Ukraine Liveblog Day 63: Moscow and Kiev Point Fingers After Ceasefire Shattered

April 21, 2014
Photo by Imago/Barcroft Media

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

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Separatists Take Journalist Captive in Slavyansk

Estonia’s President expresses his outrage at the news:

Vice News, in an article entitled “Press Conferences in Eastern Ukraine Have Been Getting Weirder and Weirder,” reports:

On Monday, militias in Sloviansk paraded Irma Krat, a 29-year-old Ukrainian journalist and activist they have been holding since Sunday, before a crowd of journalists. The city was the setting of a deadly shoot-out during the weekend, which killed at least three people.

An armed, masked man led out a blindfolded Krat, took the scarf off from around her face and allowed her to address reporters, then blindfolded her once again, and escorted her away.

But, he claimed, the group was not holding her “against her will.”

The videos below show Krat speaking to reporters. Her expired press credentials are shown in the second video.

Several videos in the report show Krat, sometimes blindfolded and sometimes not, speaking to the press. Krat says she’s cold, but “ok,” and she’s been given food and water. She is accused of being a “spy” involved in “war crimes.” 

Another journalist,  freelancer Serhiy Lefter, is reportedly missing, though Krat, obviously under duress, said that she did not know if Lefter was being held by the separatists.  

On Sunday, Krat addressed reporters while blindfolded. At some point a loud bang or gunshot can be heard.

Pro-Russia Rallies Poorly Attended In East Ukraine

RIA Novosti, the recently-restructured Russian state-owned “news” outlet has this to say about pro-Russian rallies held today in eastern Ukraine:

Eastern Ukraine has been swept by rallies since last month. Federalization supporters in Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Gorlovka, Slaviansk and Kramatorsk have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the current Ukrainian government and are urging interim authorities to hold referendums similar to the one held in Crimea last month, which led to the republic’s reunification with Russia.

In response, Ukrainian authorities started a special operation to crack down on pro-federalization activists in eastern regions of the country, a move that Moscow strongly condemned.

Ukraine underwent a regime change resembling a military coup on February 22. The country’s parliament ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, changed the constitution and scheduled an early presidential election for May 25. Moscow has repeatedly questioned the actions.

Their picture of the Donetsk rally: 


The problem? It seems that the most exciting thing to happen in Donetsk in the last weekend has been sleeping dogs (and very few protesters):

And a guy playing piano:

So while Russian state-media reports hundreds of protesters, there were only perhaps a dozen visible at each of these rallies, as far as one can tell from the visual evidence. But what about today’s huge protest in Kharkiv, billed as the main event for pro-Russian rallies in the east? Pro-Russian accounts on VK are circulating this picture, reportedly showing 2000 people in attendance. First of all, Kharkiv is a very large city, so 2000 would be a very small crowd. Also, there’s no real evidence that the number is accurate, as we have not seen any pictures of more than perhaps a few hundred people.


Donetsk People’s Republic Launches Anti-Semitic TV Channel

The Euroasian Jewish Congress ( has posted a video said to be from the armed pro-Russian separatists from the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” who have taken power in Slavyansk (Sloviansk) and seized the television tower that broadcasts to Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, Gorlovka (Horlivka), Makeyevka and other towns in the Donetsk Region. The separatists have shut down Ukrainian television channels and begun broadcasting Russian Federation TV.

On 20 April, the separatists launched their own channel using the frequency of the Ukrainian channel Inter, and posted their introductory video on the Internet. In the video, the separatists proclaim their mission, an excerpt of which The Interpreter has translated:

“Here, from Slavyansk, we will strike a most powerful information conceptual blow against the Biblical matrix…through our television broadcasting against zombie-broadcasting…Zionist zombie-broadcasting…the Zionist zombie-box…”

The video continues with the airing of a lecture of the late Konstantin Petrov, a retired general of the Soviet rocket and space forces who led a Russian nationalist neo-pagan sect with antisemitic and Stalinist views who created a political party called “Course of Truth and Unification.” A “Donetsk People’s Republic” activist explains that this will reveal to the audience how they are ruled globally and locally.
US Vice President Joe Biden Arrives in Ukraine

The American Vice President, Joe Biden, has arrived in Ukraine and will meet Ukraine’s acting President and Prime Minister tomorrow. Washington Post reports:

[A senior unnamed official] said the U.S. energy consulting team will travel from here to Slovakia and Hungary to work on ways of reversing the flow of some of Ukraine’s pipelines now supplying Europe. Over the longer term, the official said, the U.S. government will work with Ukraine to help the government increase domestic gas production.

In addition, the official said, teams of U.S. economic advisers will arrive to assist Ukrainian officials in using $1 billion in recently approved U.S. loan guarantees and in securing a far larger assistance package from the International Monetary Fund.

Biden will also meet here with several dozen members of Ukraine’s parliament Tuesday representing regions from across the country. His message, the official said, will stress the need for unity ahead of next month’s elections to confront the enduring security threat and economic instability.

He will then speak with members of various civil society groups working to promote democracy and anti-corruption efforts, as well as those promoting youth and cultural programs.

Russian Propaganda Alert – Moscow State University Edition
The latest news from the OSCE, as shared through a tweet from a professor at Moscow State University who describes himself as “Senior Lecturer/Researcher in International Relations and Security Studies at MGU, Political Analyst for RT, US Navy vet – Nuclear Engineering.” 

The actual article doesn’t really say that at all. The quote is clearly out of context. The report starts off by saying that the situation in Ukraine is not as dire as some media reports suggest, and it says that casualty numbers have often been exaggerated. Interestingly, the OSCE head identifies one such occassion as the attack last week in Mariupol which reportedly left three dead. The OSCE was only able to confirm one of those deaths. But it is the Russian media that reported that first four people, and then three, were killed. In other incidents, the Russia state media has exaggerated the numbers of casualties at some incidents, even if only in their initial reports. 

As for evidence of Russian troops operating inside Ukraine, the OSCE monitor actually admits that there are “signs,” though there is a lack of hard evidence: 

As for the suspected presence of Russian servicemen in Ukraine, Zillikens said that “there are signs that foreign consultants worked and operated in the Ukrainian territory, but no clear evidence of that”.

“Perhaps, we will get such evidence tomorrow. I don’t rule that out. But so far, there is none. Only signs. Precisely such information, such a picture we present and report to Kyiv,” head of the OSCE mission in Donetsk said.

Two Christian Leaders, Two Different Messages

RFE/RL profiles the leaders of both the Ukrainian and the Russian Orthodox Churches, both of whom referenced this crisis in two very different ways this Easter Sunday:

In Kyiv, the head of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church condemned Russian “aggression” during his Easter message to the church’s followers and said Moscow’s “evil” will be defeated.

Patriarch Filaret said there has been aggression against “peace-loving” Ukraine, which “voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons…”

In Moscow, Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill said during Easter eve services in the Christ the Savior Cathedral that God should put “an end to the designs of those who want to destroy holy Russia.”

He added that Ukraine is “politically” separate but is “spiritually and historically” one with Russia.

Kirill said he prayed that Ukraine could benefit from government officials who are “legitimately elected.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev took part in the service.

Yanukovych Orders Kiev To Withdraw Troops From The East

The ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, has made statements today from Rostov-on-Don, the Russian city where he fled to after leaving the Ukrainian capital. Kyiv Post reports:

Yanukovych requested the “immediate removal of all Ukrainian Armed Forces from the east of Ukraine, sent there as a detachment of the so-called ‘national guard,’ dressed in military uniforms and armed with automatic weapons and grenades.” 

He warned the leaders of the post-revolutionary government in Ukraine that they “are one step away from bloodshed.” 

“Blood cannot be washed away. Stop!” he said, according to the statement carried by the Russian media.

Note that Yanukovych is spelling out what the Russian government has been inferring — that the military of Ukraine is illegitimate because it is controlled by the government in Kiev which Yanukovych and Moscow consider illegitimate. Again, Russia and most of the rest of the world are using different definitions. Under this logic, the gunmen in places like Slavyansk and Donetsk are the legitimate representatives of the people of Ukraine and thus do not need to disarm and leave occupied buildings, while the Ukrainian police and military that are following orders from the interim government are really the illegal gunmen who need to be disarmed.

Proof That Russian Troops Are In Ukraine?

The Obama administration and the interim government in Kiev both say that they have evidence that Russian special forces units are operating inside Ukraine. The New York Times reports

two weeks, the mysteriously well-armed, professional gunmen known as
“green men” have seized Ukrainian government sites in town after town,
igniting a brush fire of separatist unrest across eastern Ukraine.
Strenuous denials from the Kremlin have closely followed each
accusation by Ukrainian officials that the world was witnessing a
stealthy invasion by Russian forces.

Now, photographs and descriptions
from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday
suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and
intelligence forces — equipped in the same fashion as Russian special
operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February.
Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other
photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.

Ukraine’s state security service has identified one Russian reported to
be active among the green men as Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, a Russian
military intelligence operative in his mid- to late 50s. He is said to
have a long résumé of undercover service with the Main Intelligence
Directorate of the Russian general staff, most recently in Crimea in
February and March and now in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of

The report contains several pictures that reportedly show either Russian special forces equipment, or in some cases specific units, operating inside Ukraine.


We have also followed these reports, and several more like it. We’ll be publishing our own evidence soon. 

SBU ID’s Russian Lieutenant Colonel as GRU

The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported from Slaviansk 17 April noting a sighting of the now-famous Russian Army lieutenant colonel shown in a widely-discussed video uploaded to YouTube by Alexey Goncharenko, deputy of the Odessa Regional Council, on 14 April. The Russian officer was filmed in Gorlivka as he appointed a new police chief and ordered a line-up of police officers to take control of the city. The Interpreter published a transcript of the video here.

Later, other press reports said the lieutenant colonel’s name is Igor Bezler, and that he was a criminal underworld figure who had been dismissed from a local funeral business for stealing 38 grave stones and extorting money from elderly people for grave sites. Novaya Gazeta added that the lieutenant colonel was nicknamed “Bes” (“Demon”) and even obtained his autograph and another photo, as he laughed  off the claims of theft and implied the story was entirely made up. There was a hint that he might be with the GRU (Russian military intelligence) but it was at first not stated explicitly.

Then on 18 April, Novaya Gazeta added a postscript to their 17 April article noting that the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) had put out a wanted notice for Bezler and identified him as a GRU agent. Novaya Gazeta then published a second, more definitive article on 18 April. The Interpreter has provided an excerpt translation:

“According to the SBU’s information, Igor Bezler was born in 1965, and served until 2002 in divisions of the Russian Federation Armed Forces General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (the GRU), and in fact did reach the rank of lietenant colonel. After 2002, he was sent to Ukraine.

In February of this year, agents of the GRU restored communications with Bezler and ordered him to head to the Crimea, where he took part in the forcible actions to seize military bases, government bodies and offices, Ukrainian law-enforcement said. In April, beside the seizure of the local department of the Interior Ministry [police] in Gorlovka, Bezler also took part in a seizure of a building of the SBU in Donetsk Region.

According to the SBU, Bezler likely is now in the seized police department in Gorlovka, and is moving about the city accompanied by armed guards.”

Novaya Gazeta links to the web site of the SBU, where the ID of Bezler, who was born in Simferopol, is displayed along with a picture.

Russia Promises to Intervene to Prevent Civil War

After the first day of last week’s Geneva Conference, naive media reports trumpeted a “diplomatic breakthrough,” as US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that a plan had been agreed upon with Russia to end the crisis. One of the key points of the deal was that armed groups would voluntarily disarm and leave buildings, streets, and squares that they were occupying.

The problem of course was that Russia was using different definitions from the rest of the world. According to Russia, pro-Russian separatists and gunmen were the rightful owners of the buildings and squares they were defending with tires, barbed wire, semi-automatic weapons and RPGs. The interim government in Kiev, on the other hand, was illegally occupying buildings in the capital, and they were governed by extremists. Russia and the West didn’t agree on anything. 

There points were hammered home after the Easter truce was shattered by gunfire yesterday morning. Reuters reports:

Separatist militiamen near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slaviansk told Reuters four vehicles had approached their checkpoint at around 2:00 a.m. and opened fire.

“We had three dead, four wounded,” one of the separatist fighters, called Vladimir, told Reuters at the checkpoint, where there were two burned-out jeeps.

He said the separatists returned fire and killed two of the attackers, who he said were members of the nationalist movement which has its power base in the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country and is reviled by many in the Russian-speaking east.

Police in Kiev said three men among the separatists were killed and three wounded.

A Reuters cameraman at the scene said he saw the bodies of two people, one with what appeared to be gunshot wounds to the head and face, lying in the back of a truck.

One of the dead was dressed in camouflage fatigues, the other, identified by several bystanders as a local man, was in civilian clothes.

None of the details are agreed upon. But despite the confusion, Moscow says it knows exactly what happened — Kiev has broken the Geneva agreement. Let’s take a look, line by line, at statements by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, published today in ITAR-TASS:

“Geneva agreements on Ukraine specify no [time frame], but measures should be taken urgently”, Lavrov stressed. The agreement is not fulfilled, first of all, by those who have seized power in Kiev, the foreign minister added.  

In other words, Russia is ready to spring into action, but “those who have seized power in Kiev,” what most of the rest of the world calls Ukraine’s interim government, is not showing any signs of cooperation.

“Everything points to the fact that the Kiev authorities are not able to control extremists, or do not want to control them,” the foreign minister said. The main thing now is to prevent any kind of violence in Ukraine, Lavrov added. “It is the first clause of the Geneva agreements, the first requirement,” the minister stressed. “This part of the Geneva agreement is not fulfilled, but on the contrary, steps are taken by those who seized power (in Kiev) in violation of the Geneva agreements,” Lavrov said. 

The Russian government blames the Easter gunfire on Right Sector. Moscow believes that the leaders in Kiev are either in control of Right Sector (or perhaps the other way around) and have either ordered the violence or have failed to control radicals who oppose Russia. Russia believes that this violence and chaos is part of Kiev’s plan.

“We are concerned that instead of confirming the responsibility for the situation, Kiev and the West-European countries are trying to make Russia responsible,” he said. “There main proof is the Russian weapons in the conflict zones. It is ridiculous – no other weapons have ever been there,” Lavrov added.

Russia is the constructive partner in this scenario, and note how Kiev and “West-European countries” are linked. Russia could use this line of thinking to militarily and unilaterally intervene in eastern Ukraine, just like they did in Crimea.

“The buildings in Kiev, which have been seized by force in the beginning of the events in Ukraine, are not freed now, the streets remain blocked, the ‘Maidan’ continues to boom,” the foreign minister said. “The leadership appointed by the Verkhovna Rada, say openly the Geneva decisions are not valid for ‘Maidan’, because, as they say, Kiev’s municipal administration had decided ‘Maidan’ may remain and it is legitimate. This is absolutely unacceptable,” Lavrov stressed. 

In Russia’s worldview, “Maidan” is synonymous with “radical,” and the government in Kiev has no right to be there, and thus they, not Russia, are the hypocrites.

“Those who intentionally aim at instigating a civil war obviously hope to spark off an enormous, serious and bloody conflict, are conducting a criminal policy,” Lavrov said. “We (Russia) will not be only condemning this policy, but thwarting any manifestations of such policy as well,” the diplomat said, adding that “shooting at unarmed people on the Easter night is beyond any reason.”

“Instead of giving ultimatums and threatening us with sanctions, Washington should realize in full measure its responsibility for those people they brought to power in Kiev,” Lavrov noted. “Attempts to isolate Russia are absolutely prospectless, as it is impossible,” the minister emphasized.

The key quote — Russia will be “thwarting any manifestations” of an policies that they see as instigating civil war. What does that mean? Russia will be actively operating inside Ukraine in order to prevent, in their view, any escalation of this crisis.

The meaning of Moscow’s statements should be obvious. Moscow’s intentions are now being openly and vocally broadcast to the world through every level of Russia’s government and through Russia’s state media. Last week the international community thought that they could negotiate with Russia to find a way out of this crisis. Will the international community change course this week?