Ukraine Live Day 308: Watching Diplomatic Talks And Troop Movements

December 22, 2014
Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev meeting Ukrainian President Petro Porshenko today. Photo via @adagamov

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.

Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs.

View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map
For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?

Newly-Available Photos of MH17 Shoot-Down, and Interview with Eyewitness by Olaf Koens of RTL Nieuws

The blogger@DajeyPetros from Ukraine@War has translated from the Dutch original the interview by Olaf  Koens we reported on earlier today:

Interview with Eyewitness Who Made Photo of Buk Trail

He also found a video of the first minutes of Koens’ video published on

Dec 23, 2014 07:15 (GMT)

The Interpreter has a translation from the Russian, combined from part of the interview posted at, and part from

“When I photographed that white streak, I didn’t attach any
significance to all of that right away, for me it was, well, just a
white streak, going from the horizon upwards there, and then it breaks
up in the clouds. It was only a little bit later that it became clear
what that was.”

“At 16:20 that is, 20 minutes after 4:00 pm, we heard an
explosion. At first there was one explosion, well, one that wasn’t very
strong, big. Then about 15 seconds or so later, there was a second
explosion, such an explosion that oh, the windows rattled.”

The man is giving the Kiev time, which is one hour earlier than Moscow time. (Col. Igor Strelkov’s dispatch was at 17:50, Moscow time).

The article has an additional photo that has been made available by
the photographer, which has been enhanced to make the plume of smoke
stand out:


The photo is very similar to the photo circulated after the July 17 crash which was geolocated by Ukraine@War at the time:


@DajeyPetros Actually the comment “where farmer tried to put out fire” was about this image.
— NaNumber (@cmsNetherlands) December 23, 2014

In November, we analyzed a video that was found by Komsomolskaya Pravda and a longer video published by AP,
and reviewed two other videos showing the plumes of smoke after the
crash, and found that villagers mentioned that “a rockets was fired,”
and that “a guy had launched a rocket.”

Did Those Who Took First Videos Of MH17 Wreckage Know The Plane Was Hit By Anti-Aircraft Missiles?

Olaf Koens Interviews Photographer Who Says His Photographs Prove Buk Missile Shot Down MH17

RTL News correspondent Olaf Koens reports that he has possession of three unreleased photographs which prove that a missile came from separatist-controlled territory and shot down civilian airliner Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on July 17, 2014.

Two of the pictures reportedly show a “vertical plume,” the trail the missile made while going up into the sky, while the third reportedly shows a column of smoke rising from the crash site. Here is the RTL news statement (translation by Google):

Two pictures have been published previously. But the three pictures that  RTL News owned, are of a much higher resolution than previously unpublished photos and also contain other data, such as the time at which they were taken. This was the starting point for further research. To ensure the safety of the person who made the pictures not to endanger, RTL News will publish these photos…

The pictures have been geolocated to near site of the MH17 crash, in a field near Snezhnoye and Torez (here):


©NEO bv, Amersfoort, Image ©2014 DigitalGlobe, Inc., DEM ©2014 Airbus Defence and Space

Just as importantly, the photographer, who refuses to be named, has also been interviewed by RTL.

This new evidence matches exactly our own evidence review, which can be read here and the images appear similar to existing videos we have analyzed showing villagers talking about rockets fired by separatist militants in the area.

James Miller

Over $300,000 Stolen From Odessa Bank Using Fake Gold Bars

Vesti-Ukraine reports that the Odessa branch of the Interior Ministry has announced the theft of more than 5 million hryvnia (over $300,000) in gold from a branch of the Ukrainian National Bank.

The press office of the Interior Ministry told Vesti-Ukraine that a criminal case had been opened and that an investigation to identify the culprits was under way.

The gold was stolen during a scheme, which lasted from August to October, in which blocks of lead, covered in gold paint, were sold over the counter to the bank.

One “Yuri N.” a cashier at the bank who is alleged to have provided forged documents for the criminals, has fled with his accomplices to Russian-occupied Crimea.

The Interior Ministry said that the theft had only been detected during an a routine inspection at the end of October. A criminal investigation was opened on November 19.

Practices at the bank including failing to search employees entering or leaving the bank, and the buying of precious metals over the counter, have been suspended.

— Pierre Vaux

Ukrainian Forces Repel Separatist Attack Near Mariupol

Both the Headquarters for the Defence of Mariupol and the Azov Battalion report that an attack mounted by separatist diversionary forces, or “saboteurs,” was repelled by Azov fighters yesterday.

According to Azov’s press service, one of the volunteer units patrols came across the diversionary group while operating to the north-east of the port city.

The separatist fighters opened fire but were repelled. The battalion claims that there were no casualties on the Ukrainian side. 

The Defence Headquarters reported that the situation otherwise “remains calm in Mariupol,” noting that two unmanned aerial vehicles were spotted near the city this morning.

— Pierre Vaux

Kazakh Leader Nazarbayev Visits Kiev

Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has autocratically held onto power in Kazakhstan since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has met with President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev today.

Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reports that Nazarbayev stressed the importance of the Minsk agreement with regards to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Interestingly the English version of TASS’ report has Nazarbayev referring to the war in the Donbass as “an organised civil war” which seems to suggest he is pointing a finger at outside influences, we cannot see this line (or the wider comment from which it is taken) in any Russian-language reports on the meeting.

The Minsk agreements should be the only foundation for settling the crisis in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his Kazakhstani counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev told a joint briefing on Monday.

“We firmly agreed to stick to the policy and practice of the Minsk agreements as the foundation for settling the crisis in eastern Ukraine. We are following them,” the two presidents said.

“The position of sovereignty and territorial integrity is inviolable. The whole world is going to mobilize efforts to ensure the peace process on the basis of the Minsk agreements,” Poroshenko said.

President Nazarbayev, in turn, noted that the Minsk agreements were supported by all the sides in conflict and that good and, more importantly, solvable questions were written down in them.

“What happened in Ukraine is terrible. No one could have imagined in the worst of dreams that a conflict and an organized civil war will break out inside the country,” Nazarbayev said.

The Kazakhstani president confirmed that he and President Poroshenko had had an open and friendly discussion on the situation in Ukraine’s Donbas region.

“I know the positions of Ukraine, Russia and Europe. Confrontation and sanctions is a road to nowhere. There is a way out of this situation and it should be used as soon as possible,” Nazarbayev added.

Interfax-Ukraine reports that Nazarbayev urged Russia and Ukraine to reach a compromise, but insisted on the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity:

“I am asking Russia and Ukraine to think about a compromise in order to end this conflict and preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine, because this situation [the Donbass conflict] is nonsense and it should not have happened.”

The Ukrainian and Kazakh leaders also announced two deals between their states. Firstly, Nazarbayev said that Ukrainian power stations would receive coal from Kazakhstan’s Ekibastuz mines.

Secondly, President Poroshenko announced that Ukraine and Kazakhstan would “fully resume military-technical cooperation.”

Nazarbayev’s visit comes the day after that of another leader of a state within the Russian-led Customs Union: Aleksandr Lukashenko, dictator of Belarus.

RFE/RL noted yesterday that both leaders, despite their political and economic ties to Russia, appeared to be making moves to appear friendly to Ukraine.

A senior Ukranian government source told AFP that both Lukashenka and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev — due in Kiev on Monday — were now trying to make amends for deciding to join a political and economic union led by Moscow.

Russia is lurching through a financial crisis sparked by a plunge in the price of its oil exports and a punitive freeze on its firms’ ability to raise money on US and EU markets.

But Lukashenka in particular has been shunned by the West for his intolerance of dissent and establishment of what Washington once dubbed “the last dictatorship in Europe”.

Lukashenka and Nazarbaev “have sensed that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is weak,” the senior Ukrainian source said.

“They would like to see Ukraine help them improve relations with Europe.”

Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency reported today that President Poroshenko said that the Belarusian and Kazakh leaders had coordinated their actions with Ukraine, prior to heading to Moscow, where the two leaders are to attend a trade meeting with President Putin.

Translation: Et tu, Brute!

Meanwhile Alexei Pushkov, the head of the International Affairs Committee of the Russian Duma, tweeted that Lukashenko should beware any warming relationship with the West:

Translation: Milosevic, Gaddafi and S. Hussein tried to befriend the USA. Their fate is well known. Now the USA is offering Lukashenko a “new relationship.” A dangerous track record…

Pierre Vaux

Ukrainian POW Facing Murder Charges In Russia Will Continue Hunger Strike Indefinitely

Another Russian court has upheld the detention of  Nadiya Savchenko; a Ukrainian prisoner of war who was captured in eastern Ukraine, reportedly kidnapped across the border, and now faces murder charges for the deaths of two journalists who were almost certainly not killed by Savchenko.

KHPG reports:

Judge Yury Pasyunin of the Moscow City Court rejected Savchenko’s appeal against the ruling extending her detention until Feb 13, 2015.  Nadiya Savchenko, who resigned from her military post after being elected to parliament in Ukraine’s October elections, had declared before the ruling was passed that if the appeal was rejected, she would remain indefinely on the hunger strike she began in protest at the failure to provide her with treatment for a serious ear inflammation.

“I will continue my hunger strike until I return to Ukraine. This is not suicide but the only method of fighting available to me”, she stated.

Her lawyer Mark Feygin reported on Monday evening that he had visited Savchenko in SIZO hoping to persuade her to stop the hunger strike which she began on Dec. 13.  He failed.

Savchenko’s lawyer, Mark Feygin, says that his client is not receiving proper medical treatment, nor has the prosecution presented evidence of Savchenko’s guilt:

At the hearing on Monday, Feygin pointed out that in accordance with a judgement from the Supreme Court,   the prosecution is obliged to present material directly incriminating the defendant.  The investigators claim to have such material, but have not produced it. Feygin added: “If you have such material, but you are not for the moment showing them, then let her await the time when she and her defence are able to review the material without being deprived of her liberty.

Feygin asked for the Ukrainian MP and representative to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to be released on bail of 1 million roubles. He stressed that her ear inflammation was not being treated in SIZO where there is no otolaryngologist.

The defence have presented evidence indicating that Nadiya Savchenko was already held by the militants when the TV journalists died in shellfire, and thus has an alibi.

Ukraine Threatens to Cut Electricity to Rebel-Held Territory

Despite Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine and the fact that parts of the Donbass are still occupied by Russian-backed separatists, Ukraine still supplies rebel-held territory with electricity and other utilities.

That may soon end if those rebel-held areas do not cut back on their electricity consumption. Due to disruption in coal supplies as a result of the fighting, and due to strained relations with Russia where Ukraine receives much of its natural gas, Ukraine simply may not have enough electricity this winter.

Reuters reports:

“In order to save the power system we need to impose limits on everyone … there are no regions of Ukraine that will not be subject to rolling blackouts,” Deputy Energy Minister Oleksander Svetelyk said at a briefing.

Referring to Donetsk and Luhansk regions, controlled by rebels who want independence from Kiev, Svetelyk said they would have to ration electricity consumption or face being cut off entirely.

“We warned them today that if they don’t turn off like the others (regions), we will turn off flows,” he said, adding that the country faced a daily deficit of 3,500 megawatts (MW)or 12.5 percent of its needs…

Coal reserves currently stand at 1.5 million tonnes compared with usual winter stocks of 4-5 million tonnes, Svetelyk said.

Ukraine has already cut pensions for those living in rebel-held territory out of concern that the money would fall into rebel hands and would help fuel the war.

James Miller

Reports Of Partial Russian Withdrawal Accompanied By Concentration Near Bakhmutka and Telmanovo

Dmytro Tymchuk, a Ukrainian military analyst and coordinator of Information Resistance, has written on his Facebook page that some Russian forces are withdrawing from the front line in south-eastern Ukraine.

Tymchuk wrote that there has been a “marked withdrawal” of Russian army and “Russian mercenary” units from the line of contact, with local separatist forces remaining in their positions.

Such a withdrawal has not, however, been seen in key strategic areas, namely around Donetsk airport, around Telmanovo and Novoazovsk (which threatens the port city of Mariupol,) along the front from Pervomaysk to Lysychansk, and along the Bakhmutka highway.

In the area around the Bakhmutka highway, Tymchuk claims that there has in fact been an increased deployment of force, with reinforcements including groups from Alexei Mozgovoy’s Prizrak battalion arriving to support the existing Russian paratrooper force.

Tymchuk says that there are now around 600 Russian or separatist fighters operating around the Ukrainian army’s 29th and 31st checkpoints, on the eastern front line on the highway. Amongst these forces are a tank detachment of up to 7 tanks, around 25 armoured fighting vehicles, and a mixed artillery group, including 4 Grad MLRS.

Tymchuk claims that the militants are equipped with a wide variety of weaponry including, mortars, anti-tank missiles, SPG recoilless rifles, rocket propelled grenades and RPO-A Shmel thermobaric weapons.

To the south, near Granitnoye, to the west of Telmanovo, Tymchuk claims that Russian troops have withdrawn to their second lines, leaving two “mobile groups” of local militants armed with heavy machine guns and 120 mm mortars.

Tymchuk claims that a Russian army command post has been established in Amvrosievka, near the Russian border in the Donetsk region. According to the analyst, the Russian military has based a “rapid response force” of 40 servicemen in the town along with an evacuation and operational repair division. Tymchuk says that this command post provides an auxiliary route, through which Russian forces can enter Ukraine and head south to Telmanovo, therefore further threatening Mariupol. Tymchuk says that new methods of moving forces have been established so as to mask the scale of deployments. Firstly, personnel and supporting equipment are moved, mostly in civilian vehicles, then come tanks and artillery.

Interestingly, Tymchuk claimed that the Russian military is increasing its efforts to establish control over their separatist fighters, with harsh measures including the death penalty to be used against commanders or fighters who refuse to follow central command’s orders.

Here is a map indicating the locations mentioned:


— Pierre Vaux