Both Sides Say Ceasefire Largely Holding, Although Ukraine Reports 11 ‘Provocations’

September 2, 2016

Ukraine Day 928: 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


Gazprom Media Included on US Sanctions Lists; Will Not Affect Ad Purchases on Ekho Moskvy and Other Properties

Yesterday, September 1, the US Treasury Department announced a new list of sanctions due to Russia’s forcible annexation of the Crimea in February 2014 and ensuing aggression against Ukraine. The announcement indicates both new entries and additional information on previous entries, “to target sanctions evasion and other activities related to the conflict in Ukraine.”

There are 17 new additions of individuals, including Eduard Basurin,  the so-called “deputy-defense minister” and military spokesman of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) and Vladimir Kononov, the “defense minister” of the DNR. Yevgeny Manuilov, “minister of communications” of the DNR is also included as are other officials of the DNR and Russian-occupied Crimea.

Twenty entities have been added to the list. Some are businesses, like Most and Mostotrest involved in building the bridge across the Kerch Straits, or handling freight for the occupation regime. One company, the Feodosia Optical Plant, has this (likely self-written) entry for Trade Key which likely explains its presence on the sanctions list:

Feodosia State Optical Plant is a state company established in 1967; since the Soviet times it exercises a glorious reputation as internationally recognized supplier of optical goods and equipment. Its brands of microscopy as well as military equipment have been recognized in China, India, Soviet Union etc.

The so-called “Ukraine Salvation Committee,” headed by Nikolai Azarov, former prime minister of Ukraine, and consisting of former officials or supporters of the regime of deposed president Viktor Yanukovicj, has now been included in the list.

The Treasury notice also had a list of 92 additions to the Sectoral Sanctions Identifications List of the Office of Foreign Assets Control which administers and enforces the economic and trade sanctions, based on US foreign policy and national security goals. 

Some of these companies were essentially already included in sanctions as subsidiaries of other companies.

Gazprom Media, the arm of Gazprom that funds media and Internet sites is included among these companies.

We wondered if inclusion of Gazprom Media would mean that US businesses couldn’t buy advertising on any of its properties, and also wondered about the implication for purchasing subscriptions, reprints or re-broadcasting rights. Ekho Moskvy, for example has majority ownership by Gazprom Media, and is often described as “the last independent radio station in Russia” although it has increasingly come under pressure from the Kremlin.

We learned after talking to some officials at State not for attribution that in fact, people in the US can go on buying ads on Gazprom Media properties and even in theory subscribing to publications like Ekho Moskvy (although no subscription is required to view its news articles or hear its radio broadcasts, and even a phone app is available). Gazprom Media‘s properties include NTV, TNT, City-FM and St. Petersburg’s Chas Pik (which also does not require a subscription).

Gazprom was listed by the US Treasury because it is at least 50% owned by Gazprombank, already in the sanctions list. The sanctions are intended to prohibit people from dealing in new debt of greater than 30 days maturity or new equity in a company.

The US actions aren’t intended to affect freedom of the media in Russia — such as it is.

According to RT, the Kremlin predictably responded by vowing reciprocity, which is usually how US-Russian relations work.

RT noted that 26 entities of Russia’s gas giant Gazprom, already de facto on the list, included Gazprom Media. Gazprom said “the announcement of the Treasury United States does not change anything in the actual state of affairs neither for the Gazprom ban nor fort the mentioned enterprises [sic].”

GazProm Media said the sanctions will only “affect the brand recognition and increase the reach of our channel, broadcasting to foreign audiences”. This is likely a reference to the fact that in some countries, as in the US, local broadcasters purchase rights to rebroadcast NTV and other channels mainly to Russian-language audiences.

Gazprom Media’s statement is typical of propagandist claims that the world is joining the Kremlin in its resistance to “Anglo-American cultural hegemony” and the West in general. 

In fact, as the vote at the UN General Assembly indicates, after the annexation of Crimea, a majority of countries uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty in Resolution 68/262, “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine”.

Among those countries that approved the resolution was Turkey; among those countries that abstained were Brazil, India, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; and among those countries that were absent were Iran, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan — indicating that even close allies of Russia could not go this far, and undermine their own sovereignty.

RT also said that Washington’s sanctions, while intended to “complicate” the construction of the bridge over the Kerch Straits, would not prevent its completion. A $3.2 billion contract was originally awarded to President Vladimir Putin’s childhood judo partner, Arkady Rotenberg of SGM-Most, who is in the sanctions list. But as RT explained:

Part of the list includes Rotenberg’s SGM – Most and its subcontractor Mosttotrest, in addition to a number of subcontractors directly involved in engineering and constructing the link. Until 2015, Mosttotrest was owned by Rotenberg, but now it is controlled by the Russian Railways subsidiaries.

But as Moscow Times explains, there are other obstacles to the difficult engineering feat of the bridge besides financial support — weather conditions with storm winds and currents, and legal issues as the bridge involves shared waters with Ukraine, and Kiev will likely block it

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Prosecutor-General Reports On Investigation Into Failures During Disastrous Battle Of Ilovaisk

Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General, Yuriy Lutsenko, has made several announcements today concerning the ongoing investigation into the battle of Ilovaisk which took place in August, 2014 – perhaps the worst tragedy to befall the Ukrainian armed forces during the Russian invasion of the Donbass.

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The Battle of Ilovaisk: A Turning Point in Russia's War on Ukraine

Today September 14, Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey announced on TV Channel 5 the list of all those killed at Ilovaisk in the worst battle of the Russian-instigated war on Ukraine: 107 Ukrainians and 300 Russians, reported.

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Sep 02, 2016 06:59 (GMT)

During a meeting of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security today, Lutsenko said that investigators now estimate that 366 Ukrainian soldiers were killed, 429 wounded, and 300 captured.

However Lutsenko acknowledged that the figure may well be higher, and appealed for anyone with more information to turn to the authorities.

Last year Andriy Senchenko, chairman of the Rada investivgative commission suggested that the total death toll could approach 1,000.

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Rada investigative commission: About 1,000 soldiers killed in Ilovaisk battle

The death toll of Ukrainian military and law enforcement personnel killed in action in the battle near the town of Ilovaisk in Donetsk region last year may amount to 1,000 people, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada's interim investigative commission Andriy Senchenko said at a conference on Wednesday, Ukrainian news Web portal OstroV has reported.

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Sep 02, 2016 07:02 (GMT)

Lutsenko outlined what he considered, based on testimony from experts, to be have been the main mistakes made.

“Experts believe that all of the mistakes made by the military leadership boil down to a violation of the established procedure for planning and conducting military operations during the liberation of Ilovaisk by the ATO forces.”

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Lutsenko said that military planners failed to take account of intelligence data that suggested the presence of around 1,200 enemy fighters, with hardware and fortifications, in Ilovaisk before the start of the operation.

“The use of volunteer battalions in small quantities during the attack, in the view of the experts, was a mistake and a violation of a number of regulations,” said Lutsenko.

He also said that after the Russian army invaded, which began before the events in Ilovaisk, the military leadership of Ukraine “did not change their plan” and “did not give the order to retreat or other actions to soldiers.”

This matches desperate complaints at the time of the battle from Semyon Semyonchenko, commander of the Donbass Battalion which suffered terrible casualties. 

Lutsenko highlighted the failure to anticipate the effect the order to withdraw trapped forces from the borderland area to the east, known as Sector D, would have on the situation in Ilovaisk.

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Ukrainian Troops Retreat From Russian Border, Leaving 100 Kilometers Open to Invasion

For the last few days all media attention on the Ukrainian crisis has been focused on two topics: the advances made by Ukrainian forces around the city of Donetsk and, more worryingly, the threat of Russian invasion under the guise of "humanitarian intervention."

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Sep 02, 2016 07:32 (GMT)

Acknowledging that the decision was the right one to take, Lutsenko said that the retreat left Ilovaisk open to attack from the east. 

Interestingly, the Prosecutor-General said that witnesses had reported direct negotiations between Ukraine’s Chief of Staff, Viktor Muzhenko, and the deputy commander of the Russian General Staff, General-Colonel Nikolai Bogdanovsky.

The two had reportedly negotiated on the “humanitarian corridor,” which was, publicly at least, something President Putin called on the supposedly independent separatist forces to grant Ukrainian soldiers trapped in Ilovaisk.

But despite assurances from Bogdanovsky, what ensued was a massacre; they were ambushed by artillery and tanks.

Over the next few days waves of Ukrainian fighters attempted to break out of the “kettle,” suffering terrible losses.

As Ukrainian journalist Ruslan Yarmolyuk wrote at the time:

“This morning according to the agreement about the corridor which fighters are to open outside Ilovaisk, the remainders of the 40th battalion of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the 39th, the 28th and the remnants of the 51st brigade of Vladimir-Volynskaya went into the corridor and were shelled by heavy artillery and mortars. The Russian beasts swept from the earth everything that went through the corridor, both vehicles and personnel of the Ukrainian army and part of the volunteer battalions. None of them have gotten in touch and have not reached the gathering place! From yesterday’s reinforcement, which went to Ilovaisk, made up of 30 vehicles, not a single one got out; of 300 men, by preliminary information, no more than 10 remain alive! That’s it, make your conclusions!”

Lutsenko said that the actions of the Russian military demonstrated their “treachery.”

“Treachery in that Ukrainian markings had been placed on their hardware, treachery in that they gave a guarantee of exit, but people were shot point blank.”

This evidence, he said, would form part of an international court decision.

At the same meeting, Lutsenko announced that his office would question all former Ukrainian defense ministers still resident in the country as part of a wider investigation into the dereliction of Ukraine’s defensive capabilities in the years before the war.

According to Lutsenko, military assets worth nearly 2 billion hryvnia (around $75 million) were sold off between 2005 and 2014, with even greater sell-offs in the preceding years.

Those officials who were not present in the country, would be put on a wanted list.

— Pierre Vaux

Both Sides Say Ceasefire Largely Holding, Although Ukraine Reports 11 ‘Provocations’

The Ukrainian military says that the ceasefire that came into effect yesterday has largely held so far.

Ivan Arefyev, a spokesman for the headquarters of the Ukrainian military operation in the east, referred to as an Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO), told the 112 television channel that Russian-backed forces had not violated the ceasefire between midnight and 8:00 this morning.

However earlier today, the ATO Press Center reported that there had been 11 ceasefire violations yesterday.

According to the report, there were no attacks in the Lugansk region, but in the Donetsk area, Russian-backed forces opened fire with recoilless rifles near Troitskoye and Nevelskoye.

In Avdeyevka, one of the most dangerous areas of the front line, Ukrainian troops were fired on with automatic grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and small arms.

Small-arms fire was also reported near Verkhnetoretskoye, to the north; Maryinka, to the west of Donetsk; Granitnoye, to the east of Volnovakha; and Luganskoye, east of Gorlovka.

The military described these incidents as “provocations” and claimed that Ukrainian troops had not returned fire.

The pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency says that local administrations in front-line separatist-held areas of the Donetsk region reported no attacks by Ukrainian forces last night.

Similarly, the “People’s Police” of the self-declared Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) reported no fighting over the last 24 hours. 

But the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claimed that a civilian man was wounded in the village of Aleksandrovka, near the front line with Ukrainian-held Maryinka, at 17:35 last night by a sniper.

Meanwhile Colonel Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for the Ukrainian Presidential Administration announced today that one Ukrainian soldier had been wounded by an explosive device in Stanitsa Luganskaya, northeast of the separatist-held regional capital.

— Pierre Vaux