Thursday, February 27, 2014
A Russian flag outside city hall in Sevastopol. Photograph: Reuters
Fears of a major regional conflict in Crimea pitting Russia against the west intensified on Thursday after pro-Russian gunmen seized the regional government and parliament building in a well co-ordinated military operation.
According to witnesses, men dressed in fatigues stormed Crimea's administration in Simferopol at 5am, hoisting a Russian flag above the parliament building. About 120 men were holed up inside, armed with heavy weapons including rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles, witnesses said.
With gunmen controlling the building, Crimea's parliament voted to hold a referendum on the region's status on 25 May, the same day Ukraine goes to the polls in presidential elections. It also voted to sack the region's cabinet. The move puts the predominantly ethnic-Russian region on a collision course with Kiev's interim government and will fuel concern Ukraine is sliding inexorably towards break-up.
It was unclear whether the gunmen were undercover Russian soldiers or members of a pro-Russian self-defence militia formed in response to Ukraine's revolution, which has included radical nationalist groups. The former head of the Crimean parliament, Serhiy Kunitsyn, described the men as professionally trained and armed with enough weaponry to defend the complex for a month.
Early on Friday morning about 50 armed gunman were reported to have taken over Simferopol's airport – arriving in Kamaz trucks, cordoning off the domestic terminal and then moving on to other areas. Russia Today described them as similarly dressed and equipped to the "local ethnic Russian 'self-defence squads'" that seized the parliament and government buildings.
Witnesses said the men at the airport were bearing Russian navy flags. The AFP news agency said the airport was operating normally as Friday dawned, with passengers checking in for flights, though there were armed men outside the perimeter. Representatives of the new leadership in Kiev had been expected to fly in on Friday, AFP said.
Russia's ousted ally Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukraine president, who fled Kiev last week after his troops shot dead more than 80 people, resurfaced on Thursday to insist he was still the country's legitimate leader – excoriating Ukraine's new leadership as he did so.
That government confirmed 39-year-old former opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk as acting prime minister, and gave two of the former regime's most prominent victims places in the new administration. Tetiana Chornovol, an investigative journalist beaten up by thugs, heads a new anti-corruption office. Activist Dmytro Bulatov, who was kidnapped and had part of his ear cut off, becomes Ukraine's youth minister.
Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, who has been in the job since Yanukovych fled the country, warned Russia not to intervene in the crisis by moving troops. The Kremlin's Black Sea fleet is based near Simferopol in the port of Sevastopol. Turchynov said: "I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory [the base] will be seen by us as military aggression." Ukraine's foreign ministry also summoned Russia's acting envoy in Kiev for consultations.
The White House said it was closely watching Russian's military manoeuvres, ordered by Vladimir Putin next to Ukraine's border. Putin also put fighter jets on a state of high alert.
The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, called on the Kremlin to show restraint and reaffirmed Washington's commitment to Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
After meeting Angela Merkel, David Cameron said he and the German chancellor were particularly concerned. Nato's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, urged Russia not to do anything that would escalate tension or create misunderstanding.
Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, described the seizure of government buildings in the Crimea a "very dangerous game". He told a news conference: "This is a drastic step, and I'm warning those who did this and those who allowed them to do this, because this is how regional conflicts begin."
Hours after the parliament building was seized, Yanukovych revealed he was in Russia and had sought protection from Putin. He said he would hold a press conference on Friday in Rostov-on-Don, close to Ukraine's border and his home city of Donetsk.
His unusual choice of a provincial press conference venue suggests he still nurtures hopes of a return to power, possibly as the leader of a breakaway Russian-backed enclave encompassing Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Yanukovych appeared to give approval to secessionist pro-Russian forces in Crimea, and said an "orgy of extremism" had swept the country. "Now it is becoming clear that the people in south-eastern Ukraine and in Crimea do not accept the power vacuum and complete lawlessness in the country," he said.
In Kiev, members of Ukraine's new government hinted that the country would sign an association agreement with the EU next month. It was Yanukovych's decision in December to dump the agreement – and instead accept a bailout from Russia – that prompted the street demonstrations that eventually led to his overthrow. Ukrainian officials branded the referendum decision by Crimea's parliament as unconstitutional.
Earlier in Simferopol, the gunmen barricaded doors into the parliament building with wooden crates. Police sealed off the area on Thursday, as a crowd supportive of the seizure gathered outside. Two people died and 35 were injured during clashes outside the building on Wednesday between pro-Russian demonstrators and Muslim Tatars. About half of Crimea's 2 million population are ethnic Russians. The Tatars – the peninsula's original Turkic-speaking Muslim inhabitants – are 300,000 strong and support the authorities in Kiev.
Witnesses described the moment when the armed men turned up. "We were building barricades in the night to protect parliament. Then this young Russian guy came up with a pistol … we all lay down, some more ran up, there was some shooting and around 50 went in through the window," Leonid Khazanov, an ethnic Russian, told Reuters.
Khazanov added: "They're still there … Then the police came, they seemed scared. I asked them [the armed men] what they wanted, and they said: 'To make our own decisions, not to have Kiev telling us what to do'."
The former head of the central executive body of Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Jemilev, said the situation was extremely worrying. He suggested the gunmen had arrived from Sevastopol, where the Russian fleet is based. "The people in camouflage and without any distinctive signs came by buses from the Sevastopol side. There are reports of movement of armed vehicles of the Russian fleet in different directions. We also got signs that in many hotels there are Russian soldiers wearing civilian clothes. The Russian general consul office says they have nothing to do with these events. But they would hardly tell the truth."
Jemilev speculated that the gunmen could be Russian soldiers or members of Berkut, the now-disbanded riot police unit deployed against opposition protesters in Kiev. Lifenews.ru, a pro-Kremlin Russian website with links to Russia's spy agencies, however, said they were veterans from the army and police. According to US diplomatic cables leaked in 2010 by Wikileaks, Russia's military intelligence wing – the GRU – is highly active in Crimea.
About 100 police had gathered in front of the parliament building on Thursday. A similar number of people carrying Russian flags later marched up to the building chanting "Russia, Russia" and holding a sign calling for a Crimean referendum.
Many wore orange-and-black striped ribbons that symbolise support for Russia. One of them, Alexei, 30, said: "We have our own constitution, Crimea is autonomous. The government in Kiev are fascists, and what they're doing is illegal … We need to show our support for the guys inside [parliament]. Power should be ours."
"Yesterday Russian people were attacked and murdered by Tatar extremists. We will not allow this fascism from Kiev to happen here," said 43-year-old construction worker, Spartak. "Crimea wants independence and we want parliament to hold a referendum on this. We have been hijacked."
Policemen informed passersby that Karl Marx Street was closed due to the presence of snipers in the areas. Nearby shops and businesses have closed and pulled down their shutters.
The acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, who said the attackers had automatic weapons and machine guns, urged calm. He said on Facebook: "Provocateurs are on the march. It is the time for cool heads."
Turchynov, speaking to the parliament in Kiev, described the attackers as "criminals in military fatigues with automatic weapons".
He also called on Moscow not to violate the terms of an agreement that gives the Russian Black Sea fleet basing rights at Sevastopol until 2042.
Credit to the guardian
The Russian defense ministry announced Thursday, Feb. 27 that fighter jets stood on combat alert along its western borders with Ukraine. Moscow repeated its commitment to protect Russian-speaking elements in the Crimean Peninsula. Earlier, armed men carried out a pro-Russian coup in the Crimean capital, by seizing government and parliamentary buildings and hoisting Russian flags – in response to the pro-European coup in Kiev. Forces loyal to the provisional government in Kiev meanwhile surround the area which they say was occupied by “criminals in army fatigues.”
The pro-Russian coup came on the heels of a day of violent clashes between pro-Russian and pro-European protesters in the Crimean capital, prompting a Russian military alert. DEBKAfile: Witnesses in Crimea Wednesday night saw Russian military equipment moving into the peninsula. We reported earlier that Vladimir Putin would never relinquish Russian control of the Crimean peninsula and its military bases there - or more particularly the big Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol.
Read DEBKAfile's report of Wednesday, Feb. 26.
There is no way that President Vladimir Putin will relinquish Russian control of the Crimean peninsula and its military bases there - or more particularly the big Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol. This military stronghold is the key to Russia’s Middle East policy. If it is imperiled, so too are Russia’s military posture in Syria and its strategic understandings with Iran.
This peril raised its head Wednesday, Feb. 26, when pro-Russian and pro-European protesters clashed violently in the Crimean town of Simferopol, the Peninsula’s financial and highway hub.
Most of the protesters against Moscow were members of the minority Tatar community, who had gathered from around the region to demand that Crimea accept Kiev rule.
The majority population is Russian speaking and fought the Tatar demonstrators. However, rival historic claims to this strategic peninsula were in full flight, sparking red lights in Moscow to danger.
The Tatars ruled Crimea in the 18th century. If they manage to expel Russian influence from Simferopol and then the rest of the region, it would be the signal for dozens of the small peoples who make up the Russian Federation to go into separatist mode and raise the flags of mutiny. The Kremlin is therefore bound to nip the Tatar outbreak in the bud to save Russia.
And so, Putin ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to stage an urgent four-day drill to test the combat readiness of Russian military forces in central and western Russia, starting with a high alert for the military and the deployment of some units to shooting ranges.
The exercise will involve Russia’s Baltic and Northern Fleets and its air force.
In a televised statement after a meeting of top military officials in Moscow, defense minister Gen. Shoigu said the forces “must be ready to bomb unfamiliar testing grounds” and be "ready for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security.”
A senior Russian lawmaker on Tuesday told pro-Russia activists in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula that Moscow will protect them if their lives are in danger.
The Russian president’s military move Wednesday signaled his readiness to send his army into Ukraine and divide the country, if Moscow’s national interests and the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine are at stake. Having broadcast that message, Putin will now wait to see if it picked up by Washington and Brussels for action to restrain the new authorities in Kiev.
But it is no longer certain how much control Western powers have over the former protesters of Kiev, who appear to have taken the bit between their teeth.
Credit to DEBKAfile
Researchers in Britain have shown for the first time how a computer virus can spread through Wi-Fi “as efficiently as the common cold spreads between humans.” The 'Chameleon’ Wi-Fi AP-AP virus infiltrates dense networks and spreads at an alarming rate.
Chameleon was designed by a team of researchers from the University of Liverpool, and displayed a ‘remarkable amount of intelligence’ in its capacity to spread in a similar way to the common cold.
The virus “was able to avoid detection and identify the points at which Wi-Fi access is least protected by encryption and passwords,” according to a release published on the university’s website. The areas which are generally ‘least protected’ are public access points – such as free Wi-Fi in cafes and airports.
Network Security Professor, Alan Marshall, stated that the virus doesn’t attempt to damage existing networks but instead infiltrates the data of all users connected to a network via Wi-Fi .
“WiFi connections are increasingly a target for computer hackers because of well-documented security vulnerabilities, which make it difficult to detect and defend against a virus,” said Marshall.
“It was assumed, however, that it wasn’t possible to develop a virus that could attack Wi-Fi networks but we demonstrated that this is possible and that it can spread quickly. We are now able to use the data generated from this study to develop a new technique to identify when an attack is likely,” he added.
Chameleon’s success lies in the means by which it avoids detection – the majority of anti-virus software packages looks for infections which are present on computers and the Internet, rather than publicly-used Wi-Fi networks.
“When Chameleon attacked an AP (access point) it didn’t affect how it worked, but was able to collect and report the credentials of all other Wi-Fi users who connected to it. The virus then sought out other Wi-Fi APs that it could connect to and infect,” Marshall said. That the virus doesn’t disrupt the network itself, but instead those connecting to it, makes it all the more subversive and dangerous.
The virus was found to travel the most quickly between access points which were within a distance of 160 feet, prompting the ‘common cold’ comparison.
Credit to RT
Members of Congress and constitutional law experts testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, warning that the legislative branch is in danger of ceding its power in the face of an “imperial presidency.”
The hearing, “Enforcing the President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws,” focused on the multiple areas President Barack Obama has bypassed Congress, ranging from healthcare and immigration to marriage and welfare rules.
Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, testified that the expansion of executive power is happening so fast that America is at a “constitutional tipping point.”
“My view [is] that the president, has in fact, exceeded his authority in a way that is creating a destabilizing influence in a three branch system,” he said. “I want to emphasize, of course, this problem didn’t begin with President Obama, I was critical of his predecessor President Bush as well, but the rate at which executive power has been concentrated in our system is accelerating. And frankly, I am very alarmed by the implications of that aggregation of power.”
“What also alarms me, however, is that the two other branches appear not just simply passive, but inert in the face of this concentration of authority,” Turley said.
While Turley agrees with many of Obama’s policy positions, he steadfastly opposes the method he goes about enforcing them.
“The fact that I happen to think the president is right on many of these policies does not alter the fact that I believe the means he is doing [it] is wrong, and that this can be a dangerous change in our system,” he said. “And our system is changing in a very fundamental way. And it’s changing without a whimper of regret or opposition.”
Elizabeth Price Foley, a law professor at Florida International University College of Law, agreed, warning that Congress is in danger of becoming “superfluous.”
“Situations like this, these benevolent suspensions as they get more and more frequent and more and more aggressive, they’re eroding our citizens’ respect for the rule of law,” she said. “We are a country of law and not men. It’s going to render Congress superfluous.”
Foley said Congress is not able to tackle meaningful legislation out of fear that Obama would “simply benevolently suspend portions of the law he doesn’t like.”
“If you want to stay relevant as an institution, I would suggest that you not stand idly by and let the president take your power away,” she said.
Panelists and members of Congress dismissed the idea of impeachment, and instead focused on lawsuits to challenge the constitutionality of the president’s unilateral moves.
Four House members testified on the first panel during the hearing to highlight legislation they have sponsored to thwart the administration’s executive overreach.
Impeachment would “surely be extremely divisive within the Congress and the nation generally, and would divert the attention of Congress from other important issues of the day,” said Rep. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.).
Gerlach, who testified before the committee, introduced H.R. 3857, the “Enforce the Take Care Clause Act,” which would expedite the review and injunction process for federal courts to challenge executive actions. Such a challenge would have to pass a supermajority in both chambers in order to be fast-tracked.
“Given the growing number of examples where this President has clearly failed to faithfully execute all laws, I believe it is time for Congress to put in place a procedure for a fast-track, independent review of those executive actions,” he said.
Gerlach said he proposed the bill due to Obama’s repeated alterations to his signature law, the Affordable Care Act.
“The ACA has been revised, altered and effectively rewritten by the president and his administration 23 times since July,” he said.
“When we have these constant changes at the president’s whim think about what that does to businesses’ planning capabilities and hiring capabilities and their expansion capabilities,” Rep. Tom Rice (R., S.C.) said. “We shouldn’t wonder why our economy is struggling.”
Rice has proposed the “Stop This Overreaching Presidency (STOP) Resolution” as a remedy. The resolution, which has 114 cosponsors, would direct the House to file lawsuits against four of the president’s unilateral actions, including the employer mandate delay in Obamacare and deferred action program for illegal immigrants.
Turley said Congress must take action to regain their power as the “thumping heart of our system.”
“The fact is, we’re stuck with each other,” Turley said. “Whether we like it or not in a system of shared powers. For better or worse we may deadlock, we maybe despise each other. The framers foresaw such periods, they lived in such a period.”
Credit to Washington Free Beacon
North Korea launched four short-range missiles Thursday, a broadcaster in South Korea reported, citing the Defense Ministry.
The missiles, thought to be ballistic missiles, were launched from North Korea's east coast and aimed at northeastern waters, China's state-run news agency Xinhua reported.
The South Korean Defense Ministry said the missiles had an estimated range of about 125 miles.
Credit to UPI
Read more: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2014/02/27/Report-North-Korea-fires-short-range-missiles/UPI-66201393504939/#ixzz2uWsPxFTM