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Below we will be making regular updates so check back often.
Radek Sikorski, the Polish Foreign Minister between 2007 and this past September, made headlines this week thanks to a controversial and important interview given to Politico’s Ben Judah. In the interview Sikorski broke a lot of news. He insinuated that the Kremlin was behind 1999 apartment bombings, he said that the Kremlin has sent “death squads abroad,” and of course he criticized Moscow’s dealings in Ukraine.
But the biggest bombshell — Sikorski said that not only had Putin tried to blackmail ousted Ukrainian president Yanukovych by saying that Russia would annex Crimea if Ukraine joined the European Union, but he went further — saying that Putin tried to get Poland to divide up Ukraine:
“He wanted us to become participants in this partition of Ukraine,” says Sikorski. “Putin wants Poland to commit troops to Ukraine. These were the signals they sent us. … We have known how they think for years. We have known this is what they think for years. This was one of the first things that Putin said to my prime minister, Donald Tusk, [soon to be President of the European Council] when he visited Moscow. He went on to say Ukraine is an artificial country and that Lwow is a Polish city and why don’t we just sort it out together. Luckily Tusk didn’t answer. He knew he was being recorded.”
Then the story became even more controversial when Sikorski claimed that the quotes in Judah’s article were not authorized and aspects of the interview were “over-interpreted.” Sikorski appears to have been under the impression that Judah would send him a copy of the interview in order for him to approve it, a practice nearly unheard of in American journalism but a practice typical in Poland.
However, Judah has stuck by his quotes, and now it seems that Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian leader, has verified that Putin really did try to divide up Ukraine back in 2008. EU Observer reports:
He told Poland’s TVN24 broadcaster on Tuesday that Putin really did make the offer to Tusk and that he made similar comments to Hungarian and Romanian leaders.
“Tusk repeated it to me. He thought Putin was joking. But he [Putin] said the same thing to Hungary and to Romania”, Saakashvili noted.
“He [Putin] also told me that something has to be done about Moldova … and that Nato cannot defend the Baltic states”.
But this is not the first time Saakashvili has mentioned this:
Pro-Kremlin propagandists, especially those working for state-operated outlets like RT, have made a big deal about the controversy surrounding Sikorski’s quotes in Ben Judah’s article, going as far as to say “[Judah’s] fictional piece attempts to argue that Vladimir Putin would, somehow, trust a Eurocentric leader like Donald Tusk with such a cunning plan… You don’t rise from being a minor KGB agent in East Germany to head of the FSB by being dopey.”
Actually, RT, according to two European leaders, that’s exactly what happened.
The Interpreter’s Andrew Bowen takes a look at a growing problem: Russian incursion into the territories belonging to the Baltic states:
The Baltic Fleet’s weakness aside, the Kremlin is increasingly
comfortable relying on displays of its improving military might to
impress upon the Baltic states that Russia is the dominant power in the
region and that NATO’s help may not be as reassuring as previously
thought (one possible motive for the abduction of the Estonian intel
officer several days after a visit by President Obama is that Russia may
have wanted to reinforce exactly this notion). Sweden is not the only
nation to face air incursions. Scrambles by NATO’s Baltic Air Mission
for violations of Latvian airspace have gone from five in 2010 to more
than 180 in the last year, while Lithuania has seen the incursions rise
from four to 132, and even Finland has registered five incursions this
These aggressive actions, resembling the game of “whack-a-mole” due
to the sudden appearance and disappearance of the Russia aircraft with
little or no comment from the Kremlin, have not gone unnoticed by the
countries in the region. Sweden has already committed to increasing its defense posture after years of decline, and the Baltic States are at the forefront of trying to establish a NATO rapid reaction force for fear of “little green men” showing up uninvited.
Bowen goes on to examine not only the motivations for Russia’s actions in the Baltics (hint — politics) but also how these incidents will impact the Russian economy. As a result, those policies may actually change if economic trends do not improve:
and monitoring of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but Russia has
blocked the expansion of the mission.
DPA International reports:
The 57 OSCE countries, including Russia, decided Wednesday to extend the mandate of the OSCE mission by one month until November 23, while keeping its size at the current level.
“We once again have to accept a limited-scope mission, covering just two border checkpoints – which account for approximately one kilometre of the 2,300-kilometre border,” said Jennifer Bosworth, a diplomat at the US mission to the OSCE.
This would make it hard to monitor possible flow of arms and personnel from Russia to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, she added.
A look at the full statement by Jennifer Bosworth reveals that Russia’s decision to block the expansion of the OSCE mission was opposed by more than just the United States:
The U.S. finds it deeply regrettable that the Russian Federation would not consider expanding the geographic scope of the observer mission, despite requests from other participating States. We further regret that Russia refused to agree to even a modest increase to the number of observers, as requested by the Chief Observer, to reduce the excessive workload faced by the observer mission’s small working teams…
We note that Step 4 of the September 5 Minsk Protocol delineates a clear role for the OSCE in monitoring and verification on both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian international border, and the creation of a security zone in the border areas of Russia and Ukraine. There are strong linkages between ceasefire monitoring and border monitoring—and the OSCE approach to both of these activities must not be restricted by one participating State. The Russian Federation has prevented the expansion of this mandate to include other border checkpoints and monitoring between checkpoints, and, in so doing, Russia raises serious questions about its resolve to implement this critical element of the Minsk Protocol.
The international community negotiated the use of the OSCE to monitor the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and Russia, which stands accused of breaking its agreements with Ukraine and the international community, has the ability to block expansion of the monitors who are supposed to see whether those agreements are being met.
The office of the mayor of Donetsk, Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, reported at 18:00 (15:00 GMT), that salvoes of heavy-calibre weapons fire have been heard in the Petrovsky and Kirovsky districts, to the south-west of the city centre.
“At the moment, there are no recorded incidents of damaged or burning residential buildings caused by falling shells.”
Earlier, Ukrainska Pravda reported that the ATO Press Centre had announced that two attempted assaults on the government-held airport, to the north of the city, had been repelled during the night.
Writing on his Facebook page, Dmytro Tymchuk of Information Resistance claimed that the separatist Oplot and Vostok battalions had suffered “serious losses” during the fighting around the airport.
Tymchuk also claimed that Russian paratroopers from the 331st airborne regiment in Kostroma and GRU spetsnaz forces from Omsk had arrived in the city.
Meanwhile, Russian Igor Girkin, also known as Strelkov, the former separatist military leader, appeared in a YouTube broadcast by the pro-separatist Neyromir TV.
A version with English sub-titles has been uploaded by YouTube user Kazzura:
In the video, Girkin claims that he has received numerous reports of a large build-up of Ukrainian forces, who he believes are about mount a major assault on Donetsk.
He also repeats claims that Ukraine is using Tochka-U short range ballistic missiles in the Donbass.
He states that, in the event of a coordinated Ukrainian assault on three fronts, moving on Donetsk, Makeyevka and south from Debaltsevo towards the Russian border, the separatist forces will not be able to survive “without direct Russian assistance.”
This does not, of course, take into account the presence of Russian forces already in eastern Ukraine.
Girkin appears to be calling for more open and decisive intervention from Russia, claiming that:
“If this plan is successful, it will become the biggest political and military defeat for the Russian Federation since 1991, and will lead to serious internal political upheaval.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published a report this week, “Widespread Use of Cluster Munitions,” which was widely covered by The New York Times and other media, summarizing the findings of a week-long investigation outside of Donetsk into allegations of cluster bomb use. The report, which says both sides have been implicated in the use of cluster munitions in civilian areas, focuses on their alleged use by Ukrainian armed forces, a violation of international human rights law.
While not conclusive, circumstances indicate that anti-government forces might also have been responsible for the use of cluster munitions, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch also called on Russia to make an immediate commitment to not use cluster munitions and to accede to the cluster munitions treaty.
The Human Rights Watch investigation relies heavily on an investigation of a series of fields between positions which they say have been controlled by the Ukrainian military in Novomykhailivka, southwest of Donetsk (map). They say that in these fields they have discovered unexploded cluster rockets which must have misfired, falling far short of their target:
There is particularly strong evidence that Ukrainian government forces were responsible for several cluster munition attacks on central Donetsk in early October, Human Rights Watch said. In addition to evidence at the impact site indicating that the cluster munitions came from the direction of government-controlled areas southwest of Donetsk, witnesses in that area said that they observed rockets being launched toward Donetsk on the times and days when cluster munitions struck the city. A New York Times journalist tracked down several rockets in that area, which appeared to have malfunctioned and fallen to the ground shortly after they were launched, clearly establishing the flight path of the rockets.
The Ukrainian government, which was given a week to reply but did not answer in time for the report’s publication, denied yesterday that they used such weapons and said that the Russian government and the militants they support were engaged in disinformation and set-up firing positions to mimic the government’s. On Wednesday the Ukrainian government also published evidence that Russian-supplied cluster munitions have been used in the conflict.
Evidence of unexploded rockets near Ukrainian positions is fairly compelling evidence that the Ukrainian military has used the cluster munitions in question, and the HRW report does say that Russian-backed separatists also may have used cluster munitions.
The OSCE reports that they have not seen evidence of cluster bomb use in eastern Ukraine:
Lack of Blame For Most Specific Attacks
The report also indicates that there is evidence that the Russian-backed militants may have also used cluster munitions, though the focus of the report is on allegations that the Ukrainian government used cluster munitions. The report admits that it is often difficult to assign blame for any single incident to a particular party.
There is almost no raw data, video, pictures, or information in the report which could be independently verified. As a result, for the most part we cannot speak to specific incidents in the Human Rights Watch report directly without seeing more videos, pictures and maps, and studying how they came to their conclusions; it’s important in these cases to show the work.
The report, however, is being criticized by some for its lack of context and its undue focus on actions of the Ukrainian government. The report pays a great deal of attention to claims that the Ukrainian military used cluster munitions, it makes little to no effort to address the regular shelling from the Russian-backed separatists which provides the backdrop for Ukraine’s military response in Donetsk and which also kills civilians.
Available evidence may suggest that the Ukrainian government’s positions in the southwest of Donetsk are not responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths in the city, and incidents not included in this report provide important insight into the fighting in Donetsk.
For instance, on October 1st rockets hit a school and a bus stop in Donetsk. The Russian government blamed the attack that killed at least 10 people on Ukrainian troops who were stationed at the airport to the north. But both a western reporter concluded that the rockets came from the southwest and the OSCE reported that the attack came from the south. Below, this first picture shows that the rocket likely came from the south-southwest:
On this map we have drawn a blue cone of fire from the approximate landing position of the shell to the Ukrainian military position which was somewhere near Novomykhailivka (again, HRW did not include a detailed map with their report or we could have a more exact cone of fire). As you can see, the base in question is indeed west-southwest from this position, not south-southwest. This is not definitive proof that the rocket was not fired from Novomykhailivka, but the rocket looks like it came from a position further to the south, and it needs to be remembered that the separatists and the Kremlin claimed that the shell came from the north, which it clearly did not.
Unfortunately, Human Rights Watch did not include this incident in their report. The remains of the rocket have never been identified, to our knowledge, so it is possible that this incident did not include cluster munitions. Either way, it shows that identifying who shot a particular rocket is highly complicated, and a few degrees of miscalculation can change the results.
Another incident not included in the HRW report took place on October 7th. In a post on October 8, we analyzed the shelling of a shopping center called Amstor and apartment buildings on Kuibysheva in Donetsk in an attack in which 9 were injured at 2 killed.
A number of videos were posted to YouTube by news services sympathetic to the Russian-backed separatists, and both reporters and civilians were convinced that they had been shelled by Ukrainian forces from the airport.
Three impact craters were documented, but two of them tell opposing stories. For instance, the impact of one of the shells shows that it likely came from a Ukrainian military position — not to the southwest but to the northwest, from, the surrounded Ukrainian soldiers at Donetsk International Airport:
As we reported, however, another shell hit an apartment high-rise on the northeast corner of the building. This shell could only have come from separatist territory. Again, we have drawn a field, this time in purple, between the impact sites and the Ukrainian military position to the southwest mentioned in the Human Rights Watch report. The red angle, however, shows where the rocket must have been fired from.
As you can see, there is no way for either of these shells to come from the Ukrainian position at Novomykhailivka to the southwest.
Also, this is another example of how eyewitnesses can be unreliable. In a video by the pro-Russian news service ANNA, a woman whose apartment building was shelled tells the cameraman that the missiles came from Peski, i.e. from the northwest, a position where Ukrainian forces are located. As is demonstrated above, that does not appear to be physically possible.
This incident was also not in the Human Rights Watch report. Perhaps the weapons used were not cluster munitions and so it was not included.
This particular incident underscores three important points about the Human Rights Watch report: The first is that cluster munitions are not the primary weapon being used by either side, and so to focus on cluster munitions is perhaps problematic since it puts undue emphasis on one aspect of danger facing civilians.
The second point is that the fact that shells are coming from both directions reveals that there is a military context for this shelling. As many of the incidents in discussion take place in Donetsk, there is a very important military context that is missing. Both sides are firing at each other here, but only one of those sides has soldiers which are not completely surrounded. Not only are the Ukrainian soldiers at Donetsk International Airport surrounded, they have no drones to better target their weapons (the Russian-backed separatists have plenty of drones, and have even released videos of their attacks on the airport filmed with the drones). This does not excuse the Ukrainian military from it’s actions, but it does explain them, since the only way to defend their surrounded troops is through artillery support.
There is almost no mention of this fighting in the HRW report, except a single paragraph in which Human Rights Watch says they were not allowed near the separatist headquarters near the shelling.
The third point is that just because there is evidence, generally, that both sides are conducting this kind of shelling does not mean that a specific instance is one side or the other’s fault. The HRW report, for instance, has this to say about the shelling which left one dead at the headquarters for the Red Cross in Donetsk:
Thirty-eight-year-old Laurent DuPasquier, a Swiss employee with the International Committee of the Red Cross who was standing outside the organization’s office in the same building complex as the supermarket, was killed during the attack in which cluster munition rockets were used. An investigation has reached no final determination as to the exact causes of his death. Human Rights Watch documented the presence of two craters, about three meters apart, in front of the ICRC office, which appeared consistent with cluster submunition explosions. DuPasquier’s body was found between the two craters. Human Rights Watch also found pre-formed fragments of a 9N210 submunition and a piece of the ring that attaches the stabilization fins to the submunition about 20 meters from the ICRC office.
No blame was assigned for this specific attack.
Russian-Backed Militants Helped Human Rights Watch Crews When Convenient
As we noted above, the report by Human Rights Watch does say at one point that Russian-backed militants did not allow the HRW crews access to certain areas in Donetsk. However, in the video released by HRW with the report, men who appear to be rebel fighters can be seen possibly working with the HRW team. Here are some screenshots:
This, and some of the other issues raised above, have caused some to criticize the Human Rights Watch report. Critics are saying that the conclusion is not necessarily the problem — civilians have been killed by cluster munitions, and both sides have been implicated in the use of the weapons, and that is both alarming and problematic. Our problem is that the report puts too much emphasis on violations by the Ukrainian government while downplaying the context — that the Russian-backed separatists are guilty of the same crime, that Russia is militarily and economically supporting the insurgents, that the Russian-backed insurgents are the ones who broke the ceasefire and are attacking Donetsk International Airport, and that it is highly likely that none of this fighting would be happening at all if it were not Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government, however, needs to take a serious look at these and other allegations through a credible, independent, and transparent investigation of attacks which have killed civilians.
Ukrinform reports that Tatiana Pogukay, the press secretary for the Lugansk regional branch of the Interior Ministry, has announced that the town of Popasnaya has been shelled with Grad rockets by Russian-backed forces.
Popasnaya, which was liberated by Ukrainian forces on July 22, lies less than 10 km to the west of separatist-held Pervomaysk.
The area to the north-east of Popasnaya has seen heavy fighting in recent days between Ukrainian forces and fighters claiming allegiance to the “Army of the Don Cossacks” led by Pavel Dremov. A major confrontation has left over 100 Ukrainian troops pinned down and surrounded near Smile.
According to Pogukay, militants in Irmino began shelling the town with Grads at 9:35, letting off around 15 rounds.
One man was reportedly killed by shrapnel wounds and two other civilians admitted to hospital.
The spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (NSDC), Andrei Lysenko, has announced that Ukraine has evidence that Russian-supplied Smerch rockets, fitted with cluster warheads, have been used during the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainska Pravda reports that, when asked about separatist use of cluster munitions, Lysenko said (translated by The Interpreter):
“Indeed, we do have evidence that rocket projectiles from Smerch MLRS were used against ATO positions.
These rounds were produced, according to markings found on them, on June 16, 2003. Ukraine last received such munitions in 1991, that is to say, before its independence.
This fact indicates that the shells used by the terrorists come from Russian territory. This also tells us that they were used by trained, regular units of the Russian army, as launching these weapons requires people with years of training. The terrorists have not had such an opportunity.”
The NSDC published the following photos alongside Lysenko’s statements on their ATO & Crimea press page:
This is not the first report of the use of Smerch cluster munitions in the conflict.
On July 3, Armament Research Services (ARES) reported that images of a warhead found in Kramatorsk showed a 9M55K Smerch cargo rocket (a dispenser for sub-munitions) and two unexploded 9N235 sub-munitions.
ARES reported that
The partially visible markings on the submunition pictured above indicate it was produced sometime in the 1980s.
Therefore, based on Lysenko’s statements today, it is possible that these weapons were from the Ukrainian arsenal as they pre-date Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union.
ARES, noting video of recent deployments of Smerch MLRS by Ukraine, suggested that:
it seems most likely that they were employed by Ukrainian armed forces targeting pro-Russian separatists.
It should be noted that, while the 9N235 sub-munition can also be carried by Uragan rockets, the cluster warheads reported, by Human Rights Watch and The New York Times, to have been used by Ukrainian forces in Donetsk, were Uragan dispensers carrying 9N210 sub-munitions, so there appears little chance of confusion between these two cases.
Each day, the blogger dragon_first, a Russian separatist supporter, as well as the Ukrainian ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) publish the current battle positions as they estimate them.
Here we will contrast two maps issued yesterday October 21 and today October 22 (they are updated by both sides in the conflict nearly daily).
The first is by the pro-separatist site dragon_first issued October 21:
The second is by the Ukrainian ATO issued today October 22:
As can be seen, each side claims certain territories have been “cleared” already for their side, but the other side may still perceive them or actually have them in their possession.
From the following videos or photographs, we have identified some of the southern and northeastern positions of the militants in Donetsk.
1. On October 18, we posted analysis of two videos, the first showing the firing of smoke grenades on the Oktyabrskaya Coal Mine, and the second showing the likely firing grounds used by the militants.
From looking at the impact site in the mine in the video and seeing the direction of the smoke, we could determine the direction of the missile as shown on this map, with the high towers of the mine and the terrikon or slag heap marked.
Then various candidates of fields within the range of the gun (5-10 km) could be estimated from the impact site:
This video showing the type of gun that could be used to fire the smoke grenades had distinctive natural and man-made features such as the walls which would be matched then to potential fields.
From a close examination of those features, the position was then geolocated here on Google Maps.
Finally, zooming out, we could see the position of this field relative to the Donetsk Airport, to the south:
From the aspects of this field, we can start to identify other fields that the militants would use for firing positions — they are close to roads, so that the artillery can be hauled into place and moved around; they are often near a slag heap which provides both an elevation for scouting and cover, and they are at a distance from residential areas.
2. This photo discovered by @djp3tros of Ukraine@War which we have verified was accessible as of today October 22 was posted by a Russian militant native to the Donbass on his VKontakte page, dated October 12, and showing a Howitzer:
From the distinctive geographical features — the slag heaps
visible on the horizon and the trees — the field where he and his
fellow fighters are located can be found on Google Maps here.
@dpj3tros has confirmed the location with a photo match from Panoramio. Often the separatists position themselves by slag heaps both for elevation and for cover.
The camera positions can be seen on a screenshot from Google Earth:
Zooming out, we can see the position of Field No. 2 relative to the Donetsk Airport, to the south:
2. In the next video, we can see a similar location not far from the first, with similar features. The video is labeled “Cut-off of the Break-Through of Enemy Infantry of the Kalmius Brigade. Firing from a D-30.”
The following features in the area have been marked on a screenshot from the video by @djp3tros:
These appear as follows:
These features enable the geolocation on Google Earth here which we have verified.
Here is a screenshot showing the guns’ position near Lermontov Street:
Zooming out, it can be seen that it is directly south of the airport:
4. In this case, the Howitzers were caught by @djp3tros on Google Earth images dated September 3. We have been noticing more and more in recent weeks that the devastating effects of the war are starting to be captured by Google’s satellites.
To make the comparison, we went back to images dated August 9, where the area appeared as follows:
By September 3, this is how the area looked — with the guns marked:
The location is here on Google maps.
Here is a stock photo of these types of guns mounted on vehicles:
If we get a close-up and the image is turned so that the vehicles are in a more familiar direction, and the shadows are aligned, we can see the Howitzers:
As we can see, this is not a Grad or an Uragan, but a SAU self-propelled Howitzer.
The multiple tracks shows intensive use and artillery positions; tanks would be more likely to be dug in. Currently, they appear to be turned toward Avdeyevka, the Ukrainian forces’ positions, but they can be moved. The trajectory of the missiles would then look like this on the map:
This screenshot shows the position of Field No. 4 relative to the Donetsk airport, to the northeast:
5. This video uploaded September 22 titled “Return Fire” is a separatist propaganda film, explaining how the Prizrak (Ghost) unit will retaliate against what they see as Ukrainians violations of the ceasefire.
The field has not been geolocated, but as the video indicates, they use the same area for firing both Howitzers and Grads (starting at 2:04).
6. Finally, the fields can be examined at different dates to note signs of activity that are likely the tracks of artillery.
@djp3tros from Ukraine@Earth has been tracking some of these locations over time and discovered one such field with changed activity:
We verified the position is located on Google Earth here.
This is how the field looked from the Google satellite images dated July 30th:
This is how the field looked on September 3 on Google Earth:
We have highlighted the tracks in red to make them more visible:
As this area was not an active front line, the field was most likely used as an artillery position. Only the heaviest tracked vehicles would
have left an imprint.
This screenshot shows the position of Field No. 5 relative to the Donetsk Airport, to the southwest:
This is the most southwestward position of the separatists found to date.