Ukraine Day 815: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has arrested the deputy head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Ilmi Umerov, former mayor of Bakhchyserai, where raids were conducted and four Tatar men arrested on terror charges earlier today.
15minut.org reports that Umerov was seized from his home by the occupying authorities today and is being taken to Simferopol.
Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency was told by Natalya Poklonskaya, the Prosecutor General appointed after Russian troops took over the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014, that Umerov is being investigated in relation to charges under part two of Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code – “public calls or actions aimed at changing the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.”
That is to say he is accused of separatism in a peninsula seized by Russian military force only two years ago.
— Pierre Vaux
President Petro Poroshenko has addressed the Rada to urge them to back his nomination of Yuriy Lutsenko to the post of Prosecutor General.
Poroshenko was greeted by chants of “shame!” (ganba) as he spoke.
The Ukrainian military reports 15 attacks by Russian-backed fighters yesterday, with the first use of mortars in a week.
According to the ATO Press Center, Ukrainian positions on the edge of Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk, were shelled with 82 and 120 mm mortars, in addition to coming under fire from automatic grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.
To the south of Donetsk, positions outside Beryozovoye, on the highway towards Mariupol, were reportedly shelled twice with 82 mm mortars and grenade launchers.
Anton Mironovich, a spokesman for the ATO Press Center, told the 112 television channel this morning that Ukrainian troops had been “forced to return fire” in this area with grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.
There were further attacks on the highway between midnight and 6:00 this morning, the military claims. Ukrainian positions near Novotroitskoye were shelled with both 82 and 120 mm mortars, while on the coast, troops in Shirokino came under small-arms fire.
Other attacks yesterday reportedly took place near Chermalyk, where anti-tank missiles and automatic grenade launchers were used; Pavlopol, with anti-aircraft artillery; and Luganskoye, with grenade launchers.
In addition, the governor of the Lugansk region, Yuriy Harbuz, reported this morning that Russian-backed fighters had last night bombarded the southern outskirts of the town of Popasnaya with automatic grenade launchers.
Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, reported that there had been Ukrainian military casualties yesterday.
But Vitaliy Kirillov, a military press officer, did tell 0629.com.ua today that a 45-year-old marine from the 36th Independent Naval Infantry Battalion was killed on Tuesday afternoon by a tripwire mine in Shirokino.
Meanwhile Eduard Basurin, deputy commander of the armed forces of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), claimed that five homes had been damaged by Ukrainian mortar shelling near Dokuchaevsk, just east of Beryozovoye.
According to the DNR, Ukrainian troops fired on separatist-held territory 108 times yesterday, launching 78 mortar rounds.
— Pierre Vaux
Roskomnadzor, the Russian censor, has blocked access across Russia to the website of RFE/RL’s Crimean service, Krym.Realii.
Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reports that Roskomnadzor took the move on the request of Natalya Poklonskaya, who was appointed Prosecutor General of Crimea by the occupying Russian authorities in 2014.
According to Poklonskaya, Krym.Realii “endlessly discredits organs of government in Crimea,” “justifies sabotage,” and promotes “extremism and ethnic hatred.”
Last month saw raids on journalists’ homes and the arrest of Krym.Realii writer Nikolai Semena.
Vladimir Konstantinov, Speaker of the Crimean State Council,called Krym.Realii’s journalists “enemies of Russia.”
Meanwhile today, Russian security forces conducted armed raids in Bakhchysarai, arresting four Crimean Tatars.
Crimea SOS reports, citing lawyer Emil Kurbedinov, that the four men – Zevri Abseitov, Remzi Memetov, Rustem Abiltarov and Enver Mamutov – were all detained under terrorism charges.
Poklonskaya told TASS this morning that the raids had been conducted by the FSB and that the four detainees were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international, Islamist political organisation that has been banned in Russia since 2003.
Charges have been brought against three residents of Bakhchysarai for “participation in the activities of a terrorist organisation,” and against another for “organising terrorist activities.”
This last man, Poklonskaya said, was the leader of a “local terrorist cell” in the town, conducting “anti-constitutional activities in the form of propaganda work among residents.”
But the raids and arrests are only the latest in a long string of repressions against Crimean Tatars that began shortly after Russian troops took control of the peninsula in 2014.
Most recently we saw a raid on a mosque in Simferopol and the banning of the Mejlis, the representative body of Crimean Tatars.
Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has passed a bill that allows Yuriy Lutsenko, former leader of President Petro Poroshenko’s political faction in the Rada (BPP), to be nominated to the post of Prosecutor General.
The previous Prosecutor General, Viktor Shokin, was dismissed more than a month ago amidst widespread accusations that he had deliberately sabotaged reforms and conducted politicised prosecutions.
Until today’s vote, amending the law, Lutsenko, was unable to be nominated for the post because he does not have a law degree.
This, unsurprisingly, makes Lutsenko a controversial candidate.
There are also legitimate concerns that too much power is being concentrated within the President’s inner circle, with another key ally and BPP member Volodymyr Groysman appointed prime minister last month.
The vote today was passed by a 257 votes, amidst shouts of dissent.
The decision has been harshly criticised by Ukrainian reformists.
Mustafa Nayyem and Serhiy Leshchenko, both of whom are members of BPP, have condemned the move.
Nayyem wrote on his Facebok page:
I could not have believed it myself two years ago that, in the country where people came out onto Maidan against corruption amongst other things, the Prosecutor General would be chosen by pulling the arms of former colleagues, distributing preferences to oligarchs’ allies, and stepping over the demands and expectations of society.
Leshchenko said that Lutsenko was being “carried to the post of Prosecutor General by the votes of an odious oligarch,” referring to Ihor Kolomoyskyi.
The MP wrote that the passage of the bill had depended on 20 votes from the Kolomoyskyi-controlled Vidrodzhennya party, and five of his independent allies, in addition to 14 votes from Volya Naroda, which Leshchenko describes as controlled by gas oligarchs.
According to Leshchenko, Rada Speaker Andriy Parubiy is already planning to initiate a vote on the appointment of Lutsenko this afternoon, after 16:00.
The importance of the vote to President Poroshenko was made clear by his decision to abandon a visit to London today for a major anti-corruption summit.
Last night the President’s press office released a statement saying that the President was cancelling his trip due to the “situation that has arisen around the election of the new Prosecutor General and the failure of parliament to pass bills needed for continuing cooperation with the IMF.”
Needless to say, the optics here are not good.
Further adding to reformists’ frustrations is the reinstatement today of Ihor Kononenko to the post of deputy chairman of BPP.
Kononenko has been subject to numerous accusations of major corruption in recent months and was singled out by Aivaras Abromavicius, when he resigned as economy minister in February.
Even more recently, Kononenko was implicated in a corruption scandal linked to Poroshenko.
Yuriy Lutsenko has had an interesting political history. He served as Ukraine’s interior minister for several years, first in Yulia Tymoshenko’s Cabinet and then under Viktor Yanukovych. In 2010, he was charged with abuse of office and financial crimes by then Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka.
Lutsenko was arrested in December of that year and, after 14 months of detention, during which he went on hunger strike for over a month, was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.
His conviction was condemned as politically motivated by the European Commission, the Parliamentary Association of the Council of Europe and the United States. In July 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Lutsenko’s arrest had constituted a violation of his human rights.
He was pardoned by Yanukovych in April, 2013, after heavy pressure from the European Union during negotiations on the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine.
He served as president of BPP from August, 2014 for one year, after which he was replaced by Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko, when his own UDAR party merged with BPP.
— Pierre Vaux