Ukraine Liveblog Day 56: Will Kiev Lose Control of the East?

April 14, 2014
On Monday, pro-Russian separatists guard a regional administration building they seized in Slaviansk | Genya Savilov /AFP/Getty Images

Once again the interim government in Kiev has promised to counterattack pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Once again Kiev has blamed Russia for the separatism and violence. But with evidence growing that Russia is directly manipulating this conflict, possibly as preface to full-scale invasion, there are signs that Kiev may not be capable of restoring order in the east.

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

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An interactive map of the situation:

View Ukraine: April 9, 2014 in a larger map

Below we will be making regular updates. Be sure to check back often and hit refresh.

Police Search Car of Party of Regions Presidential Candidate

Oleh Tsaryov, a member former member of ousted President
Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, has been openly critical of the government in Kiev – and the upcoming elections in May. Just today the Russian state-operated news outlet ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying that elections should be postponed until the fall, a federative framework should be included in constitutional reforms (Russia’s demand), and the Russian language should be guaranteed in the constitution.

Tsaryov urged people from southeastern Ukraine to consolidate and make joint demands to the country’s leadership, which, as he believes, must enter into negotiations with the protesters and listen to them.

Earlier, the lawmaker agreed to lead the Southeastern movement for federalization. Only by federalizing Ukraine, it is possible to “save the country from breaking up”, the politician pointed out at a news conference in Donetsk.

Now the candidate appears to be in serious trouble with the police.

Obama and Putin Speak – Kremlin Edition
US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke this afternoon on the phone. The Kremlin readout came out first. Here’s some reaction:
The Kremlin also quotes Putin as saying that Kiev’s inability to address the needs of southeast Ukraine is the reason for the chaos there.
Anger In Kiev

A protest has started in Kiev as people express their anger at the acting President, Oleksandr Turchynov, and the acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

Propaganda Watch – RT Edition

As we’ve been covering for days, there is some evidence of Russian military involvement in the pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine. But the evidence is not as obvious as it was in Crimea. The reality is that while there may be Russian military instigators, pro-Russian separatists have been buying into the Kremlin’s propaganda engine which has inspired many of them to take up arms.

Let’s take a quick look at’s front page for examples:


The “breaking news” at the top really is breaking news — because the winners of the Pulitzer Prizes were just announced — but the focus of course is Ed Snowden. Beyond this, we have 14 front page stories in the top two sections. Seven are on Ukraine, 2 are on Wikileaks/spying stories (not counting the breaking news), 1 claims that progress in Afghanistan is an illusion, 1 is on the IRS falling behind on auditing (which infers corruption), and 1 is about Israel being mad at John Kerry. In other words, almost all of them have a clear and obvious anti-US or anti-Ukraine angle to them. The headline Ukraine story is not about pro-Russian gunmen seizing government buildings or shooting people (in fact, THAT is not on the front page at all, though one article at the bottom references the “Battle in Slavyansk”). Instead, the major headline is the visit of CIA Director John Brennan to Ukraine.

We could do a similar analysis for all the Russian state-operated media giants. If you only read the Kremlin-owned news, your perception of this conflict would be that the United States was building an invasion force on Russia’s border, not that Russia was busy conducting a soft-invasion of Ukraine.

EU To Take New Action
The EU will pass new sanctions, and the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy will send a mission to Ukraine:

Reuters adds details:

At a meeting in Luxembourg, several EU foreign ministers threatened Moscow with new sanctions over its actions in eastern Ukraine, although some said diplomacy should be given time before firm decisions are taken.

France’s Laurent Fabius said he hoped “fundamental questions” about Ukraine would be tackled at Thursday’s meeting involving Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the EU.

“If it is necessary, there may be a meeting of heads of state and government next week at European level, which may adopt new sanctions,” he told reporters.

“The goal is to show firmness while keeping a dialogue open,” he said.

Video Reportedly Shows Pro-Russian Checkpoint Opening Fire
This video has been uploaded to several channels today. It reportedly shows “Russian soldiers” opening fire on a car that drives through a checkpoint. In the video, we see the men open fire, and the man, we believe the passenger, says he was hit, though it’s not clear who the men were.

What’s concerning about the video is that it is not clear that these men in the road are operating a checkpoint, so it’s understandable how a car could run the checkpoint.

Is the video real? We have been unable to find other versions of the video that claim to show something other than what is being described here. Reverse image-searching frames of the video does not produce results. The timestamp on the camera that took the video does show the wrong date, but that often happens when amateurs do not set the date on the videocamera and don’t know how to turn the date off. It was overcast today.

Has Kiev Already Lost Eastern Ukraine?
Max Seddon has a bleak assessment of Kiev’s control over eastern Ukraine:

In Seddon’s article, entitles “Ukraine’s New Government Has Lost Its Grip On East Ukraine,” he takes readers through the sequence of events that landed the chief of police in the hospital and the rest under the control of a man who says he’s a Russian Lieutenant Colonel.

Unlike the weekend seizures of police stations in the nearby towns of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, there was no obvious special forces vanguard leading the charge in Horlivka. A few protesters tried to bring relative order to the crowd, but largely failed in holding back the angry, aggressive mob. Most of the men in the building reacted hostilely to learning there were foreigners present; some of them assaulted British photojournalist Frederick Paxton of Vice News and broke his camera.

Though Ukrainian and Western officials openly fret that Russia may send troops into the east, Kiev’s lack of a loyal police force here means the Kremlin may have no need to. Interior minister Arsen Avakov has effectively admitted losing control over Ukraine’s Russian-speaking southeastern promises by announcing the formation of special battalions of “patriots” intended to replace them. Yuri Lutsenko, one of Avakov’s predecessors and a leader of the protest movement in Kiev, claims that nearly all police captains in the east are secretly on the payroll of Yanukovych’s family.

CIA Director Was In Kiev This Weekend

Russian news outlets essentially accused CIA Director of orchestrating a crackdown (which has not yet happened) against pro-Russian protesters by saying that he was in Kiev this weekend holding secret meetings.

Well, today the CIA said it would make no comment about whether Brennan was in Kiev, but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed the news:

Carney said Monday the U.S. is conferring with allies on sanctions after more provocations by Russia in Ukraine. Carney says such actions from Russia “will come with a cost.”

Economy Watch

Russia’s economy has again taken a hit, though not a huge one, as news of this crisis has unfolded. The MICEX index closed down 1.29% today. Expecting a larger drop? Investors likely saw the likelihood of a Russian expansion into eastern Ukraine weeks, or even months ago. Russia stock markets have not recovered since the annexation of Crimea. The ruble was also off another .86% against the dollar.


But the news was even worse for Ukraine’s economy. While Ukraine’s PFTS stock index shrank .96%, it’s generally been doing very well since the crisis in February.  The problem is that the Ukrainian currency, the Hryvnia, is in freefall, and lost another 3.27% today (against the dollar). Here’s the 3-month trend — ugly:


Keeping An Eye on Donetsk…

We’re not sure if this is the start of the anti-terrorist operation that Kiev promised to carry out if separatists did not stand down by 2 AM, but this is the 2nd report of a helicopter in Donetsk in the last few minutes:

A picture, reportedly showing the two helicopters:


Ukraine Military Helicopter Over Donetsk
Russia is buzzing US warships and testing nuclear weapons delivery systems, but the government in Kiev has a helicopter over Donetsk:
Is this a small show of force, or the start of Kiev’s promised “anti-terrorist” operation?
Russia Test-Fires Ballistic Missile

Further adding to tensions, Russia has test-fired a ballistic missile, capable of carrying multiple warheads over 12,000 kilometers. The Russian state-owne news outlet RIA Novosti reports:

The Russian Strategic Missile Forces test-fired on Monday an RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile from a launch site in northwest Russia, the Defense Ministry said.

According to a ministry’s spokesman, Col. Igor Yegorov, the launch was carried out at 10.40 a.m. Moscow time (06:40 GMT) from a mobile launcher at the Plesetsk space center.

The test was successful as the simulated warhead hit a designated target at the Kura test range on Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula, Yegorov said.
The fifth-generation RS-24 Yars (NATO reporting name SS-29) is an upgraded version of the Topol-M ballistic missile that was first tested in 2007.


For more on Russia’s nuclear program, and how it is central to Putin’s military modernization effort, see our investigation by Andrew Bowen.

Russian Jet Buzzes US Warship

The US Military says that a Russian jet made multiple close passes to a US warship in the Black Sea on Saturday:

The official says the fighter flew within 1,000 yards of the USS Donald Cook, a Navy destroyer, at about 500 feet above sea level, saying this prompted ship commanders to issue several radio warnings. The fighter appeared to be unarmed and the passes ended without incident.

The USS Donald Cook was operating in international waters east of Romania. It was deployed to the Black Sea April 10th, in the wake of the Russian military takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region and ongoing unrest there. The official was not authorized to talk publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ukraine Requests UN Peacekeepers

The acting President of Ukraine has asking the United Nations to send peacekeepers into eastern Ukraine to help establish order and conduct a “joint counterterrorist operation.”
The Washington Post reports:

A statement posted on his official Web site said President Oleksandr Turchynov raised the matter in a telephone call with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, accusing Russia of sending “special units” to eastern Ukraine to “conduct armed seizure of the administrative buildings and threaten lives of hundreds of thousands of our citizens.” He said Russia was repeating the scenario of its takeover of Crimea least month, but he noted that the situation in eastern Ukraine is different “because the majority of people do not want to support separatists.”

Vowing to “fight back [against] terrorism and Russian aggression,” Turchynov raised the prospect of conducting a “joint operation with the U.N. peacekeeping forces” so that the world could “witness the legality” of Ukrainian forces’ actions.

“We do not object and even welcome holding of joint counterterrorist operation in the East,” Turchynov said, according to the statement. It said Ban pledged to “do everything I can for the situation to be resolved peacefully as soon as possible.”

Of course, such a move would require the approval of the United Nations Security Council, and Russia would almost certainly veto such a move.

Russian Lieutenant Colonel In Charge of Horlivka?

Mariupol is in a highly strategic location.  Take a look at this map, and notice that all of the major towns where separatists have begun seizing territory are on major crossroads that connect vital parts of eastern Ukraine with Russia, except Mariupol – but that is a port that could potentially be used to land Russian troops should Russia decide to launch a full-scale invasion of eastern Ukraine.

Also note that there is a theory that the police headquarters in Slaviansk was the largest weapons stockpile in the region which is perhaps why it was captured so early on by what appeared to be an elite team of commandos. Was the idea to secure weapons stockpiles so that they could be given to pro-Russian locals who could help these elite gunmen control key crossroads in the eastern half of the country?

That makes this report even more concerning. Earlier we posted this video, which claims to show a man who identifies as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Russian Army, organizing the police in Horlivka. We cannot validate the man’s claim at this time:

The Interpreter has translated this video:

Lieutenant Colonel: [on phone] I understand. That’s it. Let’s go.

Policeman: We need to go.

Lt. Col.: [To Line-Up] Fall in! Attention!

Greetings, Comrades!

Greetings! I am a lieutenant colonel

Policeman:  Of what?

Lt. Col.: Of the Russian Army, to be precise, a lieutenant colonel. Good morning!

Policemen: Good morning, Comrade Lieutenant!

Lt. Col.: Look! From here on, from this minute, the head of the Interior Ministry of the city of Gorlovka is appointed Aleksandr Fyodorovich Sluzhenko. You are to follow all his instructions without question. At this time, your assignment is to take out the police officers — there are normal, loyal people here — to bring them peacefully out of this situation — I’ll be there — and bring them back here.

Your assignment:

– Maintain public order
– Prevent looting

You understand, yes?

– Prevent unauthorized seizure of buildings

In order to distinguish you from all the other police officers who have not yet come over to the side of the people, I ask you all to tie a St. George ribbon on your right shoulder strap

Policeman: Do you have any ribbons on you?

Lt. Col.: Gentlemen, the question of the ribbons is still not resolved yet.

Policeman: You should go buy some ribbons.

Lt. Col.: Because I was fighting [inaudible] …You can understand.

Policeman: Who is going to obey us?

Lt. Col: They will obey you. I’ve introduced myself. Here’s my ID.

Horlivka City Hall Also Captured
One Ukrainian news outlet is reporting that separatists have also captured the City Hall in Horlivka, have raised a banner there that says “Donetsk National Republic,” and have held an extraordinary session of the City Council in order to appoint a separatist mayor.
Pro-Russian Separatists Seize Police Building in Horlivka
As we’ve been reporting, pro-Russian gunmen have stormed another police building, this one in Horlivka (or Gorlivka) and both police, and journalists, were reportedly attacked in the incident:
And while the men appear to have been locals…

As we posted earlier, there is evidence that they were working with police — police who were taking orders from a man who identifies himself as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army (more on that coming now).

There were injuries also reported.

AP has more on the storming of the police headquarters building:

Dozens of angry men hurled rocks, smashed the windows and broke into a police station in the city of Horlivka not far from the border with Russia, while hundreds of onlookers cheered them on. Thick white smoke rose from the entrance to the building.

The events in Horlivka were the latest sign of trouble in Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions, in which pro-Russian gunmen have seized a number of government buildings demanding more autonomy from the central government and closer ties with Russia.

Oleksandr Sapunov, one of the men who took part in storming the police building in Horlivka, said the insurgents were fighting against appointees of the Kiev government, including the local police chief, and wanted to appoint a leadership of their own.

“The people came to tell him that he is a puppet of the Kyiv junta and they won’t accept him,” Sapunov said.

City Hall in Kharkiv was also attacked, though the AP does provide video (below) of Ukrainian special forces preparing to respond to these incidents:

Slaviansk Airport Captured By Pro-Russian Gunmen
One might ask, what do pro-Russian separatists who want to push the government in Kiev to allow them to vote for greater autonomy need with an airport?
Ukrainian Troops Headed Towards Seized Town
Though there’s no sign that the 2 AM deadline for separatists to stand down has been enforced,  does report Ukrainian forces on the move towards areas seized by separatists:

However, that video appears to be about 21 hours old, and can originally be found here.

So where is this firepower going, and why have Ukrainian authorities not enforced their deadline?
A Russian Organizing Police in Horlivka?

Several reports indicate that man in this video identifies himself as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Army. Kyiv Post reports:

A video has surfaced of a man who identifies himself as a Russian lieutenant colonel organizing police officers shortly after pro-Russian separatists stormed and took control of the police station in Horlivka.

According to Ukrainska Pravda, the man is from Simferopol and carries a Russian passport…

This information compliments reports from journalists on the ground in Horlivka, who say that the seizure of the police office was coordinated by the Russian government.

BuzzFeed’s Max Seddon tweeted that “A local cameraman in Gorlivka says he got a call from Russian TV three hours ago asking if he could film the raid that was forthcoming.”

One officer was wounded in the raid. He was taken to a nearby hospital in an ambulance. — Isaac Webb

In Crimea, members of the “self-defence forces” who were carrying what looked like Russian spetsnaz weaponry and uniforms often identified themselves to the press as members of the Russian military. It seems that they figured everyone knew that, even as Moscow was denying it. Over the last few days, we have also identified men who wore Russian military medals and were carrying weapons that may indicate that they were Russian airborne units. This is, to our knowledge, the first time a member of these eastern Ukrainian separatists has identified himself as a Russian soldier.

This video is important for another reason — once again, police forces in eastern Ukraine have joined Russian separatists, a disturbing trend especially since the people that these police are sworn to protect overwhelmingly do not support Russian separatism.

More Journalists Attacked In East Ukraine?

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, particularly in Lugansk and Slaviansk, have been very hostile to journalists trying to cover this story. Flash cards have been erased, journalists harassed, and yesterday gunmen grabbed these journalists by the throat and put them against the wall:

There are claims of more harassment today:

No Sign of Kiev’s Crackdown on Separatists

Russia has been complaining for months that ethnic Russians were
being persecuted by Ukrainian authorities and their supporters. For the
last week, Moscow has pleaded with Kiev to refrain from attacking
pro-Russian separatists who have seized police stations, government
buildings, and weapons stockpiles. Ironically, not only was there never
any evidence of a crackdown on ethnic Russians or pro-Russian
protesters, but there’s no sign that Kiev is carrying through on its
threats to conduct law-and-order “anti-terrorist” operations to arrest
armed militants and retake police stations.

CNN reports:

Pro-Russian protesters forced police out of a building in an
eastern Ukrainian city on Monday, even as a government deadline for
demonstrators to leave occupied facilities passed with no immediate
consequences in two other cities.

Video from a demonstration in the eastern Ukrainian city of
Horlivka showed protesters confronting police and walking through the
building, which had small fires burning and broken windows. A severely
beaten man in a police uniform was taken to an ambulance as onlookers
shouted at him.

The seizure is a new complication for the government in Kiev.
Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov had given pro-Russian protesters in
other eastern Ukrainian cities until 2 a.m. ET to disarm or face a
“full-scale anti-terrorist operation” by Ukraine’s armed forces.

But the deadline passed with no sign that it was heeded in the
eastern cities of Donetsk and Slaviansk. There was no movement at the
regional government building in Donetsk, which has been occupied for
more than a week.

So while this helpful image showed a list of areas occupied by pro-Russian separatists, the situation this morning is even worse: