Ukraine Day 801: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
- READ OUR SPECIAL REPORT:
Earlier this week, Victoria Nuland, the US State Department Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia traveled to Ukraine April 26-27 for meetings with President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, members of parliament and civil society.
Her remarks at the Verkhovna Rada or parliament caused some controversy and disagreement about what she had actually said, and trading of accusations among Ukrainians about possible deliberate disinformation.
A number of Ukrainian media outlets reported that she had supposedly called for Ukraine to amend its law to grant the Donbass special status by June, and then hold elections in July. These were then picked up and published by AFP in English and by the Kyiv Post in English.
Konstantin Batozskiy, political expert, on a talk show (1:25) said the distorted story originated with reporters “close to the Opposition Bloc.” He said reporters involved in Vesti and Segodnya, which are seen as pro-Russian were responsible. He said seven theses published from the meeting with Nuland by former Vesti editor Igor Guzhva were “one-for-one” those of Kremlin propagandists.
Guzhva did indeed publish a piece on Strana.ua titled “April Theses of Victoria Nuland” and cited seven of them, starting with the schedule supposedly involving constitutional changes in May and elections in July.
Censor.net also published a story titled “US Insists on Holding Elections in Donbass in July” quoting a Samopomich deputy, Viktoria Voitsitskaya who purported to relay Nuland’s remarks saying that Ukraine had to pass the law to establish the “special status” by June, then hold elections in July. She said Nuland indicated that if they hold the elections, they would create a precedent when for the first time in history, Russian forces would voluntarily leave a country they had occupied. Western sanctions would be extended in any event in June, but would be lifted if the elections and the withdrawals of heavy artillery took place.
But in that same story, Censor.net noted that others such as Pavel Rizanenko of the Poroshenko Bloc had explained that no ultimatums were given by Nuland, and that several times in fact she had spoken of the need to fulfill the Minsk agreements first and that Ukrainians would have to achieve changes themselves.
Samopomich also carried its own news story on its website making the claim about the “July elections”. The publication Ubop.net said that Voitsitskaya removed a post from her own Facebook page with the incorrect claim but the web site version remained.
In any event, Nuland herself told the AFP in Kiev that their report was “completely inaccurate” and her remarks were ultimately made clear by publishing her address on the State Department website.
Question: I’m the Agence France Presse correspondent here. I’d like to ask a couple of things about the Minsk process. Some members of parliament said yesterday after meeting you that the U.S. insisted on having elections in the east already in July, and saying it was a precondition for any financial help to Ukraine and a precondition to keeping sanctions against Russia in place. Can you please confirm or comment on this information. And on the other hand, Ukrainians have said previously several times that there can be no elections in the east until an international police force is deployed there. Is there any sort of agreement on this issue? Thanks a lot.
Assistant Secretary Nuland: Your report of our session with the Rada yesterday is completely inaccurate. We have put no date on when elections need to happen. We’ve made absolutely clear that Minsk requires that there be sufficient security, and OSCE access, and the ability of candidates to ballot, and the ability of citizens to hear from candidates before you can have an election. That’s what Minsk says — it’s logical — as in any country.
So even as the Ukrainian government works on preparations for an election and works in the Normandy format to prepare for them, the first priority is security, end the killing on the line, and access for the OSCE throughout the Donbas, which is not possible now. And U.S. financial assistance to Ukraine and technical assistance to Ukraine is tied to Ukraine staying on the reform course, tied to it staying inside the IMF program, pursuing judicial reform, anti-corruption reform, energy reform, not to Minsk.
With regard to an international police force, obviously there are intense discussions about how to ensure enough security for good voting, for citizens of Donbas to feel secure in voting, for candidates to ballot. We have the OSCE SMM that has not been allowed to fully do its job, and then there are questions of whether we’ll need to augment that, but no decisions have been made.
The question of the sequencing of the Minsk Agreement has constantly been at issue, but it has generally been the US position that first, Russia must ensure that the militants it backs in the Donbass withdraw their heavy artillery and tanks as outlined in the agreement and maintain the ceasefire before it can expect other elements to take hold. But the State Department has also repeatedly told Kiev that it must make the changes to the Ukrainian Constitution to ensure autonomy of “certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.” It is understood that a minimum for the process to take hold is an authentic ceasefire, which has not yet occurred.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Ilya Novikov, a lawyer for Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer abducted to Russia and jailed after a show trial, reports that her sister Vira has been able to return to Ukraine.
Vira Savchenko was detained yesterday at the border by Russian officials, who have put her on a wanted list for contempt of court. After a night of negotiations with Ukrainian diplomats, she was able to stay at the Ukrainian consulate in Rostov-on-Don.
A little while later, Vira Savchenko herself posted on her Facebook page:
In contact!! 🙂 Home soil.
Thanks to everyone who supported, helped, the tireless consuls and politicians. I am grateful to you. I am home.
Now we need to do the same for Nadiya 🙂 and all of ours!
Heavy weaponry, including Grad multiple-launch rocket systems and heavy artillery, was reported on the move in separatist-held Donetsk this afternoon.
Here are two, roughly concurrent Twitter reports:
While it is possible that the vehicles are rehearsing for the May 9 Victory Day parade (which would nonetheless be a violation of the Minsk agreements), the movement of such heavy weaponry in the immediate aftermath of the shelling of the Yelenovka checkpoint raises fears of a dramatic escalation in fighting.
So far though, fighting has remained at a relatively constant level with that seen over the last few days (which followed two weeks of high-intensity clashes along the front).
Yesterday saw, the Ukrainian military claims, 29 attacks by Russian-backed fighters, with one Ukrainian soldier wounded in Marinka, west of Donetsk.
Anton Mironovich, a Ukrainian military press officer, told the 112 television channel this morning that Ukrainian forces had returned fire “several times” yesterday.
According to Mironovich, Ukrainian troops used only “permitted weapons” which means they did not use artillery.
Meanwhile the pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency (DAN) reported, citing a “source in the security forces of the DNR,” that Ukrainian troops had this morning shelled the Spartak suburb, north of Donetsk, with 82 mm mortars.
Last night, DAN claimed, Ukrainian troops shelled the northern and western outskirts of Donetsk, as well as the town of Dokuchaevsk, southeast of Yelenovka.
— Pierre Vaux
Ukrainska Pravda reports that the State Employment Agency (DSZ) has suspended the annulment of journalist Savik Shuster’s work permit.
Shuster, who was born in Lithuania and holds Canadian citizenship, is one of Ukraine’s most prominent political talk show hosts. His work permit was annulled on Tuesday, apparently due to a notice from the State Fiscal Service.
Today the DSZ announced that the Kiev city employment center had suspended the annulment after receiving a written request from Shuster.
The decision, the Agency said, had been suspended pending clarification of the circumstances of the State Fiscal Service’s complaint.
Marius Janukonis, the Lithuanian ambassador to Ukraine, tweeted:
A Ukrainian diplomat has reported that Vira Savchenko, sister of Nadiya, the military officer abducted from Ukraine and jailed following a show trial in Russia, has had her passport returned to her by the Russian authorities.
Vira was stopped at the border yesterday by Russian officials, who seized her passport and held her at the Chertkovo checkpoint.
Nadiya Savchenko’s lawyers reported that Vira had appeared on a police wanted list in connection with “the Grozny case.”
As The Interpreter‘s Catherine A. Fitzpatrick noted yesterday:
The “Grozny Case” is likely a reference to the trial underway now in Chechnya of two Ukrainians, Mykola Karpukh and Stanislav Klykh, charged long after the fact with fighting in the Chechen wars on the side of Chechen rebels, although the relationship of Savchenko to this case is not known.
Dmytro Kuleba, a Ukrainian ambassador-at-large, reported on his Facebook page this morning that Savchenko was now safe and secure at the Ukrainian consulate in Rostov-on-Don, and that diplomats had succeeded in getting the Russian authorities to return her passport following all-night negotiations.
But Kuleba also confirmed that Savchenko was indeed on a federal wanted list for insulting the judge in the Karpukh and Klykh case.
“Therefore we can either wangle her return to Ukraine in the coming days (good), or we will get our own Assange on the territory of our diplomatic mission (not good).”
— Pierre Vaux
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) has released a spot report on their analysis of the site in separatist-held Yelenovka [Olenivka in Ukrainian] where four civilians were killed and at least ten wounded yesterday.
Here is the full text:
At 10:01 on 27 April, the SMM arrived on Lenina Street on the southern edge on “DPR”-controlled Olenivka (23km south-west of Donetsk), 650m north of a “DPR” checkpoint, and approximately 4km east of the contact line.
The SMM observed a cordoned-off 50m2 incident scene, with two craters and three damaged cars.
Laid out beside one of the cars – which was an upside-down, split-in-two burnt-out wreck facing north-east – were two bodies, one identified as male. A deceased male with severe head trauma was in the driver’s seat of the second car, 10m from the first one and facing south. The rear windshield of the vehicle had been blown out, and there was shrapnel damage to the front and interior of the vehicle, and crush damage to the driver’s side of the car consistent with a shock wave. A deceased woman – evidently struck in the face by shrapnel – was in the rear passenger seat of the third car, which was approximately 20m from the second vehicle. The vehicle’s hood, windshield, roof and interior had suffered impact damage, with the metal siding of the vehicle torn and bent towards the back of the car, indicating that the blast damage had been caused by an explosion in front of the vehicle.
Fencing and the roof of an adjacent building – 8-10m south-east of the first impact and 11-12m east of the second impact – were visibly impacted, with grape-fruit sized holes caused by shrapnel. Its window panes were shattered. Downed power lines lay across the first vehicle.
The SMM conducted analysis on the two craters – and on two others in nearby residential areas. Based on that, the SMM assessed that the direction of fire was west-south-west, and that the type of weapon used in the attack was likely 122mm artillery.
Further north on Moskovskaya Street, the SMM observed some slightly damaged residences and demolished outhouses. Having conducted analysis on three craters there, the SMM assessed that the direction of fire was likely west-south-west and that the caliber of weapon used was not less than 120mm.
Both an armed “DPR” member and two residents told the SMM that the shelling had occurred at 02:45 that morning.
The head of a morgue in Donetsk city told the SMM that they had received four bodies from Olenivka that day, three men and one woman. A hospital in the city reported that one man had been admitted with shrapnel injuries.
The findings (highlighted above) that the area was shelled from artillery west-south-west of the site, on the southern edge of the village, indicate that the fire came from the direction of Ukrainian-held territory.