Ukraine Day 779: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
- READ OUR SPECIAL REPORT:
Voters soundly rejected Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the European Union. If less than 30% of registered voters actually cast ballots, the referendum is not valid. Either way it is non-binding.
— James Miller
The referendum, which is non-binding, will also get thrown out if voter turnout is less than 30%. The AP reports that it’s unclear whether this threshold has been met:
According to the exit poll conducted by Ipsos for national broadcaster NOS, turnout was 29 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percent for the turnout, which would need to reach 30 percent for the vote to be valid.
The Swedish politician Carl Bildt, a staunch supporter of Ukraine, has noted that relatively few people took to the polls to vote no:
Still, that’s positive spin on what could be bad news for supporters of the Ukrainian government.
The vote is non-binding, but it could pressure Dutch officials and political candidates into decreasing support for Ukraine, or even dropping sanctions on Russia.
Either way it’s good news for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Journalist Oliver Bullough is clearly displeased by the amount of influence the Kremlin has had in this debate:
Dutch citizens went to the polls today to vote on a referendum about whether to support the European Union’s Association Agreement with Ukraine or not.
The EU Association Agreement was the cause for which EuroMaidan fought in Kiev, losing more than 100 demonstrators to government snipers’ bullets. For Ukraine, the agreement is symbolic as much as it is practical since it means a turn away from the oppression of the Soviet era and Russian domination which has continued in recent decades, and a free integration with Europe.
The final results are not available yet but the Ukrainian media was reporting an exit poll that appeared to indicate majority support for the treaty.
Yet there are report this hour that indicate in fact those opposing the agreement have won.
It now appears that the only issue regarding the referendum is whether there was sufficient turnout of 30% to make the non-binding motion valid.
Opponents of the Association Agreement have strove to position themselves as Dutch patriots, not tools of Moscow, dealing with a question about alliances in general that may undermine sovereignty.
But there’s no doubt that the Kremlin meddled in this ballot as in others in Europe for its own interests.
On the eve of the ballot, a video appeared with obvious signs of concoction by Kremlin troll farms that purported to show the right-wing Azov battalion as threatening a terrorist attack on the Netherlands if the vote didn’t go in its favor.
The social media analysis group Bellingcat debunked the video as a fake.
While non-binding, the vote but could have a cascading effect in the EU regarding sanctions against Russia of its annexation of the Crimea and invasion of Donbass. It’s also seen as an indicator for the outcome of the “Brexit” referendum coming up in three months in the UK. The Dutch referendum is thus a plebiscite on the EU in general, and anti-EU politicians such as conservative anti-immigration Party of Freedom leader Geert Wilders have promoted it heavily.
So far, Moscow’s plans to divide and undermine the EU for its own agenda and to thwart Ukraine appear to be working.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Mark Feygin, a lawyer defending Nadiya Savchenko, reports on Twitter this afternoon that Ukrainian consuls are not being allowed access to his client in jail (SIZO):
Translation: Ukrainian consuls Kovtun and Moskalenko are not being allowed into SIZO-3 to see Nadiya. They could, theoretically, be starting her transfer. I wouldn’t put it past them.
As we reported earlier today, Savchenko has declared another dry hunger strike and has stopped drinking water.
She is due to be transferred to a prison colony within the next ten days as her 22-year sentence came into effect yesterday.
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrainian military reports that yesterday saw 76 attacks by Russian-backed fighters, wounding four Ukrainian servicemen. In addition, one civilian, a resident of Ukrainian-held Selidovo, was wounded by a mine blast.
According to this morning’s ATO Press Centre report, heavy weaponry, including 120 and 82 mm mortars, was used 23 times.
Some of the heaviest fighting was seen near Avdeyevka, north of separatist-held Donetsk.
The ATO Press Centre claimed that over 24 hours, Russian-backed fighters had fired on Ukrainian positions in this area 22 times.
Maxim Tucker, reporter for The Times, posted this video this morning:
Last night Tucker stayed with Ukrainian troops in the Marinka suburb, west of Donetsk, where he reported sniper fire:
The Ukrainian military also reports attacks on positions near Opytnoye and Peski, north of Donetsk, as well as Luganskoye and Zaytsevo, near Gorlovka.
Military press officer Aleksandr Kindsfater reported that Russian-backed fighters had used 82 and 120 mm mortars to shell Ukrainian positions in Krasnogorovka, west of Donetsk, as well as Berdyanskoye and Shirokino, near Mariupol.
According to Kindsfater, around four mortar rounds were fired at Ukrainian marines’ positions near Shirokino between 18:00 and 20:00.
In addition, small arms and machine gun attacks were reported near Novotroitskoye, on the Donetsk-Mariupol highway, as well as Vodyanoye, east of Mariupol.
Meanwhile Georgiy Tuka, the governor of the Lugansk region, reported that Russian-backed fighters had once again shelled a civilian crossing point in the village of Stanitsa Luganskaya, northeast of the separatist-held regional capital.
In turn, the ‘defense ministry’ of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claimed that Ukrainian forces had fired more than 300 shells in 34 attacks over 24 hours.
According to the DNR, Ukrainian attacks were directed at the northern outskirts of Donetsk and Gorlovka, as well as the villages of Kominternovo and Sakhanka, east of Mariupol.
Eduard Basurin, deputy commander of the armed forces of the DNR, told a press conference today that two Russian-backed fighters had been wounded over the last day by Ukrainian fire.
This afternoon, there are reports that suggest further fighting in this area:
Translation: Vostochniy area, very loud. Black smoke is visible from the direction of Shirokino.
— Pierre Vaux
Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer captured by militants in Lugansk in 2014 and illegally transported to Russia, where she was convicted in a show trial of killing two Russian journalists last month, has begun another dry hunger strike. That is to say, she has stopped drinking any water.
Translation: Nadiya Savchenko has begun a dry hunger strike
Savchenko only ended her last dry hunger strike on March 10, after receiving an outpouring of international support and a letter, which later turned out to be a forgery, from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
As Ukrainska Pravda reports, Savchenko’s 22-year prison sentence officially came into effect yesterday, with her defense team having filed no appeals as they hope she will be returned to Ukraine in a prisoner exchange.
Ilya Novikov, another of Savchenko’s lawyers, wrote on his Facebook page that this was “a positive sign” that the government was not choosing to stretch out the phase in which no prisoner exchange deal could be discussed.
President Poroshenko had a phone conversation with Savchenko yesterday. His press office released a statement:
Petro Poroshenko conveyed words of support to Nadiya Savchenko and informed her on his recent efforts aimed at her liberation.
“Being on a visit to Japan, I keep the situation on Nadiya’s liberation under control. Justice will certainly prevail,” the President noted.
In response, Nadiya Savchenko expressed gratitude to the President for the recent actions aimed at her liberation, as well as for the letter of President’s wife Maryna Poroshenko to First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama.
According to the Consul General, Nadiya Savchenko is unbroken and believes in her return to Ukraine.
AFP reports that as her sentence has now come into effect, she must be moved to a prison colony with 10 days unless she is returned to Ukraine in a deal.
The Kremlin has already reacted defensively to the news of Savchenko’s resumption of her dry hunger strike.
Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s press secretary, told reporters today that it was wrong to direct the “negativity” linked to the hunger strike with the President.
“There is no need to link a criminal, recognised by a court of the Russian Federation as guilty of participating in the murder of Russian journalists with the President of Russia.”
— Pierre Vaux