Ukraine Day 869: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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Following yesterday’s reports that French MP Thierry Mariani was planning on returning with another delegation of conservative MPs to Russian-occupied Crimea, a senior Russian official today invited Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, to visit the peninsula.
The state-owned TASS news agency reports that Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, invited Le Pen to attend the Navy Day celebrations in Russian-occupied Sevastopol by letter:
“On this day [July 31], guests from all parts of the world will come to Sevastopol. The atmosphere of celebrations goes deeply to the soul of every person,” Komoyedov said in a letter to Le Pen, the copy of which was obtained by TASS on Tuesday. “This is an unforgettable day in the life of every person who managed to visit Hero City Sevastopol on Navy Day,” he added.
The official invited Le Pen to visit Sevastopol from July 29 to August 2 and promised that she would remember the visit to Crimea.
The admiral continued: “Over the last two years, Europe has discussed the Crimean topic and resulting sanctions. One might get an impression that most European politicians are participating in a global show ‘Who will bite Russia the strongest’.” Against this backdrop, Le Pen’s “statement on readiness to recognize Crimea’s reunification with Russia” once again underlines “independence and principles of a real politician,” he added.
The irony of a member of the Communist Party extending warm greetings to the leader of a party widely perceived as the ideological heir to the Vichy regime is worth noting.
Le Pen and her party have a close relationship with the Russian government.
The Front National is one of a very small number of European fringe parties to whom the transfer of Russian money can be traced directly:
Russia and Front National: Following the Money
A new leak of the text messages originating from a hacked smartphone of a high-ranking officer of Russia's Presidential Administration sheds further light on the relations between the Russian authorities and their far-right allies in France.
Le Pen herself has made several visits to Moscow and has, disregarding instructions from the French Foreign Ministry, received Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin as a private guest during a visit he made to France in 2014, using a UNESCO event as a loophole to avoid travel restrictions imposed on him by the European Union.
Several of her political allies and a key adviser, Emmanuel Leroy, have become familiar faces in separatist-held Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, pledging their support for the Russian-backed proxy ‘Republic.’
Marine Le Pen's Closest Advisor Comes Out of the Shadows In Donetsk
UNHOLY ALLIANCE The attendance roster for this confab included some familiar pro-Putin faces such as French far-right Member of European Parliament Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, Italian nationalist Alessandro Musolino and German neo-Nazi journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter, who moonlights as Kremlin propaganda channel RT's German "expert" on the Middle East.
However Le Pen’s invitation to Crimea may well cause some friction with Mariani’s party, Les Républicains.
The main opposition party, led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has himself recently made obsequious overtures towards the Kremlin, has been key in pushing through resolutions condemning anti-Russian sanctions in both houses of the French parliament.
But members of Les Républicains are unlikely to want to associate themselves with the extremist Front National, especially with less than a year to go before a presidential election in which the governing Socialist Party is set to face an uphill battle.
It seems unlikely that Mariani and his fellow MPs would be comfortable sharing a stage in Sevastopol with Le Pen.
— Pierre Vaux
Three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 13 wounded yesterday in the Donbass as Kiev reports 63 attacks by Russian-backed forces.
Announcing the casualties, military spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko said that Russian-backed fighters were “actively using heavy weaponry.”
According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, Russian-backed forces used 122-mm artillery to shell Ukrainian positions around Zaytsevo, north of separatist-held Gorlovka. Positions in neighbouring Kirovo were shelled with 120-mm mortars.
These same weapons were also reportedly used against Ukrainian forces near Nevelskoye, Opytnoye and Peski, all to the north of Donetsk.
On the edge of Avdeyevka, one of the most fiercely contested areas of the front line, Ukrainian troops were attacked with grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.
Here Colonel Lysenko reported that a civilian was wounded:
Yesterday evening Ukraine’s TSN television news channel broadcast a report from the Butovka mine, an exposed position between Avdeyevka and Donetsk that has seen some of the worst casualties from shelling in recent months.
Ukrainian soldiers told the channel that attacks on their positions had paused because, they suspect, enemy forces have been redirected towards the Debaltsevo area, which was the scene of intense fighting last week.
Nonetheless they expect a new wave of attacks to come soon and claim that their opponents, who they say are Russian regular soldiers from the Caucasus, are strengthening their positions.
The ATO Press Center also reports that 120-mm mortar shells fell on Krasnogorovka, to the north of Maryinka.
Further south in the Donetsk region, the military reports that Ukrainian troops in Granitnoye, east of Volnovakha, were attacked with anti-tank missiles, while positions near Gnutovo, Shirokino and Talakovka, all closer to Mariupol, were shelled with mortars.
There were two reported attacks in the Lugansk region, near Popasnaya, one of them conducted with mortars.
Meanwhile the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claims that Ukrainian forces fired on separatist-held territory 438 times over 24 hours, using 152-mm artillery as well as mortars, infantry fighting vehicles, grenade launchers and small arms.
According to the DNR, Ukrainian forces attacked western and northern areas of Donetsk, as well as Gorlovka and several settlements in the south of the region.
Eduard Basurin, the deputy commander of the armed forces of the DNR, told reporters this afternoon that two Russian-backed fighters had been wounded by Ukrainian fire yesterday.
Two civilians had, he said, been wounded by shelling in the Kuybyshevsky district of Donetsk city.
In addition, Basurin announced that three children had died in separatist-held Yenakievo, south of Gorlovka when a grenade exploded.
Basurin said that the children had found a grenade and brought it to their father, who attempted to dismantle it. The device exploded, wounding him and killing all three children, aged 11, 5 and 2.
— Pierre Vaux
Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has voted to approve the Prosecutor-General’s request that Olekandr Onyshchenko, an MP with the Volya Naroda party, be stripped of his immunity and arrested.
Interfax-Ukraine reports that three requests were approved, one after another:
The parliament on Tuesday voted separately on three positions: for criminal prosecution of Onyschenko – 275 votes, for his detention – 265, and for his arrest – 263.
Onyshchenko is suspected of stealing billions of hryvnia-worth of funds from a state gas company.
According to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), Onyshchenko created several companies which traded gas at falsified market rates allowing him to fraudulently recoup around 3 billion hryvnia (around $120 million).
Onyshchenko has denied all the accusations, but while he had vowed to appear in parliament for the hearing on his immunity, he fled the country on Saturday.
A photo on the MPs Instagram account indicated that he was in Moscow on Sunday night. While Onyshchenko’s own photo was not geotagged, one of his companions from the photograph reposted his photo with the location given as Moscow:
In a telephone interview with Strana.ua, published this morning, Onyshchenko indicated he no longer intended to attend the Rada, saying:
“Why fly, when I have been framed and left high and dry once again. I was promised due process and trial. But they decided to do everything lawlessly.”
Yuriy Lutsenko, the Prosecutor-General, said that Onyshchenko had been able to flee the country because of existing parliamentary regulations which give an MP five days to offer written explanations ahead of any votes on their lifting criminal immunity.
Because the immunity still applies in the meantime, law enforcement was powerless to stop Onyshchenko boarding a plane and leaving the country.
Lutsenko said that he would soon file an official notice of criminal suspicion against the fugitive MP and that he could be placed on international wanted lists.
Of course, as the Prosecutor-General noted, the Russian Federation would almost certainly refuse to cooperate with Ukraine on such issues, however a chance may appear during this summer’s Olympic Games in Brazil.
Onyshchenko competed as an equestrian jumper in the 2012 London Olympics and is due to participate at the those in Rio de Janeiro this year.
— Pierre Vaux