The Russian Foreign Ministry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issued statements two and three days ago about the horrific situation of the population in eastern Ukraine, calling for international action. They also deplored the continuing confrontationism of NATO.
Yesterday’s statement on “the deterioration of the situation in southeastern Ukraine” described a worsening humanitarian disaster in many cities. It cited civilian casualties from Ukrainian Army shelling, and the breakdown of infrastructure in Lugansk, a city of over 400,000: no water supply, no cell phone communications, damage to natural gas lines, and destruction of several hospitals and clinics. Air strikes in Donetsk, population 1 million, took out a power station for the south side of the city. In Gorlovka (Horlivka), 40 civilians died in shelling. “Yet the Ukrainian Army continues to bring Tochka U [SS-21 short-range ballistic] missiles, and Smerch and Uragan artillery toward Donetsk. How maybe more will be killed by these weapons?” asked the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Indeed, on Monday Ukrainian officials urged the entire (!) population of Donetsk, Lugansk and Gorlovka to evacuate. The civilian casualties, together with Kiev’s stonewalling of an investigation of the Odessa Trade Union Building massacre of May 2 and the ongoing detention and harassment of journalists, said the Russian Foreign Ministry, “confirms the need for an immediate ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, and the commencement of negotiations on resolving the essential issues of the future form of organization of that country.”
Today, the Foreign Ministry followed up with a statement noting Russia’s own call for an international humanitarian mission in southeastern Ukraine, and deploring Kiev’s escalation of its military operation in the Donbass. It cited UN figures that confirm 1367 people have been killed and 4087 injured as a result, with widespread destruction of infrastructure. In some towns, 80% of the houses have been destroyed. At least 200,000 people are without drinking water. Seventy percent of the medical personnel have evacuated from the region. Hundreds of thousands are refugees. The statement criticized the “irresponsible” posture of Kiev, which “refuses to recognize the humanitarian problems of southeastern Ukraine, which are obvious to all.” It called for an immediate, emergency international mobilization to help the people of the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions of Ukraine, who are “on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe,” by forming the international humanitarian mission Russia has proposed.
In an Aug. 4 interview with Itar-Tass, Lavrov took up what he called the three primary issues concerning Ukraine:
- 1)immediate cessation of the use of force;
2) addressing the humanitarian problems immediately;
3) immediate start to Constitutional reforms involving representatives of all of Ukraine’s regions.
These were the heart of previous international agreements about Ukraine, he said, but President Petro Poroshenko’s “peace plan” had gone in a different direction: the late-June ceasefire was used to prepare a greater offensive in the Donbass.
Lavrov said Russia was willing to continue to help the hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers who have crossed into Russia this week, because they were out of ammunition, food, and water, though he expressed concern about those who had earlier been helped to go home via Russia, but were then charged with desertion. He reiterated that Russia has now appealed to the OSCE, the UN, the Council of Europe, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, about humanitarian relief to the Donbass under Red Cross auspices. Lavrov urged that international organizations, while reacting to the crisis in Gaza, not forget about eastern Ukraine.
Lavrov also spoke pointedly on the overall global showdown, saying with regard to NATO: “I assure you, that if there weren’t Ukraine, then some other aspect of Russian domestic or foreign policy would have been exploited,” in order to drive a NATO confrontation with Russia. Yesterday the Foreign Ministry issued a separate statement, regretting NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s latest interview, attempting to blame Russia for the crisis in Ukraine. Noting that Rasmussen overlooked the humanitarian disaster, the Foreign Ministry quoted his Cold War rhetoric about “Russian aggression,” “spheres of influence,” and “the need to close ranks against the imagined threat to the NATO countries.” It concluded, “By all the evidence, NATO remains unable to distinguish between the long-term interests of strengthening stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic region, and its own short-term goals.”
Russia Responds to EU Sanctions, Strikes Back
The Russian combat training facility in the town of Mulino, which will be the most modern one in the world to date, is almost ready, with German components not delivered because of the German government’s decree of sanctions on the project, being replaced with Russian-produced equivalents, Lt. Gen. Yuriy Petrov told RIA Novosti yesterday morning. “At the moment, the entire facility is 95% ready. Tests will start on September 1,” Petrov said. “The facility is capable of housing and training approximately 30,000 troops annually, and is to become the most advanced training facility in the Western Military District, serving as its primary training grounds.”
The Russian Defense Ministry is preparing to sue Rheinmetall, the German components producer for the project, and to demand reimbursement for the company’s failure to meet its contractual obligations. The German government, which froze the Rheinmetall project in April, axed the EU100 million ($134 million) Mulino project on Aug. 4.
Moscow is also considering counter-sanctions in kind, in response to the EU sanctions against Dobrolet, a subsidiary of Aeroflot that also serves Crimea: Russia may ban its air space for EU commercial planes, which will affect the latters’ transit flight to Asia. To fly to Asia, European airlines presently use the shortest trans-Siberian route and pay for it to Russian Aeroflot some $300 million annually. Vedomosti, which reports this, cites a high-ranking government official as saying that relevant consultations are currently being held both in the Russian Ministry of Transportation and in the Foreign Ministry, but the government has yet to approve the final decision. A diplomatic official told Vedomosti that “any unfriendly measures taken by the EU, including that concerning air transportation, will be considered and not left without response.”