Both Sides Report Continued Shelling Despite Agreements On Withdrawal

February 21, 2017
Fighting last night near separatist-held Dokuchaevsk. Screenshot from YouTube video.

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An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlin’s Dirty War in Ukraine


Firtash Detained

Austrian Court Rules Firtash Must Be Extradited To USA

An Austrian court has just ruled that Dmytro Firtash, a powerful fugitive Ukrainian oligarch accused of corruption and links to organized crime, must be extradited to the United States, where he faces charges of bribery.

Firtash was arrested in Austria on March 13, 2014, on the request of US law enforcement. In April last year, an Austrian judge rejected the US request for Firtash’s extradition, questioning the existence of witnesses cited by the US Justice Department and suggesting that the pursuit of the pro-Russian oligarch could have been politically motivated.

TIME‘s Simon Shuster and the Kyiv Post‘s Isobel Koshiw have been reporting from today’s hearing, where a judge heard an appeal on behalf of the US against last year’s ruling:

Firtash has long been suspected of close ties to gangster Semyon Mogilevich, one of the most powerful crime bosses in eastern Europe:

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WikiLeaks cables link Russian mafia boss to EU gas supplies

Gas supplies to Ukraine and EU states are linked to the Russian mafia, according to the US ambassador in Kiev. Gas supplies to Ukraine and EU states are linked to the Russian mafia, according to the US ambassador in Kiev.

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Feb 21, 2017 13:54 (GMT)

After the verdict:

The extradition of Firtash could have wide-reaching effects.

Firtash still owns extensive business interests in Ukraine, which he has not returned to since the Maidan revolution, including the controversial Inter television channel and numerous chemical, gas and oil enterprises.

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When An Oligarch Is Not A Billionaire: The Case Of Ukraine's Dmitry Firtash

As thousands of Russian troops mobilized to the border of Ukraine at the orders of Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry jetted around the world trying to broker a deal that would avoid an escalation of the situation, Austrian security forces detained Dmitry Firtash in Vienna at the FBI's request.

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Feb 21, 2017 13:57 (GMT)

Firtash had a meteoric rise to prominence, having entered business with a canned goods trading company in Uzbekistan and ending up amassing wealth over a very short span of time by securing gas contracts with Russia’s Gazprom and playing a key role in backing former President Viktor Yanukovych’s bid for election.

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SPECIAL REPORT-Putin's allies channelled billions to Ukraine oligarch

(This is part of Reuters 'Comrade Capitalism' series) By Stephen Grey, Tom Bergin, Sevgil Musaieva and Roman Anin MOSCOW/KIEV Nov 26 In Russia, powerful friends helped him make a fortune. In the United States, officials want him extradited and put behind bars.

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Feb 21, 2017 14:06 (GMT)

Firtash has used his wealth and status to buy considerable influence abroad, in particular in the UK, through the British Ukrainian Society and the Cambridge University Centre for Ukrainian Studies.

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FBI arrests Ukrainian energy magnate with close links to Tories

A pro-Russian Ukrainian energy magnate with connections to senior British parliamentarians has been arrested in Vienna at the request of the United States following an FBI investigation. The Independent revealed last week the links between gas billionaire Dmitry Firtash and senior Conservatives John Whittingdale, the chair of the powerful Commons media select committee, and Lord Risby, a former vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and shadow minister for Financial Services.

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Feb 21, 2017 14:11 (GMT)

One close associate of Fitash is Raymond Asquith, Earl of Oxford, who used to be the MI6 station chief in Moscow and, until recently, sat on the board of JKX Oil and Gas, a British company operating in Ukraine. Firtash owned a controlling stake in the firm until January last year, when rivals, including Igor Kolomoisky’s Eclairs investment fund and Russian Vladimir Tartachuk’s Proxima Capital took over the firm and kicked out Asquith and several other Firtash associates.

Asquith himself recently appeared at a controversial conference organized by the Assad regime in Damascus.

But the most immediate effects of Firtash’s extradition may be felt in America, where several members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle have been accused of working for the oligarch.

That Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager until August last year, worked with Firtash can be verified by looking at court documents relating to a failed Manhattan property bid in 2008, as the Chicago Tribune reported:

Manafort and business partners, including Firtash, in 2008 negotiated an $895 million deal to buy the site of the Drake Hotel in Manhattan, which they hoped to redevelop as a luxury mall and spa called Bulgari Tower. Memos of meetings that Manafort and Firtash attended in Kiev are included in the lawsuit, though the deal eventually fell apart.

While Firtash had yet to be indicted at that point, a diplomatic cable sent by U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor during the period in which Manafort and Firtash were negotiating, later leaked by Wikileaks, alleged Firtash had ties to Russian organized crime and described him as “one of Ukraine’s most wealthy and notorious oligarchs.”

Manafort’s extensive ties to pro-Russian former President Ukrainian Viktor F. Yanukovych and to Ukrainian business leaders sympathetic to Moscow have become an issue in the presidential campaign, thanks to Trump’s frequent statements of admiration for Putin, who Trump has described as “strong leader.”

In 2011, Yulia Tymoshenko, former Ukrainian prime minister and now leader of the Batkivshchyna party, lodged a lawsuit against Firtash and several of Trump’s campaign advisers, including Manafort and Rick Gates, in a New York court.

Tymoshenko’s lawyers claimed that Gates and Manafort had acted as agents for Firtash, whom she accused of operating racketeering and money laundering schemes with Semyon Mogilevich and several high-ranking Yanukovych government officials, including the then prosecutor-general of Ukraine, Viktor Pshonka.

In addition to the US charges relating to his extradition, which concern alleged bribes to Indian officials to secure titanium mining rights, Firtash also faces charges in Spain, where he has been accused of organizing a multi-million-dollar money laundering scheme.

Ukrainian Oligarch Firtash, Tied to Former Trump Campaign Manager, Faces Spanish Warrant

A court in the Spanish city of Barcelona issued an international warrant on Friday for the arrest of Dmitry Firtash, an exiled Ukrainian oligarch allied to Russian President Vladimir Putin and tied to US president-elect Donald Trump's former campaign manager, media reports said.

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Feb 21, 2017 14:26 (GMT)

— Pierre Vaux
Both Sides Report Continued Shelling Despite Agreements On Withdrawal

Two Ukrainian soldiers were wounded in fighting yesterday.

Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said that both soldiers were wounded near the Butovka mine, an exposed position southwest of Avdeyevka.

Seven more Ukrainian soldiers were injured yesterday when their vehicle was damaged by an as-yet unidentified explosive device near Lebedinskoye, on the Azov coast east of Mariupol.

Colonel Motuzyanyk also reported that an officer in the Ukrainian State Border Service, Dmitry Teteykin, who was wounded by shelling in Avdeyevka on February 2, has died in hospital in Dnipro.

The Ukrainian military claims that Russia-backed forces conducted 74 attacks yesterday.

According to this morning’s report, Russia-backed forces used mortars in attacks near Donetsk, Gorlovka and Mariupol. 

This video was purportedly filmed last night in separatist-held Dokuchaevsk, just northeast of Novotroitskoye. It appears to be new:

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2017-02-21 12:54:55

This morning, the pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency (DAN) reported that Ukrainian forces had fired the nearby village of Yelenovka with BMP infantry fighting vehicle cannons and heavy machine guns, causing damage to several houses:

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2017-02-21 12:51:09

The so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claims that at least eight homes were damaged in both Yelenovka and Dokuchaevsk.

Despite the continued fighting and shelling, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said today that negotiations on the simultaneous withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the front line were still underway.

DAN also reports that the DNR “operational command” has today stated that the Ukrainian military has confirmed their readiness to conduct an OSCE-monitored, synchronized withdrawal, possibly beginning as early as this evening, after delegates hold a video conference.

However the Ukrainian State Border Service reports that a Russian military vehicle joined the 60th ‘humanitarian convoy’ that entered crossed the border into separatist-held territory this morning.

According to the Service, a Russian military radiological, chemical and biological defense vehicle crossed the Ukrainian border near Matveyev Kurgan after the main convoy of trucks had passed through this morning.

While Ukraine and much of the international community has long condemned these convoys as violations of Ukrainian sovereignty, and Kiev has claimed that the trucks often carry armaments and supplies for fighters, the State Border Service singled out the  deployment of a CBRN vehicle as incompatible with the purportedly humanitarian nature of the mission.

The Russian government has yet to respond to the Ukrainian claim. This morning the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations, which formally oversees the missions, claimed that the convoys entering Ukraine today consisted of 26 vehicles, carrying more than 300 tonnes of humanitarian aid.

— Pierre Vaux