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Monday, December 09, 2019

Putin Denies Invading Ukraine, Warns West ‘Not To Mess With Us’

By Isabel Gorst and Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin denied Friday that the Kremlin had sent troops and tanks into eastern Ukraine and countered threats of increased Western sanctions with the advice that it is “best not to mess with us.”

Putin likened the 5-month-old battle between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine to the World War II siege of Leningrad by invading Nazi troops. He also reminded the outside world that has condemned his incursions into Ukraine that Russia is “one of the leading nuclear powers.”

But his defiant pose during a visit to a Kremlin-sponsored youth camp near Moscow, which was broadcast on state-run television, coincided with a proposed “humanitarian” appeal to the pro-Russia separatists to allow Ukrainian troops encircled in the Donetsk region to evacuate to government-held territory to the west.

The appeal, which the Kremlin-allied separatists agreed to on condition the Ukrainian troops surrender their weapons, was likely intended to facilitate a prisoner swap, as the Ukrainian side earlier this week took 10 Russian paratroopers captive after they crossed the border with one of several armored convoys that have entered Ukraine in the last two weeks.

In Kiev, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Ukraine would pursue full membership in NATO once a new parliament is seated following elections set for Oct. 26. President Petro Poroshenko last week dissolved the Supreme Council that had become dysfunctional after the overthrow of former President Viktor Yanukovich, whose Party of Regions deputies dominated the legislature chosen in 2012.

Ukraine had agreed to remain nonaligned after the breakup of the Soviet Union in exchange for guarantees from Russia that its security and territorial integrity would be respected. But after Yanukovich was toppled in February after a three-month rebellion over his scuttling of a European Union trade deal, Russian troops invaded Ukraine’s Crimea region and Putin annexed it in mid-March, spurring the separatist actions in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen acknowledged Ukraine’s right to seek membership in the Western military alliance without expressing support or opposition to a Ukrainian bid — a move Putin would clearly regard as a threat to his authority in the former Soviet region. But the NATO chief condemned Russia’s armored incursion into Ukrainian territory, satellite images of which the alliance released Thursday.

“This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution,” Rasmussen said.

“Despite Moscow’s hollow denials, it is now clear that Russian troops and equipment have illegally crossed the border into eastern and southeastern Ukraine,” Rasmussen said. “This is not an isolated action, but part of a dangerous pattern over many months to destabilize Ukraine as a sovereign nation.”

He warned Russia that its military involvement on its neighbor’s territory “can only deepen the crisis in the region, which Russia itself has created and has continued to fuel.”

Foreign ministers of the 28-nation European Union met in Milan, Italy, on Friday and heard appeals from some member nations for tougher sanctions against Russia to punish its latest aggression against Ukraine.

“We are now in the midst of the second Russian invasion of Ukraine within a year,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, referring to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March. Citing the reported intrusion of Russian tanks and troops and the seizure of Novoazovsk this week, Bildt said the European alliance must “call a spade a spade.”

At the youth camp on the shores of Lake Seliger, northwest of Moscow, Putin was filmed chatting with young Russians about the need to be “ready to repel any aggression towards Russia.”

Putin denied that Russia was involved in the fighting in eastern Ukraine that has taken 2,600 lives since April, calling Ukrainians and Russians “one people.”

His visit to the youth camp came a day after Russian tanks and troops thundered into eastern Ukraine along the Sea of Azov, opening a new front for the embattled separatists who were on the verge of losing their last two strongholds in Donetsk and Luhansk to resurgent Ukrainian government forces.

In what sounded like a warning to the West against imposing further sanctions on Russia, Putin reminded the outside world that Russia is nuclear-armed and ready to defend itself.

“Thank God, I think no one is thinking of unleashing a large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers,” he said.

Alluding to Western countries, Putin added that “Russia’s partners … should understand it’s best not to mess with us.”

AFP Photo/Maxim Shipenkov

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

Wen Ho Lee

Down at Mar-a-Lago and anywhere else that former President Donald Trump is still venerated, he and his entourage are excited about a publication that has never before drawn his attention. The Columbia Journalism Review has just published a four-part, 24,000-word essay that purports to debunk the Trump-Russia "narrative" — and seeks to blame rising public disdain for the press, among other ills, on The New York Times and Washington Post for their coverage of that scandal.

Its author is Jeff Gerth, a reporter who worked at the Times for three decades. His former colleagues are said to be seething with fury at him. They have ample reason, not out of feelings of personal betrayal, but because Gerth has betrayed basic journalistic standards. Unfortunately, this is not the first time.

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