Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ukraine Rebels Plan Offensive - Bloomberg

...  Khodakovsky, the rebel leader, said the idea of creating a land bridge for Russia was “in the air” before but no longer.
‘Blood-Covered Child’
“Nobody takes it seriously,” Khodakovsky, 42, said in his office building, where the corridors are adorned with drawings of a town burning from aerial bombs and a woman cradling a blood-covered child. “That’s a task for Russia because Crimea is Russian. I don’t see any indications that Russia has such a task.”
Khodakovsky, a historian and former commander in Ukraine’s special forces, said his ultimate objective is to push government troops back beyond the Dnieper River that bisects the country.
“Traditionally pro-Russian regions need to return to their normal condition,” Khodakovsky said. “I don’t accept the Donetsk People’s Republic as the final phase of existence for this bit of territory, for this reservation. It just goes again my nature.”;_ylt=AwrBEiEQbwxVa1kAg5TQtDMD

Russian Far-Right Idol: The Man Who Started the War in Ukraine - Der Spiegel

In the Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin gave people like Strelkov a long leash and state television provided a platform to neo-fascists and Stalin supporters so that they could rage against the West. Putin himself adopted their imperialistic slogans by often referring to the "Russian world." That world, Strelkov says, should include Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and perhaps even Central Asia. But Ukraine is definitely part of it, in his view. "The real separatists," he says, "are the ones in Kiev, because they want to split Ukraine off from Moscow."
Russia's right wing finds itself in a love-hate relationship with the Kremlin. The nationalists love Putin's martial appearances, but consider him to be far too hesitant. Some even believe he is working for the West. "Why didn't we destroy the Ukrainian army back in September?" Strolkov asks. ...

The Kremlin propaganda machine transformed Strelkov into a national hero almost overnight. But now, it looks as though Russia's leaders no longer have him totally under control and he has become the figurehead of the Russian far right, many of whom are critical of Putin for not having already annexed Donetsk and Luhansk. It is questionable whether this radical element of Russian society will continue to feel bound to the Kremlin on the long term.
Moscow is allowing "the Donbass to become scorched earth," Strelkov says, adding that the president must finally impose order in the Kremlin. The word Strelkov chooses when making that demand is "purge," which reminds everyone in Russia of the terror Stalin unleashed on the country. Reconciliation with the West, he says in parting, is no longer possible. "I hope that Putin understands that as well."

- bth: this article in De Spiegel is worth a full and studied read.  Strelkov is certaintly a fascinating person and willing creator of WWIII.  His personal comparison to Gavrilo Princip who killed Archduke Ferdinand and started WWI is telling.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How many Russians are fighting in Ukraine? - BBC

... The Kremlin has denied its forces are directly involved in combat, but the latest estimate by US Lt Gen Ben Hodges, commander of the US Army in Europe, says 12,000 Russian troops are operating inside the neighbouring country... He believes 90,000 troops were required in late 2014 to provide deployments around Ukraine, inside its eastern (rebel held) districts and in Crimea.
This effort has been so great, he argues, that, "it is obvious that there insufficient resources... to sustain military operations at the current level for over a year".
This intervention evolved in several phases:
  • initially deniable, in the summer of 2014, with perhaps a few hundred special forces organising locals and Russian volunteers
  • large-scale escalation, during August 2014, when several Russian regular army battalion tactical groups (numbering up to 1,000 each) were sent in to save the separatists from defeat by the Ukrainian military
  • a period of withdrawal and retrenchment, late in 2014, following September's Minsk ceasefire agreement, in which Russian troop numbers dropped
  • the reintroduction of several formed battalions and numerous specialist troops during renewed fighting, this January and February, allowing the capture of Debaltseve and a good deal of other territory from the Ukrainians ...

Ukraine conflict: Inside Russia's 'Kremlin troll army' - BBC

Over the past year, Russia has seen an unprecedented rise in the activity of "Kremlin trolls" - bloggers allegedly paid by the state to criticise Ukraine and the West on social media and post favourable comments about the leadership in Moscow.
Though the existence and even whereabouts of the alleged "cyber army" are no secret, recent media reports appear to have revealed some details of how one of the tools of Russian propaganda operates on an everyday basis.
"Troll den" The Internet Research Agency ("Agentstvo Internet Issledovaniya") employs at least 400 people and occupies an unremarkable office in one of the residential areas in St Petersburg.
Behind the plain facade, however, there is a Kremlin "troll den", an investigative report by independent local newspaper Moy Rayon ("My District") suggests.
The organisation, which the paper ties to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a restaurateur with close links to President Vladimir Putin who allegedly pays bloggers to produce hundreds of comments on top news websites and manage multiple accounts on Twitter, LiveJournal and other social media platforms....

... Any blog post written by an agency employee, according to the leaked files, must contain "no fewer than 700 characters" during day shifts and "no fewer than 1,000 characters" on night shifts.
Use of graphics and keywords in the post's body and headline is also mandatory.
In addition to general guidelines, bloggers are also provided with "technical tasks" - keywords and talking points on specific issues, such as Ukraine, Russia's opposition and relations with the West.
One recent technical task, former employee Lena told Radio Liberty, was devoted to the murder of prominent Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov.
"It was mandatory to convey the message to the people that Nemtsov's murder was a provocation ahead of the [opposition] march and that he was killed by his own associates," she said.
"As a result, hundreds and thousands of comments, where this idea is served up under different dressings, emerge under every news article of leading media," she added....

-bth: this kind of trolling and fake blogging has been very common in the last year since the Ukraine/Crimea/Russian conflict.  Its done by other countries including Israel and the US but I can't recall the shear scale of the activity seen now.  Usually the posts are perfectly spelled and quite lengthy.Sometimes they precede or coincide with some Russian government activity.  A noted exception was the Nemtrov murder which had a time delay and then a flood of commentary.  My guess is that it was not a planned event and it took 24 hours for the propaganda wheels to beginning turning in a coordinated manner.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tikrit battle and Persian New Year

There is a lot of speculation about the delay in retaking Tikrit by Iraqi Shia and Iranian forces.  I would venture one guess and that is that it maybe linked to a propaganda push by Iran around the Persian New Year beginning March 21 While this is largely speculative on my part, I would suggest that Quds have been on a PR push of late which seems linked to changing politics in Iran.  Is it easier for the Iranian regime to accept  a deal involving compromise on the nuclear program while parading victoriously past Saddam's destroyed tomb? We will see. bth