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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Three Ukrainian soldiers have been wounded in the Mariupol area within the last 24 hours.
According to this morning’s ATO Press Centre report, attacks were concentrated near Donetsk, Gorlovka and Mariupol.
In turn, the ‘defence ministry’ of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) has accused Ukrainian forces of shelling separatist-held settlements in the same three areas.
Colonel Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for the Ukrainian Presidential Administration told reporters earlier:
In addition to grenade launcher and machine gun attacks across the front in the Donetsk region, Russian-backed fighters have also reportedly used mortars several times.
At around 20:00, Russian-backed fighters reportedly shelled Ukrainian positions near Opytnoye, north of Donetsk, with mortars, firing six rounds.
Meanwhile military spokesman Aleksandr Kindsfater told 0629.com.ua that Ukrainian positions outside Krasnogorovka, west of the city had also been shelled with 82 mm mortars.
Around an hour ago, the ATO Press Centre reported further mortar shelling of positions near Avdeyevka and the Butovka mine, as well as in the south, near Shirokino.
The BBC’s Tom Burridge travelled to the front line yesterday and reported that shelling could be heard:
Ukraine crisis: Renewed fighting in eastern Europe's 'forgotten war' – BBC News
The BBC's Tom Burridge visits the front line in eastern Ukraine, where there has been an upsurge in fighting.
Wednesday, EU diplomats agreed on the sanctions extension, and the European Council approved that decision today. RFE/RL reports that one name has been removed from the list:
Other prominent figures on the EU blacklist for the alleged misappropriation of Ukrainian state funds include two former prime ministers, Mykola Azarov and Serhiy Arbuzov, and the former head of Yanukovych’s presidential administration, Andriy Kliuiev.
EU officials say Ukraine’s former Health Minister Raisa Bohatyriova was removed from the blacklist because she has returned stolen assets to the Ukrainian authorities.
This week the White House has also extended US sanctions against former Ukrainian officials and also prominent Russians connected to the illegal annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbass. The executive orders passed are, according to the official White House statement, a response “to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States constituted by the actions and policies of persons that undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets.”
— James Miller
Ukrainska Pravda reports, citing “sources in the Presidential Administration,” that finance minister Natalie Jaresko has provisionally agreed to accept the post of prime minister, replacing the beleaguered Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
American-born Jaresko is highly regarded not only in Ukraine but internationally, and her appointment would be seen as a victory for the reformist camp which has suffered this year from the departure of Aivaras Abromavicius, the economy minister, and deputy prosecutor general Vitaliy Kasko.
Ukrainska Pravda‘s Maria Zhartovskaya wrote this afternoon that leading figures in the government had been trying to persuade Yatsenyuk to resign, with the governing coalition collapsing after last month saw the withdrawal of both the Batkivshchyna and Sampomich parties.
Yatsenyuk narrowly survived a vote of no-confidence on February 16:
Zhartovskaya claims that prior to the departure of both parties from the coalition, Yatsenyuk had agreed to resign on the condition that Jaresko be appointed his successor.
He agreed this, she says, with the belief that Jaresko would never accept the post and he would therefore be able to stay in office. Jaresko had already dismissed talk of assuming the premiership when Abromavicius resigned, naming her appointment as a condition of his return.
However the subsequent collapse of the coalition and growing anxiety among Ukraine’s Western partners and the International Monetary Fund have made the situation all the more urgent.
A source close to President Petro Poroshenko told Zhartovskaya that negotiations with Jaresko have been taking place at the Presidential Administration throughout the last week.
The finance minister has put forth some conditions: Government posts must be assigned on a technocratic basis, rather than using party quotas. There must also be “direct dialogue with parliament.”
Support for government initiatives from all factions of the coalition, including Bloc Petro Poroshenko, where the current finance minister has had difficult relationships with certain MPs. For example, with Nina Yuzhanina, who last year registered an alternative tax code bill.
In addition, Jaresko has proposed several candidates for a future government – Boris Lozhkin, head of the Presidential Administration, and Dmytro Shimkyv, deputy head of the Administration and former CEO of Microsoft Ukraine. Jaresko suggested both men for the post of deputy prime minister, and current deputy economy minister Yulia Kovaliv to head the Ministry of Energy.
Jaresko also named several individuals she would not work with in the Cabinet. These included another deputy head of the Presidential Administration, Vitaliy Kovalchuk, as well as energy minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn and Pavlo Rozenko, the minister for social development.
According to Zhartovskaya, the Administration has provisionally agreed to these conditions, though the make up of the remainder of the cabinet remains undecided.
— Pierre Vaux
Lawyers defending Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian prisoner of war on trial in Russia after being illegally transported from separatist captivity in Lugansk, say that their client has formally declared a “dry” hunger strike and demands no intervention to save her life.
Yesterday Savchenko announced her intent to stop drinking water as of today after the judge at her trial in the Russian border town of Donetsk cut her off during her final speech.
Nikolai Polozov, one of Savchenko’s lawyers, wrote on his Facebook page this morning:
“Been to see Nadiya. He decision is unchanged. Nadezhda Savchenko’s only condition and demand before ceasing her dry hunger strike is her immediate return to Ukraine.
Nadezhda’s sister Vera and the consul will now meet with her. But, judging by everything, there is no chance of Nadiya changing her mind.”
Another of her lawyers, Mark Feygin, posted a photo of Savchenko’s latest statements on Twitter:
Have left Nadezhda at the jail. This is her statement.
In the longer letter, Savchenko writes in Russian:
I, Nadezhda Viktorivna Savchenko, a Ukrainian, a citizen of Ukraine, declare a dry hunger strike from March 4, 2016, until my return to Ukraine, alive or dead!
Savchenko wrote that her dry hunger strike was “a protest against the actions of the Russian authorities, the Russian intelligence services, the investigators, judges and prosecutors of the Russian Federation.”
They are guilty of violations of international law, by abducting me from Ukraine, forcibly transporting to Russia and illegally holding me in Russian jails, and the crooked trial hanging over me.
I prohibit attempts to induce me out of my hunger strike in the SIZO [pre-trial detention centre] or in Russia in general.
I prohibit any tests on me or for anyone to force me to take any medication. I prohibit Russian doctors or SIZO staff to touch me. I will agree only to be seen by doctors from Ukraine or Europe.
If I am still alive by March 9 [the date the trial is due to resume], I demand to be brought to the courtroom.
In the event of my death, I prohibit an autopsy on my body and demand it be delivered whole to my mother and sister.
My decision is final.
Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group translates the shorter note, written in Ukrainian:
Freedom has no price!
I don’t believe anyone in Russia! I am not afraid, and not asking for anything!
This is my final word!
With Ukraine in my heart, Nadiya Savchenko.
Coynash’s comments on Savchenko’s statements over the last 24 hours are worth reading, as they highlight not only the huge risk Savchenko is taking with her life, but also the impact of failing to lodge an appeal in the hope that a quick conviction will allow her to return to Ukraine:
In protest over the sudden refusal to let her give her final statement, Nadiya Savchenko has announced that from Friday she will refuse even water. Her defiance is courageous as ever, her speech stirring, but the chilling fear remains that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has no track record for respecting human life, will not budge.
The former military pilot was reacting to the sudden about-turn in court on Thursday and announcement that her final address to the court would be postponed until Feb 9. If the delay was aimed at preventing the foreign journalists present reporting her powerful indictment of Russia’s treatment of her, it almost certainly backfired. If Savchenko maintains her threat to go on a total hunger strike from Friday, then it is likely that by March 9, she will already be in a gravely weakened state. She has not been taking food since mid-December and she will surely lose strength rapidly.
The postponement until March 9 was announced just after 16.00 and clearly came as a shock to the defence team. Ilya Novikov tweeted that it could be to prevent her final address, or because something was wrong with the paperwork and they wanted to send the case back to the investigators. The latter would seem incredible given the huge amount of elements in the prosecution’s case that do not add up. The equally flawed case against Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov did not stop a military court in August 2015 from passing a 20 year sentence, despite absolutely no grounds, and after one of the two other defendants had, at considerable risk to himself, retracted all testimony as given under torture. All democratic countries and European structures have made their condemnation of the proceedings abundantly clear.
The address Nadiya Savchenko was planning to make is undoubtedly strong. She rejects all the charges and any verdict, and reiterates her earlier stance that she will not appeal a conviction. She says that she wants the entire “civilized democratic world to see that Russia is a third-world country with a totalitarian regime ruled by a petty dictator, a country that spits on human rights and international law”. She refuses to have any part in an absurd trial where those who abduct and torture people then put them on trial.
As noted here, this position is of serious concern. In fact, Nadiya Savchenko has taken part in the trial up till now, despite its absurdity and the obvious collaboration between the prosecution and court. Even if she is returned to Ukraine, as is to be hoped, Russia abducted her and has held her in detention for nearly two years. It would be a fatal mistake to reject the opportunity to take Russia to the European Court of Human Rights, yet the latter would be forced to reject any application if all possible appeals had not been lodged. The Court will not make exceptions just because the outcome is known in advance.
In the written version of her address, posted by her sister Vera, Nadiya says that she will continue the present hunger strike for 10 days until the verdict, in the absence of appeal, comes into force. She notes that this is regardless of how long it takes to get the Ukrainian translation, since she’s seen how they drag things out.
After that, she planned to warn, she would go on a total dry hunger strike. She predicts that Russia would have around 10 days after which, if they had not returned her alive, they would be returning her body. She warned that during those 10 days her sister would stand vigil outside the prison. If they imprisoned Vera Savchenko, then her elderly mother would stand in. If they dared arrest her, then there would be friends, and simply Ukrainians. They couldn’t arrest them all.
If the court had seen the speech in advance, then this part of the text would have undoubtedly made them turn pale. Nadiya Savchenko points out that there will be ordinary decent Russians who will come to the prison gates to provide hot tea and food for those standing vigil. Each of them understands that their child could end up there also in that prison which is Russia.
This, she says is how Maidan begins – the mass protests that the Russian regime fears like fire. The Kremlin would be better off returning her to Ukraine now and alive!
The speech is stirring, but the chilling fear remains that the Kremlin will not react. Just over a year ago, Mustafa Dzhemiliev, the renowned Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP who himself spent 15 years in Soviet labour camps, called on Nadiya to stop her first hunger strike. He used the same argument with which, when he was equally resolute in 1975, Andrei Sakharov had saved his life. Mustafa Dzhemiliev had been allowed a visit from his mother and elder brother because his condition had become critical. He explains that even then he was totally resolute. Then his brother managed to slip him a card from Sakharov. It read: “Mustafa, son, I’ve done everything I could and I now ask just one thing: enough of this hunger strike – your death will only bring joy to our enemies.”
Nadiya Savchenko did not immediately heed that call, but did finally stop the hunger strike and has continued fighting through other means. She can continue doing so now. A total hunger strike, without even water, in a country whose leaders have so often demonstrated their total lack of respect for human life is a terrifying risk.