The World, Europe and Ukraine: Storms of Change

September 16, 2016

Ukraine Day 942: 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

Live video of the YES Conference can be viewed here.


TSN Confirms Heavy Ukrainian Casualties In Avdeyevka In Last 24 Hours – 6 WIA

Earlier this afternoon, 24 Kanal’s Volodymyr Runets reported that six Ukrainian soldiers had been wounded in Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk.
  1. This report has now been corroborated by the TSN news channel, citing troops on the front line.

TSN’s Yevhenia Svetanska spoke to soldiers in the 81st Brigade, who confirmed Runets’ story, saying that the casualties had been suffered during several attacks.

One of the soldiers, Vladimir Kravchuk, told Svetanska that he had been injured when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at his position during the night.

Kravchuk was contused by the blast wave, while a piece of shrapnel lodged in his head. 

An army medic said that his life had been saved by his helmet and body army but he had suffered barotrauma from the shock wave. 

Another soldier, a medic from the 66th mobile military hospital, Andriy Guydayo, told TSN, had been near-fatally wounded by a blast.

“We operated all through the night, he received severe injuries… The night was very uneasy.”

Masi Nayyem, an officer in the 81st Brigade, told TSN that Russian-backed forces had taken advantage of the comparative calm after the declaration of the ceasefire to mount sneak attacks with RPGs, taking Ukrainian troops off-guard in the open.

TSN notes that the Ukrainian military may well have suffered more casualties in other areas, but this will not be known for sure until the Ministry of Defense gives its daily briefing tomorrow at noon.

The latest “ceasefire,” which came into effect at midnight on Thursday, appears stillborn. As Svetanska and Runets commented, the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who heralded the new truce effort in Kiev, has been in the Donbass, just up the road in Kramatorsk, but has failed to comment so far on the resurgence in violence.

— Pierre Vaux

Unconfirmed Report Of Six Ukrainian Soldiers Wounded In Avdeyevka

Volodymyr Runets, a journalist with Ukraine’s Channel 24, reported at 13:04 Kiev time on Facebook that the Ukrainian military has suffered heavy casualties in Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk.

According to Runets, six Ukrainian soldiers were wounded, two of them severely.

So far, there has been no official confirmation of this, nor have there been any corroborating reports.

Earlier today, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense announced that three Ukrainian soldiers had been wounded, one by a tripwire mine, on the first day of the latest “ceasefire.” 

— Pierre Vaux

Disabled Civilian Detained By Separatists For ‘Terrorism’ May Be Released Tomorrow – Poroshenko

During the YES summit today, President Petro Poroshenko announced that he had reason to believe that Vladimir Zhemchugov, a disabled civilian held captive by Russian-backed separatists in Lugansk, will be released tomorrow.

Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) reported on Zhemchugov’s arrest last November:

According to the ‘state security minister’ of the self-declared Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR), Leonid Pasechnyk, Zhemchugov, who has had both arms amputated, was arrested after conducting several “terrorist acts,” including destroying railroad and electricity lines with explosives.

A video “confession” was released on the pro-separatist News Front YouTube channel:

Coynash wrote at the time:

Zhemchugov says that he had openly opposed the overthrow of power in the Luhansk oblast, and had been approached by a person who suggested he actively help the Ukrainian military.  He says that he had initially done this by providing information, but then, at a meeting in Kyiv, was invited to become part of a partisan resistance movement and carry out acts of sabotage.

He says that in Khrashchetvate he realized that one of the mines he had placed had not exploded and went back to set it up again.  It exploded and when he came to, he realized that it had blown off his hands, and – at least on the arm that is visible – the lower part of the arm. 

Pasechnyk says that Zhemchugov was also blinded, and claims that no force was used against him.  It is unclear from the video whether the man can see, but there are marks indicating beating, and he is obviously dazed and in physical distress.  This is two months after the alleged explosion during which time the militant claims that he has been receiving medical care. 

The actual story is blurred. reported back on Oct 1 that two Russian “volunteers” had tried to blow up the pylon, planning to pass it off as carried out by Ukrainians.  Zhemchugov’s date of birth corresponds, but in the earlier report he is called a Russian national.

Pasechnyk reports that “the Kyiv office of one of the international organizations is planning to impact upon the exchange of prisoners of war”.  He notes that there has been an open appeal from his wife, and officers to provide him with equipment and Ukrainian doctors to transport him to Kyiv. 

Then, ominously, he states that “work is continuing with Zhemchugov, investigative units of the ministry are working and he is in hospital under the care of doctors”.

The ‘work’ carried out can certainly be seen on the video. What is not totally clear is why the militants have resorted to this grotesque display of their methods now.  

Ukrainian MP Iryna Herashchenko reports that Zhemchugov’s wife phoned her very late and totally distraught, having just seen the video.  Heraschenko says that they have been trying to secure Zhemchugov’s release for 2 months now, and that the militants are not allowed the International Red Cross to see him. 

Poroshenko said today that he had “great hope” that Zhemchugov would return home tomorrow.

— Pierre Vaux

Turkey: Prospects And Challenges

The next session of the YES conference is focused on another country in crisis, Turkey, which shares some challenges with Ukraine, but is moving towards, rather than away from authoritarianism.


Stephen Sackur, Presenter, HARDtalk, BBC World News

Mehmet Şimşek, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey


Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, European Commission

Stephen Sackur opens up with a “grump question” about Turkey’s rocky current events. “When we look at Turkey today we see a country that seems to have turned its back on European values,” Sackur told Deputy Prime Minister Şimşek.

Şimşek rejected this notion, but noted that this was a perception, but that there was a difference between perception and reality. The perception, however, is important.

Şimşek notes that “this is a poor understanding of Turkey.” He says that the outlook for democracy has never been brighter and is fundamentally strong, which he says “is not just marketing.” 

Sackur pushed back, noting the anti-democratic steps that Turkey has taken since the coup in July. “If Turkish democracy is on track, what sort of track is it and where is it going.” Şimşek said that while the negative headlines about Turkey are “OK,” this is actually what will make Turkish democracy stronger. Şimşek said that the coup was one of the “most violent” coups, involving a “religious cult” which has penetrated Turkish judiciary, police, and military since the 1970s. He claimed that they use military-grade communication software in order to penetrate the judiciary, in particular. He also claimed that this “cult” has acquired “more than a couple dozen media outlets.” “Judges, prosecutors who have their alliance to a lunatic who thinks he is a messiah… this is healthy for democracy.”

Sackur pressed Şimşek on whether the West is really backing Muhammed Fethullah Gülen. Şimşek stressed that the Gulenists are a very strong lobby, but Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan did not say that the West backed Gülen, and the air has been cleared. With the Gulenists on the run, Turkey’s relations with the West, with Europe, and with its own people will improve.

Turkey has had an association agreement with the EU for more than 50 years. “The patience is running thin,” Şimşek said, because Erdogan has reformed Turkey but the EU has not adopted Turkey into its doors. “Europe for us is not a 50 year old association, it is a few hundred years old association… we don’t want your money, we don’t want your help, we just want to be firmly anchored to Europe.” 

Şimşek also stressed that accepting Turkey into Europe would deepen ties between Muslims and those in Europe. “We have not given up on Europe, Europe cannot afford to give up on Turkey.”

Sackur asks his last question, about Turkey’s regional power. Sackur says Turkey is clearly projecting its power across the borders, in Syria, particularly with respect to the Kurds. Would Turkey compromise its relationship with Europe over the Kurdish situation.

Şimşek starts by saying that he is a Kurd, and the Turkish government “has no quarrel with Kurds.” Turkey supported, Şimşek, and even paid salaries for the Peshmerga to fight “Daesh, to fight ISIS.” Şimşek says that Turkey accepted Kurdish refugees from Kobane, despite the fact that the YPG, the Kurdish fighters who were in Kobane, are directly ties to the PKK.

Sackur pushed back, but Şimşek replies with this.

“Al Nusra fights Daesh, but Al Nusra is Al Qaeda. Why doesn’t the U.S. support Al Nusra?” He then argues that the PKK are like Al Nusra, a terrorist group that happens to be fighting a common enemy but that is fighting a common enemy.  

“If PKK was genuinely interested in Kurdish rights… PKK should have, way long ago, given up on violence. It has not because PKK wants to carve out a piece of Turkey.” 

Johannes Hahn, the EU’s Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, made statements that he wants to step up talks with Turkey about the expansion of their role in the EU. Sackur replied, asking “how many journalists would have to be arrested” before the EU changed their opinion of that matter, but Hahn pushed back, saying that the EU would have more leverage to deal with these questions if Turkey was moving toward the EU, not away.

Several members of the audience then challenged Şimşek about how it was that Turkey was in coalition with the Gulenists until 2013. Another audience member, Timothy Ash, asked how Western governments would respond if F-16s bombed the Pentagon. “Turkey has had difficult relationships with Russia recently… very recently there has been great warming in the relationship… should we be worried about a movement east or is the orientation toward the EU and toward NATO as well.”

Şimşek said that Turkey was “in the process of getting back on track to a normal relationship” with Turkey, and that process was needed since Russia is a significant trading partner and neighbor. “Turkey is not reorienting. Turkey is not going to shift… Turkey will remain, and WANTS to remain, firmly anchored to the European Union.” 

Şimşek said that Gulen had a very friendly relatonship with previous Turkish administrations, and with the Erdogan government, but starting in 2010 Turkey began to realize that there were serious problems with Gulen and his supporters.

The conference session ran out of time before many of the issues on the agenda were resolved.

James Miller

Ukraine Reports 30 Ceasefire Violations On First Day Of New Effort, 7 More This Morning

The latest attempt at a ceasefire in the Donbass, which came into place yesterday, just 15 days after the previous one which ended with all-out artillery barrages across the front, has, the Ukrainian military, claims, already been violated dozens of times by Russian-backed forces.

According to the Ukrainian military’s ATO Press Center, Russian-backed forces conducted 30 attacks yesterday, while military sources report seven more ceasefire violations this morning.

While most of the attacks were reportedly conducted with small arms or grenade launchers, the ATO Press Center does claim that Russian-backed fighters used 120 and 82 mm mortars to shell positions near Zaytsevo, north of Gorlovka.

Meanwhile the head of the separatist-controlled administration in the the south of Zaytsevo, Irina Dikun, claimed that a 90-year-old woman had suffered light injuries after Ukrianian troops shelled her house, starting a fire. 

The Ukrainian military denies having returned fire in this area.

To the north of Donetsk, the ATO Press Center reports grenade-launcher, machine-gun and small-arms attacks on Ukrainian positions In Avdeyevka and Verkhnetoretskoye, where snipers also opened fire.

Translation: #Donetsk Kievsky district, today is more or less quiet, without heavy weaponry, sometimes you can make out occasional bangs and a little small-arms fire. 22:30

Similar attacks were reported by the Ukrainian military near Maryinka, to the west of Donetsk, as well as Novotroitskoye, on the highway towards Mariupol, and Shirokino, on the Azov coast.

Near the Donetsk-Mariupol highway, the head of another separatist-controlled administration, in Dokuchaevsk, reported that four houses had been damaged by Ukrainian shelling overnight. 

In the Lugansk region, the ATO Press Center reported two ceasefire violations.

According to the Lugansk Regional Administration, Russian-backed forces fired on Popasanaya with automatic grenade launcher and heavy machine guns, and this morning continued their attacks with a BTR armoured personnel carrier cannon.

Colonel Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, told reporters that three Ukrainian soldiers were wounded yesterday, one of them suffering a contusion after an unidentified explosive device went off near the Lugansk village of Krymskoye.

Compared with the first days of the previous ceasefire effort, which saw only a handful of ceasefire violations, the level of violence reported today gives little grounds for hope that the new attempt at bringing the conflict under control will bear fruit.

— Pierre Vaux

Refugees, Populism, Brexit — Is The EU Coming Apart?

The first panel at the YES conference in Ukraine is on the various crises facing the EU. 


Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (2004-2014); Prime Minister of Portugal (2002-2004)

Pat Cox, President of the European Parliament (2002-2004); Member of the European Parliament (1989-2004); Member of the Supervisory Board, Yalta European Strategy

Wolfgang Ischinger, Ambassador, Chairman, Munich Security Conference; Senior Professor, Hertie School of Governance; Member of the Supervisory Board, Yalta European Strategy

Bernard-Henri Lévy, Philosopher and Writer, Director, La Règle du Jeu


Karl Rove, Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush (2000–2007); Deputy Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush (2004–2007)

Pat Cox started his remarks by noting that Brexit is the first time since World War II that a member state has left the EU. He notes that while Brexit’s concerns were British concerns, they were not universally British concerns. In many ways, on both sides of the Atlantic, the “old tide” of order has been challenged.

This crisis, however, should not be met with pessimism. The challenge should be met head on.

Wolfgang Ischinger added that there is no sign that the EU is falling apart. While problems persist, “we never ask if Poland is falling apart, or Germany, but it is fashionable to ask if Europe is falling apart.” 

José Manuel Barroso addressed the elephant in the room, however, that the leaders in Britain spent years bashing Europe, blaming their problems on Europe, and so there should be no surprise that so many British citizens voted to leave Europe.

This can also be seen in France. “The negativism in France reflects a shadow on the entire European Union.” Pessimism, Barroso said, is now fashionable.

And yet, Greece has not left Europe, and Ukraine has fought to join Europe. The forces of integration, Barroso argued, is greater than the forces of division. Optimism needs to return to the forefront.

Bernard-Henri Lévy stressed that while the migration crisis is a problem, immigration to Europe is in fact central to European identity. 

Then U.S. political operative Karl Rove spoke. Rove said that the average American is not interested in Europe, they consider it to be a region that takes care of itself. Rove said that there were significant differences between the U.S. and Europe, particularly on immigration. In the 1880s, in the 1930s, and today the U.S. saw an environment where immigrants were becoming a large part of the populace — 1 in 6. Each time, populism raised its head. But the U.S. can more easily shut its borders, Europe cannot. Rove said that populism in the U.S. is likely to be short term as a result, but Europe’s problem may be deeper.

Rove also said that there was an advantage to having the people of the U.S. ignore Europe — policy makers could pursue a relatively steady policy, detached from popular sentiment.

One member of the audience, Sir Gerald Howarth — Conservative Member of Parliament for Aldershot, Former Defence Minister, and Brexit supporter — argued that those who reject anti-EU viewpoints as “populism” are ignoring the will of the people who are recognizing that there are serious problems with the concept of the European Union. 

But Barroso pushed back, arguing that the average citizen does not understand how Brussels works, and there was a rise of neo-Nazi leaders who adopted anti-European ideas.  

He suggested that the sentiment of the Brexit supporters should be rejected wholesale. 

Cox noted that young people in Brexit were overwhelmingly in support of staying in Europe.  

He also argued that Brexit had some Britain-centric issues that should not be applicable to the rest of Europe.

Lévy said that Euroskepticism goes beyond economics but was, in Britain, a rejection of non-English culture. 
Lévy said that the response to the Brexit, and the crisis in Ukraine, is to adopt Ukraine in, not as a burden but as an accepting of the European idea.
James Miller
Poroshenko Asked About Trump’s Comments On Recognition Of Russia’s Annexation Of Crimea

The BBC asked Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenk about statements by U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump that the world may have to recognize that Crimea is now part of Russia.

Poroshenko warned that this would be “an extremely dangerous precedent” if Russia had been allowed to conquer territory in this manner.  

James Miller

Poroshenko: “Ukraine Believes In Europe” But Europe Does Not Believe In Ukraine

Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that while Poroshenko was stressing the importance of sanctions, the discussion in Europe appeared to be going in the direction of dropping them. 

Poroshenko said that he believed in Europe, but Haass asked if Europe believed in Ukraine.

“No, no,” he shook his head in frustration.

Poroshenko, showing his frustration for the first time, recalled that Ukraine once had bipartisan support in the U.S., but that support is also fading. He has arranged a meeting with Hillary Clinton, he said, but he is still waiting to hear back from Donald Trump’s campaign. 

It’s worth remembering that certain members of Donald Trump’s campaign have been linked to ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and Trump is adopting positions that are pro-Russian. 

Poroshenko stressed, however, that thus far the U.S. and European Union have been supportive of Ukraine and have opposed Russian aggression. But would that dynamic change? This is certainly one of the possibilities hinted at by both Poroshenko and by the opening remarks and video from YES organizer Victor Pinchuk.

James Miller

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko Speaks To YES

James Miller, managing editor of The Interpreter, reports from the Yalta European Strategy (YES) Conference in Kyiv, Ukraine:

The YES conference began with a message from the organizer, oligarch Victor Pinchuk, and not on an optimistic note: 

Poroshenko also made the focus of his speech global, framing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in a global context. 

“The democratic world is losing control over its own values… Russian propaganda has transformed the marginal stream into the main stream,” Poroshenko noted, using propaganda to undercut Western democracies while returning to the use of “zones of influence,” a Soviet strategy which is once again in use in Ukraine.

Poroshenko rejected a negative future, but warned that the dyer consequences if Europe is not defended against anti-European values, creeping into European politics, and advanced by Russia’s political and media agenda. Ukraine, he said, was effectively the vanguard of this fight. “We need your unity, we need your solidarity with Ukraine.”

That Russia is challenging the territorial integrity of a neighboring state is a threat to all of Europe, all of democracy. “This is not a civil war, this is not a conflict in Ukraine… this is just Russian aggression against a free and democratic Ukraine.”

Poroshenko stressed that Ukrainian diplomacy has helped stop this threat, but the Ukrainian army has also defended Ukraine against the enemy. This army, Poroshenko said, had become a model, and is now being studied by militaries across the world for its modernization efforts, its hard work, and its defiance. The Ukrainian military is now experienced in fighting. “This experience is good, but this experience is painful… the enemy came to our territory without invitation,” shattering the calm in one of the most peaceful countries in the world, he stressed.

“We have already turned the other cheek,” Poroshenko stressed, but Russian aggression persists. 

Poroshenko said that over the last night, Russian-backed forces have shelled Ukrainian positions over 30 times. Russia must stop its support of militants in the east, must give full access to OSCE and other observers in eastern Ukraine, and must return control of the border to Ukraine. 

“If we close the border, there will be no conflict in Ukraine. If they take out their troops and equipment, no conflict in Ukraine.”

Poroshenko also reminded the world that Russia is holding political prisoners, Ukrainians, in the Russian prison, and hopes to use the Russian legal system against them. He said he was hopeful, however, that some of those prisoners would soon be returned.

Before Ukraine, Poroshenko, you saw Russia destabilizing other areas: Transnistria, Ossetia, Abkhazia, and other regions. Now we are seeing this strategy play out in Ukraine.

We cannot forget about Crimea, Poroshenko warned. That area is now being turned into a militarized zone, an active threat to the rest of Ukraine and to the world. Human rights there have been denied by the occupying Russians. 

“We are even told that the Crimea issue is over, but from the perspective of international law the issue is never over. Crimea is still Ukraine by right.”

The UN General Assembly, currently underway in New York, needs to stand up for this issue as well. “We are counting on your support in New York.” 

Sanctions “are the only mechanism for keeping Putin at the table of negotiations,” Poroshenko said. “If sanctions are softened or lifted, would Russia cooperate with Ukraine?”  

Poroshenko thanked the United States for its continued sanctions against Russia, particularly against Gazprom and those who wish to build a physical bridge from Russia to Crimea. This is putting pressure on Russia and must be copied by other countries.

“This hybrid war is not about Ukraine. This hybrid war is about all of us. We have no right any longer to pretend that nothing is going on.” 

Unity, Poroshenko said, is the only thing keeping Russian aggression at bay, and sanctions have proven to be the only thing that inflicts costs for this aggression when it happens. 

Some European businesses, Poroshenko said, were complaining about the costs of sanctions against Russia. “But in reality this is an investment in European security.” PErhaps hidden in this message, however, is a warning buried in the subtext — that there are European countries that are pushing to end sanctions, which Poroshenko considers to be a threat to Ukraine and the rest of Europe. 

Poroshenko also stressed the need to invest in Ukraine’s reform process. “Political reforms are just as significant as our victories on the battlefield.”  

Corruption, Poroshenko warned, is a real problem in Ukraine. The fight against corruption is a priority, he stressed. “It is a new culture of the relationship between government and society,” he said.  

Reforms to the judicial system and the constitution are also central to Poroshenko’s anti-corruption efforts, and he said he believed that the new constitution in December will be a major blow to corrupt judges who enable many of Ukraine’s key problems. 

He also thanked the IMF for providing the first tranche of their loan to Ukraine, “a reflection of the effective work… on reform.”

“This is a sign that the international community trusts Ukraine” to reform, providing new opportunities for socio-economic growth.

Poroshenko also said that European association was “overdue.”

With that, Poroshenko wished the YES conference fruitful discussion.

“Good luck to the Yalta conference, and Glory to Ukraine.”

James Miller