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Hometown: Xenia, OH
Member since: Tue Sep 19, 2006, 03:46 PM
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Do you wonder why they moved the date of the referendum from May 25 to March 30 to March 16?

Are Putin and Crimean Russian authorities worried that a 3-month delay might jeopardize the pro-Russia outcome of the vote? Forecasting the political mood (and the status of Russian forces) that far into the future was too risky to base your foreign policy on an unknown referendum outcome. Plus the current diplomatic confrontation with Europe and the US could benefit from a favorable referendum outcome ASAP.

After all, a little over 40% of Crimeans are not ethnic Russians (Ukrainians and Tatar Muslims) and are likely to vote overwhelmingly to remain part of Ukraine. Among the ethnic Russians there will be some that see no need to be governed by people of their own ethnicity (imagine that) or are liberals who see a more liberal future with Europe than with Russia or see themselves as both Ukrainian and ethnically Russia and don't want to change that.

The outcome of a legitimate referendum (with a couple of months of debate and time to get monitors in place) would be far from a foregone conclusion. So it was decided to move the date up once and then once again so that the 'climate' for the referendum was more predictable and favorable. (Needless to say, a negative outcome to a referendum on becoming part of Russia would be a major embarrassment to Putin. Most Russian know that embarrassing Putin is not how you get ahead in this world.)

Also reports are that the only election monitors who will be invited are Russians. The UN and OSCE cannot even get peacekeeping monitors into Crimea, much less election monitors - so this is an ideal time to hold a referendum from the pro-Russian perspective.

UN: Chemical weapons used in Syria appear to come from army stockpile

Chemical weapons used in two incidents in Syria last year appear to come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military, United Nations human rights investigators said on Wednesday in a report that went beyond previous findings.

The team of independent experts, led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, said that so far they had confirmed the deadly nerve agent sarin was used in three incidents: the Damascus suburb of al-Ghouta on August 21, in Khan al-Assal near Aleppo in March 2013 and in Saraqeb near the northern town of Idlib last April. The first two attacks bore "the same unique hallmarks", according to the team of some two dozen investigators who include a military advisor.

"The evidence available concerning the nature, quality and quantity of the agents used on 21 August indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military, as well as the expertise and equipment necessary to manipulate safely large amount of chemical agents," the U.N. investigators said in the report.

The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of using chemical weapons, banned under international law, and both have denied it.


Not really a surprise but good information to know. It was the global reaction to the al-Ghouta attack last August that led to the agreement to destroy all of Syria's chemical weapons.

Russia TV host calls Ukraine intervention 'wrong' on-air - video

A TV presenter working for the Kremlin-funded broadcaster Russia Today (RT) has denounced as "wrong" her country's "military intervention" in Ukraine. "I can't stress enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation's affairs," Abby Martin declared in her news programme.

RT said it respected Ms Martin's views, and that she would not be reprimanded.

"Just because I work here doesn't mean I don't have editorial independence," she said, adding: "What Russia did was wrong." "I will not sit here and apologise for, or defend, military aggression," she said.

In response to the journalist's on-air statement, the Russian TV channel said: "Contrary to the popular opinion, RT doesn't beat its journalists into submission, and they are free to express their own opinions, not just in private but on the air." The broadcaster added that it would send Ms Martin to Crimea to "give her an opportunity to make up her own mind from the epicentre of the story".


Here is the video of her commentary.


RT did not say when Ms. Martin would be sent to Crimea. (RT seems to think that she needs "an opportunity to make up her own mind" while it sounds like she already has a strong opinion). I can't get Russia Today America here. It will be interesting to see when her trip to Crimea occurs.

The new Crimean leader changed the referendum date from May 25 (passed by parliament) to March 30

but did not really explain why.

Crimea's new pro-Moscow premier, Sergei Aksenov, moved the date of the peninsula's status referendum to March 30.

On Thursday, the Crimean parliament, which appointed Aksenov, had called for a referendum on May 25, the date also set for the urgent presidential election in Ukraine.

“In connection with a necessity we decided to speed up the holding of the referendum on the stauts of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea,” Aksenov said Saturday in Simferopol at a new government session, the UNIAN information agency reported.

Earlier that day, Aksenov, head of the nationalist Russian Unity organization, appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin “to render assistance in securing peace and tranquility on the territory of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea," UNIAN reported.


The only reason for moving up the date given was "in connection with a necessity". I'm not sure what that is code for or if he has explained it more fully somewhere else. Was "the necessity" that Vladimir decided he needed an early referendum, while emotions are high and troops are widespread, because he wants a positive vote on it to bolster his case now not 3 months from now?

The Washington Post has an article supposedly clarifying the wording of the referendum:

Volodymyr Konstantynov, chairman of the Supreme Council of Crimea and a high-ranking official in the same new regime, claims that it would give Crimea the status of a “state” and that Crimea – and Ukraine as a whole – belong to “the Russian world.” Some Russian media describe it as a referendum on independence as well. The Russian-language text of the question to be put before the voters is as follows:

Автономная республика Крым обладает государственной самостоятельностью и входит в состав Украины на основе договоров и соглашений (да или нет )?”

I loosely translate this as “The autonomous republic of Crimea possesses state independence and is a part of Ukraine on the basis of treaties and agreements (yes or no)?” In Russian, as in English, this legalistic language is ambiguous enough to be interpreted either way. Perhaps it means that Crimea is an independent state that has some loose connection to Ukraine based on agreements. Or it could mean that Crimea has a legal right to be independent if it want to, but has chosen not to be. Legalistic hair-splitting aside, there is little doubt that Putin could use the referendum as a pretext for justifying de facto Russian control of Crimea, even if not de jure.


The wording - at least the English translation in the article - seems odd. Does a "Yes" vote mean a vote for "state independence" or for being "a part of Ukraine"? If you want Crimea to stay in the Ukraine, do you vote Yes or No?

Will American Religious Right Groups Go Ahead With Their Kremlin Summit?

As President Obama and world leaders debate whether to go ahead with this year’s planned G-8 meeting in Sochi after Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine, American Religious Right leaders are facing a diplomatic dilemma of their own. In September, social conservative leaders from around the globe, including representatives of several major American Religious Right groups are planning to hold the annual World Congress of Families gathering at the Kremlin. The gathering is supported by political leaders in Russian Orthodox Church and will include a joint session with the Russian parliament.

American social conservatives have rallied – with varying levels of enthusiasm – to support Russian President Vladimir Putin as his government has passed a series of anti-gay laws and joined with the church to take up other “family values” issues. These activists, in praising Russia’s renewed push on issues such as gay rights, have largely chosen to ignore the role that social issues are playing in Putin's larger plans.

Issues such as gay rights, abortion rights, and population growth aren't a side project for Putin – they're closely entwined with his tightening grip on power and what Julia Ioffe calls his “appetite for expansion.” For instance, as Buzzfeed's Lester Feder has reported extensively, Russia and its allies in Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe have riled up anti-gay sentiment as part of a larger agenda of fomenting distrust of the EU and the West. Putin’s anti-gay crackdown has also been useful in promoting nationalist sentiment within Russia and to provide a useful scapegoat as he tightens his grip on power.

The American Right has found Putin's Russia to be an ally of convenience as they work to build an international movement opposing gay rights, choice, and religious pluralism. But how far are they willing to take the relationship?


Our religious right probably supports Russian takeover in Crimea. If Ukraine is going to become more closely associated with the socialist, humanist, gay-loving pro-choice Europe, our fundamentalists should be happy that at least one of Ukraine's provinces will be under the tight conservative control of their buddy, Vladimir.

Juan Cole: The Crimean Crisis and the Middle East: Will Syria & Iran be the Winners?

The Russian intervention in the Crimea is more direct and dramatic than the one in Syria, with actual troops deployed. But there are similarities. One of the little-noted rationales for Russian support for the Baath government in Damascus is that it is seen as more favorable, being secular and minority-dominated, toward Syria’s roughly 2-3 million Christians, the bulk of them Eastern Orthodox (i.e. the same branch of Christianity that predominates in Russia and among ethnic Russians in the Ukraine). Indeed, there are more Eastern Orthodox Christians in Syria than in Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin is giving as a rationale for troop deployments in Crimea that the ethnic Russian population there is in danger from Ukrainian nationalists.

In both cases, Russia is exaggerating. The vast majority of Syrians who rose up against the Baath were moderates. Only when the regime of Bashar al-Assad responded to peaceful protests with massive military force did the opposition militarize, at which point Sunni extremists and al-Qaeda affiliates came to the fore as seasoned fighters with substantial Gulf money. Most oppositionists are still moderates and most Syrians want more freedoms, not a Taliban state on the Euphrates. The Russian official press often slams those who oppose its provision of huge amounts of money and arms to al-Assad as backing “al-Qaeda,” but that is propaganda.

Likewise the popular movement in Ukraine against President Viktor Yanukovych was not primarily led or fueled by nationalist extremists. Most who went to the streets in Kyiv were disturbed at Yanukovych’s neo-authoritarian tendencies, his acquiescence in Moscow’s demand that he move away from the European Union, and his jailing of his opponent in the 2010 elections (Yulia Tymoshenko) on what seem likely to have been trumped up charges. There was zero evidence of ethnic Russians in Crimea being menaced by Ukrainian nationalists, but plenty of evidence of foreign Russian forces intervening there. Of course, now that Putin has violated Ukrainian sovereignty so blatantly, there could be a backlash against Ukrainian Russians; Putin might even secretly hope for such polarization as a pretext for further intervention.

If Russia is pushed further into Tehran’s arms by US sanctions then ironically Bashar al-Assad and Sayyid Ali Khamenei may be the biggest winners of the Crimean crisis. At the same time, Turkey could also be a winner in the sense that its value to NATO, the US and the European Union will be much enhanced because of its Black Sea presence and its own historical interests in Crimea.


Cole seems to think that economic/financial sanctions on Russia would backfire. That may happen, but a military response is out of the question and some sorts of sanctions seem to be the only alternative to doing nothing. Here's an article that suggests that financial sanctions against Russia's elite might be effective:

“The threat of sanctions could be quite effective” as Russia’s elite have their assets in “Western bank accounts” while the nation’s companies rely on international debt markets for financing, Standard Bank’s Ash said. “The West has quite a lot of leverage on Russia if it’s clever and uses it the right way.”


The 2 main Russian stock markets are down about 8% this morning which would be a decline of about 1,300 in the US stock market. The futures for the US market look like a decline of about 1% when it starts today. The ruble has also sunk to historic lows. Russia is certainly not vulnerable militarily but may be economically.

People being protected from their own government by foreign intervention is the essence

of the UN's Responsibility to Protect. The UN standard, though, requires proof that genocide or mass atrocities are already occurring. It is not preventative in nature. And it requires the consent of the Security Council.

Putin's interpretation of R2P will open the door to its early and more frequent use to prevent atrocities from ever happening. I had no idea that Putin was such a proponent of the use of foreign militaries to protect citizens from their own governments.

Prevention requires apportioning responsibility to and promoting collaboration between concerned States and the international community. The duty to prevent and halt genocide and mass atrocities lies first and foremost with the State, but the international community has a role that cannot be blocked by the invocation of sovereignty. Sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference; it is a charge of responsibility where States are accountable for the welfare of their people. This principle is enshrined in article 1 of the Genocide Convention and embodied in the principle of “sovereignty as responsibility” and in the concept of the Responsibility to Protect.

The three pillars of the responsibility to protect, as stipulated in the Outcome Document of the 2005 United Nations World Summit (A/RES/60/1, para. 138-140) and formulated in the Secretary-General's 2009 Report (A/63/677) on Implementing the Responsibility to Protect are:

1. The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement;
2. The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility;
3. The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

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