Ukraine Liveblog Day 166: Ukraine’s Borders Are Attacked Overnight

August 2, 2014
Ukrainian military transporting a captured separatist IS-3 tank, restored from a WW2 memorial. On the fuel tank is painted "To Lviv." Photo: @BSpringnote

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs.

View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map
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?

Below we will be making regular updates so check back often.

Russian Armoured Column On Move Near Nizhnyaya Krynka?

A video purportedly filmed yesterday, shows an armoured column, which we previously saw on July 15 in Yenakievo, travelling through the town of Nizhnyaya Krynka.

We have not yet been able to precisely geolocate this video, but the topography and the body of water visible on the right of the screen do correspond with the geography of Nizhnyaya Krynka.

What is even more interesting is that the combination of vehicles, and their order (bar the black minibus which parks to the side in this video) is identical to that seen in the July 15 video.

Here is the video uploaded yesterday:

Here is the July 15 video:

The 2S1 Gvodzika self-propelled guns visible in both convoys, strongly resemble similarly marked ones we saw on a railway transporter near the town of Millerovo in the Russian Federation on June 20.

More important than the exact location (which appears likely to be that described by the uploader at least) is the date of the recording. We are unable to ascertain this, and indeed, the convoy is so strikingly similar that we think it possible that this is not just the same unit, but a different leg of the same journey made on July 15.

If the unit was filmed yesterday however, this would represent a major threat to Ukrainian forces fighting, and enduring severe losses, to the south-east near Shakhtyorsk.

If this is a discrete military unit rather than a supply convoy, it has considerable strength: 4 T-64 tanks, 3 2S1 Gvodzikas, 1 BTR-80 armoured personnel carrier and a number of civilian vehicles including a large articulated lorry, likely carrying ammunition and supplies.

Separatist Show of Force on VDV Day in Lugansk

A column of vehicles carrying the flags of the Airborne forces (VDV) and the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ has been filmed, apparently in Lugansk today. 

Among the vehicles visible in the column are 2 BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers and two pick-up trucks carrying either heavy machine guns or light anti-aircraft artillery.

Today is VDV day, a celebration of the Airborne forces held since the Soviet era. The day has been marked in both Ukraine and Russia. Here is Petro Poroshenko visiting Ukrainian paratroopers today:
Pro-Separatist Rally in Moscow Today

A rally was held today in Moscow to rally support for separatist fighters in south-eastern Ukraine.

The rally “For the Struggle for Donbass”, was reportedly only attended by around 500 people (according to the independent Russian news site  (See also our Russia This Week blog).

Earlier, RT’s Ruptly service, who provided live streaming of the event, had written that “thousands are expected to attend.”

Here are some photos from Grani’s Twitter feed:

Translation: Such ratings, such consensus on TV, but there are only around 200 people at the rally for Donbass.

Translation: Rally ‘Battle for Donetsk’ in Moscow. [The poster reads: Russian commanders! They know everyone who is anti / a traitor.]

Translation: They have equated Girkin with The Shooter [Putin]. Girkin’s prospects are not enviable.

This poster hails Putin and Strelkov as the ‘people’s leaders.’

The poster brands the liberal-leaning Echo Moskvy radio station as ‘fifth columnists’ and tells them to “get out of Russia!”

Translation: “But they don’t mention us. Insulting.”

The poster reads: I.I. Strelkov and V.V. Putin: Our commanders in chief in the people’s struggle against Western intervention in the Donbass.

The low attendance may suggest that the Russian government is not going out of it’s way to promote the separatist leaders, as pro-government rallies are usually reinforced by bussed-in protesters. Indeed, given some reports of fears of Strelkov’s possible role as a rival to Putin for the affections of nationalist Russians, the Kremlin may not wish to endorse a rally dominated by such adulatory portrayals of the separatist military leader.

While the turnout itself certainly makes it appear that support for the separatist cause is less than fervent in Moscow, recent polls suggest that the Kremlin’s line on the conflict has been taken to heart by the large majority of Russians.

According to the results of the Levada Centre’s poll:

Ninety-four percent say that they rely on television for news and information about events there, and 70 percent say they believe Russian media are giving “an objective picture” of the situation.

Aleksey Gorbachev, a political commentator for Nezavisimaya gazeta, cites a Levada Center poll showing that 64 percent of those surveyed blame the West for the war in Ukraine, 20 percent blame Kyiv, but “only three percent say that the civil war in the Donbas is the result of the interference of Russia.”

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Wins a Political Game of Chicken

A week after his dramatic leave, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk officially returned to his post after the parliament refused to accept his resignation during a special assembly on July 31.

the vote in the Verkhovna Rada, only 16 of the 311 lawmakers voted in
favor of Yatsenyuk’s resignation, while 226 votes were needed in order
for Yatsenyuk to step down.

Consequently, the Ukrainian Parliament
passed the contested legislation for which Yatsenyuk had wagered his
top position. Since 24 July, Yatsenyuk had pressed that budget amendments were necessary
in order to secure Kiev’s support of the International Monetary Fund
and the World Bank, and warned the Parliament that the country risked
default if they declined.

The new ruling anticipates to generate
extra income for the state treasury: according to Yatsenyuk, 9 billion
hryvnia is intended to finance the Ukrainian military operation in the
East, and 2 billion hryvnia to restore Donbass when it is freed. Revenue
will primarily come from increased taxes rates and rental payments.

This measure will especially impact the Ukrainian oligarchs,
whose whose reluctance to agree to the reforms could be seen as an
indication that Ukraine is still a long way from shaking off its
‘pre-revolution’ power structures.

This hypothesis, led Maria Snegovaya in her op-ed for The Moscow Times
to the interesting assertion that, what Ukraine is suffering from at
this point is: “too much democracy.” Snegovaya claims that the myriad of
players in Ukrainian politics is preventing the country from any real
progress, and argues that it could be necessary to a more authoritarian
model of government:

“Ukraine’s example illustrates
the perils of power dispersion in weak, developing countries. As
post-Soviet experiences reveal, countries that lack universal support
for reforms often have a hard time achieving change without a certain
degree of power concentration. A strong executive authority, by
contrast, is able to achieve at least partial social consolidation
around reforms and weaken the political hand of the potential reforms’

At least for now, the immediate need for such an imperious effort is averted. In response to the government’s reconciliation, Reuters reported that: “Thursday’s vote in parliament was an important sign of political unity from Kiev.”

sentiment was underlined by President Petro Poroshenko, who said “the
new votes in parliament would help Kiev in its fight against

“We need consolidation, not confrontation,” Poroshenko said. “We have to be united against external aggression.”

Euronews’ correspondent Maria Korenyuk in Kiev explains what it means that Yatsenyuk was able to continue his office:

“Adopting the key governmental draft laws resolved the issue of the
government resignation. It means that this cabinet together with the
Prime Minister Yatsenyuk will work at least until snap parliamentary
elections are held in Ukraine, which could be as soon as October 26.”

Oleksiy Haran, a professor of comparative politics at the Kiev-Mohyla Academy, gave Bloomberg an even more optimistic prognosis for
Yatsenyuk’s future role: “I’m not seeing an adequate replacement for
Yatsenyuk now, especially given that he’s been carrying out talks with
the IMF,” and “Yatsenyuk has a chance to remain prime minister after
elections, and this will depend on the format of the coalition in

Yatsenyuk, in his turn, also expressed his content with Thursday’s results:

Russia Is Ready To Invade, But Will They?

As we’ve been reporting today, last night there was more fighting near the border, and more reports of Russian fighters and artillery either not far from Ukraine or in the process of crossing over from Russian territory. Russia is calling up reservists, and Russian troops are already massed on the border.

Last night, The Interpreter’s managing editor published an analysis in The Daily Beast in which he argues that direct military support for the separatists is increasing significantly and the Russian military could outright invade right now. But will they?

Is this just saber rattling? It’s possible. Russia has been poised to invade Ukraine on multiple occasions and it has not happened yet. But in the weeks before and after the downing of MH17, thousands of “tourists” driving tanks and armored vehicles that appear to be from Russian military stockpiles have crossed the border and joined the fight against the fledgling Ukrainian government. Even if Russia does not formally invade, how much of this equipment will not-so-quietly slip across the border and reinforce an insurgency which has already cost so many civilian lives?

Washington, it seems, may be getting the picture. USA Today reports that according to a Pentagon spokesperson the United States will now supply “armored personnel carriers, cargo and patrol vehicles, binoculars, night-vision goggles, and small patrol boats” to the Ukrainian government, and will step up efforts to train the Ukrainian National Guard. But with Russian tanks and antiaircraft missiles just minutes away from the border, it’s worth noting that the new U.S. aid to the Ukrainian government could take months to have an effect on the front lines.

Read the entire article: Russia’s Military Is Already in East Ukraine. Will There Be a Full-Scale Invasion?

‘Prepare For War’ Says Russian Tabloid as Reservists Called Up

Yesterday, the sensationalist Russian tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets ran an article on Russia’s call up of reservists with the headline: “Prepare for war.”

The order, given by the Russian Ministry of Defence, calls up reservists to take part in military drills across the country from August until October. Moskovsky Komsomolets specifically mentions Vostok 2014 among these exercises. Vostok 2014 is due to be held in September in the Eastern Military District, far from the Ukrainian border.

The Moscow Times notes:

The ministry’s announcement comes just one week after neighboring Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko issued a decree to mobilize the country’s reservists. However, according to the ministry’s statement, the drills and training were scheduled back in November, when the plan for the armed forces in 2014 was prepared. President Vladimir Putin issued a decree to include the military’s reservists in the drills on June 27.

Large movements of Russian forces near the border, and regular cross-border shelling, as we have seen recently, certainly does nothing to allay fears that the Russian military is preparing for a larger offensive against Ukraine. 

Separatists Claim to Have Downed Ukrainian Drone

The separatist website, which regularly disseminates official messages from the separatist leadership, has posted a number of videos of separatist fighters showing off a downed Tupolev Tu-143 drone with Ukrainian insignia. 

According to the videos, the drone was shot down by members of the separatist ‘Motorola’ unit yesterday, August 1. 

The unmanned aerial vehicle is apparently in such good condition as it descended on a parachute after being damaged by gunfire. The video below purportedly shows the drone being fired on while in flight, and the recovery of the parachute capsule (though no parachute itself is visible) from a field.

The press centre of the Ukrainian government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation meanwhile reported yesterday that a Ukrainian reconnaissance drone had “likely” been shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile (the same weapon strongly suspected of downing Malaysia Airlines flight MH17). 

We do not know if the ATO press centre is referring to the same drone seen in the videos above. However, if so, it seems unlikely that the UAV filmed here was struck by a SAM, let alone such a large device as a Buk missile, given the lack of substantial damage. 

Ukrainian Border Guards Report Multiple Attacks Overnight

Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):

Last night, near Vasilevka (in the Donetsk region,) border guards discovered an unidentified group, who were travelling from the Russian Federation, reports the State Border Guard Service (SBGS).

The border guards opened fire for effect.

It was revealed that, over the course of the confrontation, part of the enemy forces had been destroyed, with the remainder returning back to Russia.

The situation on the border between Ukraine and Russia remains challenging. The shelling of SBGS units and armed clashes with militants continue, said the Service.

On Friday evening, Ukrainian armed forces were shelled close to Chervonopartizansk [Krasnopartizansk in Russian] in the Lugansk region.

Border guards’ positions near the Dolzhansky border checkpoint (in the Lugansk region,) were shelled from the Russian side, said the agency.

According to reports, a drone was seen flying over positions during the shelling. After the shelling ceased, it returned to Russian territory.

In addition, a border guard detachment near the settlement of Panchenkovo in the Lugansk region was fired on with machine guns, sniper rifles and anti-tank missiles from the direction of the border. The detachment opened fire in return.

Artillery fire from the Russian side also fell near Dyakovo in the Lugansk oblast.

Border guards also spotted three BM-21 Grad launchers and UAVs in deployed in positions 3 km inside Russian territory, in the direction of Yekaterinovka (in the Russian Federation) from Shevchenko (in Ukraine).

Both Chervonopartizansk and Panchenkovo lie within striking range of previously verified sightings of Grad launchers near the Russian town of Gukovo.