TIME Ukraine

NATO Unveils Rapid-Response Force to Counter Russian Troops in Ukraine

Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen gives a press on Sept. 1, 2014 in Brussels.
Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen gives a press on Sept. 1, 2014 in Brussels. John Thys—AFP/Getty Images

The alliance plans to tackle “Russia’s aggressive behavior” with a new expeditionary force

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced Monday that the organization was planning to assemble a “spearhead” force that would be able to “travel light but strike hard if needed” in the face of Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior in eastern Ukraine.

The new outfit would be manned by several thousand rotating allied troops who would be ready to respond by air or sea with the aid of special forces, explained Rasmussen.

“The Readiness Action Plan responds to Russia’s aggressive behavior,” he told reporters in Brussels. “It equips the alliance to respond to all security challenges, wherever they may arise.”

NATO representatives gathering for the Wales summit later this week are preparing a Readiness Action Plan to make the organization more agile.

Analysts said the announcement represents the strongest response yet from the military alliance since Russia began to forcefully intervene in Kiev’s affairs following the fall of the nation’s pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year.

“Actually, what has been announced seems to be quite significant in that NATO will start stationing troops quite close to Ukraine—not in the form of permanent bases but actually they will be rotating them in the form of temporary bases,” Clara Portela, assistant professor of political science at Singapore Management University and a sanctions specialist, told TIME.

“This is the first step that Western Europe has taken, in military terms, since the crisis started,” Portela said.

On Tuesday, Mikhail Popov, deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said the transatlantic alliance’s recent maneuvers demonstrate it remains among Moscow’s principal adversaries.

“I have no doubts that the issue of NATO military infrastructure encroaching on our borders, including through the expansion of the alliance, will remain among the biggest military threats to the Russian Federation,” Popov told Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Popov’s remarks came as Ukrainian forces continued to engage in heavy firefights with pro-Kremlin insurgents, who NATO claims are being buttressed by Russian hardware and troops.

On Monday, the Ukrainian military reportedly withdrew from the international airport at the rebel stronghold of Luhansk after suffering heavy fire from a Russian tank battalion, according to Reuters.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the Ukrainian military is now assuming a much more defensive posture throughout the country’s southeast in order to beat back what Kiev fears is an all-out invasion of the country by the Russian military.

The tactical battlefield shift represents a sizable reversal in combat fortunes; Kiev looked poised to crush the separatist insurgency just weeks ago after forging large-scale inroads into rebel territory throughout the summer.

Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Valeriy Heletey described the conflict this week as the most serious military engagement in Europe since the Second World War, one that could cost tens of thousands of lives.

“A great war has arrived at our doorstep, the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War II,” he said in a Facebook post.

According to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 4,445 people had been wounded and 1,830 people killed in eastern Ukraine as of Aug. 27.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week chided both government forces and insurgents for “contributing to rising civilian casualties” in and around Luhansk by unleashing artillery barrages that appear to be indiscriminate.

“Local residents are subjected to terrifying daily shelling, much of it apparently unlawful, and that the number of civilian casualties is steadily rising,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, in a statement.

TIME Ukraine

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Says It’s Time to Arm Ukraine

Robert Menendez
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., questions State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 29, 2014. Susan Walsh — AP

“We have to give the Ukrainians the fighting chance to defend themselves” says Sen. Robert Menendez

The Senate’s top foreign policy official was unequivocal on Sunday: Ukraine needs weapons from the West to defend itself against Russian aggression.

During an interview with CNN’s State of the Union, Senate Foreign Relations Chair Robert Menendez said Kiev needed both sophisticated weapons and stronger sanctions to help repulse Moscow’s incursions.

“We should be providing the Ukrainians with the type of defensive weapons that will impose a cost upon Putin for further aggression,” Menendez told CNN from Kiev, where he is on a fact-finding mission. “We have to give the Ukrainians the fighting chance to defend themselves.”

Menendez went on to describe the Kremlin’s incursions in Ukraine as a “direct invasion.”

The Democrat from New Jersey stopped short of suggesting that American or NATO troops should be deployed in Ukraine.

The senator’s words come as President Barack Obama prepares to visit Estonia next week, before heading to the U.K. for a NATO summit, where the alliance’s representatives will discuss the increasingly violent conflict in Ukraine.

The Obama administration continues to advocate for the isolation of Russia through targeted economic sanctions, while providing the embattled government in Kiev with non-lethal aid.

On Aug. 6, Obama said that if Russia were to launch an invasion of Ukraine, the White House’s calculus might change.

“Now if you start seeing an invasion by Russia, that’s obviously a different set of questions. We’re not there yet,” Obama told reporters at the time.

However, last week NATO published satellite images that appeared to show Russian armored columns fighting in Ukrainian territory in a bid to prop up the pro-Moscow insurgency that has been taking place since April.

In the face of mounting evidence, more politicians are advocating that the U.S. take firmer action against the Kremlin.

“I think it is appropriate to up that level of aid, to make them a more capable fighting force to resist this incursion and to make it as painful as possible for Putin to make any progress in the Ukraine,” Congressman Adam Smith, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday.

TIME Ukraine

Putin to Ukraine: Begin Immediate Talks on East

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to the media after his talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 27, 2014. Alexander Zemlianichenko—AP

Despite the use of the word "statehood, Putin did not envision sovereignty for the two separatist eastern regions

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called on Ukraine to immediately start talks on a political solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

Putin’s comment, made to national TV network Channel 1 and reported by Russian news agencies after they were broadcast in Russia’s Far East, said Ukraine should “hold substantive, meaningful talks, not about technical issues but about the question of the political organization of society and statehood in southeast Ukraine, with the goal of safeguarding the legitimate interests of those people who live there.”

Despite the use of the word “statehood, Putin did not envision sovereignty for the two separatist eastern regions that style themselves as “Novorossiya” (New Russia ), his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later, according to a Russian news report.

Russia previously has called for talks between the central government and the separatist rebels in the east, which Ukrainian forces have been fighting since April and Russia has pushed for federalization that would devolve more powers to the regions.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko released a peace plan in June that proposed an unspecified level of decentralization of executive powers and budgetary matters. But rebels so have rejected any talks unless Ukrainian forces halt their offensive.

Rebel representatives couldn’t immediately be reached Sunday and Poroshenko’s spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, said he had no immediate comment.

Although Kiev and Western countries allege Russia has sent in troops and equipment to bolster the pro-Russia rebels, Moscow firmly rejects the accusations and distances itself from suggestions that it can wield influence on the rebels. Last week, after his first extensive meeting with Poroshenko, Putin rejected any suggestion that Russia could be involved in negotiating a cease-fire in the conflict, which has killed nearly 2,600 people according to the United Nations.

Putin said Ukraine should stop the offensive.

“If anybody believes that in a situation where the cities and villages of east Ukraine come under direct fire that the militiamen will have no reaction to that, but will simply wait for the promised talks, then these people are prisoner to some illusions,” he said.

The Russian leader’s statement comes as Ukrainian forces battle against newly strengthened resistance from the rebels. After making gains in recent weeks, Ukraine has been forced to pull out of several towns over the past week. In addition, rebels have opened a new front along the southeast Azov Sea coast which could indicate the intention to establish a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula that Russia annexed in March.

Ukraine says Russian tanks and troops took part in the move against the coast and NATO claims there are at least 1,000 Russian troops in Ukraine.

This week, Ukraine seized 10 Russian soldiers well inside the country. On Sunday, Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the national security council, said nine of them had been given back to Russia in exchange for 63 Ukrainian servicemen.

“Ukraine has made a step forward,” Lysenko said of the release. “This is one of the major steps towards the Russian Federation — they were not taken to court, they were transferred.”

TIME foreign affairs

Garry Kasparov: It’s a War, Stupid!

AP10ThingsToSee- Ukraine
A pro-Russian rebel walks in a passage at a local market damaged by shelling in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on Aug. 26, 2014 Mstislav Chernov—AP

This vocabulary of cowardice emanating from Berlin and Washington is as disgraceful as the black-is-white propaganda produced by Putin’s regime, and even more dangerous

As Russian troops and armored columns advance in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian government begs for aid from the free world it hoped would receive it and protect it as one of its own. The leaders of the free world, meanwhile, are struggling to find the right terminology to free themselves from the moral responsibility to provide that protection. Putin’s bloody invasion of a sovereign European nation is an incursion, much like Crimea — remember Crimea? — was an “uncontested arrival” instead of anschluss. A civilian airliner was blown out of the sky just six weeks ago — remember MH17? — and with more than 100 victims still unidentified, the outrage has already dissipated into polite discussions about whether it should be investigated as a crime, a war crime or neither.

This vocabulary of cowardice emanating from Berlin and Washington today is as disgraceful as the black-is-white propaganda produced by Putin’s regime, and even more dangerous. Moscow’s smoke screens are hardly necessary in the face of so much willful blindness. Putin’s lies are obvious and expected. European leaders and the White House are even more eager than the Kremlin to pretend this conflict is local and so requires nothing more than vague promises from a very safe distance. As George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay on language right before starting work on his novel 1984 (surely not a coincidence): “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” The Western rhetoric of appeasement creates a self-reinforcing loop of mental and moral corruption. Speaking the truth now would mean confessing to many months of lies, just as it took years for Western leaders to finally admit Putin didn’t belong in the G-7 club of industrialized democracies.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko just met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, but Obama’s subsequent statement showed no sign he’s willing to acknowledge reality. Generic wishes about “mobilizing the international community” were bad enough six months ago. Hearing them repeated as Ukrainian towns fall to Russian troops is a parody. (If legitimacy is what Obama is after, Russia is clearly in violation of nearly every point of the 1974 U.N. Resolution 3314, “definition of aggression.”) Perhaps Poroshenko should have matched Obama’s casual wardrobe by wearing a T-shirt that read, “It’s a War, Stupid.” As Russian tanks and artillery push back the overmatched Ukrainian forces, Obama’s repeated insistence that there is no military solution in Ukraine sounds increasingly delusional. There is no time to teach a drowning man to swim.

The U.S., Canada and even Europe have responded to Putin’s aggression, it is true, but always a few moves behind, always after the deterrent potential of each action had passed. Strong sanctions and a clear demonstration of support for Ukrainian territorial integrity (as I recommended at the time) would have had real impact when Putin moved on Crimea in February and March. A sign that there would be real consequences would have split his elites as they pondered the loss of their coveted assets in New York City and London.

Then in April and May, the supply of defensive military weaponry would have forestalled the invasion currently under way, or at least raised its price considerably — making the Russian public a factor in the Kremlin’s decisionmaking process much earlier. Those like me who called for such aid at the time were called warmongers, and policymakers again sought dialogue with Putin. And yet war has arrived regardless, as it always does in the face of weakness.

As one of the pioneers of the analogy I feel the irony in how it has quickly gone from scandal to cliché to compare Putin to Hitler, for better and for worse. Certainly Putin’s arrogance and language remind us more and more of Hitler’s, as does how well he has been rewarded for them. For this he can thank the overabundance of Chamberlains in the halls of power today — and there is no Churchill in sight.

As long as it is easy, as long as Putin moves from victory to victory without resistance, he gains more support. He took Crimea with barely a shot fired. He flooded eastern Ukraine with agents and weaponry while Europe dithered. The oligarchs who might have pressured Putin at the start of his Ukrainian adventure are now war criminals with no way back. The pressure points now are harder to reach.

The Russian military commanders, the ones in the field, are not fools. They are aware that NATO is watching and could blow them to bits in a moment. They rely on Putin’s aura of invincibility, which grows every day the West refuses to provide Ukraine with military support. Those commanders must be made to understand that they are facing an overwhelming force, that their lives are in grave danger, that they can and will be captured and prosecuted. To make this a credible threat requires immediate military aid, if not yet the “boots on the ground” everyone but Putin is so keen to avoid. If NATO nations refuse to send lethal aid to Ukraine now it will be yet another green light to Putin.

Sanctions are still an important tool, and those directly responsible for commanding this war, such as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu must be held accountable. Sanctions must also broaden. The chance to limit them only to influential individuals and companies is over. The Russian people can change Putin’s course but have little incentive to take the great risks to do so under current conditions. Only sanctions that bring the costs of Putin’s war home can have an impact now. This was always a last resort, and it wouldn’t be necessary had the West not reacted with such timidity at every step. (The other factor that is already dimming the Russian people’s fervor is the Russian military casualties the Kremlin propaganda machine is trying so hard to cover up.)

As always when it comes to stopping dictators, with every delay the price goes up. Western leaders have protested over the potential costs of action Ukraine at every turn only to be faced with the well-established historical fact that the real costs of inaction are always higher. Now the only options left are risky and difficult, and yet they must be tried. The best reason for acting to stop Putin today is brutally simple: it will only get harder tomorrow.

Kasparov is the chairman of the New York City–based Human Rights Foundation.

TIME Photos

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TIME Ukraine

U.S. Warns Against Ukraine Travel

People walk past a building damaged by shelling in Snizhne (Snezhnoye), Donetsk region
People walk past a building damaged by shelling in Snizhne, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Aug. 29, 2014. Maxim Shemetov—Reuters

Escalating conflict in the region prompted the new travel advisory for Americans

The U.S. State Department warned Americans Friday to avoid traveling to eastern Ukraine, in response to the ongoing conflict between Ukraine’s armed forces and Russia-backed separatists.

“The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly,” the statement said. “U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine should avoid large crowds and be prepared to remain indoors and shelter in place for extended periods of time should clashes occur in their vicinity.”

The announcement identified the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have been plagued with violent outbreaks for months, as the key areas to avoid. U.S. citizens have been threatened and detained in the region, according to the release. It also advised Americans to “defer all travel to the Crimean Peninsula.”

The U.S. announcement comes as the conflict in Ukraine continues to escalate with each passing day. Up to 1,ooo Russian troops appeared to enter Ukraine on Friday, and the Ukrainian government responded by instituting a mandatory conscription.

TIME Fast Food

McDonald’s Objects to Russia Restaurant Closures

RUSSIA-UKRAINE-CRISIS-US-TRADE-FOOD-MCDONALDS
People sit on the terrace of a closed McDonald's restaurant, the first to be opened in the Soviet Union in 1990, in Moscow on Aug. 21, 2014. Alexander Nemenov—AFP/Getty Images

The Russian government says conditions in some of the chain's restaurants are unsanitary

McDonald’s on Friday objected to the Russian government’s decision to close 12 of its restaurants in the country, following weeks of highly publicized investigations into health and safety at the fast food giant’s locations.

“We are closely studying the content of the agency documents to determine what should be done to re-open the restaurants as soon as possible,” the company said in a statement. “We do not agree with the court’s decision and will appeal against it in accordance with the procedures established by the law.”

The investigations come as the United States and Russia face heightened tensions over the crisis in Ukraine. While Russian authorities maintain that the restaurants have been closed for health reasons, critics say the closures are a response to U.S. sanctions against Russia.

The Russian government is continuing “microbiology tests, sanitary and chemical tests” at other McDonald’s restaurants in Russia, according to reports.

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TIME russia

Canada Trolls Russia on Twitter With Sardonic Geography Lesson

So what is and isn’t Russia? Canada aims to set the record straight

“Geography can be tough.”

Canada’s NATO delegation posted a cheeky lesson on what is — and isn’t — Russian land in a tweet on Wednesday.

The snide post, which includes labels of “Russia” and “Not Russia,” was aimed at the Kremlin’s soldiers who “keep getting lost & ‘accidentally’ entering #Ukraine” — a clear reference to the recent capture of Russian soldiers in Ukrainian territory. Exactly why the Russian soldiers wandered across the border remains murky, though Moscow maintains it was an accident.

The Canadian tweet had been retweeted more than 30,000 times as of early Friday morning, including by NATO delegations from the U.S., U.K. and Sweden on their official Twitter accounts. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry also retweeted the map.

Russia, however, came back with its own snarky rebuttal.

On Thursday, the Russian NATO delegation’s official account wrote, “Helping our Canadian colleagues to catch up with contemporary geography of #Europe.” The tweet included its own map, which noticeably labels the Crimean Peninsula as belonging to Russia.

The map also shaded in a separate color for Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two states whose 2008 unilateral independence is recognized by Russia — but internationally condemned.

The Canada-Russia tweet battle came prior to an emergency NATO session with E.U. leaders on Friday. They plan to discuss Kiev’s accusations that Russia invaded eastern Ukraine as well as the West’s contention that Moscow is directly involved in the conflict with pro-Russian separatists.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Brings Back Conscription as Russia Appears to Launch All-Out Invasion

Servicemen sit atop an armoured vehicle as they travel through the steppe near the village of Krasnodarovka in Rostov region
Servicemen sit atop an armored vehicle as they travel near the village of Krasnodarovka in Rostov region, Russia, on Aug. 28, 2014 Reuters

Moscow slammed at emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s national security council has ordered the reinstatement of mandatory conscription in response to what seems to be a full-scale Russian invasion of the country. The draft, affecting able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 25, is the latest indication that the Ukrainian conflict is rapidly intensifying.

Previous attempts at mandatory conscription have led to protests. But during a meeting with the council Thursday, Poroshenko urged his countrymen to “keep a cold mind” as Ukrainians geared up for a broader conflict.

NATO has provided satellite images that appear to show Russian armored vehicles fighting in Ukrainian territory, CNN reports. British intelligence says it has similar evidence, while U.S. officials say there are now up to 1,000 Russian troops in Ukraine.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to taunt Kiev by calling on separatist forces to open a humanitarian corridor in southeast Ukraine so that demoralized Ukrainian troops could flee home to their “mothers, wives and children.” He also claimed that “a large number” of Ukrainian troops were not “in the military operation of their own volition” but were simply “following orders.”

Vox reported that in his statement Putin referred to Ukraine’s embattled Donbass region by the politically loaded term Novorossiya, literally “New Russia.” Novorossiya is the old czarist name for the parts of Russia and Ukraine around the Black Sea and is a designation favored by separatists wishing to confer a historical integrity on the areas for which they are fighting.

“A counterfactual equivalent might be if a disturbingly post-Gestapo government in Germany began referring to the Netherlands as Western Germany or to western parts of the Czech Republic as Sudetenland,” John Besemeres, professor and adjunct fellow at the Australian National University’s Center for European Studies, tells TIME.

Responding to the incursions, Western envoys lambasted Russia on Thursday at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York City. The U.S. representative, Samantha Power, said “Russia has come before this council to say everything except the truth. It has manipulated. It has obfuscated. It has outright lied. So we have learned to measure Russia by its actions and not by its words.”

The British envoy Mark Lyall Grant described Moscow’s incursions as a “brazen” violation of the U.N. Charter and international law.

Moscow’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin admitted there were Russians fighting in the Ukraine but claimed they were volunteers. He then went on to raise questions about the presence of U.S. military advisers in the country.

“A message must be sent to Washington — stop interfering in the internal activities of sovereign states and restrain your geopolitical ambition,” Churkin said, according to a U.N. statement.

Earlier on Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm about the escalating conflict and urged Moscow and Kiev to follow up on talks held in Minsk earlier this week to forge “a peaceful way out of the conflict.”

Reports have meanwhile surfaced that separatist forces have succeeded in opening a third front after seizing the port city of Novoazovsk on the Sea of Azov in the wake of days of shelling. Analysts continue to speculate whether the move is designed to draw troops away from heavy fighting near the separatist strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, or is part of a strategic maneuver to forge a corridor to the Russian-controlled Crimean Peninsula farther west.

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