Ukraine

Sean Scanlon / Office of Sen. Chris Murphy

Ukrainian Americans, many with family members still living in the country, packed Hartford's Ukrainian National Home for the town hall meeting about the situation in the Eastern European country.

In a claim that's meeting with skepticism in Kiev, Russian-backed separatists say they've started to withdraw heavy weapons in eastern Ukraine, as required by a recent cease-fire. Ukraine's military says separatist attacks are ongoing.

The development comes after Russia's President Vladimir Putin said he thinks a war with Ukraine would be "apocalyptic" — but that the area is now on a path to stability, after the recent Minsk agreement.

Following heavy shelling in what had been a Ukraine-controlled city, the central government's force is retreating from Debaltseve, a key railroad and transportation hub. Ukraine says it has now withdrawn 80 percent of its armed forces from the city.

"I can say now that the Ukrainian armed forces and the National Guard completed an operation on the planned and organized withdrawal of some units from Debaltseve this morning," Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said, according to the Interfax news agency in Ukraine.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have resulted in a cease-fire which is set to begin Sunday. But there's still a long ways to go before a lasting peace can exist between the two countries.

Former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman doesn't think the cease-fire will hold. He told CNN that the U.S. should send weapons to Ukrainian fighters to help counter Russian-backed troops and President Vladamir Putin.

"I think if we give them the weapons to defend themselves, it actually raises the prospects that the cease-fire will hold because it creates a little more balance on the ground and creates a bit of a disincentive for Putin and the separatists to keep moving through eastern Ukraine," said Lieberman.

A new cease-fire is set to begin Sunday in eastern Ukraine, in a deal after 16 hours of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. The leaders of France and Germany helped broker the deal, which calls for a buffer zone free of heavy weapons. News of the temporary peace emerged along with a new international aid plan for Ukraine.

As has been the case in Ukraine's nearly yearlong conflict with separatists, the new arrangement established by Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko leaves some important issues unresolved.

Catie Talarski

The American Polish Advisory Council held its annual conference at Yale University this weekend. The group discussed issues ranging from U.S.-Polish relations to the crisis in nearby Ukraine. 

Elections in Ukraine are pointing to a new parliament that will be dominated by pro-Western parties, a result that President Petro Poroshenko is hailing as a "course toward Europe" but one that is likely to further anger Russia.

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Kiev that exit polls show the bloc supporting Porsohenko is projected to win about 23 percent of the vote, followed closely by an allied party, the People's Front, with around 21 percent.

Vladimir Yaitskiy / Creative Commons

The U.S. should allow others to take the lead in the Ukrainian crisis, according to former state department diplomat and foreign policy analyst E.Wayne Merry

An initial investigation by Dutch experts appears to support the long-held theory of what happened to MH17 over eastern Ukraine: The Malaysian airliner was brought down by multiple "high-energy objects from outside the aircraft."

Although the preliminary technical report by the Dutch Safety Board did not directly say the objects were surface-to-air missiles, it left little room to conclude otherwise.

Ukraine and the West, including the United States, insist that the Russian army has been fighting in eastern Ukraine, a charge that Russia just as vehemently denies.

But reports from Russia now acknowledge that Russian soldiers are part of the battle — though they are claimed to be volunteers, on leave from their army jobs.

Critics say the Russian military is ordering soldiers into the fight, and covering up the deaths of those who are killed, in an unacknowledged war on foreign soil.

This post was updated at 1 p.m. ET.

The government of Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists in the east say they have stopped fighting, honoring a cease-fire that took effect late Friday afternoon local time.

NPR's Corey Flintoff tells our Newscast unit that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered a cease-fire once separatists agreed to peace talks at a meeting in Belarus.

During a televised press conference, Poroshenko said the peace deal was forged based on a phone conversation he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

President Obama, along with all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, are in Wales today as a set of international conflicts puts the military alliance back in the spotlight.

At the top of the agenda is, of course, the crisis in Ukraine.

In an interview with NPR's Morning Edition, Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, said the allied forces are facing a situation they never thought they would see again in the region.

The morning started on a hopeful note: The office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the two had agreed on a "permanent cease-fire."

But that was short-lived. As the state-funded Russia Today reports, the Russians quickly pointed out that they had reached no such agreement, because "Russia is not party to Ukraine conflict."

NATO To Create New 'Spearhead' Force For Eastern Europe

Sep 2, 2014

NATO leaders are expected to set up a rapid-response force to deploy quickly to eastern Europe to defend against potential Russian aggression at their meeting in Wales later this week.

The force of about 4,000 troops will be ready to move on 48 hours notice from a station in a member country close to Russia, The New York Times reported.

Update at 3:21 p.m. ET

Pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine are no longer demanding full independence, telling negotiators in Belarus that they will respect Ukraine's sovereignty in exchange for autonomy.

The Associated Press adds:

"It's a shift that reflects Moscow's desire to strike a deal at a new round of peace talks — possibly avoiding tougher Western sanctions. The talks follow last week's meeting between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine. Similar talks earlier this summer produced no visible results."

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says his government has sent parliament a bill that allows Ukraine to open a path toward membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

"The main and only goal of Ukraine's foreign policy is to join the European Union," Yatsenyuk said in a statement.

Updated at 4:47 p.m.

President Obama blamed Russia for the violence in Ukraine and said its "incursion" into the former Soviet state will only carry additional costs.

"Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see," Obama said at a White House news conference on Thursday.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced today on the presidential website that he was dissolving parliament and called for fresh elections on Oct. 26.

Poroshenko said the move was in accordance with the country's constitution, noting that Ukraine's coalition government collapsed July 24.

Update at 5:00 p.m. ET

After being halted at the border for more than a week, a Russian aid convoy is rumbling into eastern Ukraine without permission, prompting Kiev to label the move a "direct invasion" of sovereign territory.

Karoun Demirjian, reporting for NPR from Moscow, says 150 Russian trucks arrived in the rebel-held city of Luhansk on Friday.

Dutch Call Off Search For Additional Remains In Ukraine

Aug 6, 2014

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has called off the search for additional remains at the site of the downed airliner in Ukraine.

At a news conference in The Hague on Wednesday, Rutte said the search has become too dangerous.

As we reported yesterday, Russia has stationed more than 30,000 troops near its border with Ukraine for military exercises.

Russia and Ukraine are holding large military exercises along their shared border as the Ukrainian military claims to be closing in on rebel strongholds in Donetsk and Luhansk, NPR's Karoun Demirjian reports from Moscow.

Government troops and separatists have been fighting for months for control of eastern Ukraine, Karoun says, and Ukrainian leaders say Russia has been supplying the separatists with weapons and strategic assistance — a charge Moscow denies.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has some good news this morning:

Remember, experts from Australia and The Netherlands have been trying to get to the debris field of the downed Malaysia Airlines jet in eastern Ukraine for a week. Every time they attempted a trip, they were thwarted by heavy fighting.

For a second day in a row, Dutch and Australian experts were unable to reach the debris field left by downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine.

CNN reports that team members were attempting to make their way to the area when they heard explosions and were told there was heavy fighting, so they turned back. The network adds:

Ukrainian forces were reportedly advancing on rebel positions near the key eastern town of Donetsk on Saturday, as they try to retake the separatist stronghold.

Donetsk is the region where Malaysia Airlines MH17 was shot down on July 17, killing nearly 300 people. Pro-Russian rebels have been blamed for downing the plane and they have hampered international efforts to access the site of the wreckage.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is making headlines once again.

Just a few weeks ago, he vetoed a bill that would have restricted the size of gun magazines from 15 rounds to 10. The decision angered a number of gun control advocates, including some Sandy Hook parents.

The U.S. says it has "new evidence" that Russian forces have been firing artillery across the border to attack Ukrainian military positions, and that Moscow is planning to ship powerful rocket artillery to the rebels it backs in the country's east.

"We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said during a daily briefing.

Ukraine's prime minister announced today that he is resigning after two parties said they were withdrawing from the ruling coalition.

"I am announcing my resignation in connection with the collapse of the coalition," Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said, adding Parliament could no longer do its work.

The Associated Press adds:

A refrigerated train carrying the remains of the people who died aboard the downed Malaysia Airlines plane arrived in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday. That's a city controlled by the central government in Kiev and 17 hours away from the chaos of Hrabove, the eastern city controlled by pro-Russian separatists, where the debris and remains were scattered.

The New York Times sets the scene:

This post was last updated at 7:10 p.m. ET.

Pro-Russian separatists have given what they say are Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17's data recorders to Malaysian officials in Donetsk, the city in eastern Ukraine that has been the militants' stronghold.

Along with the release of victims' bodies hours earlier, the transfer of the black boxes fulfills part of a deal Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said he had reached with the rebels Monday.

WNPR

On Monday at the White House, President Obama urged Russian President Vladmir Putin to order Russian separatists in Ukraine to allow international investigators unfettered access to the crash site of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. 

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