Ukraine Liveblog Day 219: Nadezhda Savchenko Moved From Voronezh To Moscow

September 24, 2014
More black smoke rising above Donetsk Airport this morning. Photo: Paul Glypteau

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.


Video Shows Separatists Using Drones to Target Donetsk Airport With Mortars

This video is titled “New Weaponry in the Service of the Novorossiya Militia” and shows a group of men using a small drone to better target the Donetsk International Airport. The distinctive look of the airport matches satellite mapping software and leaves little doubt that this is Donetsk Airport (map), held by the Ukrainian government. Though the date should be considered unconfirmed, the video description says it is from mid-September and was provided by the militias.

The current ceasefire agreement strictly precludes these kind of attacks, so this video, if the date can be confirmed, is confirmation of what we already know — Russian-backed separatists are in clear violation of the ceasefire.
Ukraine May Need 3-4 Times More Exergency Cash Than Current IMF Forecast

Lubomir Mitov, chief Europe economist for the Institute of International Finance, is warning that even with the current IMF loan, Ukraine may need three to four times more emergency cash than the IMF has forecast due to the continued war, the weak currency, and other financial losses. Wall Street Journal reports:

The IMF earlier this month said the country needs at least $3.5 billion more than originally planned to keep it afloat through the end of next year. That amount could rise to $19 billion if the civil war continues, the fund said. That’s on top of the $30 billion global bailout program the IMF is already spearheading.

But Mr. Mitov, who recently returned from the war-torn country, says the needs are far larger than the IMF’s public assessment.

The IIF expects the economy will contract at a double-digit pace this year, down from its previous estimate for an 8% contraction, based on the presumption of a prolonged stalemate with the separatists. He estimates Kiev’s budget deficit will hit 12% this year and banking recapitalization needs are likely to be more urgent and much larger than the $4 billion detailed by government officials. Major Ukrainian manufacturing infrastructure is damaged or offline, Kiev’s budget is suffering from weak revenues and rising military costs and the country’s devalued currency is still wreaking havoc on the financial system.

All that means the IMF will likely be forced to overhaul its bailout in the near-term, he said, with initial talks are expected at the upcoming IMF meetings in Washington next month.

Ukraine is balancing a main condition of the IMF bailout, the reduction of the deficit, while simultaneously increasing military spending and trying to reform its government.

Ukraine’s Currency Gains After Reaching All-Time Low

At the end of yesterday’s trading session the Ukrainian Hryvnia had reached an all-time low against the US dollar, trading on the interbank market at HR 15 per dollar and marking a 46% devaluation since the start of the year (the central bank’s exchange rate was 13.5 HR per dollar).

Kyiv Post reports that many in the Ukrainian government believe that the Hryvnia should be recovering, but panic and speculation may be driving down the currency’s value:

“If you ask a college sophomore with major in economics, he’ll tell you that (the hryvnia) rate should be strengthening,” said Arseniy Yatsenyuk, country’s prime minister who led the central bank in 2004-2005. “I have no other explanation, but a panic on one side and speculations on the other.”

For the past three months, $14.2 billion were sold on the interbank market, where commercial banks buy and sell the currencies in order to achieve profits.

President Petro Poroshenko held an urgent meeting with Yatsenyuk and Valeriya Gontareva, head of National Bank, on Sept. 23, while the heads of 40 largest banks meet each Wednesday to discuss a strategy for calming down the panic mood.

“My recommendation is not to buy dollars right now,” said Oleksandr Dubilet, who manages country’s largest bank Pryvat with $15.1 billion in assets. The market is psychologically overreacting, according to him.

Kyiv Post also points out that long term problems also remain, since Naftogaz, Ukraine’s largest energy company, will have to sell hryvnias in order to buy dollars to pat it’s $1.6 billion eurobond.

The good news is that the hryvnia appears to be rebounding for its all-time low today:

The hryvnia exchange rate in the interbank currency market strengthened by UAH 1.05 to 13.70 UAH/USD on Wednesday, after falling by 25 kopecks on Tuesday, currency exchange market players told Ukrainian News.
According to them, the hryvnia rate fluctuated in the range of 14.50-14.95 UAH/USD at the start of trading, the quotations fell to 13.75-14.30 UAH/USD by 11:50, and to 12.90-13.70 UAH/USD by the end of trading.

According to participants in the currency market, most of the transactions were concluded at an exchange rate close to 13.70 UAH/USD.

Shelling Reported In Donetsk Right Now
There are numerous reports once again this evening of shelling in Donetsk, where the Russian-backed occupiers are fighting to push Ukrainian troops out of the ruined airport on the northern edge of the city.
Ukraine’s Channel 5 has been running this video today:
What could be occasional gunfire or explosions can be heard on the Ruptly livestream, though in the distance. While Ruptly claims “neither side is currently in control of the airport” that is not accurate, as Ukrainian government troops still control the airport:

Russia Preparing a Fourth Aid Convoy For Eastern Ukraine

When Russia sent the first aid convoy to Lugansk it broke all of its agreements with Ukraine and the International Committee of the Red Cross in the process. Moscow did not even seek the permission of Ukraine or the international community for the next two aid convoys, and now Russia has announced that it is preparing a fourth aid convoy for Ukraine.

Today Russian Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Stepanov announced that a fourth convoy would travel to not only Lugansk but also Donetsk. Interfax-Ukraine reports:

The previous humanitarian convoy aid for residents of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions arrived in Donbas on September 20, he recalled. “This is over 2,000 tonnes of aid, mainly foodstuffs and essentials. In addition, we sent there over 600 power generators,” Stepanov said.

Now the Emergency Situations Ministry is focusing on the forthcoming winter, so the next aid will be formed accordingly, he said. “We have already conducted an expert appraisal of the readiness for winter along with representatives from the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics and gave them our recommendations. We are now continuing this work. We will be forming the humanitarian cargo with the forthcoming winter in mind,” Stepanov said.

Separatist Leadership Replaces Antyufeyev, the ‘official site of the press centre of the government and supreme council of the DNR’ has announced that the ‘first deputy prime minister’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Vladimir Antyufeyev, has been relieved of his post in a second reshuffle.

The announcement reads (translated by The Interpreter):

On September 23 a regular meeting of the Supreme Council off the Donetsk People’s Republic was held. The deputies supported the reshuffle of government personnel.

In place of Vladimir Antyfeyev, Ravil Halikov has bee appointed to the post of First deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers for working with law enforcement bodies. He previously held the position of Prosecutor General.

Aleksei Remizov has been appointed to the position of Prosecutor General.

Eduard Yakubovsky has been appointed Chairman of the Supreme Court of the DNR. He had previously held the post of deputy Prosecutor General.

Antyufeyev was introduced by Igor Girkin as the new first deputy prime minister of the DNR on July 10.

Here is we described him in our Russia This Week blog:

Antufeyev is definitely a man with a past — and a wanted man in Latvia and Moldova. He is a former Riga police deputy of criminal investigation — involved with police forces who cracked down on opposition in Latvia in January 1991 in the “Barricades” events which were a kind of a prefigurement of Maidan; ultimately he fled to Russia. Then he served as the head of the Ministry of State Security of the unrecognized Transdniestria Republic together with the “Black Colonel” Viktor Alknis who opposed Yeltsin, the independence of the Baltic states and the break-up of the USSR.

Antyufeyev led the Transdniestrian independence movement under the pseudonym “Vadim Shevtsov”, was exposed in 1997 and indicted for crimes against the Moldovan state in 2012, including “exceeding the power of office” and destroying a number of criminal files, and declared “persona non grata” by the EU, then ultimately dismissed by the new president of Transdniestria, Yevgeny Shevchuk, who prevailed over Moscow-backed candidates in elections. He managed to flee to Russia again, where according to Kommersant, he became actively involved in the invasion and annexation of the Crimea. During periods when he had to remain in Moscow, i.e. in 1999, he obtained his higher degree from the Presidential Government Academy of Administration.

Since Maidan Most Ukrainians Have Freedom Of Assembly

In a report that slams the lack of freedom of assembly in Russia, Belaris, Turkey,  Kyrgyzstan,  Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan, the US mission to the OSCE says that Western Ukraine has seen the growth of freedom of assembly since the departure of the Yanukovych administration. However, in eastern Ukraine, occupied by Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists, freedom of expression is still not a right many have the ability to exercise:

In the past year we have seen an assault on civil society in the OSCE area, evidenced by cases of forceful dispersion of peaceful protests and the growth of repressive laws targeting the peaceful activities of NGOs.

In contrast to restrictive conditions under the former Yanukovych regime, in the post-Maidan era, Ukrainians have generally been able to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and association more freely. Nevertheless, we note that there have been occasions when limitations were placed on assembly and association due to reported security concerns.

Stark exceptions have been seen in the parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists and in Russian-occupied Crimea. Reports from the United Nations and other respected human rights organizations indicate that dissent from the separatist agenda and the occupation is not tolerated and has often resulted in death, abductions, beatings, and other abuse. In July, in Russian-occupied Crimea, the authorities adopted a law curtailing peaceful protests and forbidding rallies, including ones marking Crimean Tatar Flag Day and the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s mass deportation of the Crimean Tatar people. Just days ago, these same authorities took over and closed the Crimean Tatar community’s representative body (Mejlis) and barred entry to Crimean Tatars.  

Read the entire report here.

Obama Condemns Russian Actions In Ukraine At UN General Assembly

President Barack Obama addressed the UN General Assembly in New York today. His speech has been transcribed in full and published here by The Washington Post

During his long address on the threats currently facing global security and the key role of the UN in facing them, Obama turned to the Ukrainian crisis.

While not using the word ‘invasion’ as such, he states that Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine and condemns the Kremlin for attempting to subjugate weaker states.

Here is the relevant excerpt from The Washington Post‘s transcription:

We are here because others realized that we gain more from cooperation than conquest. One hundred years ago, a World War claimed the lives of many millions, proving that with the terrible power of modern weaponry, the cause of empire leads to the graveyard. It would take another World War to roll back the forces of fascism and racial supremacy, and form this United Nations to ensure that no nation can subjugate its neighbors and claim their territory.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine challenge this post-war order. Here are the facts. After the people of Ukraine mobilized popular protests and calls for reform, their corrupt President fled. Against the will of the government in Kiev, Crimea was annexed. Russia poured arms into Eastern Ukraine, fueling violent separatists and a conflict that has killed thousands. When a civilian airliner was shot down from areas that these proxies controlled, they refused to allow access to the crash for days. When Ukraine started to reassert control over its territory, Russia gave up the pretense of merely supporting the separatists, and moved troops across the border.

This is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed. America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might – that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future.

These are simple truths, but they must be defended. America and our allies will support the people of Ukraine as they develop their democracy and economy. We will reinforce our NATO allies, and uphold our commitment to collective defense. We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression, and counter falsehoods with the truth. We call upon others to join us on the right side of history – for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.

Moreover, a different path is available – the path of diplomacy and peace and the ideals this institution is designed to uphold. The recent cease-fire agreement in Ukraine offers an opening to achieve that objective. If Russia takes that path – a path that for stretches of the post-Cold War period resulted in prosperity for the Russian people – then we will lift our sanctions and welcome Russia’s role in addressing common challenges. That’s what the United States and Russia have been able to do in past years – from reducing our nuclear stockpiles to meet our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to cooperating to remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons. And that’s the kind of cooperation we are prepared to pursue again—if Russia changes course.

US Campaign Against ISIS Plays Into Russia’s Strategy In Middle East and Ukraine

This week on The Interpreter podcast Boston College Professor Matt Sienkiewicz and The Interpreter’s managing editor James Miller
discuss Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s recent visit to the
United States, and how Ukraine will (or perhaps will not) be supported
by the United States and Europe.

But the conversation quickly turns to ISIS and the US bombing
campaign in Syria. How will this help or hurt Ukraine from receiving
adequate support from the West. Perhaps more importantly, how does ISIS
play right into the hands of Russia, what is the long-term impact of
both the conflicts in the Middle East and in Ukraine, and how is Russia
far more prepared for these tests than the United States, Europe, NATO,
and even the UN?

World Bank Cuts Russian Growth Forecast Over Sanctions, International Tensions, Lack of Reform

The conflict in Ukraine has cost the Russian economy more than a whole percentage point of growth, according to a new World Bank report, and Russia is facing a recession, or at least stagnation, for the next several years at least. The Wall Street Journal reports:

In its biannual report, the World Bank cut its forecast for Russian
economic growth to 0.3% in 2015 and 0.4% in 2016 under its baseline
scenario from 1.5% and 2.2%, respectively—well below the government’s

Even if Western sanctions are quickly repealed, the economy would only inch upward, while an increase in geopolitical tensions would bring a small recession, the bank said.

Even under the most optimistic scenario, which envisages the full resolution of the geopolitical tensions and an end of all sanctions by the end of 2014, the World Bank sees only a 0.9% growth in 2015, increasing to 1.3% in 2016.

“The economy is at the threshold of recession and will remain there for a while,” said Birgit Hansl, the bank’s lead economist on Russia and the main author of the report.

That Russia has paid a high price for its actions in Ukraine is undeniable, and this new World Bank report is bad news for the Russian people. But the World Bank is only predicting stagnation here. Will that be enough of a price to curb Russia’s actions?

NATO Reports ‘Significant’ Russian Withdrawal From Ukraine, Some Forces Remain

Reuters reports that Lieutenant-Colonel Jay Janzen, a NATO spokesman, has told them that a significant withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine has been observed. Janzen does, however, note that some Russian forces remain inside the country, and that troops are still massed along the border in Russia.

Janzen said, in an email to Reuters:

“There has been a significant pullback of Russian conventional forces from inside Ukraine, but many thousands are still deployed in the vicinity of the border.

Some Russian troops remain inside Ukraine. It is difficult to determine the number, as pro-Russian separatists control several border crossings and troops are routinely moving back and forth across the border. Further, Russian special forces are operating in Ukraine, and they are difficult to detect.”

Nadezhda Savchenko Moved From Voronezh To Moscow
Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer who was abducted by separatist militants and taken across the border to a jail Russia, has been removed from the pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) in Voronezh and is believed to be in Moscow. 
The Russian Investigative Committee today confirmed what her lawyers, Nikolai Polozov and Mark Feygin, had reported on August 27: Savchenko is to undergo psychiatric examination in Moscow. Feygin and Polozov reported that this would likely be at the notorious Serbsky Centre (formerly the Serbsky Institute), a psychiatric hospital regularly used in the Soviet era to indefinitely detain and torture dissidents. 

She is accused of murdering two Russian journalists who were killed when the separatist checkpoint at which they were standing was shelled by Ukrainian forces on June 17.

This morning, Polozov tweeted:

Translation: Important. I couldn’t find Nadezhda Savchenko in SIZO-3. The administration said that she had been transferred on September 22, but they don’t say where. We’re starting to search.

Around an hour later, Feygin tweeted:

Translation: We’re still looking for her now. But, in all likelihood, it’s either the Lefortovo SIZO or Pechatniki (women’s jail Number 6). Next, in-patient examination.

Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that according to Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the Investigative Committee, Savchenko would indeed undergo psychiatric examination in Moscow.

Interfax reports:

The Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko is to undergo a psychiatric examination as part of a criminal inquiry into the killing of Russian journalists, Russian Investigative Committee (RIC) spokesman Vladimir Markin told Interfax, when asked to comment on such reports.

“Savchenko who is charged under Article 105 (murder) of the Russian Criminal Code is to undergo a psychiatric examination as part of the criminal inquiry. This is a standard procedure and mandatory requirement of Russian criminal proceedings legislation (Article 196 of the Russian Criminal Proceedings Code) in cases where a person is charged with a very serious crime,” Markin said.

“Savchenko and her defense lawyer have been duly informed of the order to undergo an in-hospital psychiatric examination that will be conducted in Moscow,” the RIC spokesman said.