Ukraine LiveBlog Day 198: President Obama Travels to Estonia to Meet Baltic Leaders

September 3, 2014
President Obama & President Ilves review the honor guard at Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn 3 September 2014. Photo by US Embassy Tallinn

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

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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.

Sumy Region Begins Construction Of Border Ditch

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the chairman of the Sumy regional administration, Vladimir Shulga, has announced that work has begun on a defensive ditch along the border shared between the Sumy region and the Russian Federation.

Sumy lies on Ukraine’s northern border to the west of the Kharkiv region.

According to Shulga, the ditch is currently 60 km long, 4 m wide and 2 m deep. 

Sumy has the second longest border with Russia of any Ukrainian region, with 562.5 km shared with Russia’s Bryansk and Kursk regions.

Shulga said that the ditch is intended to hinder the passage of Russian heavy vehicles as well as to combat cross-border smuggling. 

OSCE Observers Report Militants Receiving Weapons from Russia

The following is the weekly update from the OSCE Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk, 20 August until 08:00, 3 September 2014

Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Russian Federation, 3 September 2014 – The Observer Mission (OM) is operating at full capacity. Cross-border traffic flow remained steady at both Border Crossing Points. However, the OM observed a clear reversal in the flow of people crossing the border (more people exiting the Russian Federation into Ukraine). The OM observed an increased military activity principally of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the vicinity of the Border Crossing Points. The OM heard considerable artillery detonations from the Donetsk Border Crossing Point.


OM’s arrival, establishment and observation work

As of 3 September the OM is operating at full capacity with 19 staff members (including three administrative assistants). Sixteen international observers provide a permanent presence at the two Border Crossing Points of Donetsk and Gukovo. With the exception of the Acting Chief Observer, who has yet to be replaced by a to-be-selected Chief Observer, all the observers are scheduled to perform their defined duties until the end of the Observer Mission’s mandate on 23 October 2014.

Cross-border movements common to both Border Crossing Points

The profile of the people crossing the border remains unchanged and can be categorized as follows:

    Families on foot or by car with a lot of luggage;
    Elderly people with few bags;
    Adults (usually of younger age) with no luggage or empty cars;
    People wearing military-style clothes with or without backpacks.

While the number of entries/exits has remained stable at an average of 6,523 per day for both Border Crossing Points, the OM has observed a clear reversal in the flow of people crossing the border. Since August 26, the majority of border crossers have been going back into Ukraine with an average net flow of minus 429 per day for both Border Crossing Points in the last week and since that day 3,857 people have returned to Ukraine through both Border Crossing Points. The statistics also show that the Donetsk Border Crossing Point consistently experiences more traffic than the Gukovo Border Crossing Point. The cross-border movements registered at both Border Crossing Points account for 43 percent of all the Rostov Region’s entries/exits.

The OM continued to observe a general trend of very low cross-border traffic during the night hours. At sunrise the number of travellers slowly increases until late morning. Then, the traffic flow decreases but rises towards the late afternoon and evening. The majority of the vehicles crossing the border have number plates issued in the Luhansk region.

Common observations at the Border Crossing Points

In general, the situation at both Border Crossing Points is calm. People crossing the border talk to the Observer Teams (OTs) regularly and continue to describe the situation in the Luhansk region as dire. The OTs continued to receive numerous accounts of severe destruction caused by artillery fire which resulted in the interruption of water, gas and electricity supplies, the latter apparently unavailable for more than five weeks in some areas including Luhansk city itself.

Throughout the week, the OTs noticed a net increase of young people (both men and women) wearing military-style dress crossing the border in both directions but did not observe any weapons among these groups. OTs had regular interactions with supporters of the self-proclaimed republics. Some discussed openly with the OSCE while others expressed their total mistrust toward the OSCE. At both Border Crossing Points, some supporters of the self-proclaimed republics explained that they are not allowed to cross the border with weapons. However, on the other side, there are organized places where they receive weapons, ammunition and equipment and are dispatched to their assigned areas on the Ukrainian side. Upon return, they hand over weapons, ammunition and other military equipment and cross back into the Russian Federation. In the case of Gukovo, there is even a firing range to calibre the newly-received weapons before continuing to the frontlines. As described in previous reports, on a daily basis OTs hear such range-like shootings on Ukrainian territory at a short distance from the Gukovo Border Crossing Point.

The OTs observed more people wearing black t-shirts with the inscription “Novorossiya” (“new Russia”) or “Luhansk People’s Republic” with corresponding flags. In some instances, this flag was also observed on several civilian vehicles’ windshields and license plates.

Civilian people stopping to discuss with OTs often ask the OSCE to stop the conflict and to record and report their testimonies so that everybody can be aware of the situation.

Military movement

Throughout the week, day and night, the OTs heard the sound of propeller aircrafts in the vicinity of the Border Crossing Points. During daylight and when the weather conditions were favourable, the OTs observed the same small grey aircrafts identified as UAVs. The same flight patterns were observed at both Border Crossing Points. The UAVs were following a flight path assessed to be at the edge of the Ukrainian border on very regular schedules with intervals varying from 18 to 25 minutes. In several instances, up to two UAVs were observed in the same area at the same time.

There was a decrease in helicopter sightings compared to last week but they were still observed at both Border Crossing Points flying at low altitude along the border.

In either case, in as far as could be seen, the aircrafts did not violate the Ukrainian airspace in the vicinity of the Border Crossing Points.

Observation at the Gukovo Border Crossing Point

The traffic flow at Gukovo BCP has remained steady compared to last week, with a slight decrease in the past two days. A daily average of 2,940 entries and exits was recorded, which accounted for 19 percent of all entries/exits into the Rostov Region. The average number of people entering the Russian Federation has diminished consistently during the reporting period and the net flow has been negative since 26 August with a daily average of minus 262. This statistic clearly reflects a return movement into Ukraine. In the past week, close to 2,000 people have returned to Ukraine through the Gukovo Border Crossing Point each day.

Throughout the week, the OTs continued to hear gunfire on the Ukrainian side very close to the Border Crossing Point. As described earlier, these fire incidents were assessed as not combat-related, reportedly originating from a nearby improvised ‘shooting range’ under the control of supporters of the self-proclaimed republics.

Reports of people at the Gukovo Border Crossing Point

OTs received reports from people of Sverdlovsk (17 km west of Gukovo Border Crossing Point) about the town’s situation. They reported that the town had not experienced direct fights but five houses were destroyed. Although public transport and the only hospital were functioning, for the past two-and-a-half months, there was no water. According to them, pensions and social benefits were not paid and people could not access money. Prices for common goods had increased considerably and therefore people were going to the Russian Federation every three to four days to buy first necessity products and to obtain cash at ATMs or banks. People reported that the school year was planned to start on 1 September but they did not want their children to follow Ukrainian curricula.

Observation at the Donetsk Border Crossing Point

During the reporting period, the activity at the Donetsk Border Crossing Point has slightly increased compared to last week. The total number of border crossings at Donetsk Border Crossing Point consistently exceeds those of Gukovo Border Crossing Point. A daily average of 3,627 entries and exits was recorded, which accounted for 24 percent of all entries/exits into the Rostov Region. The average number of people entering the Russian Federation has diminished consistently during the reporting period and the net flow has been negative since 29 August with a daily average of minus 410. As for the Gukovo Border Crossing Point, this statistic clearly reflects a return movement into Ukraine. In the past week close to 1,900 people have returned to Ukraine through the Donetsk Border Crossing Point each day.

Throughout the week, shootings, blasts and artillery detonations were heard at various times of the day and night, and from different distances and directions around the Donetsk Border Crossing Point. Artillery detonations were especially intense during the weekend in the direction north of Krasnodon. Throughout the night of 30 to 31 August, dozens of very loud artillery detonations were heard and felt by an OT. The detonations were close by in a westerly/ north-westerly direction.

In the past weeks, artillery detonations and shootings had been heard only from western and northern directions; but throughout the week for the first time OTs reported light and heavy calibre shootings from the east and south-east areas which are also bordering Ukraine.

Throughout the week, OTs observed a net increase in activity of young people dressed in military style crossing back and forth at the Border Crossing Point. OTs also observed some of these people visibly wounded crossing back into the Russian Federation with white bandages and/or crutches. OTs also observed transfers of more seriously-wounded persons by ambulances. Some people dressed in military style were accompanying the wounded and were particularly well-equipped including holsters but without weapons.

In one instance, an OT observed eight young men dressed in military style carrying two heavy stretchers loaded with boxes. The stretchers were visibly heavy (more than a hundred kilograms) because the groups were stopping every 30 to 50 metres to recover. The OT observed Border Crossing Point officials checking the boxes with metal detectors. The OT asked Border Crossing Point officials about the content of the boxes and was told that it was food products.

Reports of people at the Donetsk Border Crossing Point

OTs received reports from people of Molodohvardeysk, Novosvetlovska (15 km south-east of Luhansk) and other places around Luhansk city. They all indicated heavy fighting and considerable damage to infrastructure and asked the OSCE to stop the fighting.

Russian humanitarian convoy

The OM does not have any confirmation that a second humanitarian convoy will go through the Donetsk Border Crossing Point. During the past week, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited the Donetsk Border Crossing Point and met with Russian and Ukrainian border guards and customs officers. To this day, Ukrainian border guards and customs officers are still staying next to the Donetsk Border Crossing Point. In addition, personnel of the Ministry of Emergency Situations came to the Border Crossing Point to consult with the Russian Border Crossing Point authorities.

Volnovakha Still Under Ukrainian Control

Journalist Petr Shelomovskiy reports that the town of Volnovakha, north of Mariupol, still appears to be under Ukrainian control, despite separatist claims.

The town is of strategic importance as it lies on one of two north-south highways connecting separatist held territory in, and to the east of Donetsk and the port city of Mariupol, which has been under threat since Russian forces occupied the nearby town of Novoazovsk.

Novotroitskoye and Yelenovka, to the north of Volnovakha, have fallen to Russian-backed forces, while the parallel road to the east through Telmanovo is largely controlled by Russian or Russian-backed forces.


Shelomovskiy also reports that fighting is continuing further north, where Russian-backed forces are attacking the remains of Ukrainian units near Starobeshevo, following the apparent routing of Ukrainian forces in the area at some point in the last few days:

France Suspends Delivery Of Mistral-Class Ships To Russia

News is breaking that President François Hollande has suspended the delivery of French Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to Russia.

Sylvie Kauffmann of Le Monde tweets:

Kremlin Publishes 7 Point ‘Putin Plan’ For Peace In Ukraine

The Kremlin has published The ‘Putin Plan’ for settling the conflict in Ukraine:

In order to stop the bloodshed and stabilise the situation in southeast Ukraine, I believe that the parties to the conflict should immediately agree on and coordinate the following steps:

1. End active offensive operations by armed forces and armed militia groups in southeast Ukraine in the Donetsk and Lugansk areas.

2. Withdraw Ukrainian armed forces units to a distance that would make it impossible to fire on populated areas using artillery and all types of multiple launch rocket systems.

3. Allow for full and objective international monitoring of compliance with the ceasefire and monitoring of the situation in the safe zone created by the ceasefire.

4. Exclude all use of military aircraft against civilians and populated areas in the conflict zone. 

5. Organise the exchange of individuals detained by force on an ‘all for all’ basis without any preconditions.

6. Open humanitarian corridors for refugees and for delivering humanitarian cargoes to towns and populated areas in Donbass – Donetsk and Lugansk regions. 

7. Make it possible for repair brigades to come to damaged settlements in the Donbass region in order to repair and rebuild social facilities and life-supporting infrastructure and help the region to prepare for the winter.

Former Putin Advisor Says Ukrainian Sounds Like Bad Russian Spoken By Illegal Immigrants
Here is a controversial tweet, and a series of responses that are perhaps just as controversial, coming from a former Russian Presidential and government advisor, Alexander Nekrassov:
A screenshot of the tweets can be visible in a new window here.
NATO Escalating This Crisis? Then Why Is It Reducing Its Military?
Long-time readers of The Interpreter know that we have routinely debunked the theory that NATO pushed Russia to interfere in Ukraine. The facts are that NATO has been reducing its presence in Eastern Europe for years, and NATO defense budgets have also shrunk. Here’s a nice graphical representation of this phenomenon.
Poroshenko’s Ceasefire Debacle

The Interpreter’s James Miller reports from Kiev:

The big diplomatic news of the day has become a tangled mess of a story. As we reported earlier, Ukraine and Russia announced earlier today that they had reached an agreement of some sort regarding the end of the crisis in the east. But Russia described the agreement by saying the “views of the presidents of the two countries on the possible ways out of the crisis were, to a large extent, the same.” Describing the same conversation, Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s office said that the talks “resulted in an agreement on constant ceasefire in the Donbas. The parties reached mutual understanding on the steps that will facilitate the establishment of peace.” The emphasis is our own.

Putin then responded to this statement by saying that such a ceasefire agreement was not possible since Russia “IS NOT A PARTY TO THE CONFLICT (emphasis theirs).”

Then the Russian state-operated news agency RIA Novosti seemed to pile on, arguing that the ‘separatists’ did not agree to a ceasefire with Poroshenko either: 

One way of looking at this:
A common tactic used by Putin is to change the definitions of previously understood words or to walk away from a negotiation with a completely different understanding of what was agreed upon. We’ve seen this when Russian negotiated ceasefires in Syria, multiple ceasefire agreements in the crisis in Ukraine, the conditions of the aid convoy to Lugansk, and now today’s deal. An understanding of this tried-and-true tactic used by Putin, which is one reason why it will be so hard to negotiate anything with Russia.
The bottom line, there is no ceasefire, and the Poroshenko administration has suffered a rather significant embarrassment today:
Once again, Putin has outmaneuvered not only Poroshenko but also the West, particularly countries which have been pressing Poroshenko to negotiate a ceasefire with Russia. Now the question is, with Ukraine on the back foot in southeastern Ukraine and Russian troops advancing, does Russia have any incentive to negotiate with Kiev?
Reports Of Heavy Rocket Fire Aimed At Donetsk Airport

There are reports of further rocket fire in the separatist-held city of Donetsk, despite hopes of a ceasefire raised by President Poroshenko’s statement this morning. 

Today, the official website of the mayor of Donetsk, Aleksandr Lukyanchenko, announced:

As of 13:00, the situation in Donetsk remains tense. City residents reported hearing the sounds of volleys in many districts of the city.

Dutch journalist Stefan Huijboom reported that the rocket fire appeared to be outbound, suggesting it was fired by Russian-backed fighters.

Large explosions were recorded to the north of the city, towards the airport, which is still held by Ukrainian forces despite repeated attacks by Russian-backed fighters.

14:30 Donetsk, seen from Privokzalny, Sept 3

Russian State Photojournalist Andrei Stenin Confirmed Dead

RIA Novosti announced this morning September 3 that Andrei Stenin, a photocorrespondent employed by state media news agency RIA Novosti was killed in the area of Donetsk. Remains found in a burnt-out car by the side of the road with photographic equipment in August were positively identified as the body of Stenin.The two other persons in the car were not yet identified.


Stenin, 33, was on assignment near Snezhnoye (Snizhne), near the site of the downed MH17 in rebel-controlled territory when the car in which he was traveling fell under shell fire.

Stenin, who had embedded with the Russian-backed “Donetsk People’s Republic” fighters to cover their capture of Ukrainian POWs, went missing August 3. He was reportedly detained by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), but then later Ukrainian authorities discounted this story, a fact now conceded by RIA Novosti.

Russian officials and state media continued to campaign for Stenin with a “Free Andrei” hashtag, although reporters from Komsomolskaya Pravda said August 22 they believed they had found his remains in the burnt-out car.

The Komsomolskaya Pravda article was then pulled from the web site for reasons not explained, possibly because executives believed they should wait until the forensic examination of the remains was complete. When a reporter leaked the news yesterday that a positive identification had been made, Dmitry Kiselyev urged journalists not to write about the death of Stenin until the final report was issued.

In an impassioned statement on the RIA Novosti new site and on state TV, Dmitry Kiseleyv, head of Rossiya Segodnya, the state company that owns RIA Novosti, said the “civil war unleashed by the Ukrainian leadership has led to an enormous number of victims among the civilian population and led to unseen brutality regarding journalists.”

But the conflict began in April when Russian-backed militants took over nine towns by force, and began kidnapping, torturing, and killing people in a reign of terror in the southeast of Ukraine. Then the Ukrainian government launched its “anti-terror operation” (ATO) against the militants April 13.

Kiselyev said Stenin was the fourth Russian journalist to die in the war, mentioning Igor Korenelyuk, who died while embedded with militants near a checkpoint along with his video engineer Anton Voloshin; and cameraman Anatoly Klyan, who was on a bus escorted by DPR fighters who went with supposed soldiers’ wives and mothers to stage a propaganda event to involve the purported surrender of a Ukrainian base. Instead, their bus came under fire.

Kiselyov failed to mention Andrei Mironov, a “fixer” for Italian photographer Andrea Rochelli, who also published his own articles in Novaya Gazeta, both of whom were killed by crossfire outside of Slavyansk.

See also The Story of Andrey Panasyuk, Ukrainian POW, Last Filmed by Russian State Reporter Andrei Stenin.

Ukrainian Town Of Schastye Under Heavy Bombardment

Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):

Massive shelling was directed at the town of Schastye in Lugansk region last night.

This is reported by local residents on social networks reports Hromadske TV.

According to available information, at around midnight, the centre of the town was fired on by either Grads or aircraft. Shells fell on site of the hospital, reports a local doctor.

“All of our doctors are safe (most of them were evacuated yesterday), the hospital was empty. Residents spent the night in their cellars. There is no glass in the windows of Schastye anymore,” he wrote.

According to other sources, a checkpoint, a shop, a bar and a hairdressers were also damaged by the shelling.

Journalist Cristian Jereghi wrote on his Facebook page that the town had been bombed by aircraft. He said that police had left the town having been cut off from their superiors as communications were down.

He described the scene along the road out of Schastye north towards Novoaidar:

A checkpoint, burnt out with Grads. Artillery shelling. The apocalypse. Night, a burning forest, soldiers in gas masks, armoured vehicles along the roads, tank columns.

Ukrainska Pravda reported that the Aidar battalion had announced that Russian Su-25 attack jets had bombed Schastye and neighbouring checkpoints. They reported fatalities, but non amongst their own volunteer fighters.

Schastye was liberated by Ukrainian forces in June and has been a designated destination for refugees fleeing separatist-held Lugansk to the south since a humanitarian corridor was established by Ukrainian forces at the end of July.

Putin’s Spokesman Denies He Has Agreed To Ceasefire As Russia ‘Not Party To Conflict’

Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti have published a statement by President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

It is here, in all-caps as published by RIA, translated by The Interpreter:


This comes as hopes rose that a ceasefire had finally been agreed. Speaking with US President Obama, President Toomas Ilves of Estonia had just said that:

“I did just hear Poroshenko and Putin have agreedon a ceasefire — I just hope it works.” 

Poroshenko And Putin Agree On Ceasefire

Presidents Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin have both announced the results of a phone conversation this morning with brief statements from their respective administrations.

President Poroshenko’s office released the following statement (in English):

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko had a phone conversation with President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

The conversation resulted in an agreement on constant ceasefire in the Donbas. The parties reached mutual understanding on the steps that will facilitate the establishment of peace.

Meanwhile the Kremlin released the following (translated by The Interpreter):

Vladimir Putin has had a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

An in-depth discussion of the military and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine was continued. The heads of state exchanged opinions on what needs to be done as a matter of priority to ensure a speedy end to the bloodshed in the south-east of the country.

The views of the presidents of the two countries on the possible ways out of the crisis were, to a large extent, the same.

Neither side has yet announced any details of what agreements of offers have been made, and the impact of the announcement on the combat on the ground has yet to be seen.

President Obama Arrives in Estonia for Talks with Baltic Leaders

President Barack Obama arrived in Estonia last night to start a three day trip to meet with Baltic leaders and attend the NATO summit in Wales tomorrow, reported.

His purpose is to “to underscore the United States’ steadfast commitment to NATO’s Article
5 collective defense guarantee and to the security of the region” and to discuss with NATO allies “Afghanistan and other security challenges, and take steps to ensure the readiness and responsiveness of the Alliance,” said

Obviously, Russia’s war against Ukraine — which the US has stopped short of calling an “invasion” — will top the agenda, as Baltic security is also at stake.

President Obama and President Ilves will be holding a joint press conference in about 30 minutes, which can be viewed here.