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Refugee Convoy Attack in Ukraine - The Borgen Project
More than dozens were found perished in a refugee attack on a civilian convoy running away from constant fighting in eastern Ukraine, with the Ukraine government and pro-Russian separatists both putting the blame on each other, according to news source Al Jazeera.

The attack, being described as a “bloody crime,” by a spokesman, has had several people killed, including some women and children. The number perished is currently being established; however, it is known that the toll could be put in dozens.

“The barrage had taken place last Monday morning between the cities of Khryashchuvate and Novosvitlivka, close to the rebel city of Luhansk,” said a Ukraine military spokesman.

As reported by news source BBC, the Ukrainian military has claimed that many have perished due to the influx of rockets and mortars demolishing vehicles moving the refugees from the Luhansk area of eastern Ukraine.

Another military spokesman proclaimed that several people had been burned alive inside the vehicles; however, a spokesman for the rebels who are named “Donetsk People’s Republic, “refused the idea that rebel forces had deliberated the attack on the convoy.

According to Reuters, the convoy was involved with ferocious fighting mainly between government forces and the separatists when the fire erupted from rebel Grad and mortar launchers, many spokesmen stated.

According to news source BBC News, it is known that more than 2,000 civilians and fighters have perished since the middle of April, a time in which Ukraine’s government had sent troops to overthrow the rebel uprising in the east.

The separatist rebels have been conspicuously sighted as ambushing a row of cars holding refugees attempting to escape the war in eastern Ukraine. This allegation can be confirmed according to news source New York Times. Ukrainian military officials have accused the separatists vehemently throughout, but the separatists, however, have denied that there has been no attack at all and they are not to be held responsible for the incident.

Luhansk, a city of 250,000 people, is a region where currently civilians are suffering heavy amount of shortages of water, food and electricity.

At the moment, Ukrainian forces are edging into the outskirts of Luhansk, where supplies such as food and water are running out for them.

During a briefing in Kiev, Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, has stated that “terrorists” had ambushed the refugee convoy with Grad rocket systems and several other large weapons for combat supplied by Russia.

This could be considered a deadly episode for civilians, as according to the New York Times, separatists have begun to take control of cities and towns in this region approximately more than four months ago.

With over 2,000 people perished and more than 5,000 wounded in Ukraine, a representative for the United Nations human rights office claimed last week, with approximately more than half of the deaths currently happening in just these last two weeks.

The news of civilian deaths has been a grave situation as efforts for diplomacy to find a solution to the Ukraine crisis have been unsuccessful since last Monday; during conversations in Berlin among the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia.

Recently, the United States State Department has condemned the attack; however, it stated that it could not confirm who was responsible.

According to news source Reuters, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “We strongly condemn the shelling and rocketing of a convoy that was bearing internally displaced persons in Luhansk … Sadly, they were trying to get away from the fighting and instead became victims of it.”

The week of August 25, a solution was implemented for the first time in several months. This solution is meant to attempt to end the confrontation between Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart. While both their meetings will hold several issues regarding the Ukraine Convoy Attack, their final solution is intended to mend the situation regarding the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

— Noor Siddiqui

Sources: Reuters, Reuters 2, CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC, New York Times Click On Detroit
Photo: Bloomberg


Around 230,000 people have fled their homes due to the conflict in Ukraine between the Kiev government forces and self-defense forces.


As of July 18, around 100,000 have left the conflict-ridden area for other parts of Ukraine while nearly 130,000 have crossed the border into Russia.

The destinations of Ukrainians displaced by the conflict are camps in other parts of Ukraine or in southern Russia. Some have registered as refugees, while many are staying in Russia without visas after Moscow announced Ukrainians could stay for 180 days. Many Ukrainians have not applied for refugee status because they are afraid of punishment if they return to their homeland of Ukraine.

UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton stated that there are many reasons for people leaving their homes, with the fear of being caught in the crossfire as a main reason.

The number of people escaping the fighting to other areas of Ukraine has nearly doubled since the end of June. That number includes 12,000 Muslim Tatars from Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in March.

The number of people escaping the conflict in Ukraine and crossing the border to Russia has increased exponentially since the spring.

Thousands of Ukrainians cross the border into Russia everyday. Since the beginning of the military operation, about 517,000 refugees have come to Russia from southeast Ukraine.

More than 28,000 refugees from Ukraine have applied to the Russian Employment Office and almost 2,000 have been employed. Among the refugees, the largest number that have applied for jobs are education and health care specialists, blue-collar workers, construction workers, sales people and drivers.

Almost 30,000 Ukrainian refugees have applied for Russian citizenship.

Russian schools are preparing for enrollment of Ukrainian children who fled their homeland.

The legal procedures for Ukrainian refugees applying to receive Russian citizenship have also been sped up.

Young mother Natasha left home amid the conflict in Ukraine when her town of Krasnogorivka became the forefront in the battle between Russia and Ukraine. She said everyone who had the resources had to leave the town immediately. Natasha and her family are now in the refugee camp in the Russian city of Blagodatny.

“We left everything and fled in a hurry as they were bombarding the town,” she said.

In only three months, the eastern Ukraine conflict has taken more than 1,000 lives.

– Colleen Moore

Sources: NDTV, Ria Novosti, ABC News
Photo: Trans Conflict

putin
The Russian Federation’s President, Vladimir Putin, has made a nasty habit of irritating the Western world. When he is not riding through the Siberian wilderness, shirtless and on horseback, Putin has found the time to annex land from a sovereign state, harbor an American whistle-blower and effectively silence most of his opposition.

Surprisingly, the invasion of Ukraine has been largely popular among Russians; recent polling suggests that 71 percent of Russians believe in aiding fellow Russians living in the Crimea. In fact, Putin has seen his approval rating grow to 86 percent—only two percent lower than at its peak in 2008.

Why do the Russian people favor a president with so little regard for human rights? The answer lies within the history of Russia’s economy, and that in the choice between poverty and tyranny, the latter is the lesser of two evils.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian economy was all but devastated. In an attempt to adjust to capitalism, the government enacted a series of mass privatizations via vouchers divided among the population. However, in a country where at the time a pair of stockings from Finland could afford a weekend of luxury in Moscow, a voucher meant much less to the average citizen than the small price it could fetch in criminal or ex-Soviet elite circles. It was during this period that many of Russia’s current oligarchs gained their vast wealth in buying up vouchers well below their value.

In this time of great despair, President Boris Yeltsin allowed the economy to run wild as he amassed his own fortune. So when then-unknown Putin took power on New Years Eve in 1999 without warning, the impoverished Russian people had little to lose.

Since taking office, Putin has brought some amount of economic stability to the country, confronted oligarchs, and reignited patriotism with the Sochi Olympics and Security Council vetoes of resolutions on Syria. Members of the older generation are quick to remind the youth that even in lieu of democracy, at least there is bread on the table. The $50 billion price tag for the Olympics and the annexation of Crimea inspire new waves of pride among Russians who hope to see Russia reclaim its status as a serious rival to the West.

Regardless of whether Putin’s reputation as a bold enough leader to challenge to West will sustain his popularity, his iron rule has far from solved Russia’s economic woes. With ever-increasing inflation and investors taking their business elsewhere, perhaps it is time for Russians to expect more from their government.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: Diplomatic Courier, NPR, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Bloomberg, The New York Times
Photo: Business Insider

tajikistan
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan, a small country between Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and China, erupted in a civil war between the Moscow-backed government and Islamists.

The war lasted for five years, greatly hurting the nation’s economy. Around 50,000 people were killed and more than 10 percent of the population fled the country. The war only came to an end in 1997 when the United Nations facilitated a peace agreement.

Since the civil war, the economy of Tajikistan has not recovered and the country is currently Central Asia’s poorest nation. Almost half of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is earned by its citizens working out of the country. Meanwhile the nation itself relies on the economies of Russia and China, as well as oil and gas imports.

During the war one in every five schools were destroyed. Since the war, Tajikstan has worked to improve the country’s education.

Tajikistan currently has an enrollment of 97 percent for primary school, 80 percent for secondary school, and 17 percent for tertiary school. Late entry, combined with the early dropout of school aged children, especially girls, lower Tajikistan’s attendance for later schooling.

Although there is a very high rate of literacy, other issues affect its educational system.

Salaries paid to teachers are very low, which leads to low staffing and poorly qualified teachers in schools. This is in part due to the lack of government spending on education. In 1991, 8.9 percent of the GDP was spent on education. In 2005, this figure was down to 3.2 percent.

Due to the negative effects of the civil war on the Tajikstan economy and the immense loss of life, the school systems have been suffering ever since. Although the government has been working to improve access to education, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

– Lily Tyson

Sources: BBC, UNICEF, Eurasia
Photo: Asianews

LGBT Rights
Hillary Clinton has reportedly gotten into “shouting matches” with top Russian officials regarding LGBT rights. Russia is home to a set of very controversial laws, for which being homosexual, attending pride events or spreading propaganda regarding homosexuality to minors, is punishable by law. Putin’s views regarding gender equality have proved controversial, too: just recently, Putin went on a sexist rant about Hillary Clinton, calling her “weak,” further explaining that it was easier to just “not argue” with women.

Clinton has put up a fight regarding her side of the story. While on tour for her new memoir, “Hard Choices,” Clinton recalled the increasing amount of LGBT backlash she came to see, leading her to push and become an ardent activist for the cause. “I began to vigorously protest with governments in many parts of the world,” Clinton said. “Like what Putin’s doing … it’s just a cynical political ploy.” Regardless, without a strong-standing platform, the LGBT movement could go mute.

While LGBT rights are improving in many areas of the world, they are worsening in others. Today, there are around 76 countries in which being gay is a crime; of these 76, there are at least 10 in which being gay is punishable by death. Laws aside, more LGBT hate crimes are continuing to occur throughout the world, where they are often overlooked by the police. In the past year, a study regarding LGBT hate crimes in Europe — a fairly tolerant country on the issue — proved horrific: 17 percent of LGBT citizens have been victimized by a hate crime, and of these victims, 75 percent did not report the incident to law enforcement. 

Clinton has been able to remain relatively tongue-in-cheek, yet vigilant, regarding Putin and the controversial laws he has strictly enforced. When asked if it was hard to maintain relationships for her position as United States Secretary of State, Clinton stated that, at times, it was. “I’m talking about you, Vladimir,” she coyly said. “But it doesn’t mean that you don’t keep trying. You do have to keep trying.”

— Nick Magnanti

Sources: Advocate, Huff Post, Global Eguality, 76 Crimes, Washington Post, Care2
Photo: Mashable

odessa_fire_ukraine_on_safety_council_watch
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s message was hard to miss last Friday as he strolled through the streets of Sevastopol on Victory Day.  To invade a sovereign state, call its defenders “fascists” and blame its government for the resulting turmoil is all in a day’s work for Putin.  The twisted political masterminding that has been Russia’s reaction to the crisis in Ukraine is perhaps Putin’s way of reminding the world that Russia is once more a major world power.

Having achieved the political gains he sought, Putin now calls for new dialogue to replace the violence.  Instances of pro-Ukrainian forces attacking pro-Russian, such as that in Mariupol on May 9, will be portrayed in the Russian media not as Ukrainians defending their land from foreign invaders, but as violent militants killing Russians who desire only to return to the motherland.  Putin can thus use the violence to rally support at home for his regime against the incorrigible Ukrainians.

As busy as the Security Council has found itself with the troubles of Nigeria, Syria and South Sudan, the 15 members have certainly not overlooked Russia’s aggression.  One of the first to speak at the emergency Council meeting called in the wake of Friday’s violence in Odessa – where 46 persons, most of whom were pro-Russian, died when the headquarters was set ablaze – was Russian Representative Vitaly Churkin.  It is hard to imagine that more than a few eyes did not roll at the Russians’ first complaint: Ukrainians are attacking Russians.  This would seem to be expected when invading another country.

French Representative Gérard Araud spared no feelings in his response, going so far as to refer to the pro-Russian groups as “thugs terrorizing Ukraine.”  Both the United Kingdom and United States joined France in her condemnation of the Russians and praise for the Ukrainian government’s restraint – although this restraint likely stems from Ukraine’s limited military capabilities.  The delegate of Lithuania turned the discussion towards the hypocrisy of a Russia that will complain of Ukrainian conflict and remain indifferent to al-Assad’s regime’s attacks on its own people.  Finally, the Representative of Ukraine offered, on behalf of Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, that those who surrender soon will be granted amnesty.

The very next day, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe hostages were finally released in Slovyansk after having been held for a little over a week.  Yet, even as the Secretary General shared his approval with their freedom, he warned of growing tensions and the prolonged chaos.  Even if the Russians withdrew tomorrow, having made their point, the Ukrainian people would have years of reconciliation ahead.  For now, the world awaits the May 25 presidential elections, which will undoubtedly further change the situation.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: New York Times 1, New York Times 2, The Economist, UN 1, UN 2

Russian_Oil
United States President Barack Obama just signed Public Law Number 113-95, Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democratic, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014. Here’s three reasons why this is more important than you think.

1. It’s about winning hearts and minds

Ukraine’s infrastructure and economy are largely dependent on cheap oil from Russia for day-to-day operations. Kiev now owes Russia some $1.7 billion for this oil, a dilemma exacerbated after Russia increased the price of gas by an astounding 80 percent. The size of the debt puts a large amount of economic pressure on Ukraine, which is extremely dependent on this Russian oil. The aid package, along with support from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, seek to ease the burden on Ukraine and reduce their dependency on Russia. While Obama is working to increase the export of natural gas to Europe to reduce the power of Russian oil, this bill provides an emergency stop gap as the natural gas exports ramp up. By buying Ukraine room to breathe economically the west is promoting an agenda that will not only make friends within the Ukrainian population but reduce the Russian grip on the Ukrainian economy.

2. It’s about undermining the Russian power base

Make no mistake, this bill is an action against the Russians and Vladimir Putin just as much as it is for the benefit of Ukraine. Putin arguably gets a large portion of his power from just two sources. His inner circle consists of ex-KGB agents and Oligarchs who have flourished under his rule. The former, members of the Russian old guard who are extremely dedicated to a strong Russian identity, will only be swayed through military actions. For a few reasons, a military intervention in Crimea would be bad news for all parties involved. The latter, the oligarchs who have made their fortunes because of pro-western policy rather than despite it, are not-so-staunch in their dedication to a strong Russia. Millionaires like Gennady Timchenko, the man largely responsible for Russia’s massive oil export business, depend heavily on business with the west. Timchenko has been an outspoken supporter of Putin for some time, but has remained suspiciously quiet about Crimea. Economic sanctions like those outlined in the Ukrainian Aid Bill could end up costing men like him tremendous amounts of money, so it’s no wonder that Timchenko and the other oligarchs have remained cold Russia’s move into Crimea. By targeting these individuals Congress is effectively turning one of the most powerful interest groups in Russia against their leader.

3. It’s a great example of uncommon bipartisanship

Any time Washington acts in a bipartisan way, it is newsworthy. The approval of went through the Senate with a 98-2 vote. It then passed in the House with an overwhelming majority of 378 in favor and just 34 opposed. The very same day that the House voted the bill was presented to and signed by the president. This whole process took a mere 30 days from start to finish. This sort of speed is almost unprecedented in the current political climate and demonstrates the efficiency with which the government can act when motivated. Even better, it stands as shining example of team effort in a Congress usually ruled by strong tendentiousness to party dogma. All it took was the invasion of a sovereign nation by an old cold war enemy.

– Dylan Spohn

Sources: NPR, Newsweek, Congress.gov, The Hill
Photo: Forbes

crimea_joins_russia
Now that Crimea is officially a part of the Russian Federation, nations, especially those with borders near Russia, need to focus on the newly created border of Crimea and Ukraine. Unrest, illegal markets, and more training exercises or amassing of troops need to be watched carefully. Ukraine may not have a full army or the ability to support one, but that will not stop small guerilla groups or militias who are still sore about the event from causing trouble for innocents.

In regards to Russia and Putin, the American Intel and other nations must not simply believe that the buck stops here. Ambition is hard to kill. With Crimea obtained rather easily Putin may take this as a building block to strike at more countries and “reclaim” more territories. So be prepared and keep watch for the borders of all nations surrounding Ukraine and Russia which include Finland, Belarus, which already has armed Russian forces in it, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and nations in Central Asia.

Recently, Russia has been removed from G8 due to its activity and if this international shunning continues to take place, expect to see Russia become more aggressive and yet somehow isolationist in its foreign policies. The separation from trade will hurt the economy and force internal production, which may force the nation to close off and take on a North Korean attitude against the world, only emerging to take more nations. This is an extreme and slim probability, but one that should not be ignored.

So things such as decreased foreign trade, further removal from international organizations, increased domestic production and random or sudden contact with smaller nations not normally contacted should be things to have a close eye on. Besides these warning signs, something else to watch for is how well the integration process with Crimea and Russia itself goes.

The intelligence community, and maybe even the UN itself, will need to see how peaceful the process will be, examine the social and economic aspects and also watch for dissidents in either territory. The policy Russia implements and puts to action for the integration of Crimea must be reviewed to see if it will be fair for both parties and if it is equal and democratic.

-Matthew Price

Sources: NightWatch, National Post

crisis_in_crimea
Russia invaded Crimea a mere couple of weeks after the appointment of Ukraine’s new acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov. In response, Ukraine has threatened to mobilize troops which many believe will spark a revolution and civil war. A referendum is to be held this weekend in Crimea that will vote upon whether it should join Russia or stay with Ukraine.

Both sides of the crisis in Crimea view each other in a very negative light and there is a lot of difference of opinion on the matter. Crimea was passed from the Soviet Union to Ukraine in 1954 and the population living there was then and is now mostly Russian with a few minorities, like the ethnic Tatar, but much of the population would prefer to not be a part of Ukraine.

Russia partially wants Crimea because of its strategic position on the Black Sea where Soviet naval fleets were stationed, and also wants it because in the agreement that gave Russia access to facilities in Crimea, Russia was prohibited to own any territory. The Russian media is portraying Ukraine as neo-Nazis who have reportedly held non-peaceful protests, but at the same time, the Ukrainian media is accusing Putin of being a neo-Nazi as well because he is annexing Crimea.

The reason why either of these countries actually even wants Crimea is questionable in that there are significant shortcomings for both. Crimea has a majority of ethnic Russians who want their independence from Ukraine and want to be able to join their homeland again. There are many downsides to Russia continuing in its annexation of Crimea because if it remained Ukrainian, those in support of Putin would vote for pro-Russians candidates and/or parties in Ukraine’s elections. Also, Russia will have to invest a fair amount of money in rehabilitating what would be the newly-Russian Crimean economy.

The role that the West, especially the United States, is playing in this situation is an interesting factor to consider. Ukraine used to have around 900 nuclear weapons, but the U.S. convinced them to give them all up in exchange for a guarantee that they would maintain Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security. It is just that which has been compromised and now many people are turning to the U.S. to take action. Ukrainians have made signs that are in English so that the U.S. can see their message more clearly–that they need to hold up their end of the bargain.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot that the U.S. can even do because of the very delicate situation. The American people do not have enough interest in this issue to support spending billions to intervene, not to mention that the U.S. would be facing a very powerful enemy if it went up against Russia. The European Union cannot impose sanctions on Russia because they are the ones that are dependent on Russia for natural gas. It seems that the West will have to stay out of the crisis for the time being until another big event happens–the referendum.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: National Journal, USA Today, CBS News
Photo: iLife Journey

Russia's LGBT
Russia has been in the spotlight recently for its part in playing host to the Winter Olympics. Hosting the games is an opportunity in which a country can reap the benefits of great publicity and a surge in business from all the people that flock there for the historic event. Russia, however, has had more negative press than positive because of its blatant disregard for ethical treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, causing recent uproar among many.

Many are quick to point fingers and blame President Vladimir Putin for not implementing laws to protect them. While Putin deserves some of the blame, Russia has had a long history of homophobia.

Homophobic laws have been enacted as early as the 17th century, with Peter the Great’s punishing homosexuals by flogging or by male rape. As the years progressed, the law extended to punish any adult man that voluntarily participated in sodomy-like behavior.

In 1835, Tsar Nicholas made sure that ban was still being withheld against homosexuals with them being stripped of their Russian citizenship and exiled to Siberia.

Of all the Tsars and rulers, Joseph Stalin was the most intolerant of the LGBT community. Homosexuals were sentenced to hard labor prison camps for 4 years to 5 years under his reign and made-up propaganda had run rampant. Stalin was a huge proprietor and believer that homosexuals were pedophiles who were constantly lurking for young boys. His paranoia that homosexuals were praying on children and that they had “politically demoralized various social layers of young men, including young workers, and even attempted to penetrate the army and navy” compelled him to have his secret police spy and arrest anyone that was perceived to be gay.

Violence against Russia’s LGBT community has only worsened. Putin endorses violence against the community not only because he sees them as “foreign agents” or as a danger to the well-being of children, but as a political tactic as well. Milene Larson, a United Kingdom-based journalist, states, “Putin is looking for enemies. In Russia, homosexuals and gay rights activists are labeled as foreign agents… You have such a vast majority of people who are Orthodox who potentially feel this way, those are his voters…he is not going to step back and say ‘actually gay people are ok.’”

For anti-gay groups like Occupy Paedophilia, Putin’s views on the LGBT community are green light for vicious mob attacks to try and “cure” them. These mobs upload their videos using WhatsApp (a YouTube like clip-sharing application) to humiliate their victims even further. These groups will pose as a homosexual on an Internet dating site or go to gay clubs where they can find someone that falls under the impression that the perpetrator is interested; the victim is then ambushed or kidnapped.

One horrifying account was of a teenage student from Uzbekistan who was lured by the mob group, kidnapped, beaten, stripped and raped. All of these atrocious acts were being filmed while they were being done, with the group telling the victim that they were punishing him for his own good. Another account tells the story of a 23-year-old man who was killed for coming out to his friends while they were drinking.

Russia’s LGBT community faces physical and verbal harassment every single day. For such a large and diverse country, the LGBT community has few allies. With a leader that will not speak out and condemn these attacks, they have nobody to whom they can turn. They cannot turn to the police for help because police officers often commit the crimes and do not report the issues. While the fight rages on for activists to achieve equal rights for the LGBT community, this is going to be an uphill battle for a long time to come.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: The Moscow Times, The Star, Human Rights Watch, Russia Today
Photo: Peter T. Atchell Foundation