Russian Propagandists Scramble for Better Spin on Ukraine

Posted: Sep 05, 2014 12:01 AM

Pakistan-South Asia: Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri declared Wednesday in a video message that the global Islamist extremist movement has launched a new off-shoot in the Indian-sub-continent.

In the video, found in online jihadist forums by the SITE terrorism monitoring group, Zawahiri said the new force would fight to revive a Muslim caliphate in Burma, Bangladesh and parts of India.

Comment: Zawahiri is reacting to al-Baghdadi's caliphate in a way that ensures religious tension in a region where mass murders of Muslims are always one minor traffic accident away. For example, Indian Prime Minister Modi's wing of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party has a history of supporting Hindu suppression of Muslims. That wing does not need an excuse to kill Muslims. On the other hand, Muslim hotheads also are prone to kill Hindus with little provocation. Burmese Buddhists seem to have no reservations about committing "ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingya Muslims apparently because they are not Buddhists and not ethnic Burmans.

Zawahiri's declaration is a potential death sentence for many South Asians.

Russia-Ukraine: Russian version. Russian President Putin spoke by telephone with Ukrainian President Poroshenko today. Russian media published excerpts of Putin's side of the conversation.

Putin told the press that his and Poroshenko's views on ways to settle the Ukrainian conflict were very close. He said he sketched out a plan of action in a hand written note as he was flying from Blagoveshchensk to Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

For the purposes of stopping the bloodshed and stabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine, Putin suggested:

1.A cessation of offensive operations in Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

2.Withdrawal of Ukrainian armed forces to positions beyond the range of artillery and multiple-rocket launchers;

3.Implementation of an international control regime to ensure compliance with the ceasefire conditions;

4.A ban on air attacks against peaceful civilians and population centers;

5.An exchange all prisoners without conditions;

6.Opening of corridors for refugee movement and delivery of humanitarian supplies to population centers in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

7.Permission for repair teams to travel to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to restore destroyed facilities and infrastructure in order to help the people prepare for winter.

He suggested that final agreements between the Kyiv authorities and southeast Ukrainians should be reached and documented during the planned meeting of the Ukrainian contact group on 5 September.

Putin concluded by stressing that his points were "in furtherance of today's telephone conversation with President Poroshenko."

Ukrainian version. The Ukrainian presidential press service announced that it had "updated its previous report on agreements reached between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin." The correction said that the two actually agreed on a ceasefire regime in Donbas, rather than on a "permanent" ceasefire, as was first reported.

"The conversation resulted in an agreement on a ceasefire regime in Donbas. Mutual understanding was achieved regarding steps that would promote the establishment of peace," according to the updated statement on the Ukrainian presidential website.

"The chiefs of state exchanged opinions as to what should be done primarily to stop bloodshed in the southeastern part of the country as soon as possible. The presidents' viewpoints on possible ways to overcome the grave and critical situation coincide to a considerable degree."

A Russian clarification. Late on the 3rd, President Putin's spokesman clarified that Russia is not a party to the fighting, thus President Putin could not agree to a ceasefire. "This is not an exhaustive plan. It is a proposal on priority measures and everything else is an issue for further talks."

Comment: The Russian propagandists almost lost control of the spin on Putin's talk with Poroshenko. The initial reports in Russian media stated that Ukraine and Russia had agreed to a permanent ceasefire. That description suggested that Poroshenko managed to induce Putin to admit he was in control of the fighting in eastern Ukraine and, by implication, that Russian soldiers were involved and under Russian command and control.

Evidently, the Russians recognized the error and had Russian media publish corrections, which included Putin's version of what transpired during the telephone conversation.

Russia continues to adhere to the fiction that it is not a party to the fighting. Therefore, Putin's seven steps are measures upon which the parties must agree in direct talks. That explains the reference to the contact group talks set for 5 September, which will include a deputation from eastern Ukraine.

The agreement announcement is mostly for public appearances. An agreement to implment the severn steps will hinge on the outcome of the contact talks. That outcome will hinge on whether the Ukrainians are sufficiently war weary and concerned about Russia's larger intentions.

The talks provide an opportunity to pause and regroup, with Russian approval, that might not come again. Still prospects for a ceasefire appear small. Enforcement of a ceasefire also would be difficult because many units on both sides are militias or "volunters."

Special comment: If Russia manages to help engineer a durable ceasefire and a new normality takes hold in Ukraine, that will sap the momentum of most of the NATO initiatives that now seem so urgent. NATO members in Western Europe tend to prefer denial about Russian strategic intentions. There is no constituency in favor of containing Russia in an integrated world economy, except among the countries that border Russia. The Russian leaders are counting on short memories and a preference for appeasement to settle tension before they make the next foray against NATO.

Ukraine: Military. Pro-Russia forces in the Donetsk region claimed that Mariupol, a key port on the coast of the Sea of Azov, is in "operational encirclement," One militia source said they had taken control of the main roads into the town and had cut the main supply lines to Ukrainian units there. He said the rebel forces were not ready to attack the town yet.

The Ukrainian General Staff has ordered a broad withdrawal of Ukrainian forces to consolidate strength and prevent the loss of units in danger of encirclement.

Comment: Open sources suggest the Ukrainians are giving up most of the gains they made during the summer. The rebels claim they have no intention of conducting offensive operations outside the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

France-Russia: The French government announced it has decided to delay until at least November the delivery to Russia of the first of two Mistral-class helicopter carriers. The Vladivostok was due to be delivered next month as part of a 1.2 billion euro ($1.6 billion) contract.

The French government said Wednesday "conditions" were not in place to complete delivery to Russia because of French concerns about Russian involvement in the Ukrainian crisis.

Comment: The US and other NATO members have exerted pressure on France to cancel, not just delay, the Mistral contract. The French have taken a half measure that displays their disapproval of Russian involvement in Ukraine, allows French ship construction crews more time to do finishing work, and probably avoids breach of contract lawsuits.

End of NightWatch


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