Mystery continues to surround the Feb. 8 US air-strikes on Syria's Deir ez-Zor governorate, which Damascus called a "brutal massacre" of some 200 pro-regime troops. This was the latest of just a handful of times that pro-regime forces have been targeted by the US. Initial reports said private Russian mercenaries were among those killed in the strikes, wihch were apparently in retaliation for regime attacks on US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the area. At issue seems to have been the "Coneco" gas-field, although the typically garbled media accounts contradict each other on whether regime forces were attempting to take it from the SDF or vice versa. But another blast at an arms depot in the same area is again said to have left 15 Russian private security personnel dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed in the Feb. 15 incident at Tabiya Jazira were Russians "protecting the oil and gas fields controlled by the Syrian regime." (SBS, UNIAN, AFP, Feb. 15)
The US approved the sale of $47 million worth of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) to Ukraine Dec. 22, with the State Department issuing an export license for 210 of the Javelin ATGMs and 35 command launcher units (CLUs) to fire them. Responses from Kiev and Moscow were predictable. "I am grateful for the leadership of President Donald Trump, clear position of all our American friends, and for strong bipartisan support of Ukraine," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Facebook in English. Countered Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov: "Today the United States is clearly pushing [Ukrainian authorities] towards new bloodshed. American weapons can lead to new victims in our neighbor." He added that Washington had "crossed a line." (Popular Mechanics, RFE/RL, TASS)
Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov was convicted by Russian-appointed judges in Simferopol Sept. 27 on spurious "separatism" charges, and sentenced to two years. An outspoken critic of Russia's occupation of peninsula, Umerov was arrested late last year, forcibly interned in a psychiatric facility, and then charged on counts of separatism, and forbidden to leave the country. The European Union condemned his sentencing as "a violation of human rights," while Human Rights Watch called it "ruthless retaliation" for his opposition to Moscow's annexrtion of Crimea. Umerov was deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body, the Majlis, which has now been officially suspended by Moscow. (UNPO)
The rights situation in Crimea "has significantly deteriorated under Russian occupation," the UN Human Rights Office finds in a Sept. 25 report (PDF), citing arbitrary arrests. disappearances, torture, infringements of the Geneva Conventions. The report especially highlights discrimination against those who have resisted taking up Russian citizenship. Individuals without Russian Federation citizenship are denied many rights, including the right to vote or run for office, the right to own agricultural land, and the right to register with a religious community. The groups most susceptible to rights violations are "those who formally rejected citizenship; civil servants who had to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship or lose their jobs; and Crimean residents who did not meet the legal criteria for citizenship and became foreigners." This prominently includes the Crimean Tatars, who have strenuously rejected Russian annexation of the peninsula. (RFE/RL, Jurist)
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has publicly blamed the recent global cyber-attack on Russia and the Kremlin. The SBU stated that the hackers behind the most recent attack are the same as those who conducted an attack on the Ukrainian power grid in December 2016. Experts worldwide are still trying to decide who was behind the most recent attack, which took out computers, disrupted shipping, and hit banks across the globe. Some experts are unsure if the Russians are the ones behind the attack, as Russian oil companies Gazprom and Rosneft both reported that they were affected by the attack. There was a minor ransom demand for $300, but it has been concluded that financial enrichment was not the purpose behind the attack. The SBU stated that "the main purpose of the virus was the destruction of important data, disrupting the work of public and private institutions in Ukraine and spreading panic among the people". While purpose of the recent attack was directed against financial institutions, it quickly spread to other sectors.
The first hearing in the case against Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov opened in Simferopol June 7. Russian authorities who control Crimea have charged Umerov—deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body, the Majlis, now banned by Moscow—with separatism. His supporters say he is being persecuted for speaking out against the growing persecution of the Tatars since Russia's annexation of Crimea. Umerov suffers from serious medical conditions that have prevented authorities from remanding him in custody, as they have fellow Majlis leader Akhtem Chiygoz. However Umerov has been subject to "punitive psychiatry," according to Ukraine's Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group. The independent rights monitor calls the case against Umerov a "Soviet-style" show trial.
A retired Ukrainian general still closely linked with the intelligence services this week openly called for the "destruction" of his country's Jewish community. The outrageous comments, which alarmingly seem to have won no other English-language coverage, are brought to light by a May 11 report in the UK's Jewish Chronicle—which makes clear that this was not an isolated incident, but part of a deepening and deeply disturbing trend in Ukraine...
This week's unnerving incident in which US jets intercepted two Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska leaves us wondering how to read events. Russia sent the two "nuclear-capable" bombers to within 100 miles of Kodiak Island April 17, prompting the US to scramble two F-22 stealth fighter jets from Elmendorf Air Force Base. The US and Russian craft were side-by-side for a full 12 minutes, until they crossed out of the US Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). (The Telegraph, April 18) This came as ExxonMobil was seeking a waiver from US sanctions against Russia to move ahead with its Black Sea venture with Rosneft. The decision rested with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), while Secretary of State (and ex-Exxon CEO) Rex Tillerson is officially recusing himself from any matters involving the company for two years. Still, it is counterintuitive (at least) that OFAC turned down the waiver April 21. (NYT, April 21; Fox Business, April 19)