Ukraine Day 1051: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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Ukraine’s intelligence chief has said that Marine Le Pen may be banned from entering Ukraine following her comments endorsing Russia’s occupation of Crimea.
During an interview with BFMTV this morning, the leader of France’s far-right Front National said that the annexation of Crimea in 2014 was “not illegal.”
“I absolutely do not believe that an illegal annexation took place. They had a referendum; the residents of Crimea supported reunification with Russia.
I do not see any grounds to dispute this referendum.”
The ‘referendum’ that took place on March 16, 2014, was arranged hastily, days after Russian soldiers took over administrative buildings in the Ukrainian peninsula. With Russian soldiers and tanks in control of the region, residents were given a choice between joining the Russian Federation or restoring the 1992 constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which would have granted the local authorities the power to separate from Ukraine anyway.
The vote was not monitored by international agencies, such as the OSCE, and was instead granted a thin veneer of legitimacy by “observers” from fringe far-right and communist European political factions — amongst them, Aymeric Chauprade of the Front National.
Importantly, the Mejlis, the representative body of Crimean Tatars (the indigenous population of the peninsula), called for a boycott of the vote. Tatars have subsequently faced severe repressions under the Russian occupation.
The vote was condemned across the international community, with a senior official in the US Presidential Administration saying there had been “concrete evidence” of ballots being pre-marked. Both the European Parliament and the UN General Assembly have condemned the “referendum” as illegal.
In May this year, Le Pen told Russian state media that it was a “quite clear and even quite credible possibility” that France would formally recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea were she elected President.
This evening, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Oleksandr Tkachuk, told LIGA.net that his agency will consult the Foreign Ministry to discuss a response to Le Pen’s comments, which could, he said, include banning her entry to Ukraine.
Meanwhile the Front National faces financial issues, following the closure of the Kremlin-linked First Czech Russian Bank which lent the party €9 million in 2014.
On December 26, Kommersant reported that Russia’s Deposit Insurance Agency (ASB) had filed a lawsuit to collect the debt on the loan from the First Czech Russian Bank to the Front National.
At the same time, the Kremlin may have shifted their attention to Le Pen’s rival in April’s French presidential elections, François Fillon.
Fillon, who won the Républicain primaries in November, has made his sympathies towards Russia clear over the years.
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The Ukrainian military reports that Russia-backed forces conducted 32 attacks yesterday, with another 23 so far today.
According to this morning’s report from the Ukrainian military, Russian-backed forces shelled positions in Shirokino and Vodyanoye, near Mariupol, and Svetlodarsk, near Debaltsevo, with mortars.
Other attacks, with grenade launchers or small arms, were reported near Mariupol, Avdeyevka, Gorlovka and the Lugansk villages of Novozvanovka and Lobachevo.
This evening the military reported a further 23 attacks between midnight and 18:00 today.
According to the report, 82-mm mortars were used in attacks on Luganskoye, near Debaltsevo, while infantry fighting vehicles fired on positions near Mariupol.
While Ukrainian officials report no combat casualties, three Ukrainian servicemen were killed and another wounded after an incident near Maryinka.
At noon today, Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, spokesman for the Defense Ministry, announced that two soldiers had been killed and two wounded as a result of an incident involving “violations of rules on handing weapons and the prohibition of alcohol.”
Later today, the 112 news channel reported that one of those two injured soldiers, having been taken to a hospital in Dnipro had died from multiple shrapnel wounds to the head.
— Pierre Vaux