Ukraine Day 829: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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A court in the Chechen capital of Grozny has sentenced two Ukrainian citizens, Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh, to 22 and a half and 20 years in prison, respectively.
The two were detained in Russia in 2014 and have been on trial since September last year.
Both men have been recognized by Russia’s Memorial human rights center as political prisoners.
They were found guilty last Thursday after a widely condemned trial on charges of fighting with Chechen separatists in the winter of 1994-5 and killing Russian soldiers.
Klykh’s lawyer, Marina Dubrovina, has said that her client was tortured after his arrest in order to extract confessions and testimony against Karpyuk and Arseniy Yatsenyk, who was prime minister of Ukraine until earlier this year.
Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian military officer and MP who was freed after two years in illegal Russian captivity yesterday, will join the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security and Defense.
This was told to the 112 television channel today by Ivan Krulko, an MP in the Batkivshchyna party. Savchenko was elected on the Batkivshchyna list in November, 2014, while in prison in Russia.
According to Krulko, Savchenko confirmed she would accept the position during a party meeting that followed her visit to the Presidential Administration yesterday.
Krulko said that he expects Savchenko to make her first appearance in the Rada as soon as Tuesday, May 31.
Meanwhile two of Savchenko’s Russian defense lawyers, Nikolai Polozov and Mark Feygin, gave a press conference in Kiev today.
Feygin told reporters that there wasn’t and never had been any legal framework in Russia for such a pardon on the request of victims’ relatives.
However he did note that the creation of such a new precedent was possible given that the law in Russia was, “let us say, freely adjustable.”
— Pierre Vaux
Two Ukrainian soldiers were wounded by snipers near Zaytsevo, north of Gorlovka, and Novotroitskoye, on the highway between Donetsk and Mariupol, where the military claims that Russian-backed fighters attempted, for the second night in a row, to break through the Ukrainian lines.
According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, Ukrainian troops destroyed an enemy anti-tank missile launcher which was used in the attack.
It was in this same area that the Ukrainian military claimed to have destroyed a BMP infantry fighting vehicle on Tuesday evening. Ukrainian soldiers spoke to TSN and showed them how they had used a drone to accurately hit the vehicle with a round from a recoilless rifle.
We can verify the location of the incident, just east of Novotroitskoye, by comparing the drone footage with Google Earth satellite imagery:
To the north of Donetsk, Ukrainian positions on the edge of Avdeyevka were attacked with 82 mm mortars, grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.
Eduard Basurin, deputy commander of the armed forces of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), claimed that Ukrainian troops had attempted an assault in this area yesterday.
According to Basurin, six Ukrainian soldiers from the 58th Brigade were killed in the alleged attack which also left two Russian-backed fighters dead and one wounded.
In the Gorlovka area, Ukrainian positions near Zaytsevo were shelled with 82 mm mortars while those near Luganskoye came under fire from BMPs.
Further east, the Lugansk Regional Military-Civil Administration reports that Russian-backed fighters damaged the district administration building in Stanitsa Luganskaya, northeast of the separatist-held regional capital, with heavy machine gun fire.
Meanwhile Ukrainian positions on the outskirts of the village of Novozvanovka came under fire from BMPs, heavy machine guns and automatic grenade launchers.
— Pierre Vaux
Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, has publicly reiterated the European Union’s commitment to maintaining sanctions against Russia as long as the Minsk agreements are not fully implemented.
The statement puts some pay to speculation that a deal had been reached behind the scenes for the Kremlin to obtain some element of sanctions relief in exchange for the release of Ukrainian military officer Nadiya Savchenko yesterday.
Speaking ahead of the G7 summit in Japan today, Tusk said:
Two years ago, the G7 demonstrated unity with Europe when the conflict in Ukraine erupted. And we remain united during this conflict. The European Union, as the entire G7, continues to believe that this crisis can only be resolved in full compliance with the international law, especially the legal obligation to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. I want to state clearly that our stance vis-à-vis Russia, including economic sanctions, will remain unchanged as long as the Minsk agreements are not fully implemented. Unfortunately, there is much less progress on the implementation of Minsk than we had hoped for one year ago in Elmau.
Speaking of the international rule-based order, I would like to underline that it needs to be respected not only in Ukraine but in all parts of the world, and not only on land but also at sea. The policy of the G7 is clear: any maritime or territorial claim should be based on the international law and any possible dispute should be resolved by peaceful means. Unilateral actions and the use of force or coercion will not be accepted.
Tusk also made what appears to be indirect reference to the growth of political extremism and anti-EU sentiment at home, a phenomenon the Kremlin has been all too happy to aid via political coordination and propaganda.
Before I finish let me make the last point. The test of our credibility as the G7 is our ability to defend the common values that we share. This test will only be passed if we take a clear and tough stance on every topic of our discussions here in Ise-Shima. I refer in particular to the issue of maritime security at the South and East China Seas, Russia/Ukraine issue and free and fair trade. If we are to defend our common values, it is not enough these days to only believe in them. We also have to be ready to protect them. The real challenge is even greater because these values are not only questioned by states who undermine the international rule-based order, but also by opponents from within our own countries. Our internal opponents will also judge our ability to defend these values. That is why we need to be really tough.
Meanwhile President Vladimir Putin, whose government was excluded from the then G8 following the annexation of Crimea in March, 2014, was making conciliatory noises in his article published this morning by Greece’s Kathimerini.
Russia proceeds from the need to establish dialogue with the European Union in the spirit of equality and genuine partnership on a variety of issues ranging from visa liberalization to the formation of an energy alliance. However, we do not yet see our European colleagues’ willingness to follow such a mutually beneficial and promising path.
Nevertheless, we believe that our relations with the EU do not face any problems that we cannot solve. To get back to a multifaceted partnership, the deficient approach of one-sided relationships should be abandoned. There should be true respect for each other’s opinions and interests.
Today, Russia and the European Union have come to a crossroads, where we need to answer the following question: how do we see the future of our relations and which way are we going to head? I am convinced that we should draw appropriate conclusions from the events in Ukraine and proceed to establishing, in the vast space stretching between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, a zone of economic and humanitarian cooperation based on the architecture of equal and indivisible security. Harmonizing European and Eurasian integration processes would be an important step in this direction.
Furthermore, Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists today that the Kremlin supported President Petro Poroshenko’s aims to bring the Donbass back under Ukrainian control – if this was “guided by humanitarian considerations.”
But the commitment to the Minsk peace process presented here rings hollow when the Ukrainian military again reports heavy shelling by Russian-backed forces yesterday, and another ‘humanitarian convoy’ crosses the Ukrainian border without Kiev’s authorisation.
With regards to the original reason for the imposition of sanctions on Russia – the invasion of Crimea, which Poroshenko also vowed yesterday to return, Peskov was flatly dismissive:
“But as far as Crimea is concerned, we do not comment on pretensions on Russian regions.”
— Pierre Vaux