Day 728: Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaly Kasko Resigns, Excoriates Shokin And Corrupt System

February 15, 2016
A house burns on Oktyabrskaya St. in separatist-held Staromikhailovka in eastern Ukraine after shelling on February 14, 2016. Screen grab from video uploaded by J Day.

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


Ukrainian Authorities End Protesters’ Blockade in Zakarpattia, But They Threaten to Return

About 70 activists continued a blockade of Russian trucks today, blocking the international highway between Kiev and Chop in the area of Suskovo outside of Svaliava in Zakarpattia Region, reported.


2016-02-15 22:06:12

They said they were blocking Russian trucks in retaliation for Russia blocking their colleagues from Zakarpattia, who had started the blockade of Russian trucks on February 11 which has already spread to 11 regions of Ukraine.

Ukrainian long-distance truck drivers have demanded that Ukrainian authorities intervene to get removed the blockade of Ukrainian drivers across Russia, primarily to Kazakhstan and back.
“Apparently these demands were being put rather spontaneously by Zakarpattian drivers,” commented saying journalists were unable to reach anyone who was coordinating the protests. Most of the drivers at the protest were from the village of Zareche, known for its truckers.
After the police and Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) arrived on at the scene at 14:30, the blockade was lifted. The protesters said they would give the government until tomorrow evening February 16 to begin “solving their problem” — the Russian blockade — or they would continue to blockade Russian trucks in the future.
Ukraine has temporarily halted permission for trucks from Russia to transit Ukraine until they clarify the situation. 
On February 14, Russia began stopping all trucks registered in Ukraine from passing through Russia in response to the blockade of Russian trucks in some regions of Ukraine, reported.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said 100 trucks were blocked coming into Ukraine and more than 500 could not return to Russia from the EU.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry sent a note verbale to the Russian Federation in protest. The blockades are part of a larger trade war between Ukraine and Russia. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Ukraine was demanding from Russia not just explanations but an end to the practice of barring Ukrainian trucks from passage through Russia to other countries. He also said Ukraine would consult with EU colleagues on the matter.
Activists claimed that Romania had also joined the blockage, but this could not be independently confirmed.
RIA Novosti reported the story of the blockade today, emphasizing that ultranationalists from Right Sector were said to be participating in the Zakarpattia blockade, although the Ukrainian media had not referenced them.
No mention was made of Russia’s own blockade of Ukrainian trucks.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the activists running the blockade “insane bandits.” He said authorities in Odessa were unable to maintain order in the fact of extremist groups. 

As we reported, on Saturday, February 13, activists in a number of Ukrainian regions blocked Russian trucks on highways when Poland decided to ban the entry of Russian truck traffic through its territory. Trucks that had previously gone from Russia to the EU through Belarus began to enter Ukraine to get to Zakarpatiia and then to Slovakia or Hungary.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Bloc Petro Poroshenko MPs Reportedly Favour Vote On Dismissal Of Yatsenyuk As Soon As February 17

RBC Ukraine reports that MPs from President Petro Poroshenko’s political party have decided to vote for the dismissal of the prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Sergei Kaplin, an MP in Bloc Petro Poroshenko (BPP), told RBC that the majority of BPP MPs supported a vote on Yatsenyuk’s dismissal as soon as February 17.

Serhiy Leshchenko, another BPP MP, told Ukrainska Pravda that party members will begin collecting signatures for a declaration of no confidence in the Yatsenyuk government in the Verkhovna Rada.

If 150 signatures are collected, BPP will vote in favour of the dismissal. 

Kaplin told RBC that he is sure that this threshold will be reached tomorrow. 

An Ukrainksa Pravda correspondent reported that President Poroshenko was present at the meeting of his party, which lasted no less than an hour, but did not express a clear position on the calls for Yatsenyuk’s dismissal.

Instead, Poroshenko asked his MPs to vote in favour of eight bills required to continue progress with the European Union on a visa-free regime, and for further cooperation with the International Monetary Fund.

Poroshenko did however admit that he shared widespread concerns with the ineffectiveness of the government:

“When ministers spoke on the 1+1 [television channel] about the government’s achievements, even I did not believe them.”

He will not, however allow an early round of parliamentary elections. 

In general, Ukrainska Pravda reports, Poroshenko’s aim at the meeting was to ensure that he was seen as neutral, and to relay to MPs the risks at hand and the position of Ukraine’s Western partners.

Afterwards, BPP MPs met with Yatsenyuk, who warned that:

“We are going, like sheep, into the year 2005.”

MP Yuriy Lutsenko replied however that:

“Back then the president was an unpopular figure who dismissed a popular prime minister, but now the president is the most popular figure.”

— Pierre Vaux

Heavy Shelling Continues Apace In The Donbass

The Ukrainian military claims that Russian-backed fighters fired more than 160 mortar rounds yesterday, with 71 attacks recorded over 24 hours by 6:00 this morning. Over the next 12 hours, Kiev says, there have been another 29 attacks.

According to this evening’s report from the ATO Press Centre, Russian-backed fighters today used 82 and 120 mm mortars in attacks near Kominternovo, Gnutovo, Krasnogorovka and Zaytsevo. 

Ukrainian positions near Nikolaevka, Novgorodskoye, Peski and Marinka were attacked with grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.

Today’s attacks follow a night of heavy fighting.

Novosti Donbassa reported at 22:37 last night that fighting was under way on the outskirts of separatist-held Donetsk, with heavy shelling towards the Ukrainian-held suburbs of Marinka and Krasnogorovka. Residents reported that tanks were on the move in separatist-held Staromikhailovka.

This video captures the sound of fighting in Peski:

Burning house yesterday in Staromikhailovka:

The Ukrainian military reported that mortars were used in attacks on Krasnogorovka, Peski, Mayorsk, Zaytsevo, Talakovka and Gnutovo, where a fire-fight broke out between Ukrainian and Russian-backed fighters.

Later, Ukrainian military intelligence claimed that 152 mm Msta-B howitzers had been used to shell Ukrainian troops from positions near separatist-held Yenakievo.

The ‘defence ministry’ of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claims meanwhile, that Ukrainian forces shelled separatist-held territory more than 200 times over 24 hours.

Tonight, there are further reports of fighting around Donetsk and on the highway south to Mariupol:

Translation: Dull, heavy rumbles and vibrations are reaching us from the southwest.

Translation: #Marinka impact on the balcony of house 17 on Zavodskaya street. Nothing has struck Zavodskaya since 03.06.15

— Pierre Vaux

Russian-Backed Prosecutor General Of Crimea Seeks To Ban Crimean Tatar Mejlis

Natalia Poklonsaya, the Prosecutor General of Russian-occupied Crimea, has filed a request to ban the Mejlis, the self-governing assembly of Crimean Tatars.

The Russian state-owned TASS news agency reports that Nariman Dzhelyalov, the deputy chairman of the Mejlis, received a copy of the lawsuit from Poklonskaya today.

Poklonskaya wants to ban the Mejlis on the basis of Russian anti-extremism law.

The text states:

“At the present time we continue to receive appeals from the Crimean Tatar population, including the leaders of Crimean Tatar associations, with the request to recognise the illegal and provocative activities of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, and also to take action in the form of a ban on the use of the Crimean Tatar national flag by criminals conducting blockades and sabotage against the people of Crimea.”

The occupying Russian authorities have long targeted the Mejlis and the wider Crimean Tatar community with repeated searches, the closure of libraries, and arrests. Numerous Crimean Tatar men have also gone missing, with some subsequently found tortured and killed.

Pierre Vaux

Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaly Kasko Resigns, Excoriates Shokin And Corrupt System

Vitaly Kasko, the deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine, has resigned, complaining of corruption and claiming that Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin has sabotaged his work.

This is just the latest in a string of high-profile resignations by Ukrainian officials frustrated with corruption and failed reforms.

The Kyiv Post reports that Kasko told reporters at a press conference today:

“The same political interference, direct and total pressure on investigators and prosecutors, intentional professional degradation, inaction and impunity hide behind the screen of an allegedly reformed body. The Prosecutor General’s Office is currently a dead body, and no one believes in its independence and efficiency anymore.” 

Kasko said that Shokin had failed to reform the Prosecutor’s Office by hiring in outsiders and that there was no chance of creating a European, rather than Soviet prosecutorial system under his leadership. 

The last straw that made Kasko resign was the sabotage by the Prosecutor General’s Office of bribery cases against top prosecutors Oleksandr Korniets and Volodymyr Shapakin.

They were arrested last July by investigators reporting to Kasko and Deputy Prosecutor General Davit Sakvarelidze but subsequently released on bail.

Kasko said the Korniets case had been sent to court on Jan. 4.

In February prosecutors filed another notice of suspicion against Korniets, accusing him of extorting bribes from a company called Nikol San and then seizing the business.

In an effort to sabotage the case, Shokin on the same day deprived Kasko of authority to investigate the case, Kasko said.

He added that there were two more charges against Korniets coming up, including one considering the origin of the diamonds found in his house.

“I do not rule out that after my resignation these proceedings will be wrecked. The latest developments in the case against (Yanukovych ally Yury) Ivanyushchenko confirmed that (derailing investigations) is what the Prosecutor’s General Office does better than anything else,” he said.

Kyiv’s Solomyansky Court ordered the Prosecutor General’s Office last month to close an embezzlement case against Ivanyushchenko. The court argued that prosecutors had not taken any action to prove the suspect’s guilt.

Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Kiev, has expressed his disappointment:

— Pierre Vaux