EU Extends Sanctions On Trade With Occupied Crimea For Another Year

June 17, 2016
Russian soldiers in Crimea in March 2014 carry VSS Vintorez silenced sniper rifles known to be given to GRU spetsnaz

Ukraine Day 851: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.

Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.


An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlin’s Dirty War in Ukraine


Ukraine Reports 46 Attacks Yesterday; Military And Civilian Casualties

The Ukrainian military reports 46 attacks by Russian-backed fighters yesterday. One Ukrainian soldier was killed and five wounded, in addition to two civilians.

Colonel Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, told reporters at noon today that the soldier had been killed by a sniper near Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk. The other troops were wounded by enemy fire near Maryinka, west of the separatist-held city, and Mayorsk, north of Gorlovka.

Both civilians were wounded, the Ukrainian State Border Service reported last night, when Russian-backed fighters fired on a frontier checkpoint outside Maryinka at 19:00 with heavy machine guns.

According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, there were more than ten attacks in the Maryinka area with both small arms and grenade launchers. 

Towards Mariupol, to the south, Russian-backed fighters used these same weapons in attacks near Shirokino, Vodyanoye and Gnutovo, as well as Slavnoye and Novotroitskoye on the Donetsk-Mariupol highway.

North of Donetsk, the military reports mortar attacks on positions near Nevelskoye and Troitskoye, as well as Luganskoye, near Gorlovka. It was in this latter area that the report claims that Russian-backed fighters attacked positions near Zaytsevo and Novgorodskoye with machine guns and automatic grenade launchers.

In the Lugansk region, Russian-backed fighters reportedly shelled positions near Novoaleksandrovka and Popasnaya with 82-mm mortars, and those near Novozvanovka with grenade launchers. 

Meanwhile the pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency (DAN) reports, citing a source in the Russian-backed authorities, that a civilian woman was wounded this afternoon in the western Petrovsky district of Donetsk by Ukrainian fire.

— Pierre Vaux

Hennadiy Afanasyev Describes Brutal Torture During Russian Captivity

Hennadiy Afanasyev, who was released from Russian captivity on Tuesday, has told Ukrainska Pravda how he was severely tortured following his arrest in Russian-occupied Crimea on May 9, 2014.

Afanasyev was released, along with Yuriy Soloshenko, in an exchange deal for two Ukrainian citizens accused of organising separatist activities in Odessa after months of negotiations.

Afanasyev first announced that he had been tortured when he retracted forcibly-extracted testimony against two other Ukrainians – film director Oleg Sentsov and activist Oleksandr Kolchenko – during his trial in August last year.

Despite this, all three were found guilty and sentenced on terrorism charges.

In the interview published today, Afanasyev, who was 23 when he was arrested, told the online paper that he was stopped by armed men and bundled into a car with a sack over his head while walking to meet a friend in Simferopol after taking photos at a Victory Day event.

The men beat him while they drove and threatened to take him to the woods to dig his own grave.

After they had taken him to his apartment for a search and processed him at an FSB center, he was taken to an unidentified location and kept there for 10 days, during which he was subjected to brutal treatment (translation by The Interpreter):

“I did not receive a lawyer, but there were a lot of investigators from Moscow and huge guys from the Caucasus – FSB personnel. I was shackled to an iron table. At first they spoke and threatened [me]. I didn’t say anything. 

The first day was just beating.

I was taken up to the second floor – they had specialist people and investigators there. Again they asked various questions. Realizing that I didn’t know any facts that interested them, they demanded that I give evidence against myself. That I confess to the fact that I allegedly wanted to blow up the monument to the Eternal Fire on May 9.

This is absurd because I myself was among people who were walking to the monument! I was there and they arrested me in view of lots of people.

On this second floor they put on boxing gloves and beat them on my head – so that there is no bruising.

This was the first day.

I was taken at night to this place of temporary detention. All 10 days that I was in this place, they didn’t let me sleep or eat. There wasn’t even any toilet paper, there was nothing. It was some sort of basement, it was very cold.

Over 5 days they used… Just a bag over the head, they suffocated me…

(Hennadiy breaks off, he continues after a moment).

This needs to be said. People should know what is going on. I’m not the only one. I saw many such examples: they didn’t do this with everyone, but with those with whom they needed to…”

Another Ukrainian prisoner, Aleksei Cherniy was brought in and Afanasyev was told that he had testified against him. Having decided to agree to falsely confess to arson to avoid further mistreatment, his captors changed their focus, instead asking about Kolchenko and Sentsov, who had also been denounced by Cherniy.

“After this the serious torture began.

They put a gas mask over my head with a tube, they unscrewed the bottom valve and sprayed a gas canister into it – I would begin to vomit. You start to choke because you’re in the mask.

When you choke, they take the mask off and give you smelling salts – and they repeat it all.”

This practice, known as slonik (little elephant, because of the appearance of the gas mask), has been widely reported by Russian prisoners over the years. The gas used is likely tear gas.

See this 1999 Human Rights Watch report for details on the use of slonik torture by Russian police.

Afanasyev continues: 

“It continued with them attaching electrical leads to my genitals and shocking them. If one could still withstand the suffocation, this was a different pain. Yes, I was forced to sign the documents.

Just put a signature down and it’s over.

I understood what it was. I saw what was written. But I did not write it myself, everything had already been prepared, the whole text.

Almost at the end, when they demanded that we complete the agreement, they undressed me and placed me on the floor. Some people held me, traced a soldering iron around my body and told me what would happen when this solder fell on me.

The most important thing to me is my mother — and they threatened to go after her. This worked…” 

— Pierre Vaux

Chief Editor of Last Independent Publication Arrested in Russian-Occupied Crimea

Alexei Salov, editor-in-chief of the web publication Argumenty Nedeli-Krym [Arguments of the Week–Crimea], was arrested June 14, Human Rights in Ukraine reported.

His publication, still online, was said to be the last independent outlet in Russian-occupied Crimea.

As initially reported, his colleagues immediately issued a statement over Salov’s arrest, saying only that it was linked with his journalist work in Vladimir (Russia) 6 years ago. “Alexei was not frightened to speak the truth, sometimes even unpalatable or inconvenient for some. This was obviously not to the liking of everybody in the region.” 

The editorial team hopes that this is a misunderstanding which will be resolved shortly.  They promise that they will do everything to defend the good name of their colleague and ensure that justice prevails. 

Salov began and headed Argumenty Nedeli – Krym back in 2012.  The publication was known for its hard-hitting material about those installed in control by the Viktor Yanukovych regime. 

Viktoria Veselova, writing for Krym Realii reports that the publication was forced to accept Russian jurisdiction after annexation and that some propaganda did appear on its site.  It has remained effectively the only publication remaining in Crimea which honestly reports, for example, the offensive against the Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly], armed searches of Crimean Tatar homes, etc. 

Anastasia Medyntseva of the pro-Kremlin Komsomolskaya Pravda happened to be present at the Simferopol cafe where Salov was seized by police and reported that it was related to the 2012 offense.

Salov was charged with “blackmailing an MP” of the United Russia party, threatening to reveal damaging information if he wasn’t paid 50,000 rubles ($769), and sentenced to 1.5 years in a minimum-security prison security. He denied his guilt and said the case was instigated by Grigory Anikeyev, a wealthy United Russia member, and was fabricated in retaliation for his critical reporting. Salov then managed to escape to Ukraine.

Now that Russian authorities control Crimea, Salov may be sent to Vladimir in Russia to serve his sentence. 

Salov’s arrest is one of a number of cases of arrest or censorship of critical journalists since Russian forcibly annexed Crimea in February 2014.

Read more here.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

EU Extends Sanctions On Trade With Occupied Crimea For Another Year

The European Union has extended sanctions on trading with Russian-occupied Crimea for another year, a week before the EU is expected to extend those on Russia.

Here is the official statement of the European Council:

On 17 June 2016, the Council extended the restrictive measures in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia until 23 June 2017.

The measures apply to EU persons and EU based companies. They are limited to the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol. The sanctions include prohibitions on:

imports of products originating in Crimea or Sevastopol into the EU;

investment in Crimea or Sevastopol, meaning that no Europeans nor EU-based companies can buy real estate or entities in Crimea, finance Crimean companies or supply related services; 

tourism services in Crimea or Sevastopol, in particular, European cruise ships cannot call at ports in the Crimean peninsula, except in case of emergency;  

exports of certain goods and technologies to Crimean companies or for use in Crimea in the transport, telecommunications and energy sectors and related to the prospection, exploration and production of oil, gas and mineral resources. Technical assistance, brokering, construction or engineering services related to infrastructure in these sectors must not be provided either.

As stated in the declaration by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs And Security Policy on behalf of the EU on 13 March 2016, the EU continues to condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation and remains committed to fully implement its non-recognition policy.