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The latest report from the OSCE Special Monitoring Team, dated yesterday, May 10, at 19:30 Kiev time, has a major headline. Here’s the summary of the report:
The SMM monitored the implementation of the “Package of measures for the Implementation of the Minsk agreements”. Its monitoring was restricted by security considerations and in two instances through delayed access to heavy weapons holding areas*. SMM monitors came under machine gun fire from a Ukrainian Armed Forces soldier in the Luhansk region. Heavy fighting was heard by the SMM in and around Shyrokyne on 10 May. Fighting around Donetsk airport continued, though at a reduced level compared with previous days. The SMM observed 9 May commemorations in many cities, some of which included displays of heavy weapons.
Fighting continued to be heard by the SMM in and around Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol) on both 9 and 10 May, with over 400 explosions heard on 10 May alone representing a significant deterioration compared with previous days. During the day the SMM heard outgoing mortars and incoming artillery. On 9 May the SMM, from the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) observation post at Donetsk railway station (“DPR”-controlled, 8km north-west of Donetsk city-centre), heard 148 explosions and several bursts of small-arms fire. In the SMM’s assessment the majority of the explosions took place around government-controlled Pisky (15km west-north-west of Donetsk) and “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled Spartak (10km north-west of Donetsk). The SMM recorded 89 explosions and several bursts of gunfire on 10 May from the JCCC observation post, occurring in areas between 3-7km south-west, west, north-west and north-east of their position. Both the Ukrainian Armed Forces Major-General and Russian Federation Armed Forces Colonel-General at the JCCC headquarters (HQ) in government-controlled Soledar (77km north of Donetsk) expressed concern that “DPR”-controlled Horlivka (36km north-east of Donetsk) had become a hotspot.
The report goes on, but one passage is important to highlight — that a Ukrainian soldier accidentally fired on the SMM convoy:
On 10 May an SMM patrol came under machine-gun fire in an area three kilometres west of government-controlled Krymske (43km north-west of Luhansk). The SMM team had exited their vehicles to observe nearby shelling. As the team re-entered their vehicles, approximately 3-5 long bursts from a modernized Kalashnikov machinegun (PKM) (7.62x54mm) impacted close by – some within two metres. The SMM suffered no injuries and left the area. The SMM assessed the fire as originating from 200 metres south-east of their location. During a follow-up meeting, the local Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander told the SMM that one of his soldiers accidentally opened fire “because they were not aware of the SMM’s arrival”, that the soldier acted nervously and attempted to fire “warning shots”. The commander apologized and promised full security for the SMM.
The OSCE also witnessed multiple ceasefire violations and the movement of heavy weaponry:
The SMM continued to visit heavy weapons holding areas. In government-controlled areas the SMM re-visited seven heavy weapons holding areas and noted that two multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) were missing at one location; four MLRS at another location; four 152mm towed howitzers absent from its previously recorded location; and two 152mm towed howitzers missing from a further location. All other weapons previously recorded at these sites were in situ, and in compliance with Minsk withdrawal lines.
The SMM observed that some heavy weapons were recently moved (as evidenced by fresh mud on truck wheels and tracks visible in fields). At one location the SMM had to wait 30 minutes – forty minutes at another – before being given access*. On 9 May the SMM observed an “LPR” heavy weapons convoy returning from the parade held in Luhansk to the site where they were located prior to the parade. On 10 May the SMM observed these weapons being moved to holding areas that are compliant with Minsk withdrawal lines.
Despite claims that the withdrawal of heavy weapons was complete, the SMM observed the following weapons’ movements in areas in violation of Minsk withdrawal lines on 9 and 10 May. In “DPR”-controlled areas the SMM observed six main battle tanks (MBTs) (T72), three towed howitzers (D-30 122mm), three MLRS (BM-21 Grad 122mm), three howitzers (2S1 122mm self-propelled “Gvozdika”122mm), three anti-aircraft systems (Strela-10 120mm), and three towed howitzers (“Msta-B” 152mm). At another location in “DPR”-controlled areas the SMM saw two self-propelled “Gvozdika” (122mm) howitzers. In “LPR”-controlled areas the SMM saw self-propelled howitzers, towed howitzers, tanks, MLRS and anti-aircraft systems “Strela”. In government-controlled areas the SMM observed two MLRS BM-30 “Smerch” (300mm calibre), one MLRS BM-21 Grad (122mm calibre), four towed guns (possibly 130mm field guns M-46) and one anti-aircraft missile system “OSA-AK”. At other locations the SMM saw three MBTs (T-72), one truck towing a 122mm D-30 howitzer and two stationery trucks with two “Msta-B” 2A65 152mm howitzers attached.
The SMM Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) observed three Ukrainian Armed Forces artillery pieces (likely towed 152mm cannon) near the government-controlled village of Pionerske (13km east of Mariupol) firing eastward. Two hours later the UAV observed a house burning in Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol). Near Shyrokyne the UAV detected a “DPR” “base” with four small boats. In nearby “DPR”-controlled Bezimenne (30km east of Mariupol), the UAV observed a previously seen “DPR” facility, with only three infantry fighting vehicles at this location. The three MBTs previously seen at this location (see SMM Daily Report, 7 May, http://www.osce.org/ukraine-smm/156046) were no longer there.
— James Miller
The latest NATO assessment from Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is that Russia has provided so much military support to the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that the insurgents could launch an attack on little notice. RFE/RL reports:
“In eastern Ukraine, Russia and the separatists [now] have capabilities which enable them to launch new attacks with very little warning time.”
Stoltenberg said the situation in eastern Ukraine is headed “in the wrong direction” despite a cease-fire agreement reached in February.
“We see more loss of life, a rise in cease-fire violations, obstruction of the monitors, and continued Russian support for the separatists. This is a disturbing trend in the wrong direction,” he said.
Ironically, this is in contrast to statements made by Vladimir Putin just yesterday:
NATO are not the only ones sounding alarm at Russia’s increasing aggression and the degradation of the Minsk ceasefire, nor is this the first warning from NATO about the escalating risk of renewed open conflict. Janes IHS, which tracks and analyzes military risk, has published an analysis of warnings from NATO command and other military experts. Those experts warn that Russia has been taking advantage of the ceasefire, established in February, to reposition and resupply its forces and its proxies, and to also train “volunteers” fighting in the Donbass on advanced weapons systems.
NATO’s assessment, [NATO Supreme Commander, USAF General Philip Breedlove] added, is that the Russian military’s goal is to secure the gains made on territory already taken in the Ukraine Donbass region, as well as to deploy for the launch of a late spring attack. “Many of their [the Russians’] actions are consistent with preparations for another offensive,” he said, adding that Russian forces’ activities were not just exercises but “preparing, training, and equipping to have the capacity again to take an offensive.”
Gen Breedlove’s conclusions were based on two major indicators. One is that Russia’s armed forces do not typically engage in empty sabre-rattling without following through with real military action. “In the past they have not wasted their effort,” he said.
The other is that Russia’s military has moved to exert enhanced positive control on the battlefield over the formations of “separatist” combatants and to more closely integrate their actions with those of Moscow’s regulars “because there was disunity in some of the earlier attacks. We do see a very distinct Russian set of command-and-control in the eastern part of Ukraine,” he stated. “Command-and-control, air defence, support to artillery, all of these things have increased – making a more coherent, organised force out of the separatists.”
In the leadup to Victory Day celebrations this past weekend, Russian-backed forces have been deploying heavy weaponry and advanced anti-aircraft systems near the front lines for weeks. Now that the parades are over, will this equipment stay put, reposition to more strategic positions nearby, or will it retreat as it would need to in order to comply with the Minsk agreement? NATO, and all historical indications, suggest that the latter is the least-probable outcome.
— James Miller
Today is being hailed by Russian-backed separatists as the “day of the republic” in the self-proclaimed “Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics” (DNR and LNR), marking the anniversary of the internationally condemned ‘referendum’ on the establishment of the breakaway entities.
As part of the festivities, an “international forum” titled ‘Donbass: yesterday, today, tomorrow‘ is being held in Donetsk.
Among the separatist participants in the event are the leaders of the DNR and LNR, Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky;the speaker of the ‘People’s Soviet’ of the DNR, Andrei Purgin; the vice-speaker of the ‘parliament’ of the LNR, Vladislav Deynevo; and the former chairman of the ‘Supreme Soviet’ of the DNR, Denis Pushilin, now the DNR representative at the Minsk talks.
But more interestingly, the forum has drawn several European politicians, chief amongst them, Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, a member of the European Parliament and Rassemblement bleu Marine, a far-right coalition led by the Front National, who previously endorsed the Ukrainian separatist ‘elections’ in November last year by acting as a ‘monitor’ for the OSCE-imitating Association for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
According to Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency, Schaffhauser is moderating the forum with Deynevo.
Four other European politicians are taking part: Alessandro Musolino, an MP from the right-wing Forza Italia party; Luis Durnwalder, vice-president of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and a member of the South Tyrolean People’s Party; Simos Kedikoglou, an MP from Greece’s centre-right New Democracy; and Evgenia Ouzounidou, a prominent member of Greece’s governing Syriza party who is also a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.
Like Schaffhauser, Musolino acted as an ‘observer’ at the separatist ‘elections’
Ouzounidou is a former member of the Greek Communist Party, studied at the Polytechnic School of Kiev during the Soviet period.
Among the political theorists attending are Andrea Maria Villotti, an Italian academic who opposes EU integration and supports the development of free-trade zones, and Johan Backmann, a Finnish neo-Stalinist who participated in a far-right conference in occupied Crimea last summer and ‘observed’ at the ‘referendum’ that followed Russia’s invasion.
The official site for the event also lists Serbians Dragana Trifkovic, director of the Belgrade Centre of Strategic Research, who was an observer at the November ‘elections’ in the DNR, and Stevica Dedanski, a former member of the far-right Serbian Radical Party and member of the Assembly of Vojvodina.
One familiar face is Manuel Ochesenreiter, editor of the far-right Zuerst! journal. Ochesenreiter, a neo-Nazi, has been a regular guest on RT, and was profiled by The Interpreter in March last year.
Here is Ochsenreiter speaking in a video published on the official YouTube channel for the forum in March this year:
But perhaps the most intriguing appearance of all relates to a ‘charity’ called Urgence D’Enfants Ukraine (UEU), which we reported on when it was first announced to be involved with Schaffhauser’s visit and the forum.
As we discovered, UEU promotes staunchly pro-separatist propaganda and was founded by Alain Fragny, a former member of the extreme-right Bloc Identitaire.
However the forum website lists not only Fragny as a speaker from UEU, but one Emmanuel Leroy.
Leroy is regarded as one of Front National leader Marine Le Pen’s closest advisers, writing speeches during her 2012 electoral campaign, and has extensive links with Russia.
Leroy participated in the ‘White Forum’ in Moscow in 2007, speaking alongside former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke.
According to a Le Monde article from November last year, Leroy was instrumental in attempting for forge links between the FN and the Kremlin, making use of his Russian wife, who was reported to be close to both the Russian Ambassador in Paris and the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, a pro-Russian think tank headed by British eurosceptic John Laughland.
The delegates made a visit to the World War II memorial at Saur Mogila, now ruined by months of fighting over the strategic summit last summer.
Reuters has published an article in which they interview human rights activists and Russian soldiers, both of whom tell a similar tale. According to the article, Russian soldiers are coerced into “volunteering” to fight in Ukraine. If they refuse they are forced to quit, since they can’t be prosecuted for disobeying orders because officially there are no Russian troops in Ukraine.
One anecdote is interesting because it speaks to a phenomenon first reported by The Interpreter the day before MH17 was shot down — Russian Grad units firing at targets inside Ukraine.
Another soldier who said he quit the army over the Ukraine conflict is a 21-year-old who was a member of a Grad missile unit. The soldier, who asked that he and his unit not be identified, told Reuters that in the summer of 2014 his team took up position about 2 km (one mile) from the Ukrainian border in the Rostov region of southwest Russia. The operation appeared to be an exercise, though the men were ordered to prepare as if for real combat.
“We drove there without insignia. We took off all the buttonholes and stripes. We were told that we did not need them in field conditions.”
In early September the men were ordered to fire their rockets at a target “about 17 km” away, “maybe less.” It was possible the target was in Ukraine, he said. “I was hoping I did not aim at any people. Or at least that I missed the target.”
He said his fellow soldiers told him another battery from his unit had crossed the border and spent 10 days in Ukraine. “I did not understand who was fighting and what for, and the point of it,” he said.
While on leave in January, the soldier said, he was unexpectedly summoned back to his unit.
“We were moved to another (artillery) battery that was supposed to go to some exercises in Rostov region. They said they were really big exercises and very big forces were involved,” the soldier said.
Read the entire article here.
— James Miller
The US State Department has announced that Secretary of State John Kerry is travelling to Sochi to meet with President Vladimir Putin and the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.
Here is the press statement by State Department spokesperson Marie Harf:
Secretary of State John Kerry will travel on May 11 to Sochi, Russia, where he will meet with President Putin, Foreign Minister Lavrov, and other Russian officials on May 12 to discuss a full range of bilateral and regional issues, including Iran, Syria, and Ukraine. This trip is part of our ongoing effort to maintain direct lines of communication with senior Russian officials and to ensure U.S. views are clearly conveyed.
AP’s Matt Lee reported that:
The Interfax news agency cited an unnamed official as saying the issue of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine would be raised at the meeting in Sochi.
— Pierre Vaux
The Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry has announced that a civilian has been killed by shelling in the Ukrainian-held village of Vasilevka, north-east of Donetsk.
According to the announcement, the man, born in 1969, was cycling when a shell exploded next them.
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrainian military has announced that five servicemen were wounded over the last 24 hours.
Colonel Oleksandr Motuzianik, a spokesman for the Presidential Administration on ATO issues, told reporters at a briefing today that Russian-backed fighters had continued to use heavy weapons on the front lines, with 16 120 mm mortar attacks and one 122 mm artillery bombardment over the last day.
The ATO press centre claimed that there had been heavy fighting around Peski.
The Interpreter translates the UNIAN report:
“In the Donetsk area they fired on Peski with 120 mm mortars. A battle with a sabotage and reconnaissance group of bandits took place there at around midnight. The occupiers also fired on the Butovka mine,” says the statement.
In the Lugansk area the militants shelled Ukrainian troops in Schastye and Krymskoye, and also fired on the power station in Schastye. Furthmore, the militants attacked Stanitsa Luganskaya with grenade launchers.
The press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, announced that Russian-backed forces had also used anti-aircraft guns and mortars against Stanitsa Luganskaya, firing from the “right bank” of the Seversky Donets river.
According to Moskal’s office, “close-quarters combat” broke out after the bombardment. One grenade struck a home on Kreasnoarmeyeskiy street, setting it on fire. Due to the ongoing combat, fire teams could not be deployed so the house was burnt to the ground. One civilian was wounded by the fire. Two soldiers were also wounded during the engagement.
The ATO press centre also reported that fighting had continued near Gorlovka, which saw intense shelling on the evening of May 7. According to the report, Leninskoye and Mayorsk were both shelled with 120 mm mortars. To the east, near Lozovoye, Russian-backed fighters used anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns against Ukrainian positions.
To the south, Ukrainian troops in Shirokino were shelled with 120 mm mortars.
Ivan Kharkiv, a fighter from the Azov regiment, told Ukraine’s 24 channel that two Ukrainian soldiers had been lightly wounded in the fighting.
He reported that heavy rain had helped lessen the effects of enemy shelling, but that, in addition to the mortars, a tank and machine guns had been used against their positions.
Twitter reports from yesterday describe combat in the area:
Translation: Mariupol. Loud, sound of artillery from Shirokino.
— Pierre Vaux