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For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?
There have been two kidnapping incidents in Kiev today, both carried out by masked gunmen in camouflage.
Mykhailo Labutin, the director-general of the state-owned Ukrspyrt ethyl alcohol distillery, who is currently under investigation for embezzlement and tax evasion, was abducted from a hospital in Kiev today.
Labutin had been taken to the hospital for heart treatment.
Video footage from Ukraine’s ICTV shows that the gunmen bore Ukrainian flag insignia and what the channel identifies as Interior Ministry patches.
Despite this apparent state involvement, Interfax-Ukraine reports that Ukrainian officials have announced that an investigation is being launched.
“Unidentified armed men in camouflage uniforms have kidnapped Labutin from hospital today, he has been taken to an unknown place. An investigation is now under way,” First Deputy Chief of the State Fiscal Service Volodymyr Khomenko wrote on Facebook.
Criminal proceedings were opened on the fact of the kidnapping of Ukrspyrt’s top manager, he said.
Meanwhile, Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Kiev police press office has announced that unidentified, masked gunmen in camouflage uniforms abducted a man on Melnykov street at around noon.
The Interior Ministry announced that an interception plan was under way in response.
The gunmen were already waiting at the scene and dragged the victim into a van before fleeing the scene.
Police officers are searching the capital. Vehicles used in the abduction were located but the victim was not found inside.
— Pierre Vaux
Of course, this is hardly good news for Ukraine, who’s financial growth is predicted to be lower than Greece’s.
But there is a an important point that The Economist is making here — much of Europe will see negative or stagnant population growth, and the population growth will be largely among immigrant populations. As long as those trends remain, much of Europe will see sagging GDP.
The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has said at a briefing in Kiev that the Ukraine Contact Group video conference, which was announced earlier today by the DNR’s representative, Denis Pushilin, is now under way.
Ukraine’s 112 television channel reports that Steinmeier called for a physical meeting, perhaps as soon as Sunday, of all representatives in the Minsk negotiations to follow the video conference.
The German foreign minister stressed the importance of establishing concrete agreements with regards to the establishment of a buffer zone, prisoner exchanges, the settlement of borders or boundary lines and, above all, the organisation of humanitarian aid.
— Pierre Vaux
Ukraine’s SBU says they’ve has broken up a plot to set off an explosive in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. RFE/RL reports:
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) says it has foiled an alleged plot to detonate explosives in a crowded area in the capital, Kyiv.
Markian Lubkivskiy, an adviser to the SBU chief, said at a briefing in Kyiv on December 19 that security and counterterrorism forces had prevented what could have been a major attack.
Lubkivskiy said Luhansk resident Anastasia Kovalenko was detained during the morning of December 17 shortly after she arrived in Kyiv by bus.
The SBU has been warning for months of possible terror attacks against Kiev’s subways and public spaces. When The Interpreter’s editors James Miller and Michael Weiss were in Kiev at the end of August, there were several such security alerts. To our memory, however, this is the first arrest due to a specific bomb threat.
— James Miller
The ATO press centre announced this morning that Ukrainian positions along the front line near Debaltsevo and the Bakhmutka highway had come under attack from Russian-backed forces during the night.
Positions were attacked near Redkodub, Chernukhino, Novogrygorovka and Schastye.
Ukrainska Pravda reports that the attacks near the first four settlements named above were conducted with small arms, while rocket-propelled grenades were used near Schastye.
An attack with small arms was also reported near Mayorsk, on the outskirts of separatist-held Gorlovka.
Here is a map of the reported attacks:
UNIAN reports that Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, has told reporters at a briefing today that five Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and seven wounded over the last 24 hours, “as a result of military clashes.”
Earlier today, we reported on the death of two and wounding of three members of the Ukrainian Aidar Battalion near Staryi Aidar, just to the west of Schatye.
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrinform news agency reports that two Ukrainian volunteer fighters have been killed and three wounded after a unit of the Aidar Battalion fell into an ambush near Staryi Aidar, to the north of Lugansk.
The news was confirmed to Ukrinform by Yuliya Yevdokimova, press secretary for the battalion.
Two were killed in the grenade attack. One fighter was seriously wounded but is now in a stable condition, another received facial injuries and a third, a light hand wound.
Yevdokimova said that the attack took place during the night. The two volunteers killed went by the call signs of Dynamite and Sasha Ryzhy.
The battalion’s press secretary also denied reports that three Aidar members had been killed when a hospital in Schastye was attacked by Russian-backed forces.
Yevdokimova said that there had been no such attack.
— Pierre Vaux
Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reports that Denis Pushilin, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic’s envoy at the Minsk negotiations, has announced that the trilateral Contact Group, consisting of representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE, will hold a video conference at 12:00 GMT.
Donetsk has not changed its position on the talks and will insist on observing the “silence regime” declared on December 9, the withdrawal of artillery and multiple rocket launchers, as well as the exchange of prisoners of war.
Pushilin said at the meeting in Minsk the Donetsk republic will demand that Ukraine should step-by-step lift its economic blockade of the region and implement the laws on the Donbass special status and amnesty.
Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said a Skype conference of Contact Group participants on the settlement of the situation in Ukraine might be organized within days. He also said a preliminary date for Minsk consultations was December 21.
The leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics earlier confirmed their readiness to participate in the conference.
The format of a video conference of the Contact Group on settling the Ukrainian crisis remains unchanged and does not envisage the participation of the EU and the US in it, Denis Pushilin went on to say.
“The format will be the same. It could probably result in a date for a meeting in Minsk. The Donetsk People’s Republic is calling for immediately holding the next round of talks,” Denis Pushilin was quoted by the Donetsk news agency as saying.