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?
This video was reportedly taken by soldiers for the “NAF” (Novorossiya Armed Forces), a group called the “First Separate Mechanized Battalion ‘August,'” on January 23, in the opening days of the offensive against Debaltsevo. It is an excellent insight into what types of firepower the Russian-backed fighters are using against the Ukrainian military, and it is full of interesting pieces of data.
While the video shows many armored vehicles used by the separatists, one of them stands out. At approximately 6:34, a vehicle drives by the soldiers that appears to be a BPM-97. As we’ve written, the vehicle is only manufactured in Russia and is only used by Russian border guards, but it has been spotted many times in Ukraine. It was first spotted on the wrong side of the border in late December, and has since been spotted at Base 3035 in Lugansk Region and Krasnodon.
Here it is in Krasnodon:
And here it is in the city of Lugansk (above) and Base 3035 in Lugansk Region (below):
Photo by Lugansk News Today
Here are the screen captures from this new video:
Also in this video are several T-72s, which almost certainly came from Russian military stockpiles, many howitzers and various armored vehicles, and what we believe is a T-64 Bulat, which was likely captured from Ukraine.
Several of the vehicles in the videos are marked with what may be specific insignia indicating which unit they are. Note the squared-brackets:
This vehicle has a different symbol on it, a triangle underneath the numbers:
We’ve been tracking vehicles with similar markings, particularly the Strela-10 advanced anti-aircraft system, recently seen in this area, which is another possible sign of direct Russian military control over the fighting:
Also interesting in this video is the fact that at one point a group of men wearing matching green outfits are being spoken to by several men wearing what look like Russian military winter uniforms. While none of the faces of the men wearing green are ever obscured, the faces of the men in white are blurred. Is this a sign that these men in white are Russian military advisors?
There are other parts of this video we’re continuing to look at. Some of the “men in white” have interesting looking weapons which we are trying to identify, and then there is this combat radio which is also possibly a data point. Both require more research, however.
Evidence is mounting that the Russian military is playing a direct role in overseeing and coordinating the separatist military campaign to capture Debaltsevo and expand their territory near Donetsk. But what should be beyond dispute is that many of the weapons and vehicles used by the separatists in this battle was supplied to them directly by the Russian military.
— James Miller
A video has been uploaded to YouTube today which shows a column of 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled guns moving through central Donetsk.
The location given on the video, Ilicha Avenue, can be verified by comparing the view of the Sberbank branch in the footage with that seen on Google Street View:
This means that the convoy is headed west, here on Ilicha Avenue.
The convoy is made up of a tented military truck carrying soldiers, four Gvozdikas and a green van.
We have previously looked at at least one group of Gvozdikas that seems likely to have been imported from Russia, where we saw them loaded onto trains, scrubbed of identifying marks, at Millerovo, near the Ukrainian border.
— Pierre Vaux and Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
As we’ve been reporting, there is a temporary easing of violence near Debaltsevo after the Russian-backed separatists have agreed to open a humanitarian corridor, allowing civilians to evacuate. The new truce is not perfect, but it appears to be working.
A BBC reporter says Gorlivka is also quiet:
Both Gorlivka and the road described above are marked here on this map:
Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Interior Ministry has announced that an explosive device has been found on a railway line in Odessa.
According to the Ministry, the device was found on the track near a bridge.
The improvised explosive device has been disarmed and sent off for analysis, the Ministry reports.
– Pierre Vaux
The Interpreter‘s editor in chief, Michael Weiss, has interviewed Ivan Rodichenko, a Ukrainian intelligence officer with the Kievan Rus Territorial Defense Battalion who has now traveled to New York to personally raise the money needed to fight the war against men either from or backed by Russia.
The story, which can be read here in Foreign Policy, discusses the urgent need for new arms and equipment within the Ukrainian military, especially the volunteer brigades. It lists several incidents where Ukrainian soldiers died because they did not have the proper equipment. Of particular concern is the communications equipment, which Rodichenko says is ineffective, unreliable, and not secure, since their Russian-backed adversaries have access to equipment that allows them to monitor Ukrainian communications. He also stressed that there were tensions between the volunteer brigades and the regular army units, and one particular reason for this are the amount of spies inside the Ukrainian military:
The Kievan Rus battalion is one of roughly three dozen volunteer battalions enlisted by Ukraine’s Defense and Internal Affairs ministries to act as added manpower in a yearlong war that only shows signs of intensifying — despite a cease-fire drawn up between Kiev and Moscow last September in Minsk, Belarus, that was worthless even before the ink dried. At the start of the conflict, Kiev relied heavily on these paramilitary factions because Ukraine’s military had been vitiated by the government of former President Viktor Yanukovych. Volunteers sign a contract with the government promising to obey orders issued by the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) command and to relay any and all intelligence gathered in the field — including forensic proof of Russian military involvement — back to Kiev.
Rodichenko says this stipulation rankles him and his men. “There are Russian spies in the Ministry of Defense, the SBU [Ukraine’s security service], and the police. We have enemies both inside and outside Ukraine. We know of a guy the government paid off to give info about our location of ATO forces to the Russians.” Yanukovych, a hireling of Moscow, fled Ukraine in late February 2014, but not before ordering operatives to steal “data on more than 22,000 officers and informants as well as anything documenting decades of cooperation” between the SBU and the Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), as Mashable’s Christopher Miller reported in December 2014. So far, more than 200 spies have been arrested for playing for the other side, including Volodymyr Bik, Ukraine’s former head of counterintelligence. “The terms of our contract make it clear that if we capture a Russian soldier and interrogate him and get his name, rank, and serial number, we have to send this information back to Kiev,” Rodichenko said. “But how do we know we’re not really sending it back to Moscow?”
Read the article here: Crowdfunding the War in Ukraine — From Manhattan:
With his men getting hammered by Russia, a desperate Ukrainian battalion commander has landed in New York City, where he’s rustling up money for weapons, helmets, and even toilet paper.
Weiss appeared on CNN to discuss the article:
As we reported earlier, a “humanitarian corridor” has been opened near Debaltsevo to facilitate the evacuation of civilians. The Associated Press reported earlier that while there is shelling nearby, the deal seems to be holding. According to Colonel Andriy Lysenko, the shelling near Debaltsevo was “slightly reduced.” Lysenko did report that “militants attacked the corridor 3 times” with Grad rockets.
Lysenko claims that the Ukrainian military “eliminated 60 insurgents, 4 tanks, 2 self-propelled artillery pieces. Exploded 7 militants’ arms storages.Ukrainian anti-aircraft systems took down an enemy UAV in Donetsk region.”
Three other things from this morning’s briefing jumped out at us. The first is that Ukraine is also evacuating civilians in the Lugansk region:
The National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine (NSDC) has announced that eight Ukrainian soldiers have been released from captivity in an exchange for nine separatist prisoners.
Ukraine’s TSN news channel reported last night that six of the freed Ukrainian soldiers had been captured at Donetsk Airport, two of them, Krivoy Rog news site 0564.ua reports, were captured when Russian-backed fighters took the village of Krasny Partizan.
According to 0564, all of the released captives were taken to a hospital in the Donetsk region. Three of them were seriously wounded.
The soldiers captured at Donetsk Airport were members of the 80th and 93rd brigades. The two captured at Krasny Partizan were members of the 20th territorial defence battalion, many of whom come from Krivoy Rog.
TSN reports that two of the freed separatist fighters were Russian citizens.
— Pierre Vaux
Russia’s Vedomosti reports that the deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Valery Chaly, has told Ukraine’s 1+1 television channel that “absolutely new proposals,” that will “bring the Minsk accords up to date,” were discussed at the meeting between the leaders of Ukraine, Germany and France in Kiev last night.
Deutsche Welle notes that neither President Francois Holande nor Chancellor Angela Merkel commented on any details of the plan agreed.
Hollande said that the new proposal was for:
“a new proposal for a comprehensive settlement based on the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, Deutsche Welle reports that Yuri Ushakov, an advisor to President Vladimir Putin, said that:
the Franco-German initiative took into account Putin’s own “peace” proposals, reportedly spanning nine pages.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Tom Parfitt reported:
Western diplomats said the new plan is based on September’s peace agreement signed in Minsk, Belarus, but offers the rebels a “high degree of autonomy” over a much larger area, reflecting their recent land grabs.
It is likely is that the proposal offers the separatists a degree of local control, while stopping short of federalisation (a more concerted loosening of ties with central government that could allow wide powers such as determining foreign and defence policy). Moscow has pushed for a new federal arrangement in Ukraine’s regions, but Kiev views this as tantamount to disintegration of the country.
— Pierre Vaux
The Associated Press report that the Ukrainian authorities have come to an agreement with Russian-backed separatists on the establishment of a humanitarian corridor out of Debaltsevo, which is under constant attack by Russian-backed fighters.
Rebel leaders said they reached agreement with Ukrainian authorities to allow the evacuation of civilians from Debaltseve, a key railway hub that has become the main target of a rebel offensive because of its strategic location. It wasn’t immediately clear where the evacuees would go.
The cease-fire around Debaltseve held Friday as a convoy of several dozen buses drove from nearby Vuhelhirsk toward Debaltseve, where a shrinking population has been trapped in cross-fire and left without power, heating and running water for almost two weeks.
Zorian Shkiryak, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, said on Facebook that “the green corridor has been confirmed.” Eduard Basurin, a rebel spokesman in Donetsk, said about 1,000 civilians were expected to be evacuated Friday.
Half-way to Debaltseve, the convoy was met by a Ukrainian armored personnel carrier with a soldier on top warily pointing a gun toward nearby hills. More Ukrainian military trucks and armored vehicles were parked on the outskirts of Debaltseve, devastated by artillery barrage. A bulldozer bore an inscription “Putin is a piece of crap,” sprayed with white paint.
The boom of heavy artillery was heard at a distance, but there was no sign of fighting nearby.
The National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) of Ukraine confirmed the news on Twitter:
While Ukraine has been attempting to evacuate civilians from Debaltsevo for several days now, there have been incidents of shelling on the highway between the front-line town and the comparative secure town of Artyomovsk.
On February 3, a convoy of buses carrying refugees from Debaltsevo came under fire, leaving two drivers wounded.
Indeed the NSDC claimed today that the corridor had already been shelled three times:
The threat posed to refugee convoys was made even more apparent on August 18 last year, when at least 15 refugees from settlements near Lugansk were killed last year in what the Ukrainian government claimedwas a Grad rocket bombardment carried out by Russian-backed fighters, who were, at that time, shelling the nearby Lugansk Airport.
— Pierre Vaux
There had, at least, the Council’s spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, claimed, been a let-up in the shelling of Debaltsevo itself:
The threat posed to refugee convoys was made even more apparent on August 18 last year, when at least 15 refugees from settlements near Lugansk were killed last year in what the Ukrainian government claimed was a Grad rocket bombardment carried out by Russian-backed fighters, who were, at that time, shelling the nearby Lugansk Airport.
— Pierre Vaux