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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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?
July 17, 2014, will be a day the history books remember because Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine. Available evidence strongly suggests that weapons provided by the Russian military to Ukrainian insurgents was used to destroy the civilian airliner.
But on the evening of July 16 The Interpreter had another big scoop that was overshadowed by MH17 — multiple videos taken by multiple Russian citizens in the town of Gukovo reportedly showed that Grad rockets, positioned inside Russian territory, were firing into Ukrainian territory. The Interpreter was able to determine, based on geolocating the location of several of the cameras, that the rockets were indeed fired from positions inside Russia toward Ukraine. The Interpreter also translated a report from Ukrainian soldiers who were reportedly hit by the Grad rockets.
The editors at Foreign Policy magazine were convinced, making our analysis their top news story:
As a group of bloggers points out, since then Google has released newer satellite pictures of the area which appear to show track marks and scorched earth in an area just a few hundred meters from where we believed the rockets had been launched from — well within Russian territory.
Here is a satellite picture taken on May 14, 2014, before the Grad rocket attack in question:
And here is a new satellite picture, taken on August 7, 2014, just a few weeks after the rocket launch:
As you can see there are large black marks in two locations in the field west of the lake. We’ve checked other satellite images taken in the past, and there these black spots appear to be unique.
As you can see, this matches almost exactly the location we estimated the rockets were being fired from just by using the estimated position of two camera angles taken on low-quality Youtube videos by seemingly amateur camera persons:
Relatively minor adjustments to the angles which we originally estimated would make those lines cross further south. Also, there was some confusion in our initial analysis because we later determined that there appeared to be two different launch sites, not just one.
The point is that at the time we were highly confident that we had proved that Grad rockets had been launched from Russia into Ukraine. This additional evidence is highly compelling and consistent with our initial finding.
Here is one of the videos of the Grad rocket launch. Others, part of our initial investigation, can be found here.
this field and found discarded rations, vehicle tracks, and other
evidence of Russian soldiers operating in this area.
As we reported earlier today, Aleksandr Bednov, known as “San Sanych” [Aleksandr Aleksandrovich] whose nick-name was “Batman,” was killed in an ambush today along with his guard on orders of his own commander-in-chief, Igor Plotnitsky, prime minister of the self-declared “Lugansk People’s Republic.”
There have been conflicting accounts of whether “Batman” and his men were indeed executed or whether they are still alive.
A video titled “Lt. Col. Alexander Bednov has been killed” has been uploaded to YouTube by a “Novorossiya” supporter showing the pro-separatist war correspondent nick-named “Kot” as interviewing members of the battalion’s personal security detail for Batman named “Olimp” [Olympus] and “Rybak” [Fisherman]. He found them, shaken, guarding the battalion’s armor inside the city of Lugansk, not on the front line, at a location they would not reveal for security reasons.
The Interpreter has a translation of an excerpt:
Sanych (Bednov or “Batman”) Bednov perished. He was meanly executed,
from an ambush, and along with him, his guard was executed. We will
speak with witnesses now of that incident, or to be more precise, that
base, villainous act.
Olimp: We’re from the personal security of San Sanych Bednov.
Rybak: I’m his personal guard, my nickname is Rybak [Fisherman].
as far as I know the security was killed. So how did it turn out — I
don’t mean to say anything bad — that you ended up alive? What were the
circumstances. You’re standing in front of the camera now.
Olimp: It’s just that we had several shifts. That is one group would work first, then the second one. We were in the shift group.
The situation was this, sort of. It wasn’t our shift group, it was my
shift, but my brother asked to go in my place. He woke up earlier, and
he said, “Bro, let me go in your place.” So he went instead of me, and
he wound up there.
Kot: So, in short, your brother was killed.
Kot: My condolences.
Rybak: His name was Valentin, his nick-name was “Pulya” (Bullet)
Kot: Again, my condolences, and the condolences of all our viewers.
So tell us the details, as the entire Internet has exploded. So much information has come out, he’s killed or not killed.
was told right before coming here that San Sanych is alive, that’s at
the SBU [Ukrainian Security Service], that he’s in a cellar, he was
thrown in there. That somebody is even planning to bring him food there,
and so on.
Olimp: I’ll tell you approximately how it was, from
the words of eyewitnesses that called us. San Sanych, along with — I’ll
put it this way — our family, our guys, they were going toward Krasny
Luch. When Batman got near Georgievka, when Batman was passing by
Georgievka, an attack was made from three positions. There were three
BTRs. That they wrote that Batman put up resistance…I’ll tell you,
there was nothing for him to put it up with. Of course our first job is
to protect him and open fire. But there was nothing to open with.
The…like…the cannon went off right away
Rybak: There are
several versions of the story. Either a remote-controlled mine went off
— the automobile was blown up from inside, and their car was armored –
it’s exploded not from the top, but exploded by a Tyulpan from inside [the 2S4 Tyulpan, a self-propelled mortar – The Interpreter],
so either a mine went off, or a Shmel was fired because the bodies were
all burned. One fighter who was able to identify our
brother [Kot from the Urals?], said all the guys burned. The escort car..the guys
couldn’t identify it…not even the pieces could be gathered together.
No one was offered a chance to surrender, or talk…
Kot: So it was a typical ambush. A lousy ambush.
It worked like in Afghanistan. Usually ambushes are set up along the
sides of the road. As the eyewitnesses said, “They almost shot
themselves.” When they began to open fire, first, they finished off the
guys. There were holes like this in the car [shows the size at 4:53].
Rybak: The car was destroyed with a large-caliber machine-gun. From my own experience I can say, yes, they finished them off.
Olimp: Yes, they simply…
Rybak: At first, the car, then they finished them off.
The only thing, the reason we recognized “Kot,” our brother, at the
moment of the explosion, he was thrown — through an armored window this
thick [demonstrates at 5:13]. He was just thrown out. He flew out and
was lying on the road. Eyewitnesses say that apparently…they then
finished him off. Maybe he was still alive, but most likely they
Kot: I see.
Later, Rybak explains that the guards couldn’t be accused of opening fire because they’d have to first open the door, they couldn’t shoot through an armored car door. He said there was no evidence they had fired their weapons and this could be proven by examining them and seeing the ammunition wasn’t expended. He believed they were deliberately executed before they had a chance to draw their weapons, and did not die in a firefight.
The page in the Russian social media of the wife of Alexander Bednov, Alla Bednov (Mikhailova) has been deleted, although it is still visible for now in the web cache.
That has led to concerns that she may have been executed as well, but there is no evidence of that, and it is possible administrators or Russian security officials simply removed or hid the pages to remove possible evidence. The Bednovs had a young son.
Aleksandr Bednov and Irina Bednova. Via VKontakte.
The page of Bednov’s sister, Alla Bednova, is still viewable, where she uploaded a photo of herself bearing a rifle.
While earlier today she had a post from the VK group called Attache, saying “He is still alive! In the cellar!” later she put up a post that said, “
‘Batman,’ Lt. Col. Alexander Bednov, chief of staff of the 4th Brigade of the LNR has been killed.”
The Batman Battalion on VKontakte, a group that is still showing also has a notice that their leader was killed, with contact information:
The battalion also posted a YouTube of a New Year’s greeting that Batman had made and had planned to post before he was killed.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Russian and separatist media have reported that Aleksandr Bednov, the commander of the “fourth battalion”, known as “Batman” or “Rusich” of the separatist ‘Lugansk People’s Republic,’ has been killed along with several of his fighters.
Bendrov was, according to the “general prosecutor’s office of the LNR,” killed during an attempted arrest on charges of torturing civilians.
Lug-info.com, a press site for the separatist leadership in Lugansk, carried a statement from the “prosecutor general” yesterday.
The Interpreter translates:
“On December 30 2014, a criminal case was initiated by the Prosecutor General of the LNR in relation to members of of the ‘Batman’ rapid response battalion known by the call-signs of Maniac, Omega, Dak, Chechen, Batman, Luish, Fobus, Yanek, Khokhol, Subbota, Zema, Tabletka, and others on the grounds of the illegal detention of two or more individuals, torture with the use of weapons, and also the abduction and killing of civilians, false imprisonment, extortion and robbery,” explained the statement.
According to the Prosecutor General, between June and October 2014, fighters from the battalion illegally detained and tortured 13 civilians. As a result of their illegal actions, one of their detainees died…
During their arrest on January 1, 2015, the leader of the ‘Batman’ battalion, A.A. Bendrov, refused to comply with the legal demands of special forces officers and put up fierce armed resistance. In the ensuing shoot-out, he was killed.
The ‘Batman’ battalion itself rejected the leadership’s claims, posting on their VKontakte page (translated by The Interpreter):
‘Batman’ and all of his escort have been killed on the orders of Plotnitsky [leader of the LNR]. The order has been given to purge all of the irreconcilable commanders – Mozgovoy, Dremov, Knyaz are next. Our base in Lugansk has been surrounded. We are holding our defences.
There was no resistance on the part of Batman. They were plainly executed. Two BMPs, machine guns and thermobaric RPGs were used in the process.
According to the group, the incident took place near Lutugino, to the south of Lugansk, near to the airport.
Lenta.ru reported that six members of the battalion were killed with Bendrov.
A detailed summary (in Russian) of the incident with links to more information on reactions to the deaths and the identities of those killed can be found on the pro-separatist Colonel Cassad blog.
One notorious member of the unit, Alexey Milchakov, appears to have survived as he has posted tributes to those killed on his VK page
Graphic photos were posted on the Batman VK page:
— Pierre Vaux
In the late spring of 2014, after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, pro-Russian separatists, largely led by men who were from Russia (some of them purporting to be Russian military) began taking over government buildings across eastern Ukraine. We know what happened next. By August Ukraine was effectively being slowly invaded by the Russian military.
These events led many to ask what Russia wanted in Ukraine. There were many answers; some obvious, others less so. In Crimea, Russia had large naval bases and significant energy interests. After annexing the peninsula, Russia likely saw Donbass as a possible land-bridge to Crimea. But Russia also likely wanted access to their supply of military hardware manufactured in places like Kharkiv.
Generally, all of Russia’s actions could be seen as part of Putin’s resurgent imperialist agenda, and his efforts to send a message to the rest of eastern Europe that they needed to reject the European Union and deepen ties with Russia, or they would have to pay a high price.
However, there is one other possible motivation for Russia’s actions: a small breakaway region of one of Ukraine’s neighbors, Moldova.
The Transdniestria is a small region of eastern Moldova, sandwiched between the River Dniester and the border of Ukraine. In 1992, after the Soviet Union was dissolved, militants in this region did not want to see the end of Soviet rule. A localized war broke out until a ceasefire was negotiated which saw the deployment of Russian peacekeepers to the region. Russian forces were supposed to be there only for a short period of time, but despite the fact that the Russian government agreed to withdraw the troops in 1994, and despite the fact that the ceasefire they supposedly defend has been periodically broken, Russian troops remain in the region.
The Economist has published an overview of Russia’s interests in both Moldova and the neighboring region in Ukraine, Bessarabia:
While the conflict in eastern Ukraine is at least partially frozen, the reality is that 2015 is starting with Russia having accomplished few of the goals it set out to accomplish in 2014. Crimea has been annexed, and the territory controlled by the Russian-backed fighters is stable, but neither region is self sufficient. Russia does not control Kharkiv, it does not have a land bridge to Crimea, and the situation in Moldova has not changed.
What will Putin do next? Russia is now saddled with its own economic crisis and it starts the new year more isolated from the international community than it has been since before the end of the Cold War. This is why Russia and Ukraine observers in Moscow, Kiev, and the rest of the world simply do not know what will happen next in 2015.
— James Miller
Yesterday, January 1 we reported on the torchlit march in Kiev in memory of Stepan Bandera, a controversial Ukrainian nationalist fighter and hero implicated in atrocities in World War II. The march was organized by ultranationalist parties Svoboda [Freedom] and Right Sector as well as the Sich battalion. About 2,500 people attended and there was only one incident reported.
During the march, some men grabbed the camera of LifeNews, a tabloid TV station close to Russian intelligence and law-enforcement, then broke it. They also took a reporter’s mobile phone.
According to a report from from Gordonua.com, Ukrainian police have already made an arrest in this incident.
Ukrainians have been angered at the way LifeNews spreads disinformation about Russia’s war on Ukraine; last week the Russian channel even claimed falsely that there was a radiation leak from the Zaporozhe Nuclear Power Station although there was no such leakage.
Both the march and the breaking of the camera served to fuel already lurid propaganda about the procession on Russian state TV.
In this account, LifeNews says the assailant had an axe and threatened to kill them, although this has not been confirmed.
As Gordonua.com said yesterday, a Russian official protested about what she described as “inaction” from the police on her Facebook page. Ukrainian officials often make “informal” statements on their social media pages, but it’s not so common among Russian officials. Maria Zakharova, deputy director of the Department of Information and Press of the Russian Foreign Ministry has already picked up this tradition (translation by The Interpreter):
Correspondent Zhanna Karpenko managed to go on the air live, after which people in masks came up to the journalists and demanded that they stop the broadcast, and then grabbed cameraman Alexander Ulyanov and began seizing his camera. It ended with punches, insults and threats against the Russian journalists, broken equipment and a mobile phone taken. The women tried to appeal to local policemen who were guarding the “event” but they were turned down.
This new attack on Russian correspondents is the latest outrageous fact of persecution in Ukraine of media representatives carrying out their professional activity, and the manifestation of a gross violation of the basic principles of freedom of speech and the inaction of the official Ukrainian authorities who have refrained from ensuring safety for the work of journalists.
Zakharova didn’t stop there, but said that anti-fascist organizations should speak out because not only was there “certain dangerous neo-Nazi tendencies in the center of Europe, but concrete events in form and content copying Nazi traditions.”
Karpenko was exaggerating, as Ukrainian police and independent media said there were no other incidents during the march, and in fact Ukrainian police did respond to the assault on the camera crew, which Zakharova hasn’t yet acknowledged.
The Interior Ministry has already published an announcement on its web page about the arrest made in the incident (translation by The Interpreter):
As the result of a clash, a cameraman’s video camera was damaged and a mobile telephone was seized from a journalist.
Officers of the Shevchenko Precinct registered the incidents in the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations on evidence of criminal offenses stipulated under Art. 171, part 1 (obstruction of the lawful professional activity of journalists) and Art. 186, part 2 (theft).
Law-enforcers detained a suspect. A male has been informed that he is suspected of committing both criminal offenses.
One follower of Zakharova on Facebook took the opportunity to ask her about the list of journalists killed in Russia.
Translation: Mariya! Now about this list, what do you as a Foreign Ministry representative have to say?
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick