Samopomich, one of the smaller members of the governing coalition, has called for the incumbent Cabinet to be replaced and is threatening to withdraw from the coalition. Meanwhile fighting continues apace in the Donbass.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.
For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: How We Know Russia Shot Down MH17.
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Shells continue to explode in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, but the fate of Ukraine may be decided in Berlin.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is in Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and discuss, among other things, the way to achieve peace in Donetsk and Lugansk, regions held by Russian-backed separatists.
But the peace process is littered with obstacles and contradictions.
If you ask the leaders of Germany, the United States, Ukraine, or Russia how to resolve the crisis in Ukraine they may all give the same answer — the implementation of the Minsk accords — but they will not mean the same things.
In brief, besides a ceasefire the Minsk agreements call for:
— the holding of local elections, according to Ukrainian law, in Donetsk and Lugansk;
— the designation by the Ukrainian government of Donetsk and Lugansk as regions with so-called “special status,” and thus more autonomy;
— the return of the control of the border to the Ukrainian military;
— the release of all hostages and prisoners of war;
— the withdrawal of “illegal armed groups and military equipment” from Ukraine.
The problem, however, is that the order of operations was never defined, and the various sides point to unfulfilled promises by the other as indication that the Minsk protocols are failures.
That said, it’s a mistake to dismiss the deadlock over Minsk with pure relativism by saying that both sides are equally at fault. For instance, elections are scheduled in advance, yet the Russian-backed separatists made no attempt to participate in last fall’s elections. Even after the September-iteration of the ceasefire, the OSCE still said new equipment was arriving in separatist territory from “somewhere” (i.e., Russia). Ukraine’s top negotiator now says that hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers have not been freed by Russian-backed fighters and may in fact be dead.
The Ukrainian government is very much divided on whether “special status” should be granted to Donetsk and Lugansk before they see concessions from the Russian-backed fighters and before a ceasefire is implemented. But so far no major Ukrainian politicians or parties have opposed the granting of greater autonomy to the Donbass entirely, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is working hard to pass conditional autonomy that will go into effect once a ceasefire is put in place.
In Europe there is yet a different division — whether or not to drop sanctions against Russia before Minsk is instituted. Crimea is yet another variable as some in the West are signaling that they’d be willing to normalize relations with Russia without the return of the illegally-annexed Ukrainian peninsula.
Poroshenko today reiterated his stance that sanctions against Russia must not be lifted until Minsk is fully implemented, and Angela Merkel agreed with him. RFE/RL reports:
“Sanctions against Russia must stay in place until Russia fully implements the Minsk agreement,” Poroshenko said at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
His comments were echoed by Merkel who said given the lack of sustainable peace, the European Union must renew sanctions against Russia over its role in the conflict.
Merkel, however, is also under pressure both from the rest of the EU and from her constituents at home. Domestically, anti-migrant sentiment has been rising as Germany struggles with the Middle Eastern refugee crisis. Pro-Russian and far-right political candidates are rising in many European countries as a result of this crisis, and many of those candidates see Western policies as a problem and Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of the solution. Russia has itself weighed in on this crisis, with Russian media spreading fake (and now thoroughly debunked) stories about a migrant who allegedly raped a young girl:
Officials like Merkel will be under increasing pressure to settle the crisis with Russia, renew trade at a time when the global economy is struggling, and turn away from policies that, thanks to Russian propaganda, have been closely associated with the United States.
Then there is Crimea. Even if Minsk is implemented, many of the sanctions against Russia were put in place after Crimea was annexed. Though more sanctions were levied after Russia’s invasion of the Donbass, is there an appetite in Europe to maintain sanctions even if Crimea is not returned?
All of these issues were also discussed on today’s Briefing by RFE/RL, which you can listen to and read here:
In a sensational development at her trial today, captured Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko revealed that she had identified one of her kidnappers as Pavel Karpov, at one time an aide to Kremlin “grey cardinal” Vladislav Surkov, who has been a key figure in the war in Ukraine. Surkov recently met with Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to discuss the Minsk agreement.
Savchenko’s Ukrainian attorney was able to obtain intercepts of conversations between Pavel and Valery Bolotov, the first leader of the self-declared “Lugansky People’s Republic” who was said by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) to coordinate with Russian intelligence in the invasion of the Donbass.
The follow is a translation by The Interpreter of the relevant tweets about Karpov’s involvement. Nikolai Polozov, Savchenko’s attorney, live-tweeted her testimony from the trial:
Translation: when I was driven, I was blindfolded, and heard how other captives were brought in. After that, Plotnitsky interrogated me.
The blindfold was evidently removed when Plotnitsky interrogated her.
Translation: We drove about 40 minutes, and turned left at the crossroads at Krasny Luch. The speed was about 80-100/km/hour.
Here Savchenko is blindfolded again:
Translation: The fingerprints of Vladislav Yuryevich [Surkov] (and his patron) are all over many criminal cases. That’s how it turned out.
The reference is to the cases involving an ultranationalist group BORN [Battle Organization of Russian Nationalists], accused of multiple murders, the main suspect of which, Ivan Goryachev, was defended by Feygin.
Translation: One of the BORN curators from the presidential administration was actually Pavel Karpov. This same person drove Nadezhda Savchenko from Lugansk to Russia.
“Curator” is a Russian intelligence term meaning case or agent manager.
Note: Pavel Nikolayevich Karpov, referenced here, is not the same person as the former investigator now on the Magnitsky List; his patronymic is “Aleksandrovich”.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
This morning the Ukrainian military reports attacks across the front line, with 53 attacks over the previous 24 hours.
According to the ATO Press Centre, Russian-backed fighters used 82 and 120 mm mortars, as well as infantry fighting vehicles (BMPs), grenade launchers and small arms.
To the west of Donetsk, Ukrainian positions near Krasnogorovka were shelled with 120 mm mortars while Marinka was attacked with grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.
To the north of the separatist-held city, there were attacks on Peski, Opytnoye and Avdeyevka.
The other hotspot was the Gorlovka area.
According to Colonel Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, not only were Ukrainian positions in the immediate surrounds of the separatist-held town attacked, but the second line of defences to the north were shelled with mortars.
Lysenko said that Ukrainian positions between Gorlovka and Novgorodskoye, to the west, had been under fire from mortars and BMPs “practically around the clock.”
Mortars were also used to shell Mayorsk and Zaytsevo, where a volunteer-driven medical vehicle was struck at a checkpoint yesterday, wounding a doctor and a soldier.
As a result of this attack, and the targeting on January 28 of another frontier checkpoint in Marinka, the military is reviewing the possibility of closing the entry-exit checkpoints to avoid the risk of civilian casualties as thousands of people pass through these checkpoints every day.
However Yuri Tandit, an adviser to the head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), told 112 last night that the government should keep the checkpoints open so that Ukrainian citizens on both sides of the frontier can maintain contact with their families.
It was in this same area that the Donetsk police report two civilians were wounded by tripwire mines.
According to the police, the men, aged 28 and 44, were taken to hospital in Dzerzhynsk after setting off the tripwire in the woods near the village of Leninskoye.
Separatist military spokesman Eduard Basurin claimed meanwhile that Ukrainian troops had shelled the north and west of Gorlovka, wounding four civilians and destroying 16 houses.
To the east of Gorlovka, Colonel Lysenko reported several small-arms skirmishes near Troitskoye and Luganskoye.
Meanwhile in the south of the Donetsk region, the military reports a mortar attack on Ukrainian positions in Starognatovka, east of Volnovakha.
In the Lugansk region, 120 mm mortars were reportedly used to shell positions near Stanitsa Luganskaya, northeast of separatist-held Lugansk city.
The Samopomich party is today demanding the resignation of the incumbent government and the prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and threatening to withdraw from the governing coalition.
The party’s minister for agriculture, Oleksiy Pavlenko, offered his resignation on January 29 after the Samopomich political council decided to withdraw him from the Cabinet.
Samopomich MP Tetiana Ostrikova told the 112 television channel this morning that the party is making a declaration of no-confidence in the current government.
Ostrikova said that if the party’s demand for the complete resignation of the government is not complied with, they may withdraw their members from the coalition.
“We will decide separately on the the question of withdrawal from the coalition, in the even that the government is not completely reformatted, depending on whether we will be represented in this government and how we are represented in it.”
Ukrainska Pravda later reported that Samopomich’s Oleh Berezyuk had told a meeting of the Rada Coordination Council that the party wants coalition members to put forth three candidates for replacing Yatsenyuk.
UNIAN explains that Samopomich and Batkivshchyna, which also seeks the dismissal of former member Yatsenyuk, will have an opportunity to get a no-confidence vote in the Rada when the parliament receives the annual progress report from the Cabinet:
Article 228 of the Verkhovna Rada’s rules and regulations says that once a year the parliament shall hear the government’s report on its performance and the implementation of the Cabinet’s action program. The government shall present its report within 45 days after the calendar year is over.
Should the Cabinet’s performance be recognized unsatisfactory, the MPs could initiate a no-confidence vote.
Rada Chairman Volodymyr Groysman earlier announced that the parliament may consider a Cabinet report from February 16 to February 19.
Meanwhile President Poroshenko has signed a bill ordering the Central Electoral Commission to hold a repeat election in Kryvyi Rih, Dnipropetrovsk region, where Samopomich lost by 752 votes to the Opposition Bloc in a controversial ballot last year.
— Pierre Vaux