Russia cannot lose

More than embarrassing…

After their 6:1 defeat in the final round of the ice hockey world championship, the Russian players left the ice before the anthem of the winner Canada was played.

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Germany finds new term for “appeasement”

Let’s call it “strategic patience” (“strategische Geduld”) now.

See the former head of the German parliamentarian defense committeee and new authorized representative for the German army.

Expect “strategic patience” of the Bundeswehr in an Article 5 case.

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Germany’s hybrid agreement with Russia

“We always had friends and supporters there”

Such, the Russian president assessed the long-term relationship of Russia and Germany during a common press conference with German Chancellor Merkel on 10 May 2015. At this occasion, he for the second time in a few months defended the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939 that had included a secret protocol dividing the territories of Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland among Germany and Russia. The national states Russia threatened after its armed forces attacked Ukraine in 2014 are practically identical with them.

In November 2014, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius had warned: “We cannot let such statements go unnoticed because they are part of a bigger narrative, under which the Russian leadership now seeks endorsement for its aggressive and revisionist foreign policy.” Western mass media brought the issue prominently, but the political reactions of “western democrats” Linkevičius called for did not follow.

Russia took this as a sign to proceed: It conducted two massive military exercises in the Baltic Sea in December 2014 and March 2015, and besides the Russian air force has been used for continuous provocations (such as today); the Russian army had its second large-scale offensive in Ukraine in January 2015, and intensified its aggressive rhetoric against eastern European Union members. As a result, Poland is closing its defense gaps, and Finland and Estonia have practically put their armies on combat alert – officially it has nothing to do with Russia, and the issues are played down in the media and politics.

Recently, a larger analysis appeared in the internet as a “test case”, calling for a “preventive occupation” of the Baltic states. Also here, public responses were close to zero.

Contemporary Europe is trying hard to ignore reality and refuses to discuss the possibility of war, leave alone to prepare its citizens for it.

So, it is nothing surprising that the German press and politics have kept silent (see the only contribution so far) on the 10 May revisionist statements of the Russian president concerning the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The statements additionally suggested Poland brought the war on itself. This means to justify millions of dead in the zone “in between” Russia and Germany – predominantly Poles, Ukrainians, Belarussians and Jews; nations the Russian elite has traditionally not in high estimation.

The German side opted to ignore the issue as celebrations of the end of the Second World War were not to be spoiled by the “in between”, or as Germans call it the “Zwischeneuropa”. In fact, to acknowledge the suffering of Poles, Ukrainians, Belarussians and the Baltic nations explicitly on a 8/9 May has run counter to official German and Russian remembrance policy, so it is no wonder, no high German representatives participated in the Polish/Ukrainian commemorations that took place on the Westerplatte.

Such ignorance might have played out politically in past decades, but today this is very dangerous: As Germany still ignores the suffering of Zwischeneuropa, and leaves it to Lithuania and Poland to protest in cases of historic revisionism, Russia is only encouraged to continue – ignorance means “silent consent” to Russia’s actions.

But there is also another, more worrying dimension: In a hybrid war, real agreements are just a fake (Minsk I and Minsk II have been a proof of it), and “hybrid agreements” might signify as much as real ones.

The question has circulated for quite some time: is there some agreement between Germany and Russia on Zwischeneuropa? There is an agreement, but it is a hybrid one, and fits this war perfectly.

Let’s take a closer look at three of the most important components of this agreement between Russia and Germany before the next round of fighting:

The “Putinversteher“

The hybrid agreement has been enabled and pushed by the vocal and politically influential lobby of Germany’s “Putinversteher” (also: “Russlandversteher”). The lobby includes former German chancellors, ministers, businessmen, film-makers, influential editors, owners of newspapers, cast show hosts, members of the security services and the German Bundeswehr, even high German NATO-representatives, certain think tanks specializing on Russia, professors and academics with focus on Russian studies, and correspondents in Russia working for a special relationship with Russia.

Those persons get the media platform they need, as some of the Putinversteher host talkshows, own media, have influential positions in those, or push their arguments as journalists. The pressure they generate to “understand” Russia is not countered by a pressure to “understand” Ukraine, Poland or the Baltic states. Even if German media in general try to report objectively, the permanent media presence and pressure of Putinversteher favors Russia.

So, if in eastern Europe, former diplomats and politicians issue appeals to stand together, and not to allow Russia to destroy Europe – in Germany, they issue memoranda to maintain a “special relationship with Russia,” and get the respective media and political attention.

Probably the best example for the special relationship has been former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) who cancelled Russian debts and pushed Russian gas deliveries to Germany, and then went to work for a Gazprom-daughter. Germans have never questioned the alliance.

The role of the German social-democratic party SPD

The governing social-democratic party SPD has strong socialist roots, and the mother of the socialist international, Russia, is still beloved by most party members and requesting a special relationship, besides all aggressions in eastern Europe. Some have regarded the SPD during Cold War times (1945-1991) as Russia’s western outpost (see Vladimir Bukovski on the issue who recently faced a defamation campaign because of his opposition to the Russian regime). The story of a special relationship with Russia and the role of the SPD has never been subject of the famous German “Vergangenheitsbewältigung”. During the Cold War Germany’s SPD-governments stubbornly insisted to talk with Russia which was expressed best by the rapprochement with the communist realm led by former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, just in line with today’s “diplomatic solution” rhetoric. This was called “Ostpolitik” then. If not for the Polish Pope John Paul II and Solidarność, and dissidents in Ukraine, the Soviet Union probably never would have collapsed.

In mid-February 2015, leading German social-democrats, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, proposed a position paper on a “new Ostpolitik”. It was a serious attempt to restore the special relationship with Russia, but this kind of Ostpolitik ignores or white washes Russian aggressions. Such moves have been mostly and silently backed by the other governing party, the conservative party CDU that nowadays rather resembles a social-democratic party. A part of Ostpolitik is to pressure Ukraine rather than Russia on fulfilling Minsk agreements, to ignore that the cease-fires have been violated practically daily by Russia, or to do all possible to reintegrate Russia – see for example the leaked letter of Steinmeier to EU’s Juncker that called for a resumption of three-way talks between the EU, Ukraine, and Russia in order to identify ‘practical solutions’ regarding the free-trade agreement with Ukraine.

Germany’s hybrid NATO membership

After Germany had devastated Europe 70 years ago, the country never again was to be allowed to initiate a war in Europe. Thus Germany understood its NATO-membership not as an obligation for German participation in a future full-scale European war. A paradox is that with the growing Russian threat, the feeling Germany should demilitarize intensified. Nobody in Germany wants to discuss the issue publicly that Germany is not ready to fight Russia – neither psychologically nor militarily. On paper, Germany has 180.000 troops, but only a few ten thousands would be ready for combat-activities, not counting serious material shortages. For example, the German Bundeswehr currently disposes of 20 (!) tanks that are able to combat Russian motorized T-80 and T-90 tanks. Germany is not able to fulfill its NATO commitments in the event of an attack on a member of the alliance, leave alone to defend itself in the case of an attack on its country.

It is interesting that a member of NATO not able to fulfill its obligations and to defend itself has become the most important contact partner of an aggressor preparing to take over parts of Zwischeneuropa, trying to convince Russia of the futility of his undertakings.

All this can be seen as a successful cultivation of Germany’s special relationship with Russia. It is a hybrid agreement, made out of fear and admiration, as a guarantee to leave Germany in peace.

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EU and NATO just failed another test

Russia is continually testing NATO and the European Union by now – be it with constant military activities (especially in the Baltic Sea) or in maintaining political relations with many European politicians and states with the goal to split the EU in order to prevent further sanctions and weapon deliveries to Ukraine.

Right now, the planned drive-through of the Russian bike gang “Night Wolves” from Moscow to Berlin is a major issue in all eastern European countries affected. Even Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz and Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka – who are not known for their public condemnation of Russia’s aggressive steps (to put it mildly) – called it a provocation. The ride shall be the Russian regime’s answer for NATO’s recent “Dragoon Ride” through eastern Europe.

The “Night Wolves” are a perfect example of Russia continually expanding and “innovating” its hybrid war methods.

They even have more to offer: A few days ago, something extraordinary happened – European politicians and main stream media (concerning the German-speaking press only the Austrian Der Standard had an article on the affair) were so stunned that they decided to just ignore the incident.

What happened? On 18 April 2015, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin arrived on Svalbard – also known as Spitsbergen – that is under Norwegian sovereignty, most likely by a charter aircraft. Rogozin is in charge of the Russian defense industry and reportedly head of Russia’s State Commission for Arctic Development. Additionally, Rogozin was an ambassador to NATO from 2008 until 2011 in Brussels (So, he also knows the environment of the EU bureaucracy very well).

Given Russia’s expansionist claims, the moves of a person with such a background should be closely monitored (where are the western intelligence services?). Even more as Rogozin is on the EU-sanctions list, and also blacklisted by Norway. This means, authorities have to ensure he does not enter the respective territories. But he just did that. BarentsObserver wrote that Norwegian authorities were not aware Rogozin appeared on Svalbard.

The tricky thing is that the Svalbard Treaty of 1920 allows Russia to maintain commercial (i.e. mining) operations including residential rights. Rogozin headed from the main setttlement Longyearbyen to the Russian-Ukrainian mining town of Barentsburg. At the same time, a vessel group headed by the Russian Northern Fleet’s “Severomorsk” was conducting anti-air and anti-vessel drills in the Norwegian Sea (he probably was also briefed on that).

Rogozin and the Arctic commission’s members then went ahead and opened the new Russian drifting ice-station North Pole-2015, and thenflew to the geographical North Pole. On this occasion Rogozin tweeted: “the Arctic is the Russian Mecca”.

Russia is militarizing its Arctic frontier since several months: It is constructing ten Arctic search-and-rescue stations, 16 deepwater ports, 13 airfields, and ten air-defense radar stations across the Russian Arctic coast as Business Insider reported. They remarked NATO was divided concerning its role in the Arctic, but NATO-member Norway considered itself a leader in promoting NATO’s role in the Arctic.

There was no official NATO response to Russia’s provocation in Norway. This has to be taken very seriously. Seemingly, NATO does not consider Svalbard a territory NATO has to take care of, and has no answer to Russia’s actions on the North Pole.

All Norway could do was to summon the Russian ambassador (under sarcastic comments of the Russian media and politicians).

The EU also failed the test. Norway is not a member of the European Union, but it has followed the EU on the sanctions against Russia. A breach of the de facto common sanction list would definitely require an official statement of the EU. But this was not done, and the sanction’s list ridiculed.

The incident underlined again that the EU is only a minor player in the game with Russia (and that EU bureaucrats live in their own world). More importantly, it has shown to the Russian leadership that NATO – despite of the promise given to its members to study and tackle hybrid warfare – is not ready to counter hybrid warfare.

Guess where Russia will test next NATO’s resolve…

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Why this is not a Cold War

The western world will witness a further escalation of Russia’s crusade with the western world, soon. The Ukrainian military and some NATO and US military experts have tried to warn the west and urged political and economic responses, such as freezing Russian assets (in line with the argument that there is “no military solution”).

And responses are coming. But quite the other way round: Ukraine has to produce its own anti-tank missiles as all it can get from the US-president are armored vehicles. The EU keeps silent on the “conflict” and on how to contain Russia, opening up the way for Greece that tries to embrace Russia in various forms, and leading German SPD-politicians (together with some of their Swiss counterparts) are calling for a “normalization” of the relationship with Russia.

It looks like Ukraine reminds them of the situation in Prague 1968 and the “normalization” of the situation after Russian-backed troops crashed down the democratic movement in a Czechoslovakia that was occupied by Russia after the end of the Second World War, what somehow justified the action.

There is one important difference between Russian interventions in eastern European countries during the Cold War and today’s situation: Ukraine reached its independence from Russia in 1991, and since then had the right to decide freely on its political and economic fate.

Already at that point of time, Russia tried to provoke the breakdown of Ukraine as a sovereign and democratic state: It liquidated democratic political leaders who had a chance to become the country’s new leaders, such as Ukraine’s “Václav Havel” Vyacheslav Chornovil in 1999, and also tried to assassinate Viktor Yushchenko who was to become the country’s president in 2004. It used political parties such as the Communist Party, and later the “Party of Regions” for its interests, infiltrated Ukrainian security forces, supported corrupted politicians, certain oligarchs and media with pro-Russian views, and also backed organized crime in the country – predominantly in the Donbas. At times, energy (gas) or military (the Russian Black See Fleet in Crimea) blackmail was very useful. Those measures are by know called hybrid-war methods and include infiltration, disinformation, discreditation, obstruction, intimidation.

Those are probably the only things what Russia’s elites are really productive at.

The concepts of international law and state sovereignty are based on other premises and  are difficult to consider for Russia when it concerns other states than Russia.

But this is not new.

What is new and different from the situation during the Cold War and also from the situation before March 2014 is that Russia has occupied vast territories of an independent European country.

It has used conventional warfare – in a scale only comparable to warfare during the Second World War – in order to occupy large parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblast.

It forced over a million of Ukrainian citizens to flee.

Russia leveled at least a dozen of Ukrainian villages and cities in the Donbas, foremost Vuhlehirsk and Debaltseve in the Donetsk Oblast in February 2015, caring little about human losses which might go up to 5000 for the Vuhlehirsk/Debaltseve battles, consisting mostly of Russian soldiers and volunteers, but also more than 500 civilians.

There was no case of large-scale conventional warfare between Russia and a sovereign European country during the Cold War.

Plus, and a second important point that is contrary to the Cold War, we have what Ilarionov calls a Putin-international [find in this speech his arguments why this is not a Cold War].

During the Cold War it was clear that the enemy was the Soviet Union, and it had little friends in the western world. Today’s western friends of the Russian president are many more, including western mass media, most “intellectuals”, and main stream political parties in Germany, Austria, France, Italy and others.

Disinformation and keywords – initially spread by the Russian side – have been happily taken up by main stream western politicians and media (also a difference to the Cold War) in order to avoid action. The word “conflict” will probably even survive in the case of a Russian occupation of the Baltic states.

The result is a “omertà“, a code of silence, in western European societies not to mention the fact that Russia is using conventional warfare against Ukraine, is preparing Russian society for a large-scale war and exercising its troops on a permanent basis, and has turned Kaliningrad, the Donbas and Crimea to Russian military fortresses.

This code of silence and the fact that no one wants to get involved has the result that:

There is no public discussion on the fact that Russia’s objectives are much broader than Ukraine. Russia wants to split Europe from the United States, and to crash NATO. The non-existing discussion makes it almost impossible to get permanent NATO bases into the Baltic states or Poland. On a national EU scale there are also few proposals and outcomes on how to counter Russia’s destructive efforts: Lithuania has returned to military conscription and banned a Russian TV channel, Poland is putting up several watchtowers in order to observe its border with Kaliningrad (while there is no visible action vis-à-vis Russia’s ally Belarus), some steps are made for a EU energy union.

International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others who could push a discussion on Russia’s evil deeds care little about Ukrainain civilian losses, and even much less about the death of fighters on the Russian side (=open the Pandora’s box of Russian army involvement). The OSCE and UN and other international bodies are helpless at best, and often used by Russia in order to push its interests.

The incapability or lack of desire to face the truth also prevents to tackle Europe’s military weakness seriously.

It is the third important difference to the Cold War.

During the Cold War, the US army (and their European counterparts) had their material and troops ready in the case of an attack from the Soviet Union. Today this is not the case. Europe and the US have their material not ready in order to counter a conventional military attack from the Russian side. In the last months, Russia has been free to push the borders for its military exercises in terms of European territory violated and amount of troops exercised. Russia even has turned to nuclear blackmail. Few know that this has been a taboo-issue since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis which almost led to a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union.

The US and the EU have not responded to Russia’s nuclear blackmail. At the same time, they claim deterrence functions.

However deterrence means: if you are threatened with nuclear warheads – you also have to threaten with them. And threaten in such a way, the enemy believes you.

This essentially is the problem.

Russia does not believe the US and Europe are going to use their warheads.

US and European leaders seem to know that. Therefore they even do not threaten with them.

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Russia has opened up another front in the Czech Republic

While eastern Europeans are talking about possible next targets in Ukraine (Mariupol, Kharkiv, or everything in-between), the occupation of the Baltics (or Moldova, Georgia or even parts of Kazakhstan), Russia is targeting a very central European country: the Czech Republic.

Russia’s efforts to discredit the Czech Republic on an international stage have intensified recently. The so-called “Dragoon Ride” has been a welcomed occasion: Soldiers of the American 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment are currently driving Stryker combat vehicles from Estonia via Poland and the Czech Republic to Bavaria, Germany.

This fact has been used by Russian agents, Russophiles and others to stage a loud verbal anti-NATO campaign in the Czech Republic (and to distract attention from own large-scale war preparation efforts).

First those efforts were quite successful as the supporters of the NATO belong to the silent majority – 82 per cent of the Czech have no problems with Americans driving through the country. Thus several civic organizations and the media outlet Svobodné Forum decided to act, and organized the support campaign “Hi Friends” and Pro konvoj 2015, taking place from 28 until 31 March 2015.

The Facebook-account of one of the organizers and chief of Svobodné Forum Pavel Šafr, in the last days was blocked twice due to Russian influence as he claims. (Necessary to add that several days ago, the access to a Czech and Slovak support letter of Ukraine stating “There is War in Europe: Let’s not Repeat the Munich Betrayal of 1938″ was also restricted).

The Czech Communist Party KSČM organized a protest-booth on 26 March 2015 in Vyškov (with the meagre outcome of 50 participants), where a part of the troops were to stay overnight. More protests are planned in Prague (“Let’s stop the American occupiers”), and there have been calls for a blockade at one of the Polish-Czech border crossings the Americans are going to enter.

The KSČM is in fact one of the main players for Russia in the Czech Republic: The party is proud of its party past as communist hardline party until the break-down of socialism in Czechoslovakia in 1989. It is since ever tightly connected to Russia and Russian/socialists sensibilities, and can be compared for example with the German party “Die Linke”. Its average support-rates are at 14%. Its current head and Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Vojtěch Filip was also listed as collaborator of the Czechoslovak state security (a court decided he had not collaborated consciously). Recently, Filip participated in a demonstration in Prague against western sanctions against Russia (Russia’s propaganda-outlet Sputnik happily quoted him at this occasion in English and German). In the recent escalation of events, he told cz.Sputniknews that there was no “Russian danger” and that common military exercises and US presence in Europe would make the situation worse.

The political environment in the last months has much supported Russian ambitions: The pro-Russian positions of the country’s president Miloš Zeman (who interestingly is in support of “Dragoon Ride”) and his predecessor Klaus are widely known. Less known is that the governing coalition has repeatedly questioned the sense of sanctions against Russia, and be it not for German pressure, it is doubtable the two bigger coalition parties would have consented to them.

The first party of interest is the “protest movement” ANO – which critics say is in fact a protest movement against democracy. Its current support rates are around 30%. The party founder and Slovak-born leader Andrej Babiš is a former member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party KSČ, later turned businessman (with the business conglomerate Agrofert), and now additional owner of the country’s most important media and finance minister. Since several months, he staffs the state administration and also his party with his people, absolutely loyal to him, and some therefore call ANO the “Führerpartei”. There has been a high percentage of persons in his entourage who are “siloviki” (i.e. connected to police agencies), formerly studied at Communist cadre schools, were members of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, or are suspected of having worked for the Czechoslovak Security Service StB. ANO’s party leader is still involved in court proceedings in Slovakia, because he denies the authenticity of state security documents of the Slovak Nation’s Memory Institute identifying him as collaborator for the Czechoslovak state security. There is even a former spy heading a Prague district mayor’s office. ANO has kept a low profile on its position towards Russia, and the new party’s vice president recently claimed ignorance on foreign policy. The second party is the Czech Social-Democratic Party ČSSD – the party’s program can be called rather socialist, and its position toward Russia is comparable to the appeasing-position of the German SPD. Some have characterized their stances as “pro-Russian or neutral”. The current ČSSD foreign minister is one of the few western politicians who still speak to Lavrov. ČSSD-head and Prime Minister Sobotka keeps a very low profile on all questions related to Ukraine and Russia.

Plus, the concentration of pro-Russian servers and news-portals in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is also astonishing: there are over 40 websites with this mission, and several institutes engaged for the Russian cause – such as the ISSTRAS that in summer 2014 claimed Russia was not responsible for the 1940 Katyń-massacre, when the NKVD murdered over 20.000 Polish officers. One of the most notorious pro-Russian services in the Czech Republic has been Aeronet, active since summer 2014. They for example held the November 2014 street protests against Czech President Zeman were organized by Americans (directly from the US embassy).

There are some other serious points to consider: The Czech Republic – in particular Prague – is considered Russia’s outpost in central Europe. The Russian embassy is the biggest base for Russian spying in the region. With its 125 people it is totally overdimensioned (in comparison, the Russian embassy in Warsaw has half of it, and the Americans have 70 people in Prague). The embassy has acquired large estates in Prague and Russia’s Czech spa Karlovy Vary, and nobody knows what is going on there. The Czech Security Information Service BIS for several years now has warned that a significant amount of persons connected to the Russian embassy are spies. The Czech parliamentary deputy Gabal suggested to reduce this amount significantly. However, this is not easy – the law does not allow it. Additionally, the BIS decovered four Russian spies last year (one of them with links to Russian organized crime in the Czech Republic) which complicates the current situation.

The Russian embassy in Prague has been actively engaged against western values and NATO. So, its employees have spoken out against “Dragoon Ride” and spread hard-core Russian propaganda. They retweed, of course, the statements of their boss Lavrov, the claims of the Russian propaganda agencies Tass, Ria Novosti, RT, Sputnik, its Czech outlet Sputnik ČR, (the Czech conspiracy-site) Protiproud or the pro-Russian AC24.cz. For example the embassy featured the AC24.cz fake that American forces, the FBI and the CIA are already in Ukraine. The embassy puts a great focus on war propaganda, i.e. Soviet heros and victories of WWII – in a mental preparation for the 9th May anniversary and further military actions. They also retweeded the link for the notorious video “I’am a Russian occupant” (initially spread by the Russian Vice-Prime Minister Dimitri Rogozin). The video indirectly called for an occupation of the Baltics, Central Asia and Ukraine. Additionally, the Czech media outlet Echo24.cz reported the Coordination Council for Russians living in the Czech Republic – directed by the Russian embassy – requested its members to compile lists of their “military-patriotic activities” until the end of April 2015. In regard to the situation this has to be interpreted as preparations of para-military and propagandistic units.

All those measures are components of Russia’s hybrid warfare.

Russia is trying to take over the Czech Republic.

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OSCE stops exhibition on Crimea

We have become used to the fact that OSCE-observers are fooled by Russia and their proxies in the Donbas – most recently, it has concerned the withdrawl of heavy weapons from the contact line. The deputy chief of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, the Swiss Alexander Hug, went so far to say it was also important what the OSCE did not report. So, if they do not say that they are Russian troops and weapons, for example near the contact line, does this mean, the troops and weapons are there? Interesting logic.

But there is still more space for scandal:

According to Delfi, the Lithuanian and Ukrainian delegations had planned an exhibition on Crimea, but it was prevented in the OSCE-building in Vienna by the head of the OSCE Zannier and the Serbian representation. The exhibition would have also shown photographs with “little green men” and unmarked military equipment. Apparently, this was too much for the OSCE. The press secretary of the Lithuanian foreign ministry said, this was the first time in OSCE’s history an exhibition exposing human rights violations was stopped.

Plus, the Russian and Ukrainian press reported that the Russian human rights advocate Victoria Ivleva blamed the OSCE of having passed sensitive information to the Russian occupying forces. As a result, a bus with 45 women, children and elderly persons who wanted to leave the occupied territory was turned back at a check-point. Ivleva was detained for several hours until she could leave.

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