Friday, April 18, 2014

East Ukraine militants snub Geneva deal on crisis


18 April 2014 Last updated at 07:49 GMT
Ukrainian riot police in Donetsk. 17 April 2014Riot police in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk have kept apart rival groups of protesters

Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk say they will not leave the government building there, defying the Kiev authorities and threatening a new international deal on Ukraine.

The separatists' spokesman told the BBC that the Kiev government was "illegal", so they would not go until the Kiev government stepped down.

Russia, Ukraine, the EU and US earlier agreed that illegal military groups in Ukraine must leave official buildings.

They reached the deal in Geneva.

Alexander Gnezdilov, spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, said his group would evacuate the government building in the eastern city only when the "illegal" Kiev government vacated parliament and the presidential administration.

A tense standoff continues in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists - many of them armed - are occupying official buildings in at least nine cities and towns.

Another protest leader in Donetsk said the separatists would not leave unless pro-European demonstrators in Kiev's Maidan Square packed up their camp first.

East Ukraine map

US President Barack Obama cautiously welcomed the Geneva deal, but warned that the US and its allies were ready to impose new sanctions on Russia if the situation failed to improve.

On Friday there were reports of some shooting in Serhiyivka, in Donetsk region.

Ukrainian paratroopers opened fire to remove a protesters' roadblock in Serhiyivka, Interfax-Ukraine reported, quoting local sources. The details have not been confirmed.

Russia denies fomenting separatism in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Media spotlight on Putin

Russian newspapers devoted their front pages on Friday to President Vladimir Putin's four-hour televised phone-in, rather than the Geneva talks.

"Vladimir Putin: You don't need to worry about a thing" said the front-page headline in Rossiskaya Gazeta, while Kommersant bore the headline: "Putin charts a stubborn line".

Pro-unity protest in Donetsk. 17 April 2014These pro-unity protesters took to the streets in Donetsk

Mr Putin was repeatedly applauded by Russians during the live event, in which he demanded firm security guarantees and equal rights for Russian-speakers in Ukraine.

He said he hoped he would not have to use his "right" to send Russian forces into Ukraine.

Moscow is believed to have thousands of troops massed along the border with its neighbour.

Mr Putin was speaking after Wednesday night's clash in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, in which three separatists were reportedly killed by Ukrainian security forces after hundreds of pro-Russians attacked a military base.

US-UK resolve

At the Geneva talks, the sides agreed that illegal military groups in Ukraine must be dissolved, and that those occupying buildings must be disarmed and leave them.

The foreign ministers also agreed that there would be an amnesty for all anti-government protesters.

But speaking in Washington just hours later, President Obama expressed scepticism as to whether Russia would keep its side of the bargain.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia with John Kerry and Catherine Ashton in Geneva. 17 April 2014Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia took part in the Geneva talks

"My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days, but I don't think, given past performance, that we can count on that," he said.

In a telephone call with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the two leaders agreed that the United States and Europe were prepared to take further measures to impose a new round of sanctions if Russia failed to help restore order.

The UK is to provide an additional £1m ($1.7m; 1.2m euros) to support the expansion of the OSCE special monitoring mission in Ukraine.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was encouraged by the outcome of the talks and that he expected all sides to "show their serious intention" to implement the agreement.

Ukraine has been in crisis since pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was toppled in February.

Russia then annexed the Crimean peninsula - part of Ukraine but with a Russian-speaking majority - in a move that provoked international outrage.

NATO Reaches New Low in Anti-Russian Rhetoric – Russian Foreign Ministry


Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters

MOSCOW, April 17 (RIA Novosti) – NATO has surpassed its propaganda efforts of the 1990s by blaming Russia for the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

“The North Atlantic Treaty Organization made a series of publications lately, including ‘Russia's accusations – setting the record straight,’ in which NATO in its usual biased manner called Russia responsible for the recent crisis [in Ukraine],” the ministry said.

“Moreover NATO's recent anti-Russian political rhetoric has surpassed the propaganda during the aggression against Yugoslavia,” the ministry added.

The ministry said that despite disagreements, Russia has continued to honestly develop cooperation with the alliance in areas of common interest as part of an effort to wipe out hostile feelings left over from the Cold War.

On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen pledged to step up patrols and boost its military presence along the alliance’s eastern border in Europe, citing Russia’s alleged involvement in the Ukrainian crisis.

The move came as a further sign that the alliance was tightening its grip on Eastern Europe, where it is already conducting air-policing and surveillance missions over Poland, Romania and the Baltic states.

Federalization supporters in eastern Ukrainian regions have been staging mass rallies since March in a bid to hold referendums similar to the one that recently led to Crimea’s reunification with Russia. In order to suppress the activists, the Ukrainian army launched a special operation earlier this week targeting the cities of Kramatorsk and Slaviansk in the Donetsk region.

Moscow has condemned the Ukrainian regime’s use of force against its own population as unacceptable.

Putin Hopes No Need to Use Russia’s Military Forces in Ukraine


Putin Hopes No Need to Use Russia’s Military Forces in Ukraine

MOSCOW, April 17 (RIA Novosti) – Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes that he would not have to use the right to order the deployment of Russia’s military forces in Ukraine.

“I remind you that the Russian Federation Council has given the president the right to use the armed forces in Ukraine. I hope that I won’t have to use this right and that we will be able to solve all the pressing problems in Ukraine today by political and diplomatic means,” Putin said during a live Q&A session with the public on Thursday.

Russia’s upper house of parliament unanimously approved last month a request from President Putin to deploy military forces in Ukraine in a move he said was aimed at protecting human rights and Russian citizens in the region. Putin has not formally ordered any deployments.

Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian region, which was undemocratically gifted to Ukraine by Soviet leaders 60 years ago, rejected the legitimacy of the new self-proclaimed Western-backed government, and moved to rejoin Russia last month after the government in Kiev introduced measures aimed against Russian-speakers in the country.

During a live Q&A session, Putin said he believes that there is no need to be “euphoric” after the reunification of Crimea, taking into the account that the Crimean residents are different from those living in southeastern Ukraine.

“We should not be euphoric, over what is occurring in Crimea, we must always be realistic,” Putin said.

Ukrainian forces launched a special operation Tuesday in a crackdown on pro-federalization activists in eastern regions of the country. Moscow condemned the move, saying it was an extremely unpleasant turn of events.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier called on the United States and its allies to stop laying the blame for the unrest in Ukraine’s southeast at Russia’s doorstep. He rebuked accusations coming from US Secretary of State John Kerry and elsewhere that pointed to alleged “Moscow’s hand” in the ongoing pro-federalization rallies in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv.

Putin called on the Ukrainian military to pull back from civilians in southeastern Ukraine.

“We are hearing calls for people in the Southeast [of Ukraine] to lay down their arms. I tell our partners: That’s correct, it’s a great call. But then let’s call the army off of the civilians. Have they gone nuts? Tanks, armored vehicles, and guns are being brought in: against whom are these cannons for? Are they kidding?” Putin said.

Ukraine crisis: Deal to 'de-escalate' agreed in Geneva


17 April 2014 Last updated at 21:48 GMT

"Thousands of angry people are going to have to agree to give up... weapons they now see as their main form of power", reports Daniel Sandford in Donetsk

Russia, Ukraine, the US and the European Union have said that all sides have agreed to steps to "de-escalate" the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

Their foreign ministers were speaking at the end of talks between Russia, Ukraine, the EU and US in the Swiss city of Geneva.

Analysts say the outline agreement could stay economic sanctions the West was preparing to impose on Russia.

Ukraine has been in crisis since its pro-Moscow president was toppled.

Russia then annexed the Crimean peninsula - part of Ukraine but with a Russian-speaking majority population - in a move that provoked international outrage.

This was followed by the seizing of government buildings in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists opposed to the new order in the capital Kiev.

'Concrete steps'

Following the Geneva talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia, US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said there was agreement that all illegal military formations in Ukraine must be dissolved, and that everyone occupying buildings must be disarmed and leave them.

John Kerry: "The job will not be done until these principles are implemented"

Russia's Sergei Lavrov: Solution to crisis has to be found by Ukrainians

They added that there would be an amnesty for all anti-government protesters under the agreement, and talk of "inclusivity" - possibly a suggestion that Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine might be granted more autonomy.

These steps will be overseen by monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

US President Barack Obama called the deal promising, but said the question remained whether Russia would now use its influence - previously exerted "in a disruptive way" - to restore order in Ukraine.

"I don't think we can be sure of anything at this point," he said at a press briefing in Washington on Thursday evening.

"We have put in place additional consequences that we can impose on the Russians if we do not see actual improvement of the situation."

Mr Lavrov earlier said that long-term constitutional reforms were necessary in Ukraine, but added that all parties involved in the Geneva talks had agreed the crisis needed to be "regulated by Ukrainians themselves".

Start Quote

Vladimir Putin's deep-seated grievances against the West will probably not go away. And after all that has happened, it may be harder to rebuild co-operation with Western partners and with any new government in Kiev than he assumes.”

Bridget Kendall Diplomatic correspondent, BBC News

The Russian foreign minister also insisted his country had no desire to send troops into Ukraine.

Mr Kerry described the talks as "a good day's work", but said words had to be turned into actions and that he would have no choice but to impose tougher sanctions on Russia if Moscow failed to demonstrate that it was serious about lowering tensions in Ukraine.

He said the extent of the crisis had been highlighted in recent days by the "grotesque" sending of notices to Jews in eastern Ukraine, demanding that they register themselves as Jewish.

The notices, which purport to be from the pro-Moscow authorities in Donetsk, have caused alarm in the Jewish community, although their authenticity has not yet been verified.

"The key was that all parties wanted to defuse a crisis", reports Gavin Hewitt in Geneva

Mr Kerry also praised the Ukrainian government for the restraint it had shown in the face of what he said was provocation from pro-Moscow elements.

Speaking for the Kiev government, Mr Deshchytsia said: "We disagree with Russia on many things, but what we agreed today is to put an effort, joint efforts, to launch the process of de-escalation in eastern Ukraine. And Russia committed it to be part of this process.

Masked pro-Russian protesters guard a barricade in front of the city hall in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, April 17, 2014Pro-Russian separatists have taken over buildings in towns in eastern Ukraine
Evidence of clashes in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, were clearly visible the day afterEvidence of clashes in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, were clearly visible the day after
Pro-Kiev protester looks on behind a Ukrainian flag during a rally in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine April 17, 2014They are opposed by those who support the Western-leaning government in Kiev

"So it will be a test for Russia, if Russia wants to really show that it is willing to help the stability in these regions."

Baroness Ashton said the agreement contained "concrete steps that can be implemented immediately".

But correspondents say the deal has so far had little impact on the ground, with pro-Russian supporters continuing to occupy a local government building in Donetsk.

A protest leader said they would not leave unless pro-European demonstrators in Kiev's Maidan Square packed up their camp first.

"We'll see what they do there before we make our decision here," Alexander Zakharchenko told the Reuters news agency.

'Abyss'

Earlier Russian President Vladimir Putin had warned that Ukraine was heading into an "abyss" by confronting pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.

Start Quote

In this hospital, even for suspected assailants, there appear to be no formal visiting hours. Some normal rules, it seems, can be waived”

James Reynolds BBC News, Mariupol

He said claims that Russian agents were acting in the region were "rubbish".

He was speaking live on Russian TV in the wake of Wednesday night's clash in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, in which three separatists were reportedly killed by Ukrainian security forces after hundreds of pro-Russians attacked a military base.

The clash took place hours after apparently unsuccessful attempts by the Ukrainian military operation to retake territory elsewhere in eastern Ukraine from armed pro-Russian rebels.

In one instance, an armoured column of Ukrainian paratroopers lost control of some of their armoured vehicles to pro-Russian separatists.

Following Wednesday's events, Ukraine's State Border Service announced on Thursday that it was "significantly" restricting entry into the country by adult men from Russia because of the risk of "acts of terror".

Russia and Ukraine have been on a collision course since pro-Moscow Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was toppled in February by supporters of more engagement with the West, in particular the EU.

The US and EU have imposed visa bans and asset freezes on a small number of Russian government officials, but have been considering more serious measures, accusing Moscow of encouraging anti-government elements in Ukraine.

The EU, which depends on Russia for some 30% of its gas supplies, has been discussing the possible impact of economic sanctions with member states.

Are you in eastern Ukraine? What is the situation like where you are? You can email your experiences to haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk using the subject line 'Eastern Ukraine'.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Are these two situations related? Can you find the differences?

[ 1 ] ...Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan removed

16 April 2014 Last updated at 09:12 GMT
Prince Bandar bin Sultan (2008)Prince Bandar bin Sultan was appointed head of the General Intelligence Presidency in July 2012

US President Barack Obama shakes hands with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)

Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, has been removed from his post "at his own request", state media report.

Prince Bandar, King Abdullah's nephew and a former ambassador to the US, recently returned to Riyadh after two months abroad for medical treatment.

The 65 year old has been replaced by his deputy, Gen Youssef al-Idrissi.

His departure comes months after he was quoted warning of a "major shift" from the US over its Middle East policy.

Largely in protest over Washington's reluctance to get involved militarily in Syria, he reportedly told European diplomats in October that Saudi Arabia would be scaling back its co-operation with the CIA over arming and training rebel groups seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

A trip to Moscow to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon his support for the Syrian government also failed to produce results.

"He had been more or less disengaged from the Syrian file for the past five months," Mustafa Alani, a security expert with close ties to the Saudi government, told the Reuters news agency.

"The responsibility was divided between a number of people - officers in the intelligence sphere and other princes. So the reality is that any changes have already happened."

Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef is believed to have taken overall control of the kingdom's Syria policy and attended a meeting of Western and Arab intelligence agencies in Washington in February.

As head of the General Intelligence Presidency, Prince Bandar was also said to have been closely involved in supporting Egypt's military-backed interim government after President Mohammed Morsi was ousted in July.

The royal decree quoted by the Saudi Press Agency on Monday did not say if the prince would continue as head of the National Security Council.




[ 2 ] ...Deadly clashes at Ukraine port base



17 April 2014 Last updated at 06:39 GMT

Ukrainian attack helicopters buzzed villagers in Kramatorsk, but the army eventually had to give up, as Daniel Sandford reports

Three people were killed in a raid on a base in eastern Ukraine overnight, the country's interior minister says, as the US, Russia, the EU and Ukraine begin crisis talks in Geneva.

The three pro-Russian separatists were killed in a clash with Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Facebook.

The Geneva meeting is the first such gathering since the crisis escalated.

The West says Russia is aiding the pro-Russian activists occupying buildings.

Tensions escalated last month when Russia annexed Crimea, causing international outrage. Unrest later spread to Donetsk region, another mainly Russian-speaking area. It is Europe's worst crisis since the Cold War.

About 300 separatists attacked a military unit in Mariupol near the Azov Sea, throwing petrol bombs. Troops opened fire, killing three, Mr Avakov said.

Reinforcements

The operation is continuing - Ukraine has sent in reinforcements including helicopters. There was no independent confirmation of his statement.

According to Mr Avakov, 13 of the attackers were wounded and so far 63 have been detained. He said none of the interior ministry troops had been killed.

Mariupol is in the far south of Donetsk region, where separatists have seized dozens of official buildings.

Map: Eastern Ukraine

Ukrainian SBU special forces have gone to the aid of the interior ministry troops in Mariupol and armoured vehicles have gone into the city from places nearby, Ukraine's Unian news agency reports.

Retreating separatists reportedly wounded two passers-by, set a minibus ablaze and also set fire to a building next to the military garrison.

"Through joint efforts by the armed police and national guard the attacking gang was dispersed after a short battle, most of them were cornered and disarmed," Mr Avakov said.

"Because it was such an aggressive attack on a military unit - an interior ministry group - we decided to reinforce them with Omega special forces. Helicopters have been deployed."

Ukraine will be a key issue when Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks in a live phone-in programme, due to be televised from 12:00 (08:00 GMT). He will answer questions from citizens across the country - including for the first time Crimea.

Russia's annexation of Crimea has fuelled concern that other parts of eastern Ukraine could also break away from Kiev's control and join Russia.

US accuses Russia



US President Barack Obama has warned Russia against support for further action by armed pro-Russian groups.

"What I have said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilise Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going to be consequences," he said.

Reports say that the White House is considering a package of non-lethal aid for the Ukrainian military. This may include clothing and medical supplies.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's military operation against separatists has hit obstacles.

Called an "anti-terrorist" operation by the Kiev government, it started on Tuesday and is designed to dislodge pro-Russia gunmen from local authority buildings in a swathe of cities and towns in eastern Ukraine.

Pro-Russian activists want referendums on greater autonomy for the south-east or the right to join the Russian Federation.

But in several districts, Ukrainian troops met vehement opposition on Wednesday from pro-Russia supporters, who object to the new government in Kiev.

In the city of Kramatorsk, six military vehicles were commandeered on Wednesday by gunmen, who disarmed the Ukrainian soldiers and sent some of them home on buses.

Daniel Sandford in Sloviansk gets up close to a Ukrainian armoured vehicle which was "rebranded" with a Russian flag

One Ukrainian officer said he had not "come to fight" and would never obey orders to shoot his "own people".

In another incident, several hundred residents of Pchyolkino, south of Sloviansk, surrounded a column of 14 Ukrainian military vehicles.

After the crowd was reinforced by pro-Russian gunmen, negotiations ensued and the troops were allowed to drive their vehicles away, but only after agreeing to surrender the magazines from their assault rifles.

The Geneva meeting is the first time that foreign ministers from the US, the EU, Ukraine and Russia will sit down for talks since the crisis began.

The US and the EU want an end to the occupations in eastern Ukraine and for the estimated 40,000-strong Russian forces massed near the Ukrainian border to pull back.

Ukrainian army soldiers on combat vehicles blocked by people outside Kramatorsk on Wednesday, 16 April 2014Troops conducting Kiev's military operation in the east met opposition in several districts
Pro-Russian gunmen in eastern Ukraine, 16 April 2014Pro-Russian gunmen seized Ukrainian military vehicles and took them to Sloviansk
US Secretary of State John Kerry arriving in Geneva, 16 April 2014John Kerry arrives in Geneva where it will be difficult to bridge the gap with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov

A US official, speaking as Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva, stressed that Russia must "take this opportunity to de-escalate" or face a tightening of sanctions.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Andriy Deshchytsya, called on Russia "not to support terrorist activities in eastern Ukraine."

As if to further illustrate the gulf between the West and Russia over the crisis, Russia's foreign ministry accused Washington of "the persistent unwillingness or inability to see reality as it is in fact, and in a striving to impose on the rest of the world a distorted perception of what is happening in southeast Ukraine."

Russia, which strongly opposed the ousting of Ukraine's pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych in February, has proposed a new constitution which devolves more power to the regions.

Expectations for the talks are low, says the BBC's Gavin Hewitt in Geneva.

Nato

Russia's stance over eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea continue to cause concern in Nato member countries with large Russian-speaking minorities, such as Latvia and Estonia.

So Nato announced on Wednesday that it was beefing up its eastern members' defences.

In Brussels, Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen promised "more planes in the air, more ships on the water, more readiness on the land".

Are you in eastern Ukraine? What is the situation like where you are? You can email your experiences to haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk using the subject line 'Eastern Ukraine'.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ukraine crisis: Military column 'seized' in Kramatorsk


16 April 2014 Last updated at 17:24 GMT

Missing Ukrainian tanks were spotted by the BBC in Sloviansk, as Gabriel Gatehouse reports

Pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine have seized six Ukrainian armoured vehicles, the defence ministry in Kiev says.

Reports say the occupants were disarmed after the vehicles were blockaded by locals in the city of Kramatorsk.

The incident comes a day after the military began an operation to remove pro-Russian protesters from public buildings across eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Nato is increasing activity in member states bordering Russia.

After Ukrainian forces recaptured an airfield outside Kramatorsk on Tuesday, armoured vehicles appeared in the centre of the town early on Wednesday.

BBC journalists witnessed civilians, at least some of whom appeared to be local people, challenging soldiers, who were also blocked by a crowd a few kilometres outside the town.

One officer said he had not "come to fight" and would never obey orders to shoot his "own people".

"A column was blocked by a crowd of local people in Kramatorsk with members of a Russian diversionary-terrorist group among them," the defence ministry said its statement.

The military vehicles were then taken to Sloviansk where they are being held by "people in uniforms who have no relation to Ukraine's armed forces," the ministry said.

The Ukrainian troops appear to have been disarmed before being fed by pro-Russian militants at a cafe in Sloviansk and then put on a bus back to their home city of Dnipropetrovsk.

In another incident, several hundred residents of Pchyolkino, south of Sloviansk, surrounded another column of 14 Ukrainian military vehicles.

After the crowd was reinforced by pro-Russian gunmen, negotiations ensued and the troops were allowed to drive their vehicles away, but only after agreeing to surrender the magazines from their assault rifles.

Ukraine's "anti-terrorist" operation is looking more and more a non-event - or worse, an outright fiasco, reports the BBC's David Stern in Donetsk.

Ukrainian attack helicopters buzzed villagers in Kramatorsk, but the army eventually had to give up, as Daniel Sandford reports

The episodes come amid increasing tension across eastern Ukraine, blamed by the Kiev government and the West on covert Russian intervention in the region - an allegation denied by Moscow.

The crisis escalated this month after pro-Russian rebels occupied buildings in about 10 towns and cities, demanding greater autonomy or referendums on secession.

Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers are believed to have massed on Ukraine's borders since Russia took control of the Ukrainian region of Crimea last month, following a controversial referendum on self-determination.

As tensions rose, Ukraine's acting Defence Minister Mykhailo Koval headed for the east of the country to monitor the progress of the "anti-terrorist operation" announced by acting President Olexander Turchynov on Tuesday.

In the city of Donetsk, where activists have been occupying the regional government building since 6 April, pro-Russian gunmen have taken control of the mayor's office.

They told an AFP correspondent their only demand was for the region to stage a referendum on turning Ukraine into a federation with broader local rights.

The BBC's James Reynolds was on the scene as pro-Russian activists surrounded Ukrainian tanks

Gunmen inside the mayor's office in Donetsk, Ukraine, 16 AprilGunmen can be seen inside the mayor's office in Donetsk
Ukrainian soldiers watch a jet pass near Kramatorsk, Ukraine, 16 April Ukrainian soldiers were stopped by locals near the city of Kramatorsk
Women stand near soldiers wearing pro-Russian ribbons in Sloviansk, Ukraine, 16 AprilThe defence ministry said the seized vehicles were then taken to the town of Sloviansk
'More planes'

Meanwhile Nato announced it was beefing up its eastern members' defences.

In Brussels, Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen promised "more planes in the air, mores ships on the water, more readiness on the land".

He called on Russia to make clear it did not "support the violent actions of well-armed militias or pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine".

The Nato alliance includes two ex-Soviet Baltic republics with large ethnic Russian communities, Latvia and Estonia, while other members such as Poland share borders with Russia.

Four-way talks are due to take place on Thursday in Geneva between diplomats from Russia, the EU, the US and Ukraine.

Ahead of the annexation of Crimea, masked soldiers believed to be Russian troops appeared at strategic points across the peninsula alongside "self-defence" units, said to have been formed locally.

Speaking in London, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said Russia had sent "thinly disguised" armed groups into eastern Ukraine to spearhead the occupation of buildings.

Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) has meanwhile published what it says is a batch of intercepted conversations between the Russian secret services and pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: ''We agreed on a package of further military measures to reinforce our collective defence''

Russian security service officers are heard to order forces in eastern Ukraine to "shoot to kill" when dealing with Ukrainian troops who do not surrender, according to the transcripts.

Counter-intelligence spokesman Vitaliy Naida told reporters the same Russian agents had been involved in the run-up to Russia's Crimea annexation.

The intercepts could not be independently verified. Moscow maintains the pro-Russian protests in eastern Ukraine are the result of grassroots activism.

Map: Eastern Ukraine

Are you in eastern Ukraine? What is the situation like where you are? You can email your experiences to haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk using the subject line 'Eastern Ukraine'.

BRICS countries to set up their own IMF


BRICS countries to set up their own IMF

The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have made significant progress in setting up structures that would serve as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are dominated by the U.S. and the EU. A currency reserve pool, as a replacement for the IMF, and a BRICS development bank, as a replacement for the World Bank, will begin operating as soon as in 2015, Russian Ambassador at Large Vadim Lukov has said.

Brazil has already drafted a charter for the BRICS Development Bank, while Russia is drawing up intergovernmental agreements on setting the bank up, he added.

In addition, the BRICS countries have already agreed on the amount of authorized capital for the new institutions: $100 billion each. "Talks are under way on the distribution of the initial capital of $50 billion between the partners and on the location for the headquarters of the bank. Each of the BRICS countries has expressed a considerable interest in having the headquarters on its territory," Lukov said.

It is expected that contributions to the currency reserve pool will be as follows: China, $41 billion; Brazil, India, and Russia, $18 billion each; and South Africa, $5 billion. The amount of the contributions reflects the size of the countries' economies.

By way of comparison, the IMF reserves, which are set by the Special Drawing Rights (SDR), currently stand at 238.4 billion euros, or $369.52 billion dollars. In terms of amounts, the BRICS currency reserve pool is, of course, inferior to the IMF. However, $100 billion should be quite sufficient for five countries, whereas the IMF comprises 188 countries - which may require financial assistance at any time.

BRICS Development Bank

The BRICS countries are setting up a Development Bank as an alternative to the World Bank in order to grant loans for projects that are beneficial not for the U.S. or the EU, but for developing countries.

The purpose of the bank is to primarily finance external rather than internal projects. The founding countries believe that they are quite capable of developing their own projects themselves. For instance, Russia has a National Wealth Fund for this purpose.

"Loans from the Development Bank will be aimed not so much at the BRICS countries as for investment in infrastructure projects in other countries, say, in Africa,” says Ilya Prilepsky, a member of the Economic Expert Group. “For example, it would be in BRICS' interest to give a loan to an African country for a hydropower development program, where BRICS countries could supply their equipment or act as the main contractor."

If the loan is provided by the IMF, the equipment will be supplied by western countries that control its operations.

The creation of the BRICS Development Bank has a political significance too, since it allows its member states to promote their interests abroad. "It is a political move that can highlight the strengthening positions of countries whose opinion is frequently ignored by their developed American and European colleagues. The stronger this union and its positions on the world arena are, the easier it will be for its members to protect their own interests," points out Natalya Samoilova, head of research at the investment company Golden Hills-Kapital AM.

Having said that, the creation of alternative associations by no means indicates that the BRICS countries will necessarily quit the World Bank or the IMF, at least not initially, says Ilya Prilepsky.

Currency reserve pool

In addition, the BRICS currency reserve pool is a form of insurance, a cushion of sorts, in the event a BRICS country faces financial problems or a budget deficit. In Soviet times it would have been called "a mutual benefit society", says Nikita Kulikov, deputy director of the consulting company HEADS. Some countries in the pool will act as a safety net for the other countries in the pool.

The need for such protection has become evident this year, when developing countries' currencies, including the Russian ruble, have been falling.

The currency reserve pool will assist a member country with resolving problems with its balance of payments by making up a shortfall in foreign currency.

Assistance can be given when there is a sharp devaluation of the national currency or massive capital flight due to a softer monetary policy by the U.S. Federal Reserve System, or when there are internal problems, or a crisis, in the banking system. If banks have borrowed a lot of foreign currency cash and are unable to repay the debt, then the currency reserve pool will be able to honor those external obligations.

This structure should become a worthy alternative to the IMF, which has traditionally provided support to economies that find themselves in a budgetary emergency.

"A large part of the fund goes toward saving the euro and the national currencies of developed countries. Given that governance of the IMF is in the hands of western powers, there is little hope for assistance from the IMF in case of an emergency. That is why the currency reserve pool would come in very handy," says ambassador Lukov. 

The currency reserve pool will also help the BRICS countries to gradually establish cooperation without the use of the dollar, points out Natalya Samoilova. This, however, will take time. For the time being, it has been decided to replenish the authorized capital of the Development Bank and the Currency Reserve Pool with U.S. dollars. Thus the U.S. currency system is getting an additional boost. However, it cannot be ruled out that very soon (given the threat of U.S. and EU economic sanctions against Russia) the dollar may be replaced by the ruble and other national currencies of the BRICS counties.

Full text available on Vz.ru.