Day 760: Putin Visits Occupied Crimea On Anniversary Of Annexation

March 18, 2016
Putin poses with Arkady Rotenberg and builders at the construction site of the Kerch bridge. Photo: Dmitry Smirnov


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


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


Radio Polsha Publishes Full ‘Savchenko List’

Radio Polsha has obtained a copy of the so-called ‘Savchenko List’ containing the names of Russian officials the Ukrainian government has proposed to be placed on EU sanctions lists for the involvement in the abduction and show trial of Nadiya Savchenko.

President Poroshenko arrived in Brussels yesterday and gave copies of the list to Donald Tusk and Martin Schulz, the Presidents of the European Council and the European Parliament. 

The documents, published by Radio Polsha, contain the names of 46 people, including the director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Aleksandr Bortnikov, and the head of the Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin, as well as Ukrainian Igor Plotnitsky, the head of the self-declared Lugansk People’s Republic.

Earlier today President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, claimed that the list did not exist.

TASS reported:

“There is no Savchenko list, let us take it for granted,” he told journalists.

Hence, in his words, any speculations on that matter are out of place. “There is no ground for comment on that matter,” the Kremlin spokesman added.

Here are the documents in full:








Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer, was captured by militants near Lugansk in June, 2014. She was subsequently illegally transported across the border to Russia and put on trial for the alleged murder of two Russian journalists. 

Radio Polsha also published an attached list of Ukrainian citizens illegally detained in Russia:


— Pierre Vaux

US Says Ceasefire Violations Bringing Us To A “Dangerous Phase” In Ukraine Conflict

Kate M. Byrnes,  Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the OSCE and Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, has told the OSCE that “we have entered a dangerous new phase of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.”

We have entered a dangerous new phase of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Two weeks ago, the Permanent Council was alerted to the fact that ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine reached their highest levels since August 2015. The following week, they doubled. This week, they doubled again.

In February alone, OSCE monitors reported 15,000 ceasefire violations, the vast majority of which originated on the separatist-controlled side of the line of contact. Fighting is not limited to the exchange of gunfire, but involves the widespread use by the separatists of Grads, heavy artillery, mortars and other banned heavy weapons.

The routine use of heavy weapons places innocent civilians in jeopardy. In February 2016, the SMM documented the use by Russian-backed separatists of schools and even a hospital as armed positions. It is particularly concerning that the SMM regularly registers outgoing separatist mortar and artillery salvos fired from Donetsk’s residential areas. The use of heavy weapons in residential neighborhoods is contrary to the Minsk agreements and must cease.

Colleagues, we share the concern noted by the SMM that tensions have risen and fighting has worsened as positions along the contact line have moved closer. We call on all sides to avoid provocative actions that risk escalating the violence further. We must also point out, however, that attempts by the Russian Federation to place the blame for this situation on Ukraine are misleading. According to information available in SMM reports, Ukrainian forces are largely returning fire when fired upon by combined Russian-separatist forces, and moving personnel to new positions on the Ukrainian side of the contact line when their existing positions come under sustained fire from heavy weapons. In contrast, combined Russian-separatist forces continue to attack Ukrainian positions.

The United States remains convinced that a sustainable ceasefire is the key to unlocking the political aspects of the Minsk agreements. Without a genuine, sustained ceasefire, neither Moscow nor the self-appointed authorities in separatist-controlled parts of the Donbas should expect the Ukrainian Rada to take up key outstanding political provisions of the Minsk agreements, including election modalities and constitutional amendments on decentralization, before the Kremlin and the separatists it supports fulfill their basic security commitments under Minsk

As we have been reporting, the OSCE is not alone in reporting an increase in fighting, but the media, by and large, appears to be ignoring the conflict in Ukraine. A search in English on Google’s news page, for instance, reveals that we see no mention of ceasefire violations in Ukraine until the third page of results:

2016-03-18 19:54:07

In fact, the media is downplaying the violence. Earlier today the Associated Press wrote this:

Fighting has subsided in eastern Ukraine since the deal was signed in Minsk, Belarus, in February last year. It provided for a cease-fire as well as a political transition in Ukraine’s industrial heartland, where fighting has killed over 9,100 people.

Since wire services, radio stations, and TV news spots about Ukraine tend to be coached by such summaries, even news consumers interested in Ukraine might be under the impression that the fighting is fading. But, indeed, evidence suggests the opposite is true.

So while we agree that we are entering a “dangerous new phase of the conflict,” Byrnes may be preaching to the choir while the world ignores the danger.

James Miller

1 Ukrainian Soldier Killed, 3 Wounded, With Fighting Towards Mariupol And Gorlovka

One Ukrainian soldier has been killed and three wounded over the last day, announced Colonel Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, at noon today.

Lysenko said that one soldier had been killed and two wounded by an explosive device in the village of Gnutovo, northeast of Mariupol, while another had been wounded by mortar fire in Novotroitskoye, on the highway between the port city and separatist-held Donetsk.

Military spokesman Aleksandr Kindsfater told the 112 television channel this morning that there had been 15 attacks over 24 hours in what the Ukrainian military calls ‘Sector M,’ covering the conflict zone to the south and west of Donetsk.

According to Kindsfater, Russian-backed fighters used 120 and 82 mm mortars seven times to shell positions near not only Novotroitskoye, but Shirokino, on the coast.

Elsewhere, grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and small arms were used in further attacks near Marinka, Krasnogorovka, Lebedinskoye, Vinogradnoye and Vodyanoye.

The ATO Press Centre reported another 27 attacks to the north and east of Donetsk, bringing yesterday’s total to 42.

According to this morning’s report, there was a marked reduction in violence near Avdeyevka and Yasinovataya, northeast of the city, due to the presence of a monitoring team from the OSCE.

But shelling continued in the Gorlovka area, where mortars were used to shell Zaytsevo, north of the separatist-held town, and Luganskoye, to the east, where Kiev claims around 200 82 mm shells fell, accompanied by fire from BMP infantry fighting vehicles, grenade launchers and anti-aircraft artillery.

Meanwhile the Russian state-owned TASS news agency reports, citing separatist claims, that Ukrainian forces shelled Donetsk Airport and the Zhabichevo neighbourhood just to the south last night with mortars and grenade launchers.

— Pierre Vaux

Russian-Backed Separatist Leader: Ceasefire Could Take Years To Implement In Ukraine

The Minsk agreement of September 2014, and the second Minsk agreement of February 2015, were both supposed to bring about a ceasefire immediately, followed immediately by the withdrawal of heavy arms from the front, followed by other steps — such as elections, according to Ukrainian law, in separatist-held territory and the granting of “special status” to the Donbass. These initial steps were supposed to be rapidly implemented, and then a broader conversation about the reintegration of the Donbass region would begin.

It never happened. Both ceasefire agreements were immediately broken by the Russian-backed fighters, and while fighting is at a lower level than it was in, say, February 2015, and while a September ceasefire was more successful for a period of time, fighting is once again growing hotter, seemingly with every week.

The Russian-backed separatists, who have had the opportunity to hold several elections according to Ukrainian law but have failed to do so, have pointed to the fact that the Ukrainian government has still not granted Donetsk and Lugansk more autonomy under the law. Ukrainian lawmakers, however, continue to insist that a ceasefire must be complied with before that step can happen. This week, US Ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt clarified the US position in this ongoing debate:   

But today the leaders of the Russian-backed separatists said that the implementation of a ceasefire could take “years,” or even more than a decade. The Associated Press reports:

Denis Pushilin, who represents the rebels in Minsk, was quoted by the rebel mouthpiece Donetsk News Agency on Friday as saying that the way the truce is being implemented right now, it could take 10 to 15 years to comply with all of its statures.

James Miller

Putin Visits Occupied Crimea On Anniversary Of Annexation

President Vladimir Putin is visiting the Russian-occupied Crimea region today on the second anniversary of Russia’s formal annexation of the peninsula.

Putin is touring the construction site of the Kerch bridge, which will link the occupied region with Russia.

Translation: Vladimir Putin will inspect the bridge to Crimea from a helicopter and talk with builders on Tuzla Island.

Translation: Vladimir Putin has landed on Tuzla Island at the construction platform for the bridge to Crimea.

Putin posed for photographs with builders on the site and the contractor for the project, Arkady Rotenberg, a close friend of the President and regular recipient of state contracts.

Translation: The builders asked Putin for a photo, he called out to Rotenberg, standing modestly at the edge: Come here, you’re a builder too!

While the Kremlin has used the annexation of Crimea to boost patriotism and Putin’s popularity, with celebrations planned today to mark the anniversary, Russia’s Vedomosti daily called the event “more than a mistake” in an editorial today.

Amongst the negative effects of the occupation, Vedomosti cited the international isolation of Russia following the occupation; the militarisation of society within Russia; and the economic cost of supporting the new territory combined with losses from sanctions and war.

The article concludes:

The annexation of Crimea was an obvious mistake, wich the Kremlin, just like the majority of Russian citizens, will not recognise for a long time. But we continue to pay for it.

Furthermore, as Human Rights Watch points out today, Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists have been subjected to persecution under the Russian occupation. 

Since Russian forces began occupying Crimea in early 2014, the space for free speech, freedom of association, and media in Crimea has shrunk dramatically. In two years, authorities have failed to conduct meaningful investigations into actions of armed paramilitary groups, implicated in torture, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, attacks and beatings of Crimean Tatar and pro-Ukraine activists and journalists.

Ukraine: Fear, Repression in Crimea

(Berlin) – Russian authorities have created a pervasive climate of fear and repression in Crimea in the two years since it has occupied the peninsula, Human Rights Watch said today. It is crucial for key international actors to keep Crimea's drastically deteriorating human rights situation high on their agendas.

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Mar 18, 2016 11:59 (GMT)

Meanwhile the Speaker of the Russian State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin claimed today that the Ukrainian government is preparing “provocations” in Crimea.

Naryshkin accused Kiev of having “fomented inter-ethnic and inter-religious divisions in Crimea” since Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. 

— Pierre Vaux