It concluded that the crash-landing was probably caused by a buildup of ice in the fuel system on the plane.
SEVASTOPOL, Crimea | DMN – The Ukraine crisis took a dramatic today when Russian troops stormed a key command post in Crimea. While no shots were fired, it is the first time the Russians have used force to increase their grip on the disputed peninsula. The act of aggression took place in the strategic port of Sevastopol, home of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, which includes 24 warships, two submarines and 16,000 sailors and marines. Tensions were already high yesterday when a U.S. warship arrived in the Black Sea. The arrival of the guided missile destroyer USS Truxtun was officially described as ‘routine’ by Washington. But its presence was seen as hugely significant just hours after the Pentagon unveiled a large increase in air power in the region.
Last night Russian leader Vladimir Putin appeared relaxed as he officially opened the Winter Paralympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The president was centre stage once again as he was watched by hundreds of millions on TV at the games – which will still be attended by Ukraine athletes despite calls for their withdrawal. Meanwhile, the US has been dispatching warplanes in an effort to reassure allies alarmed by Russia’s effective seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. Six F-15 jets and one KC-135 refuelling aircraft were sent to join Nato patrols in the Baltics. A further dozen F-16 fighters will be deployed next week.
The increase in US military muscle in the region came as the Turkish Air Force scrambled six F-16 fighter jets after a Russian surveillance plane flew along its Black Sea coast. Georgia also sent up its warplanes this week. Tensions continued to rise yesterday following a declaration from Ukraine that ‘no one in the civilised world’ would recognise a planned referendum by the Crimean parliament on joining Russia. Mr Putin again rebuffed a warning from US President Barack Obama over Moscow’s military intervention in Crimea, insisting that the Kremlin could not ignore calls for help from Russian speakers in Ukraine.
After an hour-long telephone call, Mr Putin said Moscow and Washington were still far apart on the situation in the former Soviet republic, where he said the new authorities had taken ‘absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, south eastern and Crimea regions’. ‘Russia cannot ignore calls for help and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law,’ he said. Moscow is now believed to have poured more troops into the southern peninsula where Russian forces have seized control. Serhiy Astakhov, an aide to the border guards’ commander, said there were now 30,000 Russian soldiers in Crimea, compared to 11,000 permanently based in the port of Sevastopol before the crisis.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk stressed that Ukraine was open to talks with Russia as long as it withdrew its troops and abided by international agreements. In a warning to the ‘separatist and other traitors of the Ukrainian state’ he said: ‘Any decision of yours is deliberately unlawful and unconstitutional and no one in the civilized world will recognize the decision of the so-called referendum of the so-called Crimean authorities.’ For the second day, observers from the Organisation for the Security and Co-operation in Europe, including three British Army officers, were refused entry to Crimea by armed militia which are said to have been growing in numbers.
It was reported last night that Serbian nationalists and paramilitaries had traveled to the area and were now patrolling the streets alongside Russian Cossacks. They were shown wearing ‘Chetnik’ badges of the Serbian nationalist guerrilla force blamed for carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing’ during the Bosnian war in the 1990s. In a sign of further Russian pressure on the interim government in Kiev, Russian energy giant Gazprom said it would cut off gas exports if a £1.13billion debt was not settled by Ukraine. Chief executive Alexei Miller warned: ‘We cannot deliver gas for free.’ Moscow last cut off Ukraine’s gas in 2009, halting supplies to much of the EU, causing disruptions in Britain.
The USS Truxton’s passage through the Bosphorous and into the flashpoint Black Sea region was a ‘routine’ deployment scheduled well before the current crisis erupted in Ukraine, U.S. military officials insisted. But it came only a day after the Pentagon announced plans to station more U.S. fighter jets in the Baltics for NATO air patrol missions along Russia’s western border. The hike in tensions over the Ukraine crisis came amid reports in Russian media that the country’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych is in a Moscow hospital after suffering a suspected heart attack. His condition was said to be ‘grave’, according to the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, known as MK, citing unofficial sources.
Today’s dramatic turns came as the new Ukrainian prime minister’s jet was boarded SWAT teams in Austria responding to a threatened terror attack. Austria’s Interior Ministry said the team boarded the plane following its scheduled landing in Vienna last night after it received a security warning from German flight controllers. Nothing out of the ordinary was found. Mr Yatsenyuk, who was making his way home after addressing European Union leaders in Brussels, then took his scheduled connection to Kiev. German flight control spokeswoman Kristina Kelek said the initial warning came from Belgian police and her agency had passed on the information to Austria. It was a vague warning that ‘there was possibly a terrorist attack planned’, she said.
Russian president Vladimir Putin dismissed a report earlier this week that Yanukovych had died from a heart attack in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. On Tuesday, the Kremlin leader said his former ally was ‘alive and healthy’, and that he had met him several days earlier. However, Yanukovych has not been seen in public since giving a press conference in Russia one week ago. Putin also claimed the former leader would have been killed if not for his rescue in Sevastopol by Russian forces. Russian paper Moskovsky Komsomolets (MK) said today: ‘According to an MK source, Yanukovych may have had a heart attack. His condition is assessed as grave.’ The name of the Moscow hospital was not given. ’So far there has been no official confirmation,’ stated the newspaper.
Yanukovych is the subject of a formal request by the authorities in Kiev for extradition to face an investigation for ordering his security forces to shoot unarmed protesters in Kiev last month. He denies the allegations. Russia believes Yanukovych remains the legal president of Ukraine. Putin agreed to give him sanctuary after he was toppled. ’The legitimate president, purely legally, is undoubtedly Yanukovych,’ said Putin on Tuesday. Russia now has 30,000 troops in Ukraine’s Crimea region, Ukrainian border guards said on Friday, nearly twice the previous figure given by the government in Kiev. Serhiy Astakhov, aide to the head of border guards service, told Reuters the figure was an estimate and included both troops that had arrived since last week and Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, permanently based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
Russia, whose forces occupied the isolated peninsula last week, says the only troops it has there are those based in Sevastopol. The Russian troops that have occupied positions across Crimea wear no insignia on their uniforms but drive vehicles with Russian military plates. Ukraine says thousands of extra troops have arrived and have fanned out across the occupied peninsula in violation of the treaty governing the base. Earlier this week Ukraine said there were a total of 16,000 Russian troops in Crimea. Leading Ukranian politician Yulia Tymoshenko today said there was a danger of guerrilla war in Crimea should it be incorporated into Russia. She said a Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula would create long-term dangers for the whole region and appealed to Germany and others for immediate economic sanctions against Moscow.
Speaking to Reuters after a meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel, Tymoshenko said international measures against Russia had so far been ineffective and called for immediate action to prevent a ‘flashpoint’. Demonstrators who have remained encamped in Kiev’s central Independence Square to defend the revolution that ousted Yanukovich said they did not believe Crimea would be allowed to secede. ’We are optimists. Crimea will stand with us and we will fight for it,’ said Taras Yurkiv, 35, from the eastern city of Lviv. ‘How we will fight depends on the decisions of our leadership. If necessary, we will go with force. If you want peace, you must prepare for war.’
Alexander Zaporozhets, 40, from central Ukraine’s Kirovograd region, put his faith in international pressure. ’I don’t think the Russians will be allowed to take Crimea from us: you can’t behave like that to an independent state. We have the support of the whole world. But I think we are losing time. While the Russians are preparing, we are just talking.’ Elsewhere, military observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have, for the second day in a row, been unable to enter Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, the body said in a post on Twitter. ’Military assessment visitors from OSCE States denied entry into Crimea on Friday, heading back to Kherson to plan next steps,’ it said.
It has also been revealed the Turkish Air Force scrambled six F-16 fighter jets after a Russian surveillance plane flew parallel along its Black Sea coast, the military has today said. The incident, the second of its kind reported this week, occurred on Thursday. The Russian plane remained in international airspace, according to a statement on the website of the military General Staff. Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, which juts into the north of the Black Sea, is at the centre of the current standoff between Russia and Ukraine’s new pro-Western government. Nato member Turkey forms the southern coastline of the Black Sea. Meanwhile, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament has today dismissed suggestions there would be war between Russia and Ukraine after President Putin said he had the right to invade if the situation in Ukraine worsened. ’It’s complete nonsense, it absolutely does not reflect our intentions, the feelings of empathy and the pain we feel for the Ukrainian people,’ said Valentina Matviyenko, head of the Russian Federation Council. ’We are absolutely sure that there will never be a war between the two brotherly nations.’ She also said Crimea’s parliament has the right to hold a referendum on the region’s future status.
The parliament in Ukraine’s southern Crimea region said on Thursday it would hold a referendum on whether the region should join Russia on March 16. Ms Matviyenko said: ‘Yesterday we learned about the historic decision taken by the Crimean parliament to hold a referendum on accession, on entry into the Russian Federation. ’Without a doubt, the Crimean parliament, as a legitimate authority, has that right … The sovereign right of the people to determine their future.’ Earlier today, France’s foreign minister said if a first round of sanctions did not succeed against Russia in the wake of its military intervention in Ukraine, a second could follow, targeting Russian businesses and people close to President Vladimir Putin.
European Union leaders have urged Putin to enter direct talks with the Ukrainian government, warning of ‘far-reaching consequences’ for relations with Moscow if there is any further escalation. At emergency talks in Brussels, leaders of the group of 28 states agreed on a limited package of sanctions to take immediate effect with the threat of further measures – including asset freezes and travel bans – unless there was swift action to end the stand-off. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius today told France Info Radio: ‘If there are not very swift results, there will be new measures aimed at those responsible and Russian businesses. It could be freezing assets, it could be cancellations, it could be refusing visas,’ he added, without elaborating. Mr Fabius called the situation in Ukraine ‘a serious crisis, maybe one of the most serious since the Cold War’.
Fabius said any new move by Russia to bring Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority, formally under its control could have ‘grave consequences’ for relations between Russia and Europe. ’There will be no more international stability if a region… because it’s solicited by a neighbouring country, can decide to change its borders and attach itself to its neighbour,’ Mr Fabius added. Any deterioration of economic ties between Russia and its trading partners could be a ‘very big blow’ to Moscow, Mr Fabius said, adding that any new sanctions could target Putin’s inner circle. Meanwhile, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament has today dismissed suggestions there would be war between Russia and Ukraine after President Putin said he had the right to invade if the situation in Ukraine worsened. ’It’s complete nonsense, it absolutely does not reflect our intentions, the feelings of empathy and the pain we feel for the Ukrainian people,’ said Valentina Matviyenko, head of the Russian Federation Council. ’We are absolutely sure that there will never be a war between the two brotherly nations.’ She also said Crimea’s parliament has the right to hold a referendum on the region’s future status.
The parliament in Ukraine’s southern Crimea region said on Thursday it would hold a referendum on whether the region should join Russia on March 16. Ms Matviyenko said: ‘Yesterday we learned about the historic decision taken by the Crimean parliament to hold a referendum on accession, on entry into the Russian Federation. ’Without a doubt, the Crimean parliament, as a legitimate authority, has that right … The sovereign right of the people to determine their future.’ Earlier today, France’s foreign minister said if a first round of sanctions did not succeed against Russia in the wake of its military intervention in Ukraine, a second could follow, targeting Russian businesses and people close to President Vladimir Putin.
European Union leaders have urged Putin to enter direct talks with the Ukrainian government, warning of ‘far-reaching consequences’ for relations with Moscow if there is any further escalation. At emergency talks in Brussels, leaders of the group of 28 states agreed on a limited package of sanctions to take immediate effect with the threat of further measures – including asset freezes and travel bans – unless there was swift action to end the stand-off. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius today told France Info Radio: ‘If there are not very swift results, there will be new measures aimed at those responsible and Russian businesses. It could be freezing assets, it could be cancellations, it could be refusing visas,’ he added, without elaborating.
Mr Fabius called the situation in Ukraine ‘a serious crisis, maybe one of the most serious since the Cold War’. Fabius said any new move by Russia to bring Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority, formally under its control could have ‘grave consequences’ for relations between Russia and Europe. ’There will be no more international stability if a region… because it’s solicited by a neighbouring country, can decide to change its borders and attach itself to its neighbour,’ Mr Fabius added. Any deterioration of economic ties between Russia and its trading partners could be a ‘very big blow’ to Moscow, Mr Fabius said, adding that any new sanctions could target Putin’s inner circle.
Putin has said Russia and the U.S. still stood far apart over Ukraine, but the two countries should not sacrifice relations over a disagreement on an individual, albeit very important, international problem. A statement issued by the Kremlin said that the Russian leader told Obama in a telephone call yesterday that Ukraine’s new leaders had imposed ‘absolutely illegitimate decisions on the eastern, southeastern and Crimea regions’. ’Russia cannot ignore calls for help in this matter and it acts accordingly, in full compliance with the international law,’ Putin said. ’(He) stressed the paramount importance of Russian-American relations to ensure stability and security in the world. These relations should not be sacrificed for individual differences, albeit very important ones, over international problems.’
In the one-hour call, Obama urged Putin to accept the terms of a potential diplomatic solution to the crisis, which has triggered the worst crisis in U.S.-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War. Putin has stridently defended Russia’s moves in Ukraine, a country he calls a ‘a brotherly nation’, saying Moscow was not behind the seizure of Crimea, home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. He has denied western accusations that his troops have captured state buildings there, saying the armed men were members of local self-defence units. He says Russia is willing to cooperate with western powers but any solution to the crisis must be based on an EU-brokered agreement signed on February 21 by ousted leader Viktor Yanukovich, who Putin has said is Ukraine’s legitimate president.
Putin said he agreed with Obama that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry should continue ‘intensive contacts’ on Ukraine. Putin’s spokesman today said the Russian leader’s efforts to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine are being misunderstood. ’Regardless of all the efforts of our president, his readiness to explain Russia’s position practically on a daily basis, we still hit a wall of no understanding,’ Peskov said in comments due to broadcast on state television Rossiya 24 on Sunday. ’It is rather sad and what is worse is that it is very bad from the point of view of possible repercussions.’ He added Moscow was not orchestrating events in Ukraine. ‘Quite the opposite,’ he said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said NATO’s decision to curb its cooperation with Moscow showed a ‘biased and prejudiced approach’ over Ukraine. ’We see as extremely dangerous attempts to bring in the “NATO factor” to Ukraine, where the situation is complex and delicate as it is, as it creates additional tension and undermines the prospects for settling the situation,’ the ministry said in a statement. Patriotic feelings are running high in Russia, with 65,000 people today gathering in Moscow’s Red Square in support of their government’s actions, chanting ‘Crimea is Russia!’ On Wednesday, NATO announced a full review of its cooperation with Russia and said it would suspend planning for a joint mission linked to Syrian chemical weapons.
Ukraine meanwhile has decided against boycotting the Winter Paralympics in Sochi. The head of Ukraine’s Paralympic Committee says the country’s athletes will stay and compete in Sochi despite Russia’s military moves in Crimea. The decision was announced a few hours before Friday’s opening ceremony. Russian news agency R-Sport quoted Valeriy Sushkevich, the president of Ukraine’s National Paralympic Committee, as saying ‘we are staying at the Paralympics’. However, he added: ‘I don’t know to what extent the team can focus on the result now.’ Also today, foreign ministers from central Europe, the Baltics and Nordics condemned Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and the planned referendum on Crimea’s breakaway, calling for the EU to send an observation mission to Kiev.
The group of countries, many of them sharing land borders with Russia or the Ukraine and living with the memory of Soviet rule, have taken a tough line in the face of Moscow as the crisis has escalated. ’Nordic and Baltic countries and the Visegrad countries’ foreign ministers condemned today … the attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and also condemned the illegal referendum on the joining of Crimea with Russia,’ the ministers said in joint statement from the meeting. Foreign ministers from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, known as the Visegrad Four, and from the Nordics and Baltics met at the Estonian town of Narva on the Russian border.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said the European Union needed to strengthen its defence policy and upgrade crisis management capabilities in the wake of the events on its borders. ’It is a challenge we did not wish for, but is knocking at our doors,’ he said. The Council of Europe, the pan-European human rights watchdog, is offering to investigate violence and the treatment of minorities in Ukraine to try to defuse mounting tensions between Kiev and Russia, Austria has said. Sebastian Kurz, the foreign minister of Austria, which holds the revolving chair of the 47-member Council until May, told Reuters on Friday that he and the Council’s secretary general would visit Kiev on Monday to offer its services in the conflict. Both Russia and Ukraine are members of the Council of Europe, which Mr Kurz said had credibility and expertise in supporting minority rights. He called the Ukrainian parliament’s repeal of a law making Russia a recognised language in some regions ‘an absolute mistake’.
Asked how Russia had reacted so far to the mediation offer, Mr Kurz said: ‘At least there have been no negative voices in the Council of Europe from the Russian side.’ Outside of Europe, Japan endorsed the Western position that the actions of Russia constitute ‘a threat to international peace and security’, after Obama spoke to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. China, often a Russian ally in blocking Western moves in the U.N. Security Council, was more cautious. It said economic sanctions were not the best way to solve the crisis, but avoided comment on the legality of a Crimean referendum on secession. Syrian president Bashar Assad meanwhile said Russia’s military takeover of Crimea reflects President Vladimir Putin’s ‘wise policy’ and his efforts to restore ‘security and stability’ in Ukraine after an ‘attempted coup.’
In a letter addressed to the Russian president, Assad claims Putin’s move in eastern Ukraine prevented ‘terrorist extremists’ from taking power in Kiev. Russia has been an adamant supporter of Assad through the three-year-old Syrian civil war that has claimed at least 140,000 lives. Assad says his troops are fighting Islamic extremists who want to destroy Syria.
Remember way back, before we learned that the N.S.A. was infiltrating computer systems and cell phones, when we were concerned about Chinese hackers? Google chairman Eric Schmidt admitted on Friday that government attacks from China and the US forced his company to enhance security protocols. Speaking at the SXSW technology conference in Austin, Texas, Schmidt said governments around the world have realized that attempts to block internet access are futile and have moved on to other methods of control. “You don’t turn off the Internet: you infiltrate it,” he said in a wider-ranging conversation, as quoted by the Guardian. “The new model for a dictator is to infiltrate and try to manipulate it. You’re seeing this in China, and in many other countries.”
When asked about the role of technology in terms of popular uprisings in countries like Egypt and Ukraine, Schmidt said the spread of mobile devices has allowed people to organize much more easily – but although “revolutions are going to be easier to start,” they’ll also be “harder to finish.” The Google executive also expressed concern over the possibility that countries could choose to edit what their citizens can find on the web. “Imagine if the Arab world decides to delete all references to Israel?” he said. “It looks like people are going to use child safety as the starting point. Russia just passed a law nominally about child safety which pretty much allows arbitrary takedown of videos…There’s something strange, or at least duplicitous, at starting from something where we all agree, and then using it for other purposes.”
As for the bulk surveillance program being run by the US National Security Agency, Schmidt noted that Google has sped up its goal of encrypting data at several different points, adding, “We’re pretty sure right now that the information that’s inside of Google is safe from any government’s prying eyes, including the US government’s…We were attacked by the Chinese in 2010, we were attacked by the NSA in 2013. These are facts.” The NSA is expected to be a big topic of discussion at SXSW, since former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald are both scheduled to address the conference remotely. Snowden is responsible for leaking previously undisclosed documents about the NSA surveillance program to Greenwald, who has helped publish them in the media.
Schmidt’s remarks come just a couple of days after he spoke at a separate conference in Santa Monica, California. There, he predicted that in the near future, robots will become so prevalent they will“replace a lot of the repetitive behavior in our lives.” “We’re experimenting with what automation will lead to,” he added at Oasis: The Montgomery Summit, according to Bloomberg News. “Robots will become omnipresent in our lives in a good way.” These comments certainly fall in line with Google’s activity dating back over the past year, in which it purchased eight robotics companies in a span of only six months. In general, Bloomberg noted that over the last three years, Google has bought more companies than any other business.
In January, Google acquired a startup called DeepMind, which specializes in artificial intelligence. Though its work is something of a mystery, DeepMind is believed to be developing “deep learning” capabilities, or the process of enabling a machine to learn in the same way a human can. This ability would likely allow for major scientific breakthroughs in the future. “The biggest thing will be artificial intelligence,” Schmidt stated. “Technology is evolving from asking a question to making a relevant recommendation. It will figure out things you care about and make recommendations. That’s possible with today’s technology.”
On the robotics front, meanwhile, Google’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics in December was also noteworthy, since that company often supplies robotics technology to the Pentagon and moonshot projects under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. As noted by Yahoo, other purchases include Meka, which develops robotic faces that “are capable of mimicking human emotions,” and Schaft, which works on robots that can be used during rescue operations too risky for humans to take part in.
There is a new Cold War. It did not just start, it has been around since the fall of the Soviet Union. The players are different but the mutual distrust between Moscow and the West has never completely resolved itself. Sure, our relations have thawed a bit but the fact remains that the West will never enjoy a full fledged marriage with the Russians. That is reality. Russia is going to bite off the Crimean peninsula for itself and there is not much anyone can do about it. With heavily armed Russian-speaking troops patrolling the streets, the Crimean Parliament voted Thursday to join Russia and put its decision to a referendum. The all-but-inevitable annexation of Crimea is moving forward, despite protests, warnings and threats from the U.S. and its allies.
Frida Ghitis, a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, writes that with heavily armed Russian-speaking troops patrolling the streets, the Crimean Parliament voted Thursday to join Russia and put its decision to a referendum. The all-but-inevitable annexation of Crimea is moving forward, despite protests, warnings and threats from the U.S. and its allies. The clash between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the forces arrayed in support of Ukraine’s independence-minded leaders has crashed the vaunted “reset,” ending hopes that Moscow and the West would smooth relations and work hand-in-hand toward common objectives.
Nobody can predict with certainty how this conflict will end. But the world can already glean important lessons. Unfortunately, most of those lessons are cause for deep concern. Here are five clear messages from the crisis in Ukraine.
1. Nobody’s scared of America, but American and European values hold strong appeal.
Lest we forget, this all started over a move by the now-deposed Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who broke his promise to sign a partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow. Ukrainians were enraged, not just because they want more trade with Europe but because they have seen what Western standards can bring to a society. They were fed up with corruption, authoritarianism and stagnation. They wanted their country to be free of Moscow’s interference, and many gave up their lives to fight for an ideal of stronger democratic institutions, rule of law and fair play.
As strong as the pull of these values is, their principal advocate, the U.S., has lost much of its ability to stare down its foes in support of those who want to institute democratic principles in their countries. We saw it when President Barack Obama declared — years ago — that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad must step down. We saw it when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was pelted with tomatoes in Egypt. And we saw it in Ukraine, when Obama warned Putin to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, only to see the Russians capture Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. America does not intimidate. Its loss of influence means strongmen and dictators have a freer hand.
2. You don’t mess with Putin without paying a price.
Even if Moscow were to relinquish all control of Ukrainian territory today, Putin has already achieved a main goal. He has sent a clear message to countries that were once part of the Soviet Union — and perhaps to the USSR’s former Eastern European satellites — that they cannot defy his wishes without paying a painful price. In that sense, Putin has won. A top Putin aide warned last summer that Ukraine was risking “suicide” if it dared to defy Moscow. Now we know this was no bluff. Putin is serious about protecting Moscow’s sphere of influence. It’s not clear how closely he wants to control what are supposed to be independent countries.
3. If you are a vulnerable state, you may regret surrendering nuclear weapons.
This may be the most dangerous of all the lessons from this crisis. Ukraine had a sizable nuclear arsenal at the end of the Cold War, but it agreed to give it up in exchange for security guarantees. In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine committed itself to dismantling the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal. Russia, in exchange, vowed to respect Ukraine’s borders and its independence. Now, Russia has clearly violated those commitments. If Ukraine still had its atomic weapons, Moscow would have thought twice before seizing parts of Ukraine.
4. Don’t expect support from all international peace activists (unless the U.S. invades).
To liberal activists in Ukraine and Russia, the reaction from international peace movement must be a hard pill to swallow. Parts of Ukraine have been captured at the point of a gun by a regime that actively suppresses dissent. When liberal Russians protested, police arrested hundreds of anti-war demonstrators.
While Russia’s invasion of Ukrainian territory and its harsh crackdown on local protests have been criticized by some human rights activists, the reaction among some prominent “peace” activists has been astonishing. Several have mimicked Putin’s line, blaming the U.S. for the crisis. Instead of taking a clear stance in support of a country with invading military forces on its soil, some so-called anti-war groups have taken the opportunity to dust off their anti-American vitriol. A favorite line of discussion is whether Washington has any right to criticize Russia’s invasion of Ukrainian territory after the U.S. invaded Iraq, a country that was ruled by one of the world’s most brutal, genocidal dictators. However misguided America’s Iraq invasion, even drawing the comparison is an insult to Ukrainians.
5. The use of brute force to resolve conflicts is not a thing of the past.
One day, if history moves in the direction we all wish, countries will solve their disputes through diplomacy and negotiation. Sadly, that day has not arrived. John Kerry has expressed dismay at Putin’s “19th-century” behavior, but power politics, forcible border expansion and brazen aggression have not been relegated to the history books; witness events in places like Syria, the Central African Republic and now in Ukraine. Those are the first five lessons. But allow me to offer a bonus, a work in progress that could join as No. 6: When the stakes grow high enough, the U.S. and Europe may rise to the challenge.
Western nations seemed caught off-guard by Putin’s “incredible act of aggression,” as Kerry termed it. Some of Putin’s gains (see No. 2) may be irreversible. But the U.S. and Europe have been shaken up by events, and they may yet send a message of their own, helping Kiev’s government succeed and prosper as it sets out to chart a future of its own and limiting Putin’s ability to replicate his acts of intimidation.
Kerry’s visit to Kiev was a powerful moment. His unvarnished message to Putin, if backed by action, was a respectable start. The U.S. would prefer to see this crisis resolved through negotiations, he declared, but if Russia chooses not to do so, Washington’s and its partners “will isolate Russia politically, diplomatically and economically.” Already the EU is offering Ukraine an aid package comparable to the one Putin used to lure it away. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is boosting ties with Poland and the Baltic States, and economic sanctions are under discussion.
Frida’s comments are spot on. The West, in particular, the United States does not scare Russia. Before you assume that it’s because Barack Obama is weak, The Russian’s lack of fear does not rest just in Washington. The proposed sanctions simply do not scare them either. Russia’s parliament Friday as it gave its defiant support to Crimean lawmakers who want to see their region split from Ukraine and join Russia. The lawmakers’ unanimous call for a vote on separation prompted howls of outrage Thursday in the United States and Europe — and the threat of sanctions, including asset freezes, visa bans and travel bans.
The delegation from the Crimean parliament, which said it would put the decision to a public vote on March 16, headed to Moscow on Friday and got a very different reaction. Valentina Matvienko, speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, told the Crimean delegation it would “support and welcome” any decision made by the Crimean people to become a part of Russia. “We have no rights to leave our people when there’s a threat to them. None of the sanctions will be able to change our attitude,” Matvienko said. The delegation was greeted with loud applause in the lower house, where the speaker described the decision to hold the referendum as “dictated by the willingness to protect human rights and lives.”
Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk condemned talk of a split amid the presence of thousands of Russian troops in Crimea. ”I want to warn separatists and other traitors of the Ukrainian state who are trying to work against Ukraine, any of your decisions taken is unlawful, unconstitutional, and nobody in the civilized world is going to recognize the results of the so-called referendum of the so-called Crimean authorities,” he said Friday. In the past week, Crimea, an autonomous region in southern Ukraine with an ethnic Russian majority and strong cultural ties to Russia, has become the epicenter of a battle for influence between Moscow, Kiev and the West following protest violence last month that led to the contested ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Thousands of troops believed to be Russian are now in Crimea. They have surrounded Ukrainian military bases, border crossings and other facilities. On Friday, Ukrainian authorities reported a second Russian naval ship had been scuttled at the entrance to Lake Donuzlav, an inlet on the western coast of Crimea that is home to a Ukrainian naval base. Viktor Shmihanovsky, vice commander of the base, told CNN that several Ukrainian naval ships are now trapped inside. Unidentified forces also have blocked unarmed European military observers from entering the country for the second straight day. Masked men carrying rifles and wearing camouflage uniforms stopped the 43 observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a regional security organziation, at a checkpoint separating the mainland from the Crimean Peninsula, CNN’s Matthew Chance said.
One man, speaking in Russian, said: “I’ve been ordered by the government of Crimea not to let anyone in.” And in signs that the pro-Russian Crimean authorities are clamping down on dissent within the peninsula, at least two Ukrainian channels, 1+1 and Channel 5, have been blocked from broadcasting terrestrially. The head of 1+1, Olexander Tkachenko,told CNN that Russian state TV outlet Channel One is now broadcasting on its frequency. A Bulgarian freelance journalist and his colleague also were assaulted while filming in Simferopol, the regional capital. The journalist told CNN he was wrestled to the ground and a gun put to his head. The incident was captured on surveillance footage and aired on a Ukrainian TV channel, Hromadske TV.
U.S. President Barack Obama set out a potential solution to the crisis when he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, the White House said. The proposal includes direct talks between Kiev and Moscow, the withdrawal of Russian forces, international support for elections on May 25, and the presence of international monitors to “ensure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, including ethnic Russians,” Obama said. As they seek to put the diplomatic squeeze on Russia, European Union nations said they’ll suspend some talks with Russia and have threatened travel bans, asset freezes and cancellation of a planned EU-Russia summit.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French public radio Friday that tougher measures are planned if Moscow doesn’t act to de-escalate the situation. ”And if another attempt is made, then we would enter into something completely different — that is to say serious consequences for the relations between Europe and Russia,” he said. The United States also has taken action. The State Department said it won’t give travel documents to Russians and Ukrainians deemed responsible for the crisis, and Obama signed an executive order laying the groundwork for sanctions. There’s also help on hand for the fledgling government in Kiev. As they seek to put the diplomatic squeeze on Russia, European Union nations said they’ll suspend some talks with Russia and have threatened travel bans, asset freezes and cancellation of a planned EU-Russia summit.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French public radio Friday that tougher measures are planned if Moscow doesn’t act to de-escalate the situation. ”And if another attempt is made, then we would enter into something completely different — that is to say serious consequences for the relations between Europe and Russia,” he said. The United States also has taken action. The State Department said it won’t give travel documents to Russians and Ukrainians deemed responsible for the crisis, and Obama signed an executive order laying the groundwork for sanctions. There’s also help on hand for the fledgling government in Kiev. ”We are staying in order to be remembered, for Ukraine to be remembered as the state which sent a unified team,” he said at a news conference.
Moscow has denounced Yanukovych’s ouster last month as an illegitimate coup. He has refused to recognize the new Ukrainian authorities. Putin has insisted he has the right to use military force in Ukraine if necessary to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea. But Ukrainian officials say no threat exists and that Putin is using it as a pretext to control the region. The peninsula was part of Russia until 1954 when it was transferred to Ukraine, which was then under the Soviet Union. Russia has a major naval base in the port city of Sevastopol. Russian speakers make up about 60% of Crimea’s population, but around a quarter are Ukrainian and 12% are Crimean Tatar, a predominately Muslim minority. Neither of the latter two groups would welcome a switch to Russian control.
CNN’s Diana Magnay met with Crimean Tatars in the town of Bakhchisaray amid fears for their safety that have reminded some of past oppression under the Soviet Union. Many spent years in exile — in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan or other Soviet republics — after the Soviet Union deported them for supposedly collaborating with Adolf Hitler. ”It is not legal,” one elderly man said. “We are the original nation of Crimea. Our Khan state was here. Russia left us with no rights. ”We don’t want to be with Russia, we want to be with Ukraine,” he said.
It no longer comes as a shock that brick and mortar chain stores continue to close. The reality is that Amazon.com and a myriad of on line retailers are simply killing our desire to go to malls crowded with teenagers to be waited on by clerks who really don’t want to be there. Or…at least that’s how it seems. Brick and mortar stores are not completely dead but it’s downward trend continues. Radio Shack (RSH) announced Monday it will close up to 1,100 stores, or 20% of its locations in North America. On Thursday Staples (SPLS, Fortune 500)said it will close 225 stores. ”It’s a tough decision to close stores. But it’s something every good retailer does,” said Staples CEO Ron Sargent in a call with investors. “Stores have to earn the right to stay open.”
Other troubled retailers are also downsizing. J.C. Penney (JCP, Fortune 500) has announced plans to close 33 locations. Sears Holdings (SHLD, Fortune 500) is closing its flagship Chicago store and it’s expected to shutter another 500 Sears and Kmart locations soon, according to Cowen retail analyst John Kernan. Even Macy’s (M, Fortune 500), which is doing relatively well, announced it is closing five stores as part of a cost-cutting effort. Office Depot (ODP, Fortune 500) is also expected to shed some of the excess stores created by its recent purchase of OfficeMax. And there is a possible tie-up betweenMen’s Wearhouse (MW) and Jos. A. Bank (JOSB) that will also probably lead to store closings.
Stores in prime locations should find new tenants fairly quickly, says Greg Apter, who is president of Chicago-based Hilco Real Estate and specializes in retail space. Other, less desirable locations will probably have to find non-retail tenants — converting into everything from warehouses and churches to indoor go-cart tracks. Store closings typically come early in the year, after retailers close their books on the fourth-quarter’s critical holiday shopping season. ”I’m not worried. What we’re seeing is a continuation of a transition to a new, leaner industry that will continue,” said Michael Niemira, vice president of research for the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Part of the problem for stores is that there is just too much retail space in many markets. There are about 46 square feet of retail space for every man, woman and child in the United States, according to Robin Lewis, CEO of The Robin Report, a retail strategy newsletter. That’s five times the space than in any other country, “We’ve had overcapacity in this country for a long, long time,” said Lewis. “The economy now has gotten to the point where it is forcing [retailers] to contract.” Competition from online retailers such as Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500) hasn’t helped. Radio Shack, Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500) and other electronics retailers have become vulnerable to so-called “showrooming,” in which consumers check out an item they want to buy in a store and then buy it at a lower price online.
Staples says it is looking to focus on online sales, which now account for nearly half of its revenue. The growth in online sales is simply making problems at some chains more severe, experts say, not causing the problem by itself. ”It is too simple to say this is what Amazon has wrought,” said Apter. “But the online business makes the market more saturated. That’s enough to turn what might have been 100 store closings into 120.”
I realize that as a 51 year old man, I am not the typical retail shopper but let me offer some suggestions. I shop at two brick and mortar stores on a regular basis. Davenport, Iowa based Von Maur has several mall stores in Indianapolis. The upscale retailer is priced reasonably but what shines is it’s customer service. I do not have to wait to be helped and the staff is not overweight with teenagers who do not want to be there. Von Maur, in many ways, is a throw back to what department stores like L.S. Ayres. Stewarts and Foley’s used to be. Quality merchandise and customer service. Von Maur still wraps your purchases for free. Not only that, they actually staff a customer service desk, unlike Macy’s, which decided some years ago to shut down gift wrap and customer service in some stupid cost cutting move. Did I mention that Von Maur offers a store credit card with ZERO INTEREST. Hello? No wonder this retailer is opening stores and not closing them.
Another place I shop, probably too much, is Harbor Freight Tools. Again, it’s customer service and pricing that equals or beats what I can find on the internet. Truthfully, if I need a tool or hardware supplies I know I can find them at a reasonable price and not have to drive to 3 or 4 different stores. An honorable mention shout out goes to Wisconsin based Menards. Since returning to the Midwest, I have not stepped into a Lowes or Home Depot for anything because I can always find what I am looking for at Menards and the prices are better.
Russia’s upper house of parliament said Friday it would welcome the addition of Crimea to the country’s territory if residents there choose to secede from Ukraine in a referendum scheduled next week. Officials in the Crimean parliament – the Supreme Council – and the city council of Sevastopol voted Thursday for the majority ethnic Russian region to become part of Russia, amid increasing fears that Moscow was seeking to annex the Ukrainian territory. The votes by Crimean authorities, however, are not legally binding and have little immediate effect. “We [the Supreme Council] have made a decision on entry into the Russian Federation. Now the ball is in your court, you must decide the fate of Crimea – I hope, forever,” said Vladimir Konstantinov, chairman of Crimea’s Supreme Council, at a meeting of the region’s officials with the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament Sergei Naryshkin.
The speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, said Russia would support the addition of Crimea to its territory. “If the people of Crimea make the decision in the referendum to join Russia, we, as the upper house, will of course support such a decision,” Matviyenko said Friday. The public referendum on the issue, scheduled for March 16, has been dismissed as a “farce” and “a crime against the state” by the acting president of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov, who said Thursday that the Ukrainian parliament would move to dissolve the Crimean one. The referendum will offer voters two choices: to either approve the secession or for the primarily Russian-speaking peninsula to remain an autonomous republic within Ukraine.
Votes by Crimean authorities on secession Thursday, though legally toothless, outraged the Ukrainian government and the West, escalating an ongoing political crisis in the region after thousands of troops – apparently under Russian command, but lacking official insignia – took control of Ukrainian military bases across Crimea in the past week. US President Barack Obama denounced the move as illegal under the Ukrainian constitution and international law, and ordered financial and visa sanctions for those responsible for the vote, which he said threatened the territorial integrity of Ukraine. US allies in the European Union swiftly followed with a further round of visa sanctions and asset-freezing, threatening further measures if the crisis could not be defused.
Mark Lowen BBC News, Sevastopol
A lot of Russians I have spoken to here in Crimea over the last week say they do not actually want to become part of Russia. They say they want broader autonomy and protection of their rights, but they want to stay within Ukraine and do not want to change nationality. There are those of course who say they would like to unite with Russia. But there is a lot of support for developing the notion of greater autonomy within Ukraine.
Certainly, the ethnic Ukrainians and the Tatars will vote against it in the 16 March referendum. I think the Crimean government may have a big fight on its hands persuading citizens to endorse joining Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a phone call with Obama on Thursday night that Ukraine’s current government, brought to power by a revolution that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych last month, was illegitimate. He said that “Russia cannot ignore [Crimea’s] appeals for help in this regard,” but that it would act in full compliance with international law. Ukraine’s interim prime minister has warned the Crimean parliament “no-one in the civilised world” will recognise its referendum on joining Russia. Arseniy Yatsenyuk and others in the Kiev government have called the vote “unconstitutional” and “illegitimate”. But the referendum has the support of the Russian parliament.
The speaker of the upper house said if the Crimean people vote on 16 March to join Russia then they would “unquestionably back this choice”. The decision by Crimean MPs to seek to join the Russian Federation comes amid international tensions over the presence of pro-Russian troops in the southern Ukrainian peninsula. Moscow has said it “will not accept the language of sanctions and threats” after the EU and US announced punitive measures against Russia on Thursday. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Paralympic team has confirmed it will take part in the Sochi Winter Paralympics, which begins later. The head of the team, Valeriy Sushkevych, said they would participate “so they remember us, remember Ukraine – a sovereign state, which sent its athletes here”. But he said: “If something major happens, Ukraine will leave the Games immediately”.
Prime Minister Yatsenyuk said on Friday Ukraine was open to talks with Russia as long as it withdrew its troops and abided by international agreements. In a warning to the “separatist and other traitors of the Ukrainian state”, he said: “Any decision of yours is deliberately unlawful and unconstitutional and no-one in the civilized world will recognize the decision of the so-called referendum of the so-called Crimean authorities”. Kiev does not recognize Crimea’s pro-Moscow leadership, which was sworn in at an emergency session as pro-Russian forces began to take over strategic sites last week.
Crimea’s leadership for its part has branded as “illegitimate” the interim government in Kiev, which was sworn in at the end of February after the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych. Crimea’s parliament on Thursday said it had already asked President Putin to allow the region to join Russia, and would seek an endorsement from the Crimean people in a referendum on 16 March. Welcoming a delegation of Crimean MPs to Moscow on Friday, Russia’s upper house speaker Valentina Matviyenko said: “Without a doubt, the Crimean parliament, as a legitimate authority, has that right… the sovereign right of the people to determine their future.”
Although the majority of people in Crimea are ethnic Russians, the BBC’s Mark Lowen in Simferopol says the outcome of a referendum is by no means certain – and may come down to a generational split. One man said: “I am Russian, but I am not a citizen of the Russian Federation. When I was there several years ago, I understood that we are different people now. I want to feel Crimean.” But his mother-in-law – who remembers when Russia handed over Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 – has a different view. ”I would say yes to joining Russia,” she told the BBC. “Crimea has always been Russian territory. We feel separate from Ukraine and I don’t have any emotional attachment to this country. Perhaps if the government in Kiev was different then I might vote another way.”
For a second consecutive day, military observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) were prevented from crossing into Crimea by armed men guarding the Chungar checkpoint. The BBC’s Bethany Bell says there is “widespread” support at the OSCE’s headquarters in Vienna for the need to agree a long-term monitoring mission in Ukraine, but that Russia’s delegation insists it has no mandate to deploy. Russia’s foreign ministry accused the European Union of taking an “extremely unconstructive position” after leaders meeting in Brussels agreed to freeze talks on easing travel restrictions to Russians. Washington also announced visa restrictions against a number of unnamed Ukrainian and Russian officials and individuals.
During an hour-long phone conservation, US President Barack Obama told President Putin that Russia’s actions were a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, the White House said in a statement. He said there was a solution available that suited all parties, involving talks between Kiev and Moscow, international monitors in Ukraine and Russian forces returning to their bases. For his part, President Putin said the new authorities in Kiev had imposed “absolutely illegitimate decisions” on the pro-Russian parts of eastern Ukraine, and Moscow “cannot ignore calls for help”. But he also said US-Russian “relations should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual, albeit extremely significant, international problems”, the Kremlin said.
On Friday, some 65,000 people attended a rally in Moscow expressing solidarity with the pro-Russian authorities in Crimea, police said. Ukraine has missed its payment deadline for gas supplies. As its debt is increasing, Gazprom does not rule out it may cut gas supplies to the country, the Russian energy giant’s head Aleksey Miller has said. “Today, March 7, is the deadline for making a payment for the February gas supplies to Ukraine,” Miller told journalists on Friday, adding that Gazprom has not received payment on account.
The leader of the Ukrainian radical group Right Sector, Dmitry Yarosh, has reportedly demanded the country’s authorities open military arsenals for the group’s fighters. This is according to an unknown source in Ukraine’s military department, as cited by ITAR-TASS. The source also quoted Yarosh as saying the “conservative approach” of the security agencies’ chiefs doesn’t allow for order to be restored by precluding anti-Maidan rallies in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine. In an ultimatum, Yarosh demanded that the government gives to his group the access to a part of weapons and military equipment, as well as several military training centers “for quality training for Right Sector fighters.” “Yarosh doesn’t rule out more decisive action on Ukraine, if the government doesn’t comply with these demands,” the source indicated to ITAR-TASS.
It has also emerged that Yarosh is planning to run for the presidency, according to the head of his movement in Kiev. The Right Sector movement, an amalgamation of several far-right groups, was formed in November 2013. Members of the radical movement were very active in the violence which spurred the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich. After the February 21 agreement between Yanukovich and opposition leaders was signed, the Right Sector declared they did not recognize it and would continue the armed struggle.
Many of its violent acts carried out by the group have been well-documented by media and published on YouTube. The fighters used clubs, petrol bombs and firearms against the Ukrainian police. Even after the coup, some members of the movement continued to use rifles and pistols. On Wednesday, a proposal was submitted to the Ukrainian parliament suggesting that Right Sector be pronounced a regular armed unit. Coup-appointed Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk dismissed three deputy defense ministers over the refusal to support the proposal. Also on Wednesday, Russia put Yarosh on an international wanted list and charged him with inciting terrorism after he urged the notorious Doku Umarov, one of the most-wanted terrorists in the world, to attack Russia over the Ukrainian conflict.
Why Crimea is so dangerous
Troops loyal to Russia have taken control of the region and the pro-Russian parliament has voted to join the Russian Federation, to be confirmed in a referendum.
Crimea is a center of pro-Russian sentiment, which can spill into separatism. The region – a peninsula on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast – has 2.3 million people, a majority of whom identify themselves as ethnic Russians and speak Russian. The region voted heavily for Viktor Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election, and many people there believe he is the victim of a coup – prompting separatists in Crimea’s parliament to vote for joining the Russian Federation and a referendum on secession.
Is Crimea truly Ukrainian?
Russia has been the dominant power in Crimea for most of the past 200 years, since it annexed the region in 1783. But it was transferred by Moscow to Ukraine – then part of the Soviet Union – in 1954. Some ethnic Russians see that as a historical wrong.
However, another significant minority, the Muslim Crimean Tatars, point out that they were once the majority in Crimea, and were deported in large numbers by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1944 for alleged collaboration with Nazi invaders in World War Two.
Ethnic Ukrainians made up 24% of the population in Crimea according to the 2001 census, compared with 58% Russians and 12% Tatars.
Tatars have been returning since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – causing persistent tensions with Russians over land rights.
Will Crimea break away?
The region remains legally part of Ukraine – a status that Russia backed when pledging to uphold the territorial integrity of Ukraine in a memorandum signed in 1994, also signed by the US, UK and France.
It is an autonomous republic within Ukraine, electing its own parliament. Kiev has appointed Crimea’s prime minister in consultation with the regional parliament.
But after the crisis erupted Crimean MPs appointed a pro-Moscow leader, Sergei Aksyonov, without the backing of Kiev. He asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for help to ensure peace, and has secured the backing of Crimea’s parliament for joining Russia, with a referendum to be held on 16 March. It will ask two questions:
Are you in favor of re-uniting Crimea with Russia as a constituent part of the Russian Federation?
Are you in favor of restoring the Constitution of the (autonomous) Republic of Crimea of 1992 and retaining the status of Crimea as part of Ukraine?
Under Ukraine’s constitution, “issues of altering the territory of Ukraine are resolved exclusively by an All-Ukrainian referendum”. Equally, Crimea is entitled to call what are termed local referendums.
What’s Russia’s position?
Russia’s lease on the Sevastopol base lasts until 2042
Crimea’s unofficial leader has been in close contact with Moscow and is thought to have moved towards secession with its full support.
The crisis in Crimea began when some 11,000 soldiers loyal to Russia took control of the peninsula and blockaded Ukrainian bases. While Moscow calls them local self-defence forces, many of them are thought to be Russian. It argues it is responsible for the safety of ethnic Russians in the region.
Russia has a major naval base in Sevastopol, where its Black Sea fleet is based. Under the terms of the lease, any movement of Russian troops outside the base must be authorised by the Ukrainian government.
There have been reports of Russian envoys distributing Russian passports in the peninsula. Russia’s defence laws allow military action overseas to “protect Russian citizens”.
Could the Crimean crisis spark a war?
Vladimir Putin has obtained parliamentary approval for troop deployments not just in Crimea, but Ukraine as a whole. Moscow, which regards the new authorities in Kiev as fascists, could send troops to “protect” ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.
That would enrage nationalists in western Ukraine, who hold positions in the new government. There could also be international repercussions. Western powers have strongly condemned the Crimea takeover. Nato is unlikely to react militarily, but is beefing up air force cover in the Baltic republics, warning of increased Russian military activity in the enclave of Kaliningrad.
The US and EU are considering sanctions, but President Putin may believe that they will not last – as was the case during the Georgian war.
What happened in Georgia?
In 2008, Russia sent troops into the breakaway region of South Ossetia in 2008, routing Georgian forces which had tried to retake the territory. Nato decided not to intervene.
But Crimea is bigger than South Ossetia, Ukraine bigger than Georgia, and the Crimean population more divided than in pro-Russian South Ossetia. The stakes on both sides are much higher now.
Moscow resents what it sees as EU and Nato overtures to Ukraine (as it did with Georgia). This is not just a geopolitical battle for influence in Russia’s backyard. President Putin is seeking to protect land that he regards as historically and culturally tied to Russia.
Wasn’t there once a war in Crimea?
Crimea has been fought over – and changed hands – many times in its history.
The occasion many will have heard of is the Crimean War of 1853-1856, known in Britain for the Siege of Sevastopol, the Charge of the Light Brigade, and the medical advances made by Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole.
The war was a result of rival imperial ambitions, when Britain and France, suspicious of Russian ambitions in the Balkans as the Ottoman Empire declined, sent troops to Crimea to peg them back. Russia lost.
Al-Jazeera and the BBC contributed to this report.
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia | DMN – Residents in the wealthy Washington D.C. suburb of Alexandria were warned today that a serial killer may be on the loose. The February shooting death of Ruthanne Lodato is being investigating in connection with two other unsolved murders that took place in similar circumstances just blocks from each other, police announced Thursday. Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook said at a press conference that they believe Lodato’s killer may be the same man suspected of killing Nancy Dunning in December 2003 and Ronald Kirby last November.
Upon studying ballistics in the three murders, police identified similarities in bullet fragments, but Cook wouldn’t say for certain whether the same weapon was used in all three shootings. ’The cases appear to be linked, but until we have evidence to point to only one suspect, we investigate all possibilities,’ Cook said. Lodato, a married mother-of-three, was killed February 6 after a man knocked on her door at 11:30am and opened fire on her and a nurse caring for her mother. Lodato was rushed to the ER in a critical condition but was later pronounced dead and the caregiver who gave police a description of the man who shot her in the arm survived.
All three murders took place at the same time of day after the victims presented themselves at the front door. The victims were also well-respected in their DC community. Lodato was a well-known music teacher, Kirby was a respected transportation planner and Dunning was a real estate agent who was married to then-Sheriff James Dunning. Sheriff Dunning was never ruled out as a suspect in his wife’s murder, but died in 2012. Lodato was answering the door when she was shot, but Cook wouldn’t say whether that was the same case in the other two shootings. Police are currently looking for an older, while man with gray hair and a full beard in connection to the homicides. No motive has been established for any of the killings, which police fear may spark ‘hysteria’ in the community.
Cook said Thursday that residents should be vigilant and not answer their door for strangers, but not to overreact. ’I'm hoping it doesn’t create any type of hysteria,’ he said. So far, residents have taken the warning relatively well. Pam Beard, who lived across the street from Nancy Dunning when she was shot in 2003, says she’s been locking her door in the ten years since. ’I just couldn’t believe it,’ Ms Beard told WJLA. ‘You hear the cliche “it doesn’t happen in this neighborhood.” Well, it does.’ Fellow neighbor Judy Miller she says she’s not going to let the latest warning impact her life too much. ’I wouldn’t let anything change the way I live. I am not going to live in fear and I think anyone who does shouldn’t,’ Ms Miller said.
Police find Lodato’s death strikingly similar to two other unsolved murders in the neighborhood. In November last year, 69-year-old Ronald Kirby was shot inside his home, less than one mile from Lodato’s house and to date police have not arrested anyone in connection with that murder. And in 2003, real estate agent Nancy Dunning and the wife of now deceased Sheriff Jim Dunning was killed inside her Del Ray home – less than two miles from where Lodato lived. Family members of Kirby and Dunning told the Washington Post that they were stunned by the killings and were struck by the fact that all three seemed to be ‘random’.
Liz Dunning, whose mother Nancy was shot inside her home, said that so far she had not been informed by police of any possible link between her death and Lodato’s or Kirby’s. ’It’s heartbreaking there is another family that is experiencing this type of loss without answers,’ said Dunning, 36. Joan Gartlan, who was a friend of Lodato said that she had on idea who would hurt Lodato, who had three daughters with her husband Norman, Lucia Lodato, 32; Gina Lodato Pelusi, 29; and Carmen Lodato, 20. ’We’re all devastated,’ Gartlan said. ‘She was really kind of the glue that held everything together.’
In December, Ronald Kirby’s wife Anne Haynes, 67, said that she was still devastated by the loss of her husband – and that they were planning on taking a tour to the Antarctic before he was shot dead inside their home. ’I’ve lost the love of my life. I’ve lost my life’s companion,’ said Haynes, 67 at the time to the Washington Post. ’I have my memories, but that’s all I have. I loved Ron, right down to his little feet.’ Father-of-two Kirby, was shot between 11am and 12:30pm on November 11 and was found by his son on the floor of his home, holding his glasses, having been shot multiple times with an automatic weapon. Nothing was stolen and Haynes said her husband had no enemies. And more than a decade on from the death of Nancy Dunning, law enforcement are seeing scary similarities between her death, Lodato’s and Kirby’s.
The real estate agent who was married to then Sheriff James Dunning, was known as the ‘Queen of Del Ray’ for her efforts in organizing arts festivals and other events within the community. On December 5, 2003, she failed to meet her husband and son for a lunch date and when they returned home, they discovered her on the floor, shot dead. After her death, Sheriff Dunning moved to Souh Carolina and died in 2012 – but at the time of her death, police investigators said that she was targeted by someone she knew. However, they still have no ‘viable suspect’ in the case.
Circuit Judge Mike Maggio has admitted posting confidential case information online.
An Arkansas judge has admitted to posting a series of anonymous online comments, including ones that divulged secret information about Charlize Theron’s adoption of her son. Circuit Judge Mike Maggio, 52, acknowledged on Wednesday that he also posted comments that are racist, sexist and offensive towards the LGBT community over the past several years. Maggio, who also ended his campaign for a seat on the Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday, made the comments on a Louisiana State University fan message board, under the name ‘geauxjudge’.
Comments in January 2012 divulged details of Theron’s adoption two months before she publicly released the information, while others talked about women in a derogatory way and another likened bestiality to sex in the transgender and gay communities. ’I take full responsibility for the comments that have been attributed to me,’ Maggio, a father-of-five, said in a statement. ‘I apologize deeply for my lapse in personal judgment and for that, I have no excuse. The comments posted were not acceptable. These comments are not a reflection of who I am.’ The state’s Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission is investigating Maggio’s postings, said its executive director, David Sachar.
Maggio, whose term as a 20th Judicial District judge expires this year, asked for privacy for his family. He has three sons and two daughters from a previous relationship and lives with his partner, Dawn. He didn’t immediately respond to an email or phone message left at his office. Political blogger Matt Campbell first suggested that ‘geauxjudge’ was Maggio in a Monday posting on his website, Blue Hog Report. He included screen grabs of ‘geauxjudge’ postings from the past few years, including some that dropped biographical hints that led to his identification.
In a January 17, 2012, posting, he disclosed what he said were details of Theron’s adoption case – two months before she publicly revealed she had adopted a son, Jackson, from South Africa. He said a ‘judge friend’ handled the case, before admitting that he was also involved in the case. When a poster asked if she had adopted a black child, he said that she had. Such proceedings are confidential in Arkansas, and there are no cases in the state’s online court records that mention Theron’s name. Her publicist, Amanda Silverman, declined to comment.
He divulged that Charlize Theron had adopted a son two months before she announced it publicly in 2012. She is pictured in 2013 with the boy, Jackson, whom she adopted from South Africa.
In a June 2011 posting, ‘geauxjudge’ suggested that women who seek divorces after their husbands cheat may be better off financially by staying married. In Arkansas, circuit judges like Maggio handle divorce cases, among other civil and criminal casework. ‘I see it everyday,’ he wrote. ‘A woman makes (an) emotional decision to divorce because the husband stepped out. When otherwise he was a good provider, father, and husband. ‘Then a year or two later realizes uh oh I am worse off financially, emotionally and relationship wise but hey they showed that SOB. Too many times the women get their advice from other divorced women.’
In another, he made derogatory comments about women, saying they needed to take care of a man’s two basic needs for sex and food, adding: ‘It takes two to pull the wagon’. In a posting from last December about baby names, ‘geauxjudge’ wrote about the effect a name can have on an individual’s success, the website reported. ’How many Doctors do you hear named Dr. Taneesha or HaHa?’ he wrote, apparently referring to Ha’Sean ‘Ha Ha’ Clinton-Dix, a black University of Alabama football player. ’How many bankers do (you) hear named Brylee? So stick with something close to normal. Or come sit in criminal court any day and see the “common names”.’ Responding to a story about a woman who was arrested for allegedly having sex with a dog, ‘geauxjudge’ wrote that it was ‘just a small step’ from having ‘TGGLBS’ sex, an apparent reference to transgender, gay, lesbian or bisexual sex.
CARACAS, Venezuela | DMN — Venezuela has expelled Panama’s ambassador and three other diplomats amid growing tensions over opposition protests. The officials were given 48 hours to leave the country. It comes a day after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro broke diplomatic relations and froze economic ties with Panama. Mr Maduro has accused Panama of conspiring to bring down his government. The latest fallout comes after the Central American nation requested a meeting at the Organization of American States (OAS) to discuss Venezuela’s crisis.
“There are moves by the United States government in accord with a lackey government of a right-wing president which has been creating the conditions for the OAS and other bodies to step towards an intervention in our country,” Mr Maduro said earlier this week. Four diplomats working at Panama’s embassy, including ambassador Pedro Pereira, were declared “persona non grata” on Thursday, according to Panama’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mayra Arosemena. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Venezuela also had suspended debt negotiations over $1bn (£600,000) owed to Panamanian exporters, according to reports.
A National Guardsman and a civilian have been killed in Caracas after a group of men on motorcycles rode into a neighborhood to remove a street barricade erected by anti-government protesters. More than 100 men on motorcycles carrying pipes and rocks swarmed Los Ruices, with some trying to force their way into buildings. Residents screamed “murderers, murderers” from rooftops and the motorcyclists taunted them from below, urging them to come down and fight. In other neighborhoods, motorcyclists dismantled barricades amid the whistles and shouts of residents, but without violence.
The opposition accuses the government of using armed civilian groups on motorcycles to break up demonstrations. Thousands of government supporters and troops took part in a huge parade through the centre of the capital, commemorating the first anniversary of former President Hugo Chavez’s death on 5 March. In other parts of the city, anti-government protesters kept up their barricades, despite an appeal made by opposition leaders to “respect” the anniversary. Venezuelans have long been complaining about high levels of crime, record inflation and shortages of some staple items. But in the last three weeks marches initially started by disgruntled students in the western states of Tachira and Merida spread to other areas and gained support.
Panama said it was “astonished” by Venezuela’s decision to break diplomatic relations and called Mr Maduro’s words “unacceptable”. President Nicolás Maduro’s administration shows no signs of crumbling from the demonstrations, but the country appears in a stalemate. Protesters are mostly from the middle and upper classes, although they do include poorer Venezuelans who don’t protest in their home districts for fear of pro-government paramilitaries. Maduro said on state television that the slain motorcyclist, Jose Gregorio Amaris, used his vehicle as a taxi, and was clearing debris in order to do his job. He said a second motorcyclist was seriously injured and described those who built the street barricades as “vandals who hate the people”. Among opposition demands is that the government disarm the motorcycle-riding paramilitaries, called “colectivos”.