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House Intel Committee Will Probe Trump’s Wiretap Accusation

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference at the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China September 5, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Democrats Say Trump’s Tax Returns Are A Matter Of National Security

IMAGE: U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Wilmington, Ohio, U.S. November 4,  2016.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

Paris Attacks Show The Good And Bad Of High-Tech Revolution

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

BERLIN — The Paris attackers used an online gaming chat function to discuss their plans.

To stay in touch, they used a social media app designed to protect Russian citizens from the prying eyes of their secret police.

And, later, after they’d killed 130 and wounded another 351, the remaining members of a terror cell that was on the verge of launching yet another attack in Paris was found and arrested or killed early Wednesday when the GPS functions on their phones and rental cars gave away the group’s locations and travel histories.

A week after the Nov. 13 attacks, it’s become clear that in the ancient and continuing matchup between good guys and bad guys, the fast-evolving technological world is both blessing and curse. From an anti-terror perspective, however, a half-and-half situation is a loss.

“It appears the attackers were dark during the planning of these attacks,” said Robert Cattanach, a Minneapolis-based attorney who specializes in cybersecurity issues, meaning that their communications were not detected. “From a national security standpoint, that’s very dangerous. The traditional methods of tracking terrorists, the ones we’re using today, are outdated. The problem is I don’t know if there are tech answers to overcome that.”

After the attacks, a single act of carelessness, or a poorly planned attempt at keeping the terror cell secret, cost the remaining attackers. Before entering the Bataclan theater, where three terrorists in suicide belts and carrying Kalashnikov rifles killed 89 people, one of the attackers threw his cellphone into a public trash can.

In one way, the action made sense: Since he intended to die during the attack, he didn’t want the phone to be found on his body. But once police found the phone, complete with a text message at 9:42 p.m. noting “Off we go, we begin,” they were able to track where that phone had been in the hours and days before the attack.

In addition, the attackers left behind late-model rental cars equipped with GPS systems. That meant the cars’ movements through the city were also trackable.

The combination of the information gleaned from the phone and the cars brought anti-terror police to an apartment in Saint-Denis, where the alleged planner of the attacks was found and killed. Two other suspects died: A suicide bomber, who was erroneously reported to have been a woman, detonated his vest, killing a female suspect who was standing nearby. Eight others were arrested.

That’s the technological upside. Here’s the downside:

In planning the attacks, the terrorists used the chat function, according to reports, available on PlayStation 4 gaming consoles, something that authorities don’t as a matter of course monitor. Experts say spy agencies could monitor them, but they’re not sure how helpful it would be. The online chats among the millions of gamers are filled with discussions of violence and possible attacks, all in the imaginary world of the game.

Even targeted monitoring in the context of online team shooting games — where most of the conversation is about who and how to kill — could leave intelligence professionals unsure of what was wheat and what was chaff.

And then there was the social media venue the attackers used, Telegram.

Telegram is a product of Russian tech wiz Pavel Durov. Before moving to Berlin and creating Telegram, he was a co-founder of Vkontakte, the Russian Facebook. He famously and shockingly sold out of that effort after expressing outrage at pressure being applied by the FSB, the modern Russian version of the KGB, for information about Ukrainian activists involved in protests in Kiev.

So, when he created Telegram, he set out to create a product that couldn’t be spied on by the secret police. Anyone’s secret police.

In Germany, where the revelations of American spying even on the beloved cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel outraged the nation, it was a popular branding point. The product brags about its high degree of secrecy on its website: “Telegram messages are heavily encrypted and can self-destruct. … Telegram servers are spread worldwide for security and speed. … Telegram keeps your messages safe from hacker attacks.”

Durov, for his part, reacted to the news that the Islamic State was using his platform to avoid detection by announcing on his Facebook page that he’d closed 78 accounts and was searching for other suspicious ones. He, however, mocked the notion of banning Telegram.

“I suggest we ban words,” he posted. “There’s been news that terrorists use them to communicate.”

In his post, he said he mourned the deaths. But he took no responsibility himself.

“I think the French government is as responsible as ISIS for this, because it is their policies and carelessness which eventually led to the tragedy,” he wrote. “They take money away from hardworking people of France with outrageously high taxes and spend them on waging useless wars in the Middle East and on creating parasitic social paradise for North African immigrants.

“It is a disgrace to see Paris in the hands of shortsighted socialists who ruin this beautiful place.”

Durov did not respond to requests for comment from McClatchy.

Experts tend to agree, however, that shutting down any media platform is pointless, as another will quickly spring up to take its place. Cattanach, the Minneapolis attorney, suggested President Barack Obama could issue an executive order that would allow the National Security Agency a so-called “backdoor” entrance into all encrypted communications within the United States. But, he added, that doesn’t really help with platforms outside the United States, and he noted that backdoors can be exploited by others, including terror organizations.

Martin Libicki, an expert on the impact of information technology on national security for the RAND Corp., said there’s a more basic problem: There is far too much communication in this world for monitoring to be very useful.

“If you can see everything, you drown in the stuff,” he said. Instead, security organizations have to be far less broad in what they gather. “The answer has to be more towards traditional spy techniques, enhanced with a little high-tech gloss.”

Even so, he said, in an age of such easy communications, the current approach to terrorism might need to be totally rethought. He said that even if security services knew that “”Terry the Terrorist’ played ‘Call of Duty’ and used the chat function, it’s unlikely much would be learned.”

“Remember back when we were coming up with the way to wage war against terrorism, and the idea was that you could fight terrorists but not the ideology behind it?” he asked. “Maybe it’s time we rethought that, and spent a lot more time and effort using these means of communication to delegitimize the notion of random violence.

“We crippled al-Qaida in Afghanistan, and we can destroy the Islamic State, but if we don’t solve this ideological problem, another group will simply pop up to replace them.”

Without that, it’s quite likely that terrorism will remain a constant threat.

“We live in an increasingly surveilled world, and they know this,” he said. “Getting away with an attack with the GPS functions of cars and phones and all the video cameras is increasingly unlikely. In this context, using suicide bombers, who don’t fear getting caught, makes a lot of sense and will probably become more common.”

The only real constant in international terrorism is that the approach changes, Ko Colijn, general director and a security expert at Clingendael, a Netherlands think tank, posted online this week.

“The only existing pattern is that terrorists learn and co-evolve in their methods, and that they usually are (or try to be) one step ahead of their opponents,” he wrote. “Terrorism is too dynamic to be fitted into a single long-term pattern.”

The think tank’s analysis of the attacks, posted Friday, also suggested what should happen now to counter the technological issues: “A strengthening of human intelligence capabilities in European suburbs … and a reinforcement of dialogue with religious representatives is an urgent necessity.”

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

A French flag is seen in front of the Bataclan concert hall to pay tribute to the victims of the series of deadly attacks on Friday, in Paris, France, November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Iran Nuclear Negotiators Extend Talks 1 Week As Deadline Passes

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

VIENNA — The latest deadline in the talks over Iran’s nuclear program passed Tuesday with no deal, but there was an agreement to set a new deadline.

Negotiators have missed deadlines before. In April, they went an extra week in Lausanne, Switzerland, setting what they called the parameters for a final deal, which was to have been concluded by June 30.

It’s that June 30 deadline that was extended Tuesday to give the negotiating parties, Iran and what’s known as the P5+1, more time to work out the details of a comprehensive deal that would limit Iran’s nuclear program and lift Western-imposed sanctions on Iran.

“The P5+1 and Iran have decided to extend the measures under the Joint Plan of Action until July 7 to allow more time for negotiations to reach a long-term solution — a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — on the Iran nuclear issue,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

The negotiations remain controversial in the United States, especially among some members of Congress.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that the deal has to be tough on Iran, especially when it comes to inspections to confirm compliance.

“The U.S. and its partners are offering Iran international acceptance of its nuclear program,” he said. “Stop explaining Iran’s position, and certainly don’t do it by comparing Iran with the U.S. in any way, shape or form. The standard needs to be ‘go anywhere, anytime’ — not ‘go some places, sometimes.'”

Having an agreement remains popular in Europe, however. Writing for the London-based policy think tank Chatham House, Patricia Lewis, an international security researcher, said that “Iran has shown that it can restrain itself in the chemical weapons domain. It should at least be given the opportunity to demonstrate the same in the nuclear realm.”

In Vienna, the negotiators include U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the foreign ministers from China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom (representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council) as well as the German foreign minister, in addition to Iran. They are expected to work through the July 4 weekend.

There were whispers Monday of a possible breakdown in negotiations, when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif left Vienna to return to Tehran, claiming a previous engagement. But by late Tuesday morning, he was back meeting with Kerry. That meeting lasted an hour and 43 minutes.

That meeting, as is the case with many, was bilateral. After that meeting, Kerry spent two hours with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. In addition to meetings at the minister level, a senior administration official noted Monday during a background briefing that the meetings between staffs have been going on for weeks, and continue to go on until after midnight most days.

“We are still very focused on concluding a comprehensive agreement in this negotiating round, and no one is talking about a long-term extension — no one,” said the official, who briefed on condition of anonymity.

Later, the official added: “We have come very far successfully negotiating and implementing the Joint Plan of Action and then getting agreement on broad parameters that we outlined in Lausanne. What we’re trying to do now is to put all of the details behind those parameters — details which are so crucial to ensuring the world that this is a strong, long-term, verifiable deal.”

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

File photo: US Department of State, via Flickr

Iraq Mission Finds Support In Europe, Where Fear Of Islamic State Already Runs High

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Foreign Staff

BERLIN — Two months after the Islamic State laid claim to much of Iraq, European nations are reacting, driven in part by the fact that there are already thousands of European boots on the ground in this conflict — fighting on the Islamic State side.

France on Wednesday officially announced it was delivering weapons to help the Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State, Britain has agreed to transport some of those weapons, and the German minister of defense is arguing that her country should consider providing weapons to the Kurds as well.

The actions are a direct reaction to pleas from Kurds in the north of Iraq that they need arms to hold off the Islamic State. To date, Kurdish militia have been relying on airstrikes from the United States to stop the advances, and even put the Islamic State into retreat.

But the European actions also are driven by a growing concern not only about the instability in Iraq and the region, but by the large numbers of Europeans now fighting in Syria and Iraq, so called “jihadi tourists.” National intelligence agencies from around the continent have estimated at least 2,000 and as many as 3,000 European Muslims have made their way into the region to join the fight, and the estimate is that about 1,500 remain at this time.

The primary fear expressed by security experts is that these citizens, once trained in the art of war and bomb making, will return to their former homes to carry out attacks.

An opinion poll in the United Kingdom by The Times of London indicated that 80 percent of the British believe international terror is now a local threat, and 40 percent favor British bombing of Islamic State forces, while 36 percent are opposed, with others being undecided.

The office of French President Francois Hollande posted a statement on its official website calling for other nations to follow France in ramping up aid to the Kurds.

“The catastrophic situation facing the population in the Kurdistan region of Iraq requires the continuation and amplification of the mobilization of the international community,” the statement read. “France intends to play an active role in providing … all necessary assistance.”

The concern in Europe since the Syrian conflict began in 2011 has been the large number of mostly young Europeans who’ve joined in what was then a civil war. There are no solid estimates of how many are fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq, though there have been news media reports of Islamist brigades made up entirely French or English or German speakers.

This summer there have been two reported suicide bombing attacks in Iraq by Germans, including one by a former Frankfurt resident and German citizen who reportedly drove a car bomb into a building near Ramadi and killed 20. The other involved a young man from the small German town of Ennepetal, who allegedly killed at least 27 during a July 19 attack in Baghdad.

German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen this week urged the German Parliament to reconsider its position on aid to Iraq. German law prevents shipping arms to crisis areas, but officials this week have said there can be exceptions.

“All parts of the German forces are presently looking into how to efficiently and swiftly support the Iraqis,” von der Leyen said, and she urged that that support include “armored vehicles, minesweepers, body armor, helmets and medical supplies.”

She also said Germany should be open to the idea of supplying weapons. She told Der Spiegel magazine: “If it is about preventing genocide, then we in Germany have to reconsider the situation.”

Thomas Hegghammer, director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, said that Norway recently went into high alert because of what was considered to be a specific terror threat involving fighters either returning from Syria or Iraq, or traveling on Norwegian passports.

He said that European intelligence services have been tracking the growth of those heading to join the fight from the beginning, but that defense officials across the continent remain unsure of the proper reaction.

“I don’t think anyone yet is talking about taking out (the Islamic State), or eliminating their safe haven in the region,” he said. “Does anyone really think that they can eliminate them without a massive military reaction? If we don’t, do we really want to get involved in a war we can’t win?”

Aram Shakaram, a director with Save the Children, wrote Wednesday in England’s The Daily Telegraph that the focus on Iraq for now must be the humanitarian crisis. He wrote such aid is “desperately needed to keep people alive,” referring to those who have been driven into the Iraqi mountains and from their homes and villages by the Islamic State.

He predicted, however, that the crisis won’t end in just weeks.

“The road ahead is long and the international community needs to step up now to save Iraq before it falls beyond repair,” he wrote.

AFP Photo/Amer Al-Saedi

Germans Feeling Betrayed As Another U.S. Spy Probe Begins

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Foreign Staff

BERLIN — News Wednesday that Germany is investigating new allegations that the United States bought secrets from a German official — the second such probe to become public in a week — delivered another blow to U.S.-German relations over what is now a year-old scandal of American spying on an ally.

“The American secret services are completely out of control,” said Hans-Christian Stroebele, the most senior member of Germany’s parliamentary committee investigating the National Security Agency’s activities in Germany. “They seem to think they are allowed to do everything, even in Germany.”

The most recent allegations revolve around NSA efforts to determine what Stroebele’s committee has learned. Last week, German authorities reportedly arrested a member of Germany’s foreign intelligence service for allegedly passing documents to the United States about Stroebele’s committee. Wednesday, the focus of the new investigation was a German military official.

Stroebele said the new spying efforts — a year after it was revealed that the United States had tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone and that the NSA was sweeping up millions of emails — would prove costly to what had been a strong relationship between the nations.

“Mistrust should be the order of the day,” he told McClatchy in a phone interview. “We have to be far more cautious than we used to be. I personally had always assumed that they do all kinds of things all over the world, but that they do them in Germany goes beyond what I imagined.”

By now, though, most Germans thinking about American activities on German soil imagine the worst. It’s been just more than a year since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden first leaked documents indicating the United States was routinely sweeping up and storing the electronic communications of millions of Germans.

It’s been nine months since Germans learned that among the cellphones being tapped was Merkel’s beloved “handy,” or cellphone. Only a month ago, a German prosecutor announced an official criminal investigation into the NSA’s spying on Germans in Germany.

And now, in the space of five days, investigations launched into whether the United States bought secrets from two German government insiders.

Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program, said it’s clear that under American law, the NSA has the legal right to spy on anything to do with U.S. foreign policy. But if it did, she said, it’s disturbing.

“It’s a sign of a ‘collect it all’ mindset that’s across the board, and that doesn’t take into consideration the damage that can be done to international relations,” she said, noting that while it might be legal under U.S. law it certainly is not under German law.

Patrick Keller, the coordinator for foreign and security policy at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a Berlin think tank, said Wednesday that it’s difficult to see exactly why an American spy agency would devote so much time to spying on an ally.

“A main reason for the German irritation and disappointment in this matter is exactly that we cannot understand the U.S. motivation,” he wrote in an email response to questions. “My personal take is that all this intelligence work (in terms of data collection) has become detached from political control and political sensibilities. It has become an end in itself and as such, it harms U.S. interests rather than protects them.”

After all, experts say it’s unlikely the United States gained much from the reported activities. Germany has an active and free press. The NSA paid for secret documents from a parliamentary NSA committee known for leaking its secrets. Beyond that, German intelligence is known for sharing information with U.S. intelligence agencies, such as the Syrian phone calls the Germans intercepted last year when news broke of a chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus.

And, of course, Germany is a member of NATO, the U.S.-led military alliance. The U.S. and German militaries have worked together for decades, most recently in Afghanistan.

Stroebele noted that Germany willingly hosts American military and intelligence facilities, including some facilities that Germany partly funds. There has never been a lack of a willingness to cooperate.

“To abuse your hosts in this way is something the federal government cannot tolerate,” he said. “The more that is uncovered, the more we get the impression that there is an entire swamp still to uncover.”

Stroebele’s committee will meet in an emergency session Thursday to discuss the proper reaction to the latest news.

AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

25 Years After Berlin Wall Fell, Lenin’s Image Still Divides

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Foreign Staff

SCHWERIN, Germany — In the 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell, historian Ralf Wendt has watched much of his former life vanish.

The museum he curated that tells Schwerin’s 1,000-year history was a national treasure in communist East Germany. But once East Germany merged with West Germany, it was just an unprofitable remnant and its once-admired exhibits were hauled off to storage.

Change came elsewhere too. The public art that this East German provincial capital had proudly display during 40 years of socialism was deemed uninteresting to a capitalist world. Piece by piece, it was removed and hidden away. In one case, a school janitor decided on his own to take down and bury a statue of Karl Marx, the German father of socialism.

Now Wendt is watching with chagrin as the one of the last markers of the East German era comes under attack: a towering memorial to the founder of Soviet communism, Vladimir Lenin, that stands on a small residential square. It may be the last of its kind in Western Europe. A growing movement wants it torn down.

“In this modern world, we are told Lenin plays no role,” he said. “But we cannot totally ignore our history. The monument is a document. It says who he was, and that says something about who we were — and are. I don’t understand the need to tear it down or cover it.”

Since the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, Lenin statues have been dragged or beaten down in former Soviet states and satellites from Armenia to Romania.

In Berlin, a famous Lenin in granite was hauled away and buried. The burial site is unmarked –to discourage devotees from creating a memorial at the site, in much the same way German authorities refused for decades to mark the spot where Adolf Hitler killed himself. His death spot, now an apartment complex parking lot, merits a multilingual plaque today.

All of which lends an air of significance to the discussion in what used to be near the northwestern tip of East Germany of what to do with Schwerin’s Lenin.

The debate, which began years ago, has included everything from splashing paint on the statue to letter-to-the-editor battles in the local newspaper. On Tuesday, former East German resident Alexander Bauersfeld organized a protest and covered Lenin’s head with a bed sheet to look somewhat like a hangman’s hood.

Bauersfeld’s reasons for the protest: the continued existence of the statue causes him serious pain. The East German government arrested and imprisoned him as a political dissident. He says honoring the man at the heart of the Soviet empire — he describes Lenin as “one the worst tyrants of the 20th century” — is simply wrong. In June 1953, when Soviet tanks crushed a popular uprising in East Germany, many carried images of Lenin, he points out.

“Our campaign is long overdue,” he said. “The Lenin statue has to go.”

Schwerin Mayor Angelika Gramkow has taken considerable heat for fighting to keep the statue standing. A member of the socialist left, she thinks it’s important to remember the past.

She notes that her city is home to one of the last remaining Lenin statues in Western Europe, and one of the few left in the former Soviet satellites.

“It was a disaster to remove almost all statues and rename most streets that reminded us of our East German past after the fall of the wall,” she said. “We Germans tend to remove signs of the past at the end of every historic period. We think our responsibility is done when we remove the symbols. We forget that in their absence, public discussion of the past is no longer possible.”

Photo via WikiCommons

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Germany Opens Criminal Probe Into U.S. Tapping Of Merkel’s Phone

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Foreign Staff

BERLIN — Almost a year after news surfaced that the United States had been spying on German communications, Germany’s top prosecutor announced Wednesday that he has launched a criminal investigation into the tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

“Let me be clear: Espionage is a crime in Germany regardless of whether those spying are friends or enemies,” Federal Public Prosecutor Harald Range said as he opened a news conference to announce the investigation, which he disclosed first during a closed session of the Parliament’s judicial committee.

Range’s decision — and his unusual candor in branding the surveillance of Merkel’s phone a crime — underscored just how raw German nerves remain over the revelation that the United States had been eavesdropping on Merkel’s cellphone for years. Range noted that an espionage conviction would carry a 10-year prison sentence.

He said his office had developed information that specific individuals, not impersonal computer programs, had been involved in tapping Merkel’s phone — and that that was one reason his office had decided to pursue the case.

“We’re finding ourselves in a new reality here. James Bond 007 is yesterday. James Bond 2.0 is today,” he said.

Range said he had contacted former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden through Snowden’s German attorney to testify. Snowden, who has been living in Moscow since he leaked hundreds of thousands of secret documents last year that revealed the extent of NSA electronic surveillance, has yet to respond, Range said.

What role Snowden’s documents may have had in the revelation that the U.S. was eavesdropping on Merkel’s phone remains uncertain, however.

The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported in October that its reporters had uncovered the information during their investigations into American spying. But unlike other reports in which they were quick to credit the Snowden documents, this one didn’t cite him as the source. Spiegel said only that its reporters had seen Merkel’s private number on a secret NSA list of spying targets, and not how it had obtained the list. Some members of Parliament have suggested that the information might not involve Snowden’s documents.

Still, news and allegations surrounding the NSA surveillance scandal have been front and center in German politics and discussion since the first story broke a year ago. Germans have a heightened sensitivity to government spying programs, drawn from their experience living through the Gestapo of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi reign and communist East Germany’s Stasi secret police.

By October, when the news broke that the United States had tapped Merkel’s cellphone, German anger at what was termed a breach of trust and friendship had hit a fever pitch.

Privacy advocates have repeatedly noted that German law protects all German citizens from spying, and the government has been under severe public pressure to open criminal probes not only into the tapping of Merkel’s phone, but also into the electronic surveillance the NSA undertook on millions of everyday German communications.

Range said, however, that for now he didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute wider allegations of NSA spying and had ruled out pursuing a case against U.S. spy agencies for having peeked into the private communications of everyday citizens. His office did say it would continue to monitor developments in the broader case.

AFP Photo/John MacDougall

Police Prove To Be Another Weak Link In Ukraine’s Efforts To Keep The Peace

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Foreign Staff

KIEV, Ukraine — The scene has been repeated again and again across Ukraine in recent weeks: Protesters storm a building or an opposing group, and police, often decked out in full riot gear, stand and watch.

For many seeing the scenes on video, they verge on the unfathomable. Time and again, police watch as one group attacks another, or takes off with government property (including, sometimes, weapons). Often, as they leave the scene, rioters will note that “the police are with us,” and the police will do nothing to dispel that notion.

In eastern Ukraine Monday, Ukrainian forces continued a battle against pro-Russian separatists in Slovyansk, a town of about 125,000 residents that is now home to an insurgent force estimated at 800. Pro-Russian forces are said to have downed a third Ukrainian helicopter, and Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said pro-Russia forces were using large-caliber weapons and mortars.

But the talk in the capital Monday was about what had gone wrong in Odessa, where police in body armor, helmets and shields refused even to attempt to quell a riot Friday that resulted in more than 40 deaths, mostly pro-Russian protesters who died in a fire in a building they’d broken into to escape Ukrainian nationalists described as soccer hooligans.

The police passivity in Odessa underscores a major problem for the interim Ukrainian government: With Russian propaganda warning that anarchy threatens the security of Russian speakers in Ukraine, those in charge in Kiev have few institutions they can depend on to secure restive cities or separate battling crowds.

The head of Ukraine’s parliamentary anti-corruption and organized crime committee, Viktor Chumak, said that while Ukrainian police clearly performed poorly in Odessa, that was about all that anyone should have expected.

“For the past 20 years, this is how we have trained our police to respond,” he said. “They have been trained to be a repressive mechanism of those in and hoping to retain power.”

Instead of being trained to quash a riot to protect two sides from each other, or one side from another, they are trained “to hassle the little old women who are selling items on the street for a bit of their money, and to kill off the competition of local political and business leaders.”

He noted that polls indicate that among all Ukrainians, only 13 percent trust the police.

“Today we have a dysfunctional police force,” he said. “It’s a security service incapable of performing what should be its real function.”

Or, he added, of even knowing what that function should be.

“Imagine this police force being told to stand before bullets to protect everyday citizens,” he said. “That’s not what they were hired for. That’s not what they were trained for. We need a dedicated, professional, patriotic police force.”

That sort of project takes years, not weeks, certainly much more time than the three weeks remaining before Ukrainians are scheduled May 25 to vote to pick a new president, and administrative centers in cities such as Donestsk and Luhansk in the east remain under the control of pro-Russia separatists.

Dmytro Tymchuk, director of Ukraine’s Center for Military and Political Research, also reminds that there are concerns about the loyalty to Ukraine of the current police force.

“We believe many of the top officers have been paid quite a bit of money to back pro-Russia efforts,” he said. “As for the rank and file, Ukrainian police typically earn no more than about $300 a month. Russian police earn $1,200 and more. Many police don’t think that their region joining Russia would be a bad thing.”

Ukrainian officials believe Russian agents, money and influence are behind much of the tension in the country. They expect those tensions to spike this Friday, the anniversary of the Nazi surrender that ended World War II in Europe.

Viktor Shlinchak, chair of the Institute of World Policy think tank in Kiev, is among those who expect more problems on the anniversary. “Russia adores symbolic dates,” he said. “There’s a very strong feeling that on this one, they are well-prepared to escalate the crisis in Ukraine.”

The events that unfolded last week in Odessa provided proof of the interim government’s institutional weakness.

On Friday, a long line of police stood, in body armor, under helmets and behind shields, and watched, first as pro-Russia mobs attacked a group described as Ukrainian nationalists and soccer fans, and then as the pro-Russia demonstrators broke into a trade union building to organize themselves. Soon, there were flames shooting out of a first-floor window, and dozens died in the smoke and flames.

On Sunday, Odessa police stood idle as pro-Russian protesters stormed the police station. The police agreed to free those arrested after the Friday protest, and the protesters left.

Last week in Donetsk, well-armored and numerous police watched pro-Russian protesters attack and beat pro-Ukrainians during what began as a peaceful political rally.

Ukrainian Gen. Mykola Malomuzh, the former head of the intelligence service, said the failure to instill a culture of professionalism in the security service has made it impossible to depend on the police to keep the peace. Looking toward the expected provocations on and around Friday’s anniversary, he said, the security challenges would likely be far more intense and widespread.

“Now we will learn if we can organize and overcome,” he said. “Or separatists will leave all of Ukraine on the edge of chaos.”

AFP Photo/Anatoliy Stepanov

Ukraine Orders Its Troops To Leave Crimea, Russia Offers Better Pay For Them To Change Sides

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Foreign Staff

KIEV, Ukraine — A pair of Russian generals have been visiting Ukrainian military bases in Crimea and offering soldiers there fat pay and pension packages if they join the Russian army before a Friday deadline, when Russia has said its patience with a Ukrainian presence in the Black Sea peninsula will run out.

A Ukrainian captain who was among the officers who met with them at a base in Perevalne, Crimea, said in a phone interview that at each base the generals make a very simple point: The Russian military would love to welcome Ukrainian troops into its ranks.

The possibility is lost on no one, the captain said, that the alternative is a grim one: Russia has said that on Friday Ukrainian soldiers will be classified as bandits and terrorists and hunted by the vastly superior Russian military now on the peninsula. On Tuesday a Ukrainian soldier was killed and an officer injured when Russian troops and local paramilitaries stormed a base in Simferopol. On Wednesday, pro-Russian forces took control of the Ukrainian naval headquarters and raised the Russian flag. The Ukrainian commander was arrested and troops were left to wander off on their own.

The captain said he expects many of his compatriots to accept the Russian offer, especially those who consider Crimea home.

“The pay is five times that offered by Ukraine,” he said. “The pensions are five times better, and will be offered 20 years sooner. We are told we would serve on the same military base. Defend the same soil, the homeland of many at these bases. Families living quite nearby the bases will be able to remain in their same homes.”

The tale he tells matches Ukrainian news reports, though there is no government confirmation, from either Russia or Ukraine.

But the prospect of some, if not most, of Ukraine’s Crimea-based military going over to the Russian side on Friday might be one reason the government in Kiev on Wednesday ordered its troops to withdraw, effective immediately. It was a surprising order, given that only Tuesday the government had told the troops to stand firm. It was not immediately clear how the soldiers reacted to the new order, and the captain’s cellphone was not answered later Wednesday.

Word of the Russian effort to woo Ukraine’s soldiers in Crimea came one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed treaties with Crimean leaders to annex the peninsula, which makes up 4.5 percent of Ukrainian territory. On Wednesday, Russian courts ruled that the treaties, which would create two new Russian republics, Crimea and Sevastopol, were legal. The Russian Parliament is expected to give its stamp of approval by Friday.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops already in Crimea, the Russians have been in control of the region since the end of February. While Putin has maintained that no Russian troops were there beyond what was allowed under Russia’s rent agreement for its Black Sea Fleet base at Sevastopol, Ukrainian and Russian military officials have met many times and have been quite open about what was going on.

The arrival of the generals was the latest example of that, the captain said, and on a base where 60 percent of troops are native Crimean, and often of Russian heritage, their offer was viewed favorably by many.

“I cannot even bring myself to think of them as traitors for doing this,” he said, speaking on the condition that his name not be disclosed for security reasons. He said he does not intend to take the Russian offer but understands why many, many others will.

“We have been given two options by the Russians, and no offers of help from Kiev,” he said. “The choice is to stand with Ukraine, and commit suicide, or to join the Russian force and live a better life.”

What that means: Come Friday he is the enemy of most of those he’s served with, a service that includes time fighting in Iraq.

He said that many of the officers he has served with already had turned in or at least prepared letters to resign their commissions. The captain said he would not hide his disillusionment with the reaction from Kiev.

“But I know the Russians planned this well, they attacked when we were weakest,” he said. “Our government is in no position to react to this crisis. The result is that the Russians have known what they intend every day of this past month, while Kiev still has not been able to come up with a counter-strategy.”

How well thought out is the Russian plan: He said that for many, only personal honor had been holding them to their posts. The Russian offer takes that into account. They will not be asked to pledge allegiance to Russia if they think that would besmirch their honor, because to Russia, it is important their honor remain intact. Instead, they will pledge their loyalty to Crimea, their home.

The captain said the offers were set up to test any loyalty. For instance, 37-year-old officers were offered three-year contracts at $1,000 a month (in Crimea, $200 a month is a good wage) and told that at 40, they could receive $1,000-a-month pensions (again, Ukrainian pensions are less than $200 a month) and retire. In Ukraine, they could retire from the military at 40, but the pensions would start paying out at age 60, he said.

“Few people look forward to forced suicide,” he said. “Ukrainians feel abandoned.”

Photo: Sergei L. Loiko/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Ukraine Orders Its Troops To Leave Crimea, Russia Offers Better Pay For Them To Change Sides

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Foreign Staff

KIEV, Ukraine — A pair of Russian generals have been visiting Ukrainian military bases in Crimea and offering soldiers there fat pay and pension packages if they join the Russian army before a Friday deadline, when Russia has said its patience with a Ukrainian presence in the Black Sea peninsula will run out.

A Ukrainian captain who was among the officers who met with them at a base in Perevalne, Crimea, said in a phone interview that at each base the generals make a very simple point: The Russian military would love to welcome Ukrainian troops into its ranks.

The possibility is lost on no one, the captain said, that the alternative is a grim one: Russia has said that on Friday Ukrainian soldiers will be classified as bandits and terrorists and hunted by the vastly superior Russian military now on the peninsula. On Tuesday a Ukrainian soldier was killed and an officer injured when Russian troops and local paramilitaries stormed a base in Simferopol. On Wednesday, pro-Russian forces took control of the Ukrainian naval headquarters and raised the Russian flag. The Ukrainian commander was arrested and troops were left to wander off on their own.

The captain said he expects many of his compatriots to accept the Russian offer, especially those who consider Crimea home.

“The pay is five times that offered by Ukraine,” he said. “The pensions are five times better, and will be offered 20 years sooner. We are told we would serve on the same military base. Defend the same soil, the homeland of many at these bases. Families living quite nearby the bases will be able to remain in their same homes.”

The tale he tells matches Ukrainian news reports, though there is no government confirmation, from either Russia or Ukraine.

But the prospect of some, if not most, of Ukraine’s Crimea-based military going over to the Russian side on Friday might be one reason the government in Kiev on Wednesday ordered its troops to withdraw, effective immediately. It was a surprising order, given that only Tuesday the government had told the troops to stand firm. It was not immediately clear how the soldiers reacted to the new order, and the captain’s cellphone was not answered later Wednesday.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops already in Crimea, the Russians have been in control of the region since the end of February. While Putin has maintained that no Russian troops were there beyond what was allowed under Russia’s rent agreement for its Black Sea Fleet base at Sevastopol, Ukrainian and Russian military officials have met many times and have been quite open about what was going on.

The arrival of the generals was the latest example of that, the captain said, and on a base where 60 percent of troops are native Crimean, and often of Russian heritage, their offer was viewed favorably by many.

“I cannot even bring myself to think of them as traitors for doing this,” he said, speaking on the condition that his name not be disclosed for security reasons. He said he does not intend to take the Russian offer but understands why many, many others will.

“We have been given two options by the Russians, and no offers of help from Kiev,” he said. “The choice is to stand with Ukraine, and commit suicide, or to join the Russian force and live a better life.”

What that means: Come Friday he is the enemy of most of those he’s served with, a service that includes time fighting in Iraq.

He said that many of the officers he has served with already had turned in or at least prepared letters to resign their commissions. The captain said he would not hide his disillusionment with the reaction from Kiev.

“But I know the Russians planned this well, they attacked when we were weakest,” he said. “Our government is in no position to react to this crisis. The result is that the Russians have known what they intend every day of this past month, while Kiev still has not been able to come up with a counter-strategy.”

How well thought out is the Russian plan: He said that for many, only personal honor had been holding them to their posts. The Russian offer takes that into account. They will not be asked to pledge allegiance to Russia if they think that would besmirch their honor, because to Russia, it is important their honor remain intact. Instead, they will pledge their loyalty to Crimea, their home.

The captain said the offers were set up to test any loyalty. For instance, 37-year-old officers were offered three-year contracts at $1,000 a month (in Crimea, $200 a month is a good wage) and told that at 40, they could receive $1,000-a-month pensions (again, Ukrainian pensions are less than $200 a month) and retire. In Ukraine, they could retire from the military at 40, but the pensions would start paying out at age 60, he said.

“Few people look forward to forced suicide,” he said. “Ukrainians feel abandoned.”

Sergei L. Loiko/Los Angeles Times/MCT

Questions Surround Crimea Referendum, Where Turnout In Sevastapol Was Reported At 123 Percent

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Foreign Staff

KIEV, Ukraine — The talk on the streets of the Ukrainian capital Monday was all about Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, which saw a close to unanimous vote in favor of the Black Sea peninsula seceding from Ukraine and becoming part of Russia.

Officially, the joining-Russia option on the ballot attracted a healthy 97 percent support from the 83 percent of registered voters in Crimea who made it to the polls. The most repeated tidbit was the voter turnout in Sevastopol, long a pro-Russian bastion, where a reported 123 percent of registered voters are said to have cast ballots.

Ukrainian news reports said that all one needed to vote was a passport, and it didn’t have to be a Ukrainian one. One reporter from Kiev showed his Russian passport and was handed a ballot and allowed to vote. This raised questions in Kiev if perhaps the Russian soldiers and Russian paramilitary occupying the area since late February had been allowed to cast votes.

It also raised eyebrows, because while an estimated 58 percent of the Crimean population is known to be ethnic Russian and very pro-Russia, the remaining 42 percent are not thought to be similarly smitten. Ukrainian opinion polls over the last decade have consistently shown Crimea to be more pro-Russian and in favor of secession than any other region of Ukraine, but previous polls had shown consistently that those favoring splitting from Ukraine and joining Russia numbered about 40 percent.

And while there were differences between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian sides on how extensively Crimean Tatars, the region’s traditional ethnic group, boycotted the vote, it was clear that many did. The low estimate said that 60 percent of Tatars, who make up about 12 percent of the total Crimean population, refused to vote. Pro-Ukraine advocates insisted 99 percent of Tatars boycotted. In either case, the admitted absence of such a large voting bloc raised further questions about the turnout numbers.

And many were asking the questions. Monday, even ears unfamiliar with the Ukrainian language couldn’t help but overhear the phrase “referendum” being muttered by pedestrians, in eye-rolling tones of voice. And, of course, the talk wasn’t limited to the underground shopping malls or the Maidan square protest crowds of Kiev.

Vitali Klitschko, a prominent Ukrainian member of Parliament and the former world heavyweight boxing champion, charged that those who favored secession had “sold out” Ukraine. He added that history shows that Crimea under Russian control puts Crimean Tatars in grave danger.

“We are afraid of ethnic cleansing,” he said at a news conference near the Maidan, or Kiev’s Independence Square.

Crimean Tatars have repeatedly pointed out their 200 years of repression under Russian rule and call former Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s forced relocation in 1944 of Tatars to other parts of the Soviet Union a “genocide.”

Ukrainian Minister of Defense Ihor Tenyukh said at an earlier news conference that Ukraine would never accept the results of referendum.

“Crimea was, is and will always be our territory,” he said.

AFP Photo/Vasiliy Batanov

At Crimea Base, Ukraine Troops Who Fought In Iraq Now Face Russian ‘Brothers’

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Foreign Staff

PEREVALNE, Ukraine — The cloaked soldiers camped outside the Ukrainian coastal security base may be silent to strangers about who they are and where they come from. But they freely admit to the Ukrainian soldiers they’ve surrounded that they come from Russia. In fact, they say that when they left their Russian base recently, they were under the impression that they were leaving on a training exercise somewhere in their native land.

“Then when they saw the mountains and were told this was not training, they assumed they were in Chechnya,” said a Ukrainian officer who has been involved in talks with the Russians. “When they learned they were actually in Ukraine, in Crimea, they told us they were shocked.”

On Monday, in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, the U.S. ambassador announced that the United States would not recognize the results of a referendum planned for Sunday in Crimea to determine if the region will leave Ukraine and become a part of Russia.

But in Crimea, the referendum appears a fait accompli. Crimea today is awash in billboards noting Crimean and Russian unity, and on Monday, Russian troops reportedly stormed two bases and took control of one, a missile base, though without bloodshed.
V
Here in Perevalne, an uneasy calm holds, though the stress is obvious on everyone involved.

The officer who spoke is a captain in what he would describe only as a brigade of foot soldiers under the framework of the Ukrainian navy. He agreed to talk to a McClatchy reporter only on the condition that his name not be used. He said he believes what is going on should be known, but that attaching his name to it would make him less effective in dealing with the Russians.

And, he said, there is nothing more important to him, his men and his country right now than reaching some kind of agreement with the Russians that sees this situation end, and end without violence.

“I tell you the truth, I would have been less surprised to find men from the moon surrounding our base,” he said. “Right now, the Russians are our captors. But I cannot get my mind around the idea that they are the enemy. The Russians have always been my brothers. Are we expected to spill the blood of our brother? And if we cannot, will they spill ours?”

The brigade is not new to warfare. Experts in Ukrainian defense describe it as the most battle-hardened unit in the Ukrainian military. It fought with the United States in Iraq and worked with the international coalition in Kosovo.

The soldiers are not openly showing arms. One gate guard fidgeted with a knife while taking the request for an interview to his superiors, but there are no guns showing. The captain said that away from the view of those who come to the gate, though, men are armed and on alert.

“We have had no reassurances from Kiev that they can come to our aid,” he said. “We do not even know if our families who live nearby will be protected if things go wrong. Kiev could not even tell us what we were expected to do, other than to stand firm. So we will stand firm.”

He said that despite the word games being played by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the men outside his gate never pretended to be anything other than what they are: occupying troops from Russia. And, he noted, they come from “far, far away, from southeastern Russia, they told us during negotiations. Their trucks, 30 of them, had southeastern Russian plates.”

Outside of those gates is a sizable force. The men are wearing all green, with black face coverings known as “balaclavas,” a name coined ironically enough by British soldiers fighting near the Crimean town of Balaklava 160 years ago. Their weapons are kept across their chests, and several dozen patrol the ground around the base.

The base looks to be decaying, not uncommon in a Ukrainian military that has been funded by the Ukrainian Parliament at 10 percent of requests in recent years.

As the captain spoke, a steady stream of wives and girlfriends made their way to a back gate that for now remains free of Russian guards. The visitors all carried plastic sacks with meals. They were greeted by the soldier they came to see just outside the gate. Some kissed and embraced. Others just smiled awkwardly and stared at each other.

But the captain notes that despite the fact that the back gate is free of threat for now, the men inside remain on alert. Most live in a group of high-rise apartments half a block away. Their families remain there, alone.

“We eat inside; we sleep inside. For now we live inside,” he said.

AFP Photo/Alexey Kravtsov