Day 705: 1 Ukrainian Soldier Killed, 1 Wounded in the Donbass

January 23, 2016
ATO commanders and local government leaders at a celebration of the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Starobelsk from Nazi occupiers laid wreaths in memory of soldiers who had died in the ATO. Photo by ATO

One Ukrainian soldier was killed today when he triggered a tripwire, and another soldier was wounded in combat.

Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.

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For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: How We Know Russia Shot Down MH17.

Poroshenko Urges Passage of Decentralization Amendments to Constitution; Discounts ‘Black Sack’ of Federalism

At a meeting of local self-government bodies on Ukraine’s National Unity Day, President Petro Poroshenko outlined his ideas on self-government as they apply to the Minsk accords, reported in a series of posts.
The word used for “unity” (sobornost) is a Ukrainian word which also conveys “community” (translation by The Interpreter):

“Unity means the unitarian structure of the state. It stipulates a categorical prohibition on the import of the destructive idea of federalism, unacceptable for Ukraine.” He said “We respect and will go on respecting diversity in Ukraine, the specific nature of local communities. And this diversity, in fact, is not our shortcoming. On the contrary, it makes us richer and stronger.”

In the focus on the Minsk accords, it is often forgotten that “decentralization” is a goal not just disingenuously invoked by Russia and the Russian-backed militants in the Donbass to turn the area essentially into a Russian protectorate. In its good-faith interpretation, “decentralization” means a reform of the Soviet-era model of heavy control of the regions by the capital. 

Thus, the president urged that the Constitutional reforms be made, reported.

“Those political forces that want to torpedo the Minsk accords, block the peace process, block the Constitutional process must clearly be aware of the consequences of their actions.”

Yet while support the Constitutional reforms under the Minsk agreements, President Poroshenko outlined his long-term goals of returning not only the Donbass but the Crimea, reported.

“I have clearly emphasized — my task, and I firmly believe in this — is the return of Ukrainian sovereignty in the Donbass already in 2016. And yesterday in Davos speaking there I also confirmed this position, that in 2016, Russia must fulfill all points of the Minsk agreements, which is the only basis for partial weakening of the sanctions.

As president and supreme commander-in-chief, I will fight for every clump of Ukrainian soil and do everything possible to restore territorial integrity, sovereignty first in the Donbass, then in the Crimea. And I will not let this conflict freeze.”

He further clarified:

“The second reading of the Constitution amendments on the issues of decentralization must take place against a background of obvious and decisive progress in implementing such points of the Minsk agreements which should be fulfilled by the end of this year.”

He emphasized that this meant a ceasefire, the release of “hostages,” access of the OSCE to the border, the withdrawal of Russian regular forces, mercenaries and combat vehicles from Ukraine, and the conducting of elections in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and OSCE standards.
Most importantly, Poroshenko acknowledged a sequencing of the Minsk accords that involves Russian keeping its control over the border with the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions until after the Constitutional amendments vote, reported:

“The voting for the Constitutional changes will correspond with and must be preceded by…immediately before the return of Ukrainian control over the border. For this, I have no doubt, we have these 300 votes.

And the only thing we must show the public and the parliament — an obvious progress in the Minsk agreements. I am confident that’s how it will be.

We do not intend to remove or postpone the vote in any way. The vote is in the calendar, I hope, for the next session in the first half year of 2016, just as is obvious progress in the Minsk settlement. “

Poroshenko said he was grateful to members of parliament who had appealed to the Constitutional Court to maintain the ability to vote for the amendments in the second reading which were passed already in the first reading August 31, and “avoid any insinuations regarding the legitimacy of this process.”

He also said that while Ukraine was putting off the adoption of the Constitutional amendments regarding decentralization of government for now, this did not change the political course toward decentralization. He also warned of the consequences, reported.

“If we will not coordinate our actions with our partners, we have a great risk of remaining alone [with Russia–Unian]] without the support of our political, military and technical [international partners–Unian] and without sanctions.

I will not allow irresponsible political forces to do this.”

The vote was postponed at the current session which ends February 2. But after the appeal by 51 MPs, mainly from the Poroshenko Bloc and Popular Front, the Constitutional Court ruled on the interpretation of “the next session of the Verkhovna Rada” regarding the vote on decentralization. The deputies had asked for a determination as to whether “next” means “any” session or the next sequential session, and the Court ruled that it was the latter.
Volodymyr Groysman, speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, said a Reconciliation Council would be convened to determine the date of the vote, reported.

Yet even as Poroshenko stressed the need for decentralization and the passage of the Constitutional amendments, he explained that this did not mean “the black sack of federalism,” i.e. a loophole that would enable Russian interpretation.

“Decentralization now enjoys the firm support of the Ukrainian people and that is extremely important. And we will not let anyone ignore that opinion. We will not allow anyone to slander, disorient or try to destabilize society. No matter with what intentions those who try to stop the process of decentralization are guided, those who are trying to put a spoke in the wheel.”

“I have some very unpleasant news for you: there is no ‘black bag of federalization,’ threats to the state in the amendments to the Constitution. And people should not be deceived.” also reported that Amb. Geoffrey Pyatt, the US envoy to Ukraine, also spoke at the meeting, urging that Ukraine pass the amendments to the Constitution:

“You have a window of opportunity to implement systemic changes to deepen reforms in all aspects of life at all levels of government. So now is the moment to press forward, to deliver on the promises of the Maidan. Among the most important elements of that effort is the work to develop a strong framework for decentralization and local self-governance in Ukraine, to bring government closer to its citizens. Especially important in this regard will be the Rada’s vote on the Constitutional amendments that will enshrine these decentralization reforms and lay a stable foundation for democratic, European standards of governance in Ukraine. As Speaker Groysman knows well, I can assure you, that Ukraine’s international partners will be watching very closely as the Rada makes its historic decision.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

1 Ukrainian Soldier Killed, 1 Wounded in the Donbass; Russian-Backed Militants Continue to Violate Ceasefire
One Ukrainian soldier was killed today when he triggered a tripwire, reported, citing Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the presidential administration for ATO afffairs. Another soldier was wounded in combat, he said. He characterized the situation along the line of contact as “low-intensity combat.”
According to a report on its Facebook page, the ATO said overnight, Russian-backed separatists fired 25 shots from 122-mm artillery which was supposed to have been withdrawn, in violation of the Minsk agreement.
Later in the day, the Russian-backed militants broke the ceasefire 11 times and fired 7 times on Ukrainian positions, in Peski, near Marinka and Zaytsevo and the Svetlodarsk bulge with grenade-launchers and firearms, the ATO reported.
In its report from yesterday posted today, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission reported on a number of explosions:

The SMM observed the security situation in Donbas. While in “DPR”-controlled Kyivksyi district of Donetsk city, around the remains of Donetsk airport (12km north-west of Donetsk), the SMM heard three undetermined explosions (two of them were assessed to have been caused by artillery) and multiple shots and bursts of small-arms fire at locations 1-9km north-north-west and north-west of its positions.[1] Two residents (a man and a woman, middle-aged) separately told the SMM that they heard the sound of small-arms fire coming from the airport on a daily basis.

In government-controlled Marinka (23km south-west of Donetsk), the SMM heard multiple shots and bursts of small-arms 2km north-east of its position. While in “DPR”-controlled Petrovskyi district of Donetsk city (20km south-west of Donetsk city centre), on the opposite side of Marinka across the contact line, the SMM heard two undetermined explosions 1-4km south and south-west of its position.

From the evening of 21 January to the early morning of 22 January, in government-controlled Svitlodarsk (57km north-east of Donetsk), the SMM heard several bursts of heavy-machine-gun and small-arms fire at locations 7km south and south-west of its position.

The OSCE SMM also said there were still Russian-backed separatists in Razdolnoye (Rozdolne ), at an occupied school which we had covered last year

The SMM monitored the presence of other hardware. It observed three infantry fighting vehicles with mounted 73mm cannons (BMP-1) and a number of “DPR” members in military-style uniform and one military-type truck (Ural) at a firing range in “DPR”- controlled Rozdolne (46km south-east of Donetsk).

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick