Ukraine Live Day 297: DNR Begins ‘Partial Withdrawal’ of Artillery As Ceasefire Remains Tenuous

December 11, 2014
Denis Pushilin in June this year. Photo: AFP / Genya Savilov

Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here. An archive of our liveblogs can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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Only Two Violations of Ceasefire Reported By Ukraine Today, Both At Donetsk Airport reports that according to the Ukrainian government, as of 6 PM local time there had only been two ceasefire violations all day and both were at Donetsk airport:

The report says: “The ATO headquarters has recorded only two cases of the illegal armed groups’ use of weapons in the Donetsk airport vicinity as of 06.00 p.m. The terrorists twice fired at in the direction of our positions using PG-25 under-barrel grenade launchers.

Russian Troops Reportedly Withdrawing from Kherson Region
Russian units have left the territory of Kherson Region, the Ukrainian General staff said today, according to a report from Unian.

Maj.Gen. Aleksandr Rozmaznin of the General Staff of the Armed Forces spoke at a round table today in Kiev (translation by The Interpreter):

There are certain attempts on the part of Russia. These attempts consist of the fact that they have withdrawn part of their sub-divisions [from Kherson Region–Unian] on the territory of the Crimea, that is, they realized that they overreached and left the territory of Kherson Region.

These sub-divisions have been withdrawn from three areas [Ad, Chongar, Arabatskaya Spit–Unian], for today they are withdrawn, but our sub-divisions have not gone there.

The State Border Service of Ukraine earlier reported on December 9 that Russian troops were departing from the territory they had occupied in Kherson Region, which borders Crimea.

But on December 10, despite an agreement between Russian and Ukrainian military regarding the withdrawal of forces from three areas of Kherson Region before 18:00 on December 9, the soldiers had not left the occupied territories, says Unian.

Thus, the pledged withdrawal has not yet been confirmed.

Russian troops have been in Kherson Region since March 15, when Russians landed a helicopter with 40 paratroopers near the village of Strelkovoye on the Arabatskaya Spit in Kherson Region, which is just north of the Crimea.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

US Senate Passes ‘Ukraine Freedom Support Act.’ Could Bring Arms To Ukrainian Military, New US-Funded Russian-Language News Programs
By a voice vote (which basically means without opposition) the US Senate has passed a bill in support of the government in Ukraine:

What is in the bill? First, according to the summary posted by Congress, it opens the door for more sanctions against Rosoboronexport (Russia’s defense technology exporter), anyone investing in Russian crude oil projects, and anyone investing in Russian arms manufacturers who export to Syria or into territories belonging to Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, “or any other country of significant concern for purposes of this Act, such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the Central Asia republics.”

The bill also opens the door to sanctions against the Russian energy giant Gazprom should Russia withhold natural gas supplies from any NATO members, as well as ” natural gas supplies from countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, or Moldova.” There are other sanctions built into the bill, but it’s not clear which, if any, individuals are specified. 

But the two big components of the bill which are new involve weapons and propaganda. The bill could pave the way for direct US arms exports to the Ukrainian military, and would open the way for US government-funded Russian-language news programs to combat Kremlin propaganda:

Amends the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to designate Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova as major non-NATO allies for purposes of that Act and the Arms Export Control Act.

Provides assistance to Ukraine for: (1) the military, defense, energy, and civilian sectors; and (2) internally displaced persons.

Directs the Secretary of State to work with Ukrainian officials to help Ukraine reduce its dependence on natural gas imported from the Russian Federation.

Directs the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors to submit to Congress a plan for increasing the quantity of Russian-language broadcasting into the countries of the former Soviet Union in order to counter Russian Federation propaganda. Requires such plan to prioritize broadcasting into Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova by the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The bill is expected to be voted on by the House later today.

Ukraine To Drop It’s Non-Alignment Status?

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is riding high. Not only did his party do very well in the elections, but since the new parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, have been sworn into office several of his party’s proposals have proven to be very popular. Perhaps the most popular in Kiev right now, and perhaps the least popular in Moscow, is a bill that would revoke Ukraine’s non-alignment status which says it will neither join NATO nor any military alliance with Russia. Kyiv Post reports:

The bill, entitled “On changes to several Ukrainian legislative acts regarding foreign policy principles and national priorities” was submitted by the party faction leader, Oleksandr Turchynov, and faction deputies Andriy Parubiy and Serhiy Pashynsky.

“Unlike other bills, ours does not do curtsey to Russia. Ukraine loses the non-aligned status, and a clear prospect of joining NATO is emerging before our country,” Turchynov said, according to the spokesperson. reports that the speaker of the Rada believes that this bill will easily pass, possibly as early as next week:

Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Hroisman told a briefing, Ukrinform’s correspondent reports.

“Next plenary week, it (a bill on removal of the non-aligned status – Ed.) will be submitted and put to vote. I am convinced that it will have the majority of votes,” Hroisman said.

The abolition of Ukraine’s non-alignment would be awkward for NATO, since the alliance is unlikely to jump at the opportunity to bring in a new ally that is effectively already at war with Russia. But there are reports that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was furious at the suggestion that Ukraine joins NATO for many reasons, not the least of which that it will simultaneously anger Moscow while making Kiev look more alone than ever if NATO does not welcome Ukraine with open arms.

Ukraine Reports No Grad Rocket Attacks But Plenty Of Artillery Strikes
The Ukrainian National Security And Defense Council reports that while there have been no Grad rocket attacks in the last 24 hours, Russian-backed separatists have used plenty of artillery to break the “silence” which was supposed to go into effect on December 9.

This morning we opened our coverage with much more in-depth reporting of the latest fighting in Donetsk, Mariupol, and Lugansk.

This report is interesting. It reportedly shows pictures taken from a captured phone of an LPR fighter. The picture on the left does look very similar to architecture seen in Ukraine, though we have not yet geolocated either picture. However, the question of whether or not Russian-backed separatists are firing from residential neighborhoods is not debatable since conclusive video shows Grad rockets fired next to apartment buildings in Donetsk, the separatist commander Aleksander Khodakovsky admits that this is a tactic which the Russian-backed fighters use, and journalists have interviewed separatists who were bragging about “burrowing” into Donetsk to use the civilians in the city as human shields (read our report here).

This is also interesting. While the world sees this conflict as a war, and many have even called this a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Ukraine’s official position is that what is going on are acts of terrorism which are being supported by Russia, and terrorism is a crime.
Yesterday the Ukrainian government said that the number of registered internally-displaced persons (IDPs) has surpassed half a million. With limited resources, Ukraine is attempting to house these internal refugees at the height of winter.
Aksyonov Travelling With Putin On Visit To India

Douglas Busvine reports for Reuters that Sergei Aksyonov, the self-appointed ‘prime minister’ of Russian-occupied Crimea, joined Vladimir Putin on his flight to India for a summit.

Busvine reports that Aksyonov, who has also gone by the name of Goblin from his days in organised crime, met with a Mumbai businessman to discuss increased trade with Crimea.

From the report:

 India does not support Western sanctions against Russia, but the meeting may prove an irritant before President Barack Obama visits India in January.

Russian officials declined to comment, but a senior diplomat arrived with Aksyonov at an upscale New Delhi hotel for the meeting to sign a memorandum with a business group called the Indian-Crimean Partnership.

Gul Kripalani, a seafood merchant who chairs the group, told Reuters before the meeting that it was unofficial, but added that Aksyonov “happened to be on the flight with His Excellency President Putin”.

A spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said he was not officially aware of the Crimean visit and that Aksyonov was not a member of Putin’s delegation.

Ellen Barry, the South Asia bureau chief for The New York Times reported further on Twitter:

— Pierre Vaux
Separatists Announce Partial Withdrawal of Heavy Artillery As Ceasefire Remains Tenuous

Russia’s Interfax news agency reports that Denis Pushilin, the representative for the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ at the Minsk negotiations, has told them that separatist fighters have begun withdrawing heavy artillery from in the south of the Donetsk region.

The Interpreter translates:

“The militia has begun the withdrawal of artillery pieces with a calibre greater than 100 mm in the south of the republic.”

The spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, Andrei Lysenko, told Interfax that the Ukrainian military had no such reports as of yet. Indeed, shelling from the Russian-backed side had continued, albeit at a lower pace than before the introduction of the “silence regime” at 10 am local time on December 9.

Interfax-Ukraine reported today that the ATO Press Centre had claimed numerous violations of the ceasefire by Russian-backed forces:

The press center of the military operation in eastern Ukraine reported on Facebook on Thursday morning that the militants several times fired upon the government forces’ positions near Mariupol and Pervomaiske. “In the Luhansk area, shelling caused the worst damage to the populated areas of Frunze, Schastia, Krymske, Sokilnyky, Kriakivka, and Zhovte,” it said.

In the Donetsk region, members of the militants shelled the community of Avdiyivka and made several attempts to shell Donetsk airport, it said.

Near Debaltseve, the militants shelled the communities of Ridkodub, Kamyanka, Maloorlivka, and Chornukhyne, it said.

Near Mariupol, the militants twice shelled Charmalyk, it said.

Ukrainian artillery has not opened fire over the past 24 hours, it said.

The governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, reported in more detail on the shelling in his region, saying that there were 16 shelling attacks over the last 24 hours:

The village of Krymske, the village of Kriakivka in the Novoaidar district, the town of Schastia and the village of Chornukhyne in the Popasna district have come under fire over the past 24 hours. There were no fatalities or injuries among the civilian population,” it said.

— Pierre Vaux