For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.
For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?
From the Pressimus page, I am adding a liveblog update. As you’ll see it will almost work, though I am not seeing a new “pin” next to the text.
UPDATED: A disturbing (and disputed) video has been broadcast by the Russian news agency LifeNews which reportedly shows Ukrainian volunteers from the Azov Battalion (which now calls itself Azov Regiment) taping a POW to a cross, driving nails through his hands, and then setting him on fire. The men are reportedly near Shirokino, the front line of fighting where Azov is stationed, northeast of Mariupol. LifeNews say that they received this video from the pro-Russian “Cyber Berkut” group, who say they were sent the video in an email. The video does not appear on any of Azov Battalion’s pages or even on the Cyber Berkut page.
Azov has denied any connection to this video:
In a statement of the social media outlet Vkontakte they wrote (translated by The Interpreter):
The Azov Regiment does not have any relationship to the video published on the Internet with the “crucifixion of the separatist,” in which people in masks and camouflage uniform are speaking in our name. In the video are not Azov members. We are warriors, not executioners. If there is any mention of our name without the explanation mentioned above we will be forced to consider it an ill-intentioned provocation.
LifeNews is saying that it is investigating the authenticity of this video — an unusual statement for a TV station known for posting sensational news.
The video, analyzed below, can be viewed here, though it is disturbing.
The video starts with a group of men, some of whom are armed, surrounding a man who is on the ground. One of the armed men makes a prepared speech in what sounds like Ukrainian. The speech is stilted and monotone, like it was memorized, or even read from cue cards which may be out of frame — a familiar trope of contemporary execution videos.
LifeNews has translated the speech into Russian, and The Interpreter has translated the Russian into English, as follows:
We are warriors of the Azov Battalion. We fight with the Moskal [a pejorative term for Russians — The Interpreter] filth. And this is how it will be with each one who will be caught aiding separatism.
The man, who is apparently gagged, and may possibly be drugged or injured, is pushed to the ground and his arms are (likely duct) taped to a cross. Once he is taped to the cross, the sound of hammering, and muffled screaming, can be heard as the man moves his legs as if in pain. It is not possible to see anyone actually hammering the nails, but afterwards the video, which is filmed in low light and is very grainy, shows what look like nails sticking out of the man’s hands.
After this, the cross is raised. The man is clearly standing on a platform (which is not uncommon in crucifixions) but his arms appear to be nailed. At one point, a small fire is lit at the man’s feet. Another man jabs him, hard, in the stomach, with what appears to be a torch. After this the man is lit on fire, as his persecutors squirt what is possibly lighter fluid onto the fire, which then climbs up the cross.
The video ends suddenly, as the man lets out a final muffled scream and the flames lick his lower body.
Is The Video Authentic?
There are two key questions about this video which should be treated separately:
1) Is the captive actually harmed in this video?
2) Are the perpetrators of this alleged crime really who they say they are?
The video does not seem to appear anywhere on the internet before this instance, uploaded on April 24, today, at 18:07:37 GMT. Reverse-image searches for frames of this video net no results, and we have not been able to find another video like this (say, from Syria, or Chechnya) which matches this video. The video, thus, is likely new, as far as we can tell at the moment.
– The duct-tape — the man is first duct-taped to the cross, which in and of itself is not necessarily suspicious, as it keeps his arms in place for a possible nailing, and also adds additional support so that the man’s upper body could be supported. However, Duct-tape could also be used if the nails are fake in order to keep the man attached to the cross. In other words, this tells us very little.
– The nails — at several points in time the nails are visible attached to the man’s hands. The first time one of the nails is visible, there may be a dark discoloration around the nail — perhaps blood. However, there are videos of very realistic looking fake crucifixions online, so again, this does not tell us much one way or the other.
– The blow to the stomach looks real, though it’s hardly a fatal blow.
– The fire — while it is suspicious that the video ends before the fire fully engulfs this man, the fire looks, to us, to be convincing. The man’s arms are exposed, he appears to be wearing a T-shirt (likely cotton), and his pants do not look flame retardant. It does seem possible that the man would sustain significant injuries, even if the fire was immediately extinguished after the video ends, since his captors were spraying flammable liquid, in a significant quantity, and the flames were rapidly rising. But the cutting of the video at this moment is suspicious. If the people filming this wanted to torture the man on camera, why cut the video?
While we cannot know for sure, the answer to the first question — was anyone harmed in this video — seems like a fairly convincing ‘yes.’
But who are these men? Is the victim really a Russian-backed separatist or Russian soldier? Are his captors really members of the Azov Battalion? This question is even tougher to answer, but here is what we know.
The victim is gagged, and his face is hidden.
At 1:49 a man can be seen wearing an Azov patch, but this could also be easily faked.
His captors begin by speaking in what sounds like Ukrainian. However, at several points in the video they appear to speak Russian.
At 1:14, for instance, there are lots of tape, afterwards, at 1:38, one of the captors says, in Russian, “wrap it up, wrap it up, let’s go.”
Both Russian and Ukrainian would be widely understood in many parts of Ukraine. It is possible, then, for those living in eastern Ukraine to understand some Ukrainian (and be able to give a prepared speech) while they are still more likely to speak Russian in every day usage.
It is possible, therefore, that these men are fighting for Ukraine, but are from eastern Ukraine, where they speak Russian (we do not know, however, whether Azov has any Russian speakers in it, though that’s likely). The speech could have been given in Ukrainian to denote that these men are fighting for the Ukrainian government against the Russian government.
On the other hand, it is also possible that these men are not who they say they are, and are really Russian-backed separatists from eastern Ukraine. Perhaps they gave the speech in Ukrainian in order to frame Ukraine, but they really speak Russian.
The reality is that without more evidence we cannot currently verify that this video shows what LifeNews says it shows — the Azov Regiment crucifying a Russian-backed separatist. However, it is entirely possible that someone was really crucified, but it is also highly suspicious that the video is cut right as the fire starts to grow.
— James Miller, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Leviy Bereg reports that the Ukrainian military’s ATO press centre has claimed that Russian-backed fighters have attacked Ukrainian positions 29 times between midnight and 18:00 today.
This brings the total number of attacks reported over the 24 period from 18:00 yesterday to 50.
According to the report, there were two clashes between Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces today.
The first took place this morning near Marinka, a Ukrainian-held suburb on the south-western edge of separatist-held Donetsk. The ATO press centre says that a battle broke out between Ukrainian troops and an enemy sabotage and reconnaissance group. Both sides used small arms in the combat. The report claims that the Russian-backed fighters were forced to withdraw under Ukrainian fire.
Another armed confrontation between Ukrainian troops and a sabotage and reconnaissance team took place this evening near Avdeyevka, to the north of Donetsk.
The Ukrainians claim that Russian-backed forces conducted 11 attacks in the Donetsk region today with 120 mm mortars, three times targeting positions near Granitnoye, east of Volnovakha. Other positions shelled with such weapons were located near Peski, Popasnaya, Kirov and Avdeyevka.
According to the Minsk agreement, 120 mm mortars should have been withdrawn, along with other heavy artillery, beyond range of the front line.
There were also small arms and grenade launcher attacks on positions near Shirokino, Opytnoye, Mayorsk and Lozovoye.
In the Lugansk region, the report claims, Russian-backed forces twice opened fire on a Ukrainian defensive position near separatist-held Sokolniki, on the southern banks of the Seversky Donets river.
— Pierre Vaux
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has announced this evening on the Ukraina television channel that, in the event of an offensive by Russian-backed forces, he will propose the introduction of martial law.
Interfax reports that Poroshenko said (translated by The Interpreter):
“The armed forces of Ukraine and I, as the supreme commander of the armed forces, are giving clear guarantees that we will strictly adhere to the Minsk agreements. We will not go on the offensive.
If Ukrainian troops are attacked, we will do everything possible to ensure their protection. A state of martial law would be introduced immediately. I would introduce the corresponding bill to parliament and the country would very rapidly switch to a wartime footing.”
UNN added that Poroshenko had said:
“The defence of the sovereignty and integrity of the country, as well as the independence of Ukraine are my primary duties.”
It is not clear from Poroshenko’s statement what would constitute such an attack on Ukrainian troops. Certainly there have been hundreds of recorded attacks on Ukrainian positions since the ceasefire in February, with the violence dramatically escalating this week after a lull at the weekend.
There are fears, expressed for example by the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg yesterday, that Russia is amassing forces that would enable a major offensive at short notice.
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has presented evidence today that Ukrainian troops in the Donbass are being attacked with advanced Russian anti-tank missiles that have not been exported to Ukraine.
According to a statement from the MOD website, for several days a Ukrainian defensive position near the separatist-held village of Zholobok, manned by troops from the Aidar Battalion was attacked with anti-tank missiles.
As a result of a technical malfunction, the missiles failed to explode and the wreckage was recovered by Ukrainian troops.
The MOD identifies them as 9M133F-1 missiles for the 9K135 Kornet missile system . The Kornet system was introduced during the 1990s and has never been sold to Ukraine. Therefore, the Ukrainian MOD says, the weapons must have been supplied by Russia, not captured by separatist-fighters.
The 9M133F-1 missile itself carries a thermobaric warhead, ideal for attacking bunkers and other enclosed positions.
The MOD says that markings on the wreckage indicate that the recovered missile was produced in 2012 in Russia.
While the MOD made their announcement today, it appears that the weapon was recovered earlier this month.
Soldier Igor Gurchik posted photos on his Facebook page on April 21 showing what appears to be the same 9M133F-1 wreckage, noting that it was recovered after an attack on the 29th checkpoint. This checkpoint lies close to Zholobok, near which the MOD claimed the weapon presented today was found.
This is not the first time that evidence of the use of Kornet missiles has been found in Ukraine.
On March 19, fragments of 9M133 (with explosive rather than themobaric warheads) missiles were reported to have been recovered near Schastye, also in the Lugansk region.
The markings on one of the fragments indicate it was produced in 2009:
Armament Research (ARES) commented on the find:
One missile body fragment, shown above, bears markings indicating a manufacturing date of 2009. ARES has previously discussed the Kornet ATGW (NATO reporting name: AT-14 Spriggan) in ‘Research Report 3: Raising Red Flags’, our research report documenting the arms and munitions of the Ukrainian conflict observed until November 2014. At that time, only discarded missile tubes had been observed. The report listed the presence of the 9K135 Kornet as a ‘flag item’; a munition noteworthy for not being produced in Ukraine, nor known to be in the inventories of Ukrainian security forces. As such, the presence of these systems in the hands of pro-Russian separatists merits further investigation as to how they acquired them.
Journalists from Reuters found pieces of missiles near Gorbatenko, south-east of Donetsk, scene of a major defeat of the Ukrainian army by Russian forces in August last year.
Reuters showed three military experts photographs of the missile parts and two of them said Ukraine does not have anti-tank guided missiles of this type.
“The presence of the Kornet ATGM is noteworthy and while it has been exported widely by Russia this list does not include Ukraine. As such, it further supports Russian involvement,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies told Reuters.
It is noteworthy that the wreckage of Russian T-72B3 tanks, (which have not been exported abroad) was documented in Gorbatenko.
Furthermore, reports from Semyon Semyonchenko, then commander of the Donbass battalion, indicated that Zholobok was seized and occupied earlier this year not by separatist fighters, but by Russian regular troops, again supported by tanks.
With that in mind, reports today from Dmytro Tymchuk of Information resistance that Kornet missiles were fired yesterday at Ukrainian positions in Peski and Shirokino raise the possibility that Russian regulars, rather than their separatist allies are attacking these key positions.
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrainian military’s ATO press centre claims that Russian-backed fighters committed 21 violations of the ceasefire between 18:00 and midnight yesterday.
The report says that Russian-backed fighters used both heavy artillery, including 120 mm mortars and 122 mm howitzers, and tanks in their attacks.
In the Donetsk region, Russian-backed forces shelled Ukrainian positions, the military say, near Shirokino, Avdeyevka, Mayorsk, Zaytsevo and Orlovskoye.
Ukrainian military analyst Dmytro Tymchuk, of Information Resistance, wrote on his Facebook page today that Russian-backed forces had attempted to push Ukrainian troops back in Peski but had failed in their attempt.
Tymchuk also claimed that Ukrainian troops in both the Peski and Shirokino areas had been attacked with 9K135 Kornet anti-tank missiles – weapons that Tymchuk says were only introduced into Russian service in 1998 and are not in the Ukrainian arsenal.
The Mariupol Defence Headquarters reported 11 attacks on positions in Shirokino over the last day.
According to their briefing this morning, Russian-backed forces deployed not only 120 mm mortars and tanks, but also 152 mm artillery.
There is also an unverified claim, supported by a graphic photo that appears to be new, that Ukrainian soldiers from the 28th brigade captured 6 separatist fighters and killed one between the separatist-held village of Beryozovoye and Ukrainian-held Volnovakha, on the Donetsk-Mariupol highway.
Meanwhile, the ATO press centre reported that there had been four attacks on Ukrainian positions near Schastye, in the Lugansk region, conducted with small arms, automatic grenade launchers and anti-aircraft artillery.
The governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, claimed today that Russian-backed forces had once again fired on Schastye from the separatist-held village of Vesyolaya Gora.
Grenades fired in the attacks had struck a bridge over the Seversky Donets and a nearby State Emergencies Service centre.
The centre was damaged in the attack but there were no military or civilian casualties, Moskal said.
The governor also reported attacks on Ukrainian forces near Troitskoye and a tuberculosis clinic in Krymskoye.
— Pierre Vaux