From my weekend piece for the Daily Beast: “’Putin’s objective remains to regain control of Ukraine, but I suspect he now thinks he can do this without ordering in the tanks,’ says Andrei Illarionov, a former Putin economic policy advisor and now an unstinting critic of the Russian leader.
Illarionov tells The Daily Beast he expects Putin to maintain an intimidating offensive build-up of Russian forces along the Ukraine border, nonetheless, and that there will be no let-up in the fomenting of separatist agitation in the eastern Ukraine towns of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lugansk and now Sloviansk. The aim is to destabilize Ukrainian politics, weaken Ukrainian state institutions and help Putin’s political allies reassert their power in Kiev.
Read all here.
Forgot to provide a link to a TV piece I did for VOA last month on how political turmoil and violence in Egypt was affecting the mental health of ordinary Egyptians. You can find the spot on YouTube here.
From my exclusive for the Daily Beast today:
“The first crack of a sniper’s round in Kiev’s Independence Square came shortly after nine o’clock on the morning of February 20 and the last about seven hours later at around four o’clock in the afternoon drawing to a close the bloodiest day in what had been a months-long struggle to oust Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych…
Most of the photographs accompanying this article were taken on February 20, and they appear to reveal the truth about who carried out the shootings in Independence Square on that day—a fateful one for both Ukraine and for Europe, which suddenly witnessed the continent’s worst political violence of the 21st century. The pictures shared exclusively with The Daily Beast show members of a crack anti-terrorist unit known as the Alfa Team in the courtyard of the headquarters of Ukraine’s feared state security service, the SBU, preparing themselves for battle. The agency’s seven-story headquarters occupies an entire city block and is just three streets from the Maidan.”
Read full story here about what was going on in the nearby SBU HQ on that fateful day when at least 50 protesters were gunned down.
From my latest Daily Beast dispatch from Ukraine:
“We have already seen organized crime working hand-in-hand with the Russians in Crimea,” says the prosecutor. In that breakaway Black Sea peninsula, Moscow helped install former gangland lieutenant Sergei Aksyonov as prime minister, and his background is well known. Aksyonov and his Russian separatist associates share sordid pasts that mix politics, graft and extortion in equal measure and together they helped steer Crimea into the Russian Federation.
“Why should it surprise you,” the prosecutor in Donetsk asks, “if the same dynamic [as in Crimea] is playing out here? … Maybe there are Russian intelligence agents on the ground, but Moscow through crime networks has an army of hoodlums it can use, too.”
KIEV—”Stamping their feet and moving closer to barrels serving as braziers on this cold misty morning, the Maidan protesters on Kiev’s Independence Square say they have no intention of decamping from their canvas tents any time soon. They have two enemies to see off first: Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the country’s politicians, including those who have replaced the president they ousted, Viktor Yanukovych.”
Read my Daily Beast dispatch from the new West/Russia fault-line here.
And on an aspect of the propaganda war being waged over Ukraine my Fox News report here.
“In the propaganda war raging over Ukraine’s revolution, Russia is playing up claims of neo-Nazi involvement in the protests that toppled Viktor Yanukovych, alleging the far right is on the rise in the former Soviet republic and was crucial in the Ukrainian president’s downfall.”
And some snapshots of the Maidan this week:
For 39 days he was held in detention after he had been arrested during a demonstration against Egypt’s new military rulers. He was released last week
But his parents’ were horrified to learn their son said he not only was regularly and viciously beaten during the first few days of his incarceration, but he said he also was sexually assaulted during interrogations.
“They made me and other 10 young men who had been arrested to strip naked when we arrived at Cairo’s Abdeen Police Station; they blindfolded the boys with their own underwear and there were a lot of beatings,” said Fadhy Samir Zakher. “The police used sticks and their fists, and they also kicked the detainees repeatedly.” Return my full VOA report here.
Al-Qaida linked jihadists in insurgent-held areas in northern and eastern Syria are targeting children as young as four-years-old and teenagers for indoctrination, conducting teach-ins, opening schools and training camps, say human rights activists.
“You are seeing the jihadists trying to create a new pool of suicide bombers,” says psychotherapist Mohamed Khalil of the London-based Arab Foundation for Care of Victims of War and Torture. Read my full VOA dispatch here.
In VOA today I explore behind-the-scenes efforts by the West and Saudi Arabia to nudge their favored rebels to adjust to a more southern military strategy in the Syrian civil war — in a shift that analysts say is a bid to strengthen the moderate armed opposition at the expense of hard-line Islamists. Most analysts I spoke to thought this couldn’ be pulled off. Read the article here.
“Of all the world leaders out there today, el-Sisi is perhaps the most like the Russian leader, at least if you take into account their personal beginnings and their respective rises through the ranks of power. And these commonalities could give the West some crucial hints about how el-Sisi—who is expected to declare his presidential bid any day now—might run a post-Arab Spring Egypt, one that has already shown a willingness to engage in warmer relations with Moscow.”
Full article here at the Daily Beast.