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The U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, has released a statement about the current state of affairs in Ukraine. Baer’s statement is the perfect illustration of how the United States is now openly condemning Russian action in Ukraine and explaining that it is a breech of Minsk peace accord while simultaneously insisting that the only way forward is for Russia to abide by the Minsk peace accord.
A few examples:
Baer praises the new ceasefire, an agreement formed yesterday for Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists to withdraw heavy artillery from the demarcation line. But Baer also points out that action is not enough and Russia has broken its previous promises:
This morning we got news of new costs borne by civilians in connection with the escalation of fighting that we’ve seen in the last weeks. This underscores what we know: that we must have implementation of Minsk, in full, now. The meeting yesterday in Berlin is a welcome step; this effort to jump-start the implementation of Minsk. The meeting underscored again that we need Minsk implementation in full, including monitoring of the international border, so that Russia’s heavy weapons and fighters can be verified leaving Ukraine. So that the flow can be reversed. So that the resources that are fueling the violence can be stopped.
Diplomatic efforts like those in Berlin are necessary but not sufficient. No joint statement can replace action on the ground. The Trilateral Contact Group of Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE needs full support for its work to speed up full implementation of Minsk. And we must be cautious in welcoming the joint statement of last night because today’s news is not good. In addition to the trolley, Russia-backed separatist attacks continue in multiple locations.
Baer goes on to examine just yesterday’s ceasefire violations:
Yesterday, on the heels of a special Permanent Council meeting called to address the sharp increase in violence in eastern Ukraine, we received a report from the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine about the January 19 artillery attack on Debaltseve, an attack that this morning’s news suggests continues.
To quote from the report, “at least 30 Grad rockets impacted in and around the center of Debaltseve killing three civilians and wounding twelve. The SMM observed that rockets had caused significant damage to buildings and covered an area of approximately one square kilometer. A crater analysis performed by the SMM showed that the Grad rockets came from a western direction, the direction of ‘DPR’-controlled Horlivka.”
Then Baer examines the false narrative contrived by the Kremlin:
The Russian Federation is attempting to cast doubt where there is none. It is attempting to place the blame on Ukraine for the recent lack of progress in negotiations and the surge in violence. It is attempting to mute the obvious dissonance between the words the Russian Federation uses here in Vienna and the deeds it carries out on the ground in Ukraine.
If Russia and the separatists it supports are serious about reaching a peaceful resolution to the conflict, they should implement the Minsk agreements. If Russia and the Russia-backed separatists are ready to honor the ceasefire, they must stop attacks in blatant violation of the September 5 and 19 agreements. If Russia is committed to a peaceful solution, it must stop sending weapons and personnel into eastern Ukraine – at the end of December over 100 pieces of heavy weapons from Russia were sent into Eastern Ukraine – and it must release all hostages and illegally detained persons, including Nadiya Savchenko and Oleg Sentsov.
Baer closes by saying that the “path to peace” is in the full implementation of the Minsk accords and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Crimea:
Colleagues, the path to peace in Ukraine is clear. It lies in full implementation of the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum. While the latest increase in violence in eastern Ukraine has compelled us all to make urgent calls for Russia to implement the Minsk agreements, let us not forget that the path to peace also requires Russia to end its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea. This is a path that all must travel together. Ukraine has shown, time and again, its willingness to travel that path. Russia, and the separatists it backs, must show their willingness to do the same.
Crimea? That was in March. The Minsk agreements were signed by Russia and Ukraine in August. So a central tenet of the U.S. plan for peace in Ukraine was already being ignored by Russia when the U.S. was signing new deals with Russia. As Baer passionately and clearly spells out, that deal has been broken by Russia, but the United States is pushing Russia to implement yet another plan?
We’ve pointed out similar inconsistencies with statements made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, and U.S. Ambassador to Kiev Geoffrey Pyatt (see below). While Pyatt and Baer, in particular, have done an excellent job explaining Russia’s threat and it’s unacceptable actions, these statements also expose the fundamental hole in the logic of the Obama administration: that the only way forward is for Russia to want peace, but that the U.S. does not believe that Russia wants peace.
— James Miller
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling the latest actions of the Russian-backed fighters a “land grab.” BBC reports:
“This is a blatant land grab and is in direct contravention to the Minsk [ceasefire] agreements which they signed up to,” he added.
The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations had even harsher words for Russia. Again, the BBC reports:
She said a new peace proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin was little more than an attempt at military occupation.
“The plan would seek to legitimise territorial gains made by separatists in September as well as Russian personnel and equipment on the territory of Ukraine,” she told a special meeting of the UN Security Council.
“Let us pull the veil away from Putin’s peace plan and call it for what it is – a Russian occupation plan.”
The American ambassador to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, has sent several interesting tweets today, including one calling recent escalation a “turning point.”
But this is where the U.S. position is confusing. Didn’t Samantha Power just call Russia’s proposal for peace an “occupation” and didn’t John Kerry say that this was a rebel “land grab”? Didn’t Pyatt just retweet someone who questioned whether Russia could be trusted at all to hold up their end of the bargain? Then how can the Berlin agreement be “welcomed” by the United States?
The heart of our article in Foreign Policy, published today, also points out that there seems to be a significant disconnect between the language of the U.S. government, especially remarks by President Barack Obama during the State of the Union address regarding Ukraine, and the reality on the ground in Ukraine:
This video is labelled “Militia of the DNR leading the Cyborgs’ POWs.”
But during the video, the cameraman, a Russian-backed DNR militants has a conversation with another militant (translated by The Interpreter):
First Fighter: I’m filming. There they are leading the Dill-weed POWs. [“Dill-weed” is pejorative term for Ukrainians–The Interpreter].
Second Fighter: It’s the [inaudible] regiment.
[Fighter taking the POWs below shouts]: Do you understand me about this?! I hate you bastards!
Second Fighter [laughs]: Vostok, f**k, it seems like nobody f**king loves them.
First Fighter: Yeah, f**k.
The reference is to Vostok Battalion, headed by Aleksandr Khodakovsky, which showed up toward the end of the battle for the Donetsk Airport to rotate out some of the other fighters from Givi’s Somalia and Motorola’s Spartak battalions. The fighters seem to know that it is Vostok fighters taking the POWs.
There has been a rivalry between Vostok and Motorola where they have even exchanged gunfire in fights among themselves, regional press reports.
Ultimately, Vostok took the job of taking the POWs from the airport.
Khodakovsky, associated with the “Lugansk People’s Republic” (LNR) has been widely disliked by the fighters of the DNR over the loss of the first battle for the Donetsk Airport in May 2014, where he reportedly made an agreement with Ukrainian forces for his men to leave the airport, but then 33 separatist fighters were killed, including some Russian citizens.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick and Anton Melnikov
Translation: It remains to acknowledge that the #ATO is in fact a terrorist operation.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, James Miller
LifeNews, a sensational TV broadcaster with close ties to Russian police and intelligence, has interviewed Ukrainian prisoners-of-war who were taken by the Russian-backed forces of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR).
Or should we say “interrogated” the POWs — the reporter involved in this dubious exercise sounds like a trained police interrogator who has learned how to ask the same question repeatedly in a variety of ways to try to trip up the detainee.
Aleksandr Cherkasov, head of Memorial Society’s Human Right Center, said on Facebook that he believed the video violated journalistic ethics.
The injured Ukrainian driver in this video was taken prisoner yesterday among 16 fighters wounded in the most recent battle for the Donetsk Airport, then brought to a hospital in Donetsk. The video is dated yesterday, January 21, 2015 and was copied and distributed by pro-separatist YouTube channel Novorossiya News.
The Interpreter has translated the questioning. We note that because this man was taken prisoner, his answers were coerced:
Reporter: Where were you taken prisoner? (The reporter uses the verb plenit’ which usually means “to take as a prisoner of war” in the Russian language–The Interpreter).
Prisoner: Nobody has taken me as a prisoner.
Reporter: How did you end up here?
Prisoner: For helping. He asked for help.
Reporter: Who, a Ukrainian soldier? Who are you, are you in principle a soldier?
Reporter: What division did you serve in?
Prisoner: I’m a driver, in general, I’m not in any unit.
Reporter: Driver of what?
Prisoner: An MTLB.
Reporter: What’s at the MTLB base?
Prisoner: Nothing. Just trailers.
Reporter: So you’re just the driver of a trailer.
Reporter: What did you haul?
Prisoner: I didn’t haul anything. I transported a paratrooper.
Reporter: What paratrooper?
Prisoner: To the airport.
Reporter: What was his brigade?
Driver: I don’t know. Whomever they gave me to drive, I drove.
Reporter: What was the last order given?
Driver: Drive people.
Driver: To the airport (laughs).
Reporter: With what purpose?
Driver: [Inaudible] To collect the wounded.
Reporter: Did you find any wounded there?
Reporter: What did you see there?
Driver: Actually, I didn’t see anything. What could I see. I got there, my truck was bombed, that was it.
Reporter: So, who from your crew remained alive?
Driver: Nobody. He was 200 [dead], so they took him out of the crew.
Reporter: So how many people died as you were fulfilling your assignment?
Reporter: So one died? You say no one remained alive? One 200?
Reporter: So how many died?
Reporter: So there was one 200.
Reporter: So you were alone in the truck, or there was one other person?
Driver: My assistant.
Reporter: So that’s the entire crew?
Reporter: So where was the paratrooper?
Driver: The paratrooper was there. He managed to get out. They already bombed us on the spot, there.
Reporter: Is the paratrooper alive?
Reporter: What brigade was he in?
Driver: How should I know? Nobody wrote down anything for me.
Reporter: So what was your assignment?
Driver: Pick up people, and take them to the airport, that’s it. And if there were 300s [wounded] at the airport, to pick them up and take them out to the ambulance, and that’s it.
Reporter: So did they tell you the airport was yours, or under control of the DNR?
Driver: Nobody said anything about that.
Reporter: Nobody said anything?
Driver: Well, no. Nobody said anything about it. Whether it was ours or the DNR’s. They indicated that I should go to that area, and that was it (shrugs).
Reporter: Where are you from?
Driver: Khemelnitskaya Region
Reporter: What’s your name?
Reporter: How old are you?
Reporter: Have you been in the war long?
Driver: Three weeks. Here. And before that I was in a repair shop, and that was it.
Reporter: Did you go through a good training?
Driver: What kind of good training? I’m a mechanic and a driver of an MTLB, and I drove it and that’s it.
Reporter: Do you know what your artillery men did with the city?
Driver: I don’t look out for the artillery, you see. I drove people there, and that’s all I saw.
Reporter: What population center are you base in?
Driver? What do you mean, based in?
Reporter: Where is your base located?
Driver: In Tonenkoye.
Reporter. In Tonenkoye. How many of there are of you?
Driver: I don’t know.
Reporter: How many have you seen, hundreds, thousands?
Driver: What do you mean hundreds or thousands?!
Reporter: So how many?
Driver: What I saw — I came, I drove the truck, how could I know how many of them there were.
The reporter goes on to interrogate an injured man lying on a cot. He asks him what division he is. The man asks, what kinds of divisions are there? The reporter lists then, “land, motorized etc.” and he picks “land” from the list.
The mistreatment of Ukrainian POWs by Russian state or pro-Kremlin media has frequently been a controversial issue throughout this war. We covered the involvement of Andrei Stenin, a Russian state war photographer, in the filming of tortured POWs, for example. Stenin and two members of the ultranationalist National Liberation Movement (NOD) were killed last summer while embedded with the DNR when their car came under shell fire.
Today the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published a statement of editorial policy regarding the coverage of POWs. In keeping with the Geneva Convention’s ban on public humiliation of POWs, RFE/RL believes that display of POWs should be avoided, and when used for news purposes, should distort the faces of the prisoners.
It is difficult in the modern era of to prevent massive dissemination of images via social media, a situation not foreseen when the Geneva Accords’ Convention III was signed in 1949..
And this issue is a matter of intense debate. The argument could also be made that by covering such POWs, the media might deter mistreatment of them, and help keep them alive — although Western editors, unlike Russian journalists, tend to reject the idea that they have a social mission in their news coverage.
In this article, we have chosen to publicize the story of the driver “Ivan” because the interrogation itself exposes the unethical and non-journalistic methods of LifeNews.
Dunja Mijatovic, Representative for Freedom of the Media for OSCE, condemned the practice in a tweet as “unethical” for journalists:
While not a formal statement on osce.org, Mijatovic confirmed that it was an official statement for the media.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
U.S. President Barack Obama’s statements in the State of the Union address included a list of American accomplishments in the foreign policy arena, including his demonstration of “strength” against Russian aggression in Ukraine. These comments came at a strange time, however, since our staff was working so hard to cover a series of battles that Ukraine was losing, including the most famous — the battle at Donetsk airport.
The analysis was written as news of a new agreement between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russia was being announced. That agreement mirrors developments in August, where Ukraine was forced to sign the Minsk “peace” deal to stop Russia’s invasion:
In August, as the Russian buildup on Ukraine’s borders transitioned into
an open invasion, Ukraine began losing significant amounts of territory
and was forced to sign a ceasefire in Minsk to stop the bleeding. The
United States and Europe said that this ceasefire was the only way
forward, but the bleeding never stopped, the Russian-supported militants
never stopped fighting, and the responsibility to fight back fell on
the shoulders of Donetsk’s loyal Cyborgs.
When the Ukrainian
soldiers defending the airport were overwhelmed due to increasing
attacks, Kiev had no choice but to launch a counterattack or watch its
men die. Now, the airport has fallen, and Ukraine has once again agreed
to a new “ceasefire.” Will the fighting stop now? Will the West finally
realize that Ukraine cannot resist Vladimir Putin’s invasion on its own?
Because right now it sure doesn’t look like Washington is helping defend Kiev from the bully in Moscow.
Semyon Semyonchenko, the commander of the Ukrainian volunteer Donbass Battalion, has written on his Facebook page that a Russian tank attack on Ukrainian forces at their front-line position on the Bakhmutka highway, Checkpoint No. 29, has failed.
Photo via Semyon Semyonchenko on Facebook
Semyonchenko claimed that a group of Russian tanks had attempted to bypass the checkpoint but came under heavy fire and retreated, losing one tank. He said that there had been poor visibility due to weather conditions.
Earlier this morning, Semyonchenko had reported that Russian forces were preparing an assault against the checkpoint, manned by his fighters, Ukrainian army soldiers and National Guard servicemen.
He wrote that the 31st Checkpoint had indeed fallen to Russian forces, despite some Ukrainian media reports, and that enemy BTRs BMPs and tanks were at that site.
Semyonchenko reported that there Russian soldiers were staying in the village of Zholobok, located between the two checkpoints, alongside 4 tanks and 6 BMPs.
Russian military vehicles were also reportedly firing on Ukrainian positions from the village of Golubovskoye.
The commander also said that one source had reported Russian T-80 heavy tanks moving into separatist-held Stakhanov to the south, alongside BMPs and infantry. He noted that he was unable to confirm the report of the T-80s.
On January 20, a video purportedly filmed that day showed what we think may be T-80U tanks moving as part of a convoy in towards the Ukrainian border in Russian territory.
This convoy would however have entered Ukraine well to the south of the Bakhmutka area, near Amvrosievka, and seems more likely to have headed either to a staging post in that area or to Donetsk or Telmanovo.
— Pierre Vaux
As we’ve been reporting, a shell has landed near a bus in Donetsk, killing 13 civilians. While incidents like this are always hotly debated, quite often the narrative that emerges is simple, and it becomes obvious that one side or the other fired an errant shell during a battle. This incident, however, is just not that simple.
As we’ve been reporting, journalists have already seen the impact craters of multiple explosions in the area in question. The problem — the craters are small, likely created by a mortar (see discussion below). But mortars (many of which have a range of 5km or less) simply do not have the range that, say, a Grad rocket has (up to 20km, sometimes as many as 45km).
The Donetsk Airport is approximately 13 kilometers from this impact site, and all other Ukrainian positions are further away than this (Pisky is about 15km, Avdeyevka is nearly 20km away). Since the Russian-backed militants overran Ukrainian positions at Donetsk airport yesterday, many are questioning how Ukrainian forces could have fired this shot.
Mashable’s Christopher Miller and the OSCE both report that the shell likely came from the northwest:
His compass reads 139 degrees, meaning he is facing southeast:
Just a few days ago it would have been a good theory that these shells came from Donetsk Airport, but now that would mean that the Russian-backed fighters fired the shot into the city.
Both sides are blaming the other. The Russian-backed separatists have blamed the Ukrainian soldiers, and have paraded their POWs through the streets of Donetsk, allowing residents to beat them. The self-declared Prime Minister of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic,’ Alexander Zakharchenko, says an artillery shell did this. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says the shell was fired by the separatists themselves, saying that the shell must have come from inside the city of Donetsk. Christopher Miller reports that even some separatists say that the shell was launched inside the city, though they are blaming a secret Ukrainian “diversionary group” (read Miller’s entire report here).
This map clearly spells out the problem: if a mortar did this damage, it must have been launched inside the city. Since the Russian-backed separatists control the city, and since there are no nearby Ukrainian positions they could have been firing at, if a mortar did this then this may suggest that the shot was either fired accidentally or was a provocation:
If this attack was caused by an artillery shell, not a mortar, then it becomes more possible that the shell was fired by Ukrainian forces. However, since this area is so far from the fighting, and most Ukrainian howitzers would need to be on or even past the front line in order to hit this position, doubt remains as to whether a Ukrainian artillery piece could even do this.
Without a forensic investigation to determine the type of shell fired, it’s very hard to say definitively who launched this attack. What is clear is that the Russian-backed rebels have made a media spectacle out of this, parading POWs in front of angry onlookers, asking reporters to hide the cameras as Grad rockets drive by, and encouraging angry protesters to stay and shout.
Reporters are continuing to cover the shelling of a bus in Donetsk in Leninsky District in which 13 people have been killed and dozens wounded.
As we reported earlier, there has been speculation that the shelling could have have come from Russian-backed separatists who took over the Donetsk Airport yesterday and continue to flank around Ukrainian positions to the northwest in Pisky. Or it could have come from a Ukrainian “diversionary group” within Donetsk, which is controlled by separatists, depending on the range of the weapon. There has been various speculation that the mortar came from a 152mm howitzer, which would be hard to hide, or a smaller, mobile 80mm weapon.
Pro-government war correspondent Sasha Kots has filed a video report
from the scene, saying the impact was in an area “not far” from the
Like other pro-Russian reporters, he is calling this attack the
Donetsk version of the commuter bus shelling in Volnovakha where 13 civilians
were killed and 17 wounded by a Grad rocket that struck a nearby
minefield. That attack likely came from Russian-backed separatist
positions as our reporting and the OSCE’s monitoring mission indicated.
Translation: more today from the latest Donetsk Volnovakha.
Translation: Our video today from the site of the tragedy in Donetsk
Kots’ report is at Komsomolskaya Pravda. He says that in addition to the people in the trolleybus, a man was struck and killed in a car, which is now a burnt carcass.
While Kots said that he couldn’t tell whether it was an accident of not, he believed that the attack came “from Ukrainian artillery” and that it “looked more like state terrorism.” He said the separatists had already detained the “diversionary group” of alleged Ukrainian saboteurs and they were being interrogated to find out about their possible relationship to the trolleybus attack.
But as Dajey Petros from Ukraine@War has pointed out in a post analyzing the attack, the location is at some distance from the airport.
Earlier, a Ukrainian colonel was arrested and brought to the scene of
the tragedy. While he was intending to keep silent, eventually he was
forced to say that the shelling came from Ukrainian artillery. The
colonel was nearly mobbed by local residents before his rebel captors
took him away.
Kots reported at 14:22 that Ukrainian POWs were being led through the streets of Donetsk. Mashable’s Christopher Miller said they were being beaten.
Ukrainian “Cyborgs,” as the Donetsk Airport fighters were known because of their endurance, were taken prisoner and forced to load the coffins of eight of their own who died in battle.
Photo by Sasha Kots/KP
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
At least 13 civilians are reported dead after a trolleybus was struck by a shell in Donetsk today. The shelling occurred to the south of the city centre, in the Leninsky district, near the Dongormash Factory stop.
The Russian state-owned TASS news agency reported 13 dead, though that number may rise as eyewitnesses report many injured, with TASS giving that number as 20.
Donetsk news site 62.ua has graphic images of the aftermath:
According to TASS, the shelling took place at around 8:30 local time. Preliminary reports suggest the bus was struck by a mortar shell. Witnesses reported hearing five shots.
OSCE observers have arrived at the scene:
This trajectory matches one calculated by @DajeyPetros of UkraineAtWar, who has geolocated the position of the trolleybus:
Previously, a strike from the north-west would suggest the shells came from Ukrainian positions by Donetsk Airport, however last night saw wide acknowledgement that the airport had fallen to Russian-backed fighters. A flanking manoeuvre by Russian or separatist tanks was also reported near Netaylovo, to the west of Peski.
This means that the disposition of forces to the west and north of Donetsk is now uncertain and we cannot say whether this shell came from Ukrainian positions in Peski or Russian-backed fighters staging a provocation from Donetsk Airport.
Certainly the timing would be ideal for the latter given the success in destroying the airport and successful offensives elsewhere on the Bakhmutka highway. In addition, last night saw the announcement from the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, that Russia and Ukraine had agreed on a pull-back of heavy artillery 15 kilometres from the front line. As we argued last night, such a move would be of great benefit to Russian and separatist forces, and an atrocity of this nature would be of great use in galvanising support for this measure.
The other scenario is, of course, some form of enraged, defiant attack from Ukrainian forces near the airport, letting off shells indiscriminately in the direction of the separatist stronghold.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence has stated that the nearest Ukrainian positions to the site of the shelling are 15 kilometres away, placing them beyond mortar range.
Perhaps surprisingly, TASS reports that Eduard Basurin, the spokesman for the ‘Defence Ministry’ of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic,’ has given a rather balanced response with regards to blame:
The immediate cause of the lethal explosion or the type of the explosive device has not been identified yet. The number of casualties is unclear, too.
“Groups of diversionists are detained in Donetsk now and then. This work is in progress. But it is too early to say who is to blame for the crime,” Basurin said.
However the reaction on the ground was far more extreme, with a captured Ukrainian army officer being brought, handcuffed, to the scene by separatist fighters, where he was harassed by a mob:
Meanwhile both shelling, and the movement of Russian tanks were reported: