Ukraine Day 823: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right Front National party, told Russia’s state-owned RT channel this morning that, if she is elected as President, France would likely diplomatically recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
While the chances of Le Pen being elected are slim to say the least, her party did manage to achieve the most votes nationwide in the first round of regional elections in December, before mainstream parties cooperated to block any Front National victories in the second.
In the event of her election, Le Pen said it was a “quite clear and even quite credible possibility” that France would formally recognise Russian sovereignty over the Ukrainian peninsula, which was taken over by Russian troops at the end of February, 2014.
Le Pen told the channel that she and her party opposed EU sanctions against Russia, considering them “stupid.”
France has seen some of the strongest domestic political pressure in the EU to drop sanctions, with the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, passing a non-binding resolution against them last month.
This pressure comes not only from the Front National, which has close links to Russia , including a €9 million loan from a Kremlin-linked bank in 2014, but Les Républicains, the rebranded UMP of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, amongst whom there are a number of deputies with sympathies for both Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad.
The Ukrainian military claims that Russian-backed fighters conducted 15 attacks yesterday in the Donbass, wounding three Ukrainian servicemen.
According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, the heaviest fighting was again seen around the industrial park on the southeastern edge of Avdeyevka, northeast of Donetsk.
The military says that Ukrainian positions here were shelled with 82 and 120 mm mortars, in addition to coming under grenade-launcher and small-arms fire.
To the south of the separatist-held regional capital, Russian-backed fighters reportedly attacked positions near Novotroitskoye, on the highway to Mariupol, with grenade launchers, anti-aircraft artillery and heavy machine guns.
Meanwhile, the Lugansk Regional Military-Civil Administration reports RPG and small-arms attacks on Ukrainian troops near the villages of Sizoye and Tryokhizbenka.
In addition, the Ukrainian State Border Service reports that one of their checkpoints on the outskirts of Stanitsa Luganskaya was attacked last night with grenade launchers.
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) claimed that their personnel had ambushed a group of Russian-backed fighters attempting to penetrate the Ukrainian lines just east of the end of the runway at Donetsk Airport.
According to the report, one of the Russian-backed fighters was killed and three seriously wounded.
Interestingly, the SBU claim that they drew the attention of the enemy troops by illuminating a mockup of a US Javelin anti-tank missile launcher. While this is a weapon that has often been suggested as a something that the Ukrainian military would very much like to obtain, the US has so far declined to deliver them.
Further attacks were reported by military officials this morning.
Anton Mironovich, spokesman for the ATO Press Center, told the 112 television channel just after 8:00 today that Russian-backed forces had carried out at least three attacks since midnight, shelling positions in Avdeyevka and nearby Opytnoye with mortars. Around 80 shells were fired from both 82 and 120 mm mortars, Mironovich said.
In addition to the three Ukrainian soldiers wounded by enemy fire, Colonel Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, reported that one serviceman had been killed and four wounded as a result of “careless handling of explosives” near Konstantinovka.
Another four Ukrainian soldiers were wounded today, along with eight civilians, when a bus carrying troops collided with a marshrutka minibus in Mariupol at 7:20 am.
According to a 0629.com.ua report, most of those wounded escaped major injury, but the driver of the minibus has been hospitalised with “medium-degree trauma.”
Meanwhile the pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency (DAN) reports, citing a source in the security forces of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), that Ukrainian forces last night fired 48 shells at the outskirts of Donetsk and Dokuchaevsk, a town northeast of Novotroitskoye.
According to DAN, one house in the northern Spartak suburb was burnt down yesterday and another two damaged as a result of Ukrainian fire.
— Pierre Vaux
Supporters of the Azov civilian corps and National Guard Regiment, whose leadership originates in the far-right of Ukrainian politics, have been marching in Kiev this morning in protest against the holding of local elections in occupied areas of the Donbass.
The march under the banner of “Demands of the Nation,” has, Ukrainska Pravda reports, seen around 2,000 people take part as they moved to the Verkhovna Rada to protest the votes, which are part of the Minsk agreements.
Translation: “Patriot of Ukraine is the hope of the Fatherland!” – the words sounded out by many thousands of voices in the center of Kiev.
Patriot of Ukraine is the name of a neo-Nazi political organisation founded in 2005 by Andriy Biletsky, who would later become the commander of the Azov volunteer battalion that has now been merged into the National Guard as a regiment. Biletsky is now an independent MP, affiliated with the UKROP group in the Verkhovna Rada.
For more background on Biletsky and Patriot of Ukraine, read Anton Shekhovtsov’s piece on the rise, via cronyism more than ideological support, of the organisation.
Once the march reached the Rada, they set off flares and held a prayer vigil for fallen Ukrainian nationalists.
Translation: A prayer was heard for Ukrainian nationalists. Activists lit flares. This ‘Demands of the Nation’ protest is finished.
Meanwhile the subject of the protests, the elections in the occupied regions, may not happen for a long time.
According to the leaders of the self-declared, Russian-backed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR), the votes will be held on July 24.
But Aleksandr Zakharchenko, leader of the DNR, has repeatedly stated that the votes will not be held in accordance with Ukrainian electoral law, nor will mainstream Ukrainian political parties be allowed to participate.
Under such conditions, the votes would not comply with the Minsk agreements.
To buy more time and avoid a complete breakdown in negotiations, the separatists ‘republics’ both delayed votes due to have taken place in April.
Without any major shift in the separatists’ line, it seems likely that the votes will be delayed again.
US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland declared on Wednesday that the USA will not recognise any elections in the Donbass that do not comply with the Minsk agreements.
In addition, the continued fighting and refusal to comply with Ukrainian legislation means that the OSCE is unlikely to be in a position to provide the necessary electoral oversight any time soon.
The likely far-off nature of the elections also buys Kiev time to avoid a crunch point with those who, like the protesters on the street today, see the conditions of the Minsk agreement regarding partial autonomy for the Donbass as capitulation to a land grab by Russia.
— Pierre Vaux