Ukraine Live Day 284: Attacks On Stanitsa Luganskaya Continue

November 28, 2014

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Below we will be making regular updates so check back often.

Next Week Government Says It Will Begin Work On ‘Demands of Maidan’

Since the revolution in February both the interim government and the Poroshenko administration have complained about lack of progress in instituting key reforms. they have blamed the old members of parliament, holdovers from the previous administration, for holding up reforms. Now, with the new parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, having been sworn in, more than 9 months after the Euromaidan revolution, and with winter settling in, it is time to see whether the new government can deliver on its promises.

Today the Foreign Media Unit of the Information and Analysis Center of the National Security and Defense Council sent out a press release pledging that the “first week of December will demonstrate, how the work on the ‘demands of Maidan’ will be finally carried out.”

The press release is below:

It was promised and declared by the representatives of the coalition since the day of Parliamentary elections in Ukraine. Efforts to fulfill these promises should be felt in the government, parliament, and on the separatists’ territories demarcation line (in accordance with Minsk agreements), which effectively is the front line.

1) The appointment of the new government is expected on Tuesday. All preconditions for work to begin have been fulfilled. Last week the new Parliament has opened its first session, MPs were sworn in. Volodymyr Groisman (one of the closest political partners of President Poroshenko) was elected as a speaker of the parliament. Arseniy Yatseniuk was re-elected as Ukraine’s Prime-minister. None of this came as a surprise, since the creation of the pro-European coalition in the Parliament, loyal to reforms and re-election of Mr. Yatseniuk was widely expected immediately after the elections on the 26th of October. The intrigue was building up around the Cabinet of Ministers. Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991 reforms have been hindered not by ideological, but by personal disagreements in Kiev. Ukrainian society knows this very well, and therefore follows the last names of the future ministers much closer than clauses in coalition agreements.

2) The format of the new government is yet unknown, there only some hints with regards to unexpected faces and decisions. Not only politicians, but also business managers and even foreign experts may appear on the list of ministers. In particular, press mentions possible participation in government’s work of Zurab Adeshvilli, former justice minister and prosecutor general of Georgia. This will come as a surprise to the nation, where government posts were always the most wanted prize among Ukrainian politicians. New government will have to instantly embark on pulling Ukrainian from the brink of economic catastrophe. Ukrainian currency lost some 50% since the start of the conflict in the East, which makes current significant foreign debt even bigger. Ukraine can only be saved by reforms, which will enable foreign help. This week IMF has finished working on the situation analysis, and announced that it will continue negotiations with the new government. Much like Ukrainian society as a whole, IMF experts need to know with whom they will have to negotiate in the future.

3) Expectations from new government are high, and they are voiced against the background of shelling of Ukrainian positions by the terrorists in the East. Attacks haven’t stopped this week, they were most intensive at Donets’k airport and Debaltseve. There is an alarming tendency of intensifying shelling of peaceful residential areas. There are reports on the daily basis of shells and rockets falling between buildings so far we have reports on 7 civilians killed, including a child. Rebels are blocking the emergency and repair services’ access to the cities, where due to shelling there is a breakdown of key supplies, including electricity. Also, this week rebels attacked with grenade launchers the representatives of the OSCE mission in Ukraine, which were accompanying Ukrainian armed forces. This outraged both Ukrainian side and US Department of State. This week also artillery attacks from Russian territory resumed.  It’s no secret to anyone who’s responsible for the attacks. NATO has come up with clear statements about ‘Russian army providing the backbone’ for the rebels. Russia continues to send troops and equipment (with hundreds of trucks along with tanks and APC) through the transit points on the border, which are not under Ukraine’s control. OSCE observers are not present at these points, as Moscow blocks the appropriate decisions within OSCE. The question only remains: what is the real purpose of the military build up on these territories? The answer to this question is obviously known only to Vladimir Putin himself.

4) By threatening to either launch full blown attack on Ukraine, or limited aggressive operations in direction of Donets’k airport or Mariupol, Moscow continues to create ‘parallel reality’ for domestic and foreign audiences. On the same day, when key religious confessions’ representatives meet in Kiev to tell about the shocking facts of brutal pressure on religious communities in separatists held territories both in Crimea and the East of Ukraine, similar event was held in Moscow, where Ukrainian authorities were accused in pressuring Russian orthodox church. At the same time the humanitarian situation in Donbass is becoming more tragic. Pensioners continue demanding social payments from so-called “authorities”, which they are unable to provide.  With the advance of cold weather, the number of people, leaving their homes has increased tenfold. Each day Ukrainian transit centers are providing shelter for several thousands people, fleeing from the territories, controlled by the terrorists. IDP’s also return to Mariupol city from Russian Federation, where they faced “unpleasant  reception” from local communities.

5)  A lot is expected of the newly elected Parliament, as well. The composition of the Ukraine’s new Parliament is a stark contrast to the previous one, which among others passed ‘dictatorship laws of the 16th of January’, as a pretext for forceful dispersal of Maidan protests. There are over 10 journalists in this Parliament, known for their critical views and an ambition to make public any political agreements. There are quite a few civil activists, who were brought to the parliament on the back of their promises to champion real reforms.

6) Among newly elected MPs the are no less than ten ‘people in uniforms’, representatives of volunteer battalions, including Mr Yarosh, well known in Russia leader of “Pravyi Sector”. They are already working on draft laws, which will enable the units of motivated soldiers to be used to, effectively, build a new army on the remains of dilapidated old soviet type armed forces. Assistance in this regard is also coming from international partners. USA and Canada have already started to supply non-lethal equipment, from light anti-mine radars and flak-jackets to special sets of warm clothes. The biggest ‘star’ among MPs, representing military, is Nadia Savchenko, Ukraine’s army lieutenant, captured by Russian Army and still kept in one of Moscow. Savchenko was number one on the election list of Yulia Timoshenko’s “Bat’kivshchyna” party, and this Thursday she became the Member of the Parliament of Ukraine.

More Information On Equipment Stolen From Mistral Warship In French Port

Le Figaro has more information on the equipment that was stolen from the Mistral-class amphibious assault vessel Vladivostok.

The ship is current moored in Saint Nazaire while the delivery of the ships has been suspended by the French government in response to Russia’s continuing activities in Ukraine.

According to the French newspaper, the items found to be missing on November 25 included two hard drives, a computer motherboard, a graphics card and a software programme for communicating between different servers developed by Thales.

According to Fabienne Bonnet, a government procurement officer, none of these items contained any secret or confidential information.

The Thales software, Le Figaro writes, developed specifically for transfer to Russia, can not function in any context other than on the Mistral-class vessels.

Police in Nantes are continuing to investigate the date and perpetrators of the theft.

— Pierre Vaux

Are The West’s Priorities Backward When It Comes To Ukraine?

Kyiv Post is running a fascinating editorial, entitled “Not Enough,” which argues that Western leaders continue to fail to support Ukraine. What’s interesting, though, is the angle which the editorial takes. Essentially, it points out that some in the West are weary of supporting Ukraine because of its legacy of corruption. Perhaps this is why the West has been pushing reform instead of supplying Ukraine with arms.

But Kyiv Post warns that corruption is still present, oligarchs may still be expanding control of the country, and perhaps a better solution is to forgo giving Ukraine loans to fix its economy and instead give it weapons to fight the Russians:

The West has stepped on the rake of Ukrainian corruption one too many times to be fooled again. Ukraine should not get more billions in loans or millions more in aid until it changes.

A good start would be with the war effort. As Joseph LeGasse, a security analyst and featured speaker at the Nov. 19 Tiger Conference said, Ukraine needs to have more “skin in the game.” As retired Lt. General Mark Hertling, who also spoke at the conference said, defense spending by Ukraine of 0.8 percent of gross domestic product in war does not inspire the West to contribute.

This war should be declared and the entire population mobilized with a war tax, war bonds, draft of fighting-age men and reallocation of resources. While deep structural changes are needed everywhere, this bloody war dictates that the security and defense sectors need to be the first to change.

Read the entire editorial here.

Did Putin Threaten Poroshenko With Invasion On Wednesday Over NATO Membership?

Euromaidan Press is running a provocative article claiming that on Wednesday, in a phone call, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko with invasion if Ukraine pursued membership in the European Union and NATO. The article claims that the Ukrainian President’s office, which had been in regular contact with Russian leadership before the G20 meeting in Australia several weeks ago, had not had a high-level conversation with the Kremlin since the summit before this 90-minute conversation. The report cites members of the Presidential Administration, though notes that Poroshenko’s office officially denied this report yesterday.

Euromaidan Press also provides some context about the political realities in Ukraine now that the new Rada has been sworn into office:

Last Thursday, November 20, there were violent disagreements in a working group preparing the coalition agreements. The Poroshenko Bloc did not want to sign the coalition agreement as amended, which referred to Ukraine’s accession to NATO.  But representatives of the other factions prevailed.

On Friday, November 21, during the meeting with civic activists on Maidan, Poroshenko was angry and made it clear that he was very unhappy with that decision.

“You think that what you did was better, but really it only makes matters worse. Soon the Alliance will issue a statement that it cannot accept us. I will be discussing this with Biden right now, asking them not to do that,” the president told the activists. “Because there is a military conflict in the East, nobody will accept us in the Alliance. However, it will only irritate Putin,” he said, according to his associates.

The article also points out that the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs both echoed Moscow’s call for the federalization of Ukraine (the latter retracted the statement).

What are we to make of this?

The first important takeaway from this article has to do with the internal political tight rope that Poroshenko is forced to walk. He has to simultaneously appear to be strong against Russia without triggering further invasion. He has to maintain a ceasefire while his soldiers are under constant attack. He has to pressure the international community for more support without looking desperate or rejected when the support does not come. He also has to make sure that his own supporters, and the supporters of the Euromaidan movement, don’t turn against him, and he has to do that without losing support of his police and some units of the military which may still be more loyal to his ousted predecessor than his newly-elected government. Recently he’s been pressured to prosecute those who killed the “heavenly hundred,” the protesters killed during the Euromaidan revolution, and now he’s being pressured to aggressively pursue NATO membership.

Externally, it’s the same tight rope. Europe is passing more sanctions against separatist leaders, but not against Russia. In a series of leaked reports this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was reportedly alarmed over Ukraine’s push for NATO membership, and Germany looks like it is making overtures to Moscow to repair that relationship. When Joe Biden visited Kiev for the anniversary of the start of Euromaidan protests, many anticipated that Biden would be announcing a large new aid package to Ukraine — complete with lethal aid — but that turned out not the be the case. Ukraine is struggling to find enough support from the international community, and if it pushes too hard they may be forced to openly reject Kiev’s advances, thus delivering Moscow a clear signal that Ukraine is on its own.

Meanwhile, the war in the east continues. Russia is staging on, and across, Ukraine’s borders. However Russia is not engaged in nearly the volume of direct support to separatists that we witnessed in August, suggesting that either Russia is not committed to a particular strategy yet, or that Putin is waiting for Poroshenko’s next move before making his own in eastern Ukraine.

— James Miller

Russia Says Warships In English Channel Are Training, Escaping a Storm

The Russian state propaganda network RT reports:

Russia’s Northern Fleet has been conducting naval training near Dover. Two battleships and two supply vessels worked on operations and communications in conditions of adverse weather and heavy marine traffic.

“Today a squadron of warships and support vessels of the Northern Fleet headed by a large anti-submarine ship, the Severomorsk, crossed the narrowest part of the English Channel and passed into the Bay of the Seine,” said Russia’s defense ministry.

The crews held a series of survival exercises in case of flooding or fire, as well as anti-submarine training.

After the conclusion of this training, RT says that the ships anchored in international waters to wait out a storm.

RT also carried two statements from France, and NATO, which deny that the ships were training but confirms that the ships are avoiding a storm:

“They are not holding exercises. They’re just waiting in a zone where they are allowed to be several times a year,” the French Navy’s information service said as cited by Reuters.

“Our information indicates that the ships are transiting and have been delayed by weather conditions. They are not exercising in the Channel, as some Russian headlines would have us believe,” said NATO’s military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jay Janzen.

What’s the takeaway? This incident, like many others recently, is taking place in international waters, but does that mean that it’s a coincidence that these ships are in the English channel one week after France suspended the sale of Mistral warships to the Kremlin? Is it a coincidence that today there is a report that hard drives and transmission equipment has gone missing from one of the Mistrals?

Building Housing Ukrainska Pravda And Hromadske Offices Evacuated Due To Bomb Threat

Earlier today, a building in Kiev housing offices for Ukrainska Pravda and Hromadske.TV was evacuated by police searching for explosives.

According to Ukrainska Pravda, at 11:40 (9:40 GMT) the police asked all workers to evacuate the premises.

A cordon was established at the entrance and no-one was allowed back in while officers and explosives teams searched each floor with dogs.

At 13:07 (11:07 GMT) Hromadske.TV, who had been operating off-site, tweeted that they had returned to their studio:

Bomb threats have become a regular occurrence in Kiev this year with journalists being regular targets.

Ukrainska Pravda reported that by 13:00 (11:00 GMT) the police had already received reports of explosive devices at five other sites in the city.

The interior ministry announced that they had received phone calls warning of devices placed at two metro stations, two shopping centres and the offices of Kievgorstroy construction company.

Police officers were, the ministry said, carrying out full investigations with explosives teams searching the metro shopping centre. The Kievgorstroy office and the other shopping centre had been declared clear by police earlier in the day.

— Pierre Vaux

One Ukrainian Soldier Killed, Three Wounded Over Last 24 Hours

UNIAN reports that the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, Andrei Lysenko, has told reporters at a briefing in Kiev today that one Ukrainian soldier has been killed and three wounded over the last 25

— Pierre Vaux

Hard Drives And Transmission Equipment Stolen From Mistral-Class Vladivostok In Saint Nazaire

Le Point reports that a number of pieces of high-tech equipment installed on the Vladivostok, one of the Mistral-class carriers built by France’s DCNS for the Russian navy, have gone missing.

The amphibious assault ship is current moored in Saint Nazaire while the delivery of the ships has been suspended by the French government in response to Russia’s continuing activities in Ukraine.

According to the report, hard drives and some Thales transmission equipment were removed.

The theft was discovered on November 25. According to the initial police investigation, there was no sign of forced entry. A source at the Ministry of Defence told Le Point that there were no suspicions of Russian involvement at this early stage in the investigation, which is currently focused on the immediate surroundings of the vessel.

On November 18, “several dozen” Russian sailors boarded the Vladivostok after being prevented from accessing the vessel the day before.

— Pierre Vaux

Civilian Killed As Stanitsa Luganskaya Shelling Continues

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, has announced the death of one civilian following continued shelling in the town of government-controlled Stanitsa Luganskaya, to the north-east of separatist-held Lugansk.

According to Moskal, a marshrutka (fixed-route minibus) and two cars were fired on yesterday evening by separatist militants. 

The shelling originated, Moskal claimed, near the monument to Prince Igor on the southern side of the Severskiy Donets river, in separatist-held territory.

One person was killed and several wounded, with more details to be confirmed, Moskal wrote. 

The governor also reported that the nearby villages of Verkhnaya and Nizhnaya Olkhovaya had been shelled yesterday and last night. Woodland in Valuyskoye, to the east of Stanitsa Luganskaya, was reportedly burning following Grad rocket shelling.

— Pierre Vaux