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?
Videos taken late at night are difficult to verify. To our knowledge these are new videos.
— James Miller
The Ukrainian President’s office has released a statement on the Minsk agreement, excerpted below:
Ukraine and EU must efficiently coordinate actions for all the parties to fulfill and comply with the Minsk agreements. “It is important for us to put pressure regarding the observance of the agreements on the ceasefire, liberation of all hostages, withdrawal of all foreign troops and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine. I am hopeful that we will achieve the results within the efficient coordination with our partners,” President Petro Poroshenko noted in the course of the joint statement with President of the European Council Donald Tusk in Brussels.
The President has taken part in the session of the European Council at the level of the Heads of State and Government and held a series of meetings. Petro Poroshenko thanked Donald Tusk and EU leaders for an opportunity to deliver a speech and inform on the current situation in Ukraine and the results of negotiations in Minsk.
The President has emphasized that the negotiations in Minsk had been extremely difficult. According to him, the process of implementation of the given agreement will not be easy as well. Petro Poroshenko reminded that Ukraine, unlike the other party, had been fulfilling the Minsk agreements signed in September responsibly. “That is why I came to Brussels to coordinate our future steps with the European partners, who demonstrated an attitude of partnership to Ukraine. I’d like to express gratitude to Donald Tusk and leaders of the countries for their joint support,” the President noted.
The Head of State has a cautious optimism regarding the prospects of implementation of the given agreements. “If the Minsk memorandum is violated, it will lead to further tough measures from the European Commission and the United States,” he said. He reminded that the declaration had been signed by the Presidents of Ukraine, Russia and France, as well as by the Chancellor of Germany. Thus, it provides for personal responsibility for the implementation of the agreements.
There are several key part of Poroshenko’s statement that are in doubt. Russia still does not recognize that it has fighters in Ukraine, for instance, so it’s not clear that they will withdraw those troops as a result of this agreement.
But one key sticking point jumped out at us — the mention of “hostages.” Surely chief on this list would be Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian airforce pilot currently in pre-trial detention and facing murder charges in Moscow for the deaths of two Russian journalists whom she almost certainly never encountered during combat in eastern Ukraine. However, as we’ve reported below, there is doubt as to whether Savchenko’s name is on the list of prisoners to be exchanged. Now the Russian news outlet Novaya Gazeta is reporting that Savchenko won’t end her hunger strike:
Translation: Despite Poroshenko’s statement, Nadiya Savchenko refused to stop her hunger strike.
— James Miller, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Eristavi points out that the demarcation line will push Ukrainian forces further back from where they were in September. But Eristavi’s key point is that there are mixed signals and unanswered questions on almost every point in the deal (see our summary of the deal here).
One concession that Eristavi did not mention — in the first Minsk deal, Ukraine granted amnesty for all separatists who were not guilty of capital crimes. However, as far as we can tell, while amnesty for combatants is included in the list of concessions, we have not seen any stipulation that those guilty of certain crimes will be exempt from amnesty. It’s possible Ukraine has capitulated this point as well. It’s also possible that the stipulations have not been spelled out in the agreement, which will almost certainly lead to more conflict as this deal is implemented.
— James Miller
Translation: Supposedly she is included in the list for exchange.
More than eight hours ago, Feygin tweeted the following:
Translation: The situation has been clarified. Savchenko’s case is formally continuing. It will be completed in procedural fashion. Although the innocence of Savchenko is obvious.
That seemed to indicate that while Russian authorities would not formally drop the case, it might be possible to release her on procedural grounds, despite the fact that her pre-trial detention was extended yesterday.
Savchenko’s case was discussed during the Minsk talks, and observers were optimistic about her release.
Translation: Poroshenko: the question of the release of the Ukrainian war pilot Nadiya Savchekno was discussed during the talks.
But then Feygin was quoted four hours ago as saying Savchenko would not be included in the POW exchange, the pro-government regnum.ru reported at 18:39 Moscow time.The Interpreter has a translation:
Lawyers for the Ukrainian saboteur and Ukrainska Rada deputy Nadiya Savchekno report that their client nonetheless did not end up in the list of POWs to be exchanged. Mark Feygin, one of Savchenko’s three lawyers, stated that according to information from his sources, Savchenko was not included in the list of POWs compiled as a result of the Minsk talks.The list provides for an exchange of prisoners by the formula “all for all.”
Earlier, Feygin reported that his client hopes that she would be put in the POWs exchange list and that she can be released from the Russian prison and get back to Ukraine. Feygin said that he and his colleagues plan to persuade Savchenko to end her hunger strike in connection with the news about her possible release. Doctors at the prison hospital Matrosskaya Tishina fear for her life. Physicians believe that soon Savchenko will have to be force-fed fats into her system otherwise her life is in danger.
As Feygin himself, who regularly provides updates, has not confirmed any of this, we cannot be sure the story is true and are awaiting further comments from him.
It is possible that Russian authorities may find a way to release Savchenko, even if they do not concede that she is a prisoner-of-war, as they need to maintain the fiction that Russia is not party to the war in Ukraine.
On February 9, Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, now barred from his
homeland on the Crimean Peninsula under Russian occupation, urged
Savchenko to end her fast, LB.ua and Ukrinform reported.
“You must save your life in order to come out to freedom and fight
with Russia by other means,” he said, noting that he himself had once
staged a hunger strike, and Dr. Andrei Sakharov convinced him to end it.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Despite the significant pessimism surrounding the likelihood that the Minsk deal will create any new ceasefire, France may already be taking steps to use the peace deal to justify selling to Russia two amphibious assault warships which were originally slated to be delivered last year. Business Insider reports:
The independent newswire Interfax quotes a military-diplomatic source as saying the agreement of the cease-fire deal could mean the Elysee Palace can now grant permission for the transfer of the Mistral-class helicopter carriers. The ships could be delivered in the first half of March.
Of course, this is not the first time in which those on the Russian side of the deal have expressed hope that a conclusion to the stand-off is imminent. Back in November the Russia side reportedly set a firm deadline for the end of the month for the first of the ships to be delivered, threatening legal action to recover its investment if the French side reneged on the deal.
We’ve yet to see comments from the French government on this issue.
— James Miller
The ceasefire agreed upon at Minsk will not go into effect until Saturday night/Sunday morning. This means that there may be a last-minute rush to change the battle lines before they are frozen (if they are frozen).
Fighting is reported near Mariupol as well as near Donetsk today:
The Minsk deal may be signed, but the ceasefire does not come into effect until Saturday. In our update below we note that according to the AFP, the Ukrainian government is claiming that 50 Russian tanks crossed the border during the Minsk peace talks. Ukrainian ATO spokesperson Andriy Lysenko added these details to his morning briefing:
The ceasefire shows no signs of starting early (if it starts at all).
Heavy fighting was under way near Shyrokyne and Sakhanka
northeast of Mariupol, the Donetsk region of Ukraine, as of 8:00 a.m.
Thursday, the press service of the special Ukrainian police regiment
‘Azov’ reported on Thursday morning.
“The situation is getting
increasingly tense. The enemy attempted to launch a counterattack with
support of artillery and tanks. It has engaged everything it has,
including tanks, self-propelled guns, mortars, and rocket artillery. The
enemy’s infantry was destroyed while approaching Shyrokyne. The attack
got bogged down. The enemy is sustaining huge losses,” the regiment’s
press service reported on its VKontakte account.
Yesterday we reported that Ukrainian forces, including the Ukrainian volunteer Azov Battalion, had made advances northeast of Mariupol, near Volnovakha.
— James Miller
We continue to analyze the developments in Minsk where Ukraine and Russia have signed yet another ceasefire agreement. Though the agreement is analyzed at length below, we now see that Putin has expanded on one of the biggest potential sticking points — the battle for Debaltsevo.
Debaltsevo is a town northeast of Donetsk city, lying on a key highway between the capitals of the Russian-backed separatists — Lugansk and Donetsk. Ukrainian troops hold the town, but they are nearly-completely surrounded by separatists who are being supported by heavy weaponry, and we believe soldiers, directly supplied by the Russian military. The Minsk accord requires the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the line of contact but does not appear to say anything about the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the town. At best the standing of the town is left unclear, as we described below.
Putin, however, seems to have a very clear understanding of what is supposed to happen at Debaltsevo. While he does not mention the town by name, he states that the rebels believe that 8,000 surrounded Ukrainian troops will “lay down their arms.” The only location which matches that description is Debaltsevo.
“Of course, they (rebels) proceed from the assumption that this group will lay down arms and stop putting up resistance,” Putin said after marathon talks with the leaders of Germany, France and Ukraine, citing information from separatists.
Putin said pro-Russian rebels had encircled a “significant group of 6,000 to 8,000” Ukrainian troops…
“Initially I had doubts,” Putin said. “I am ready to share them.”
“The Ukrainian leadership believes that there’s no encirclement and that’s why they believe that everything will be rather smooth.”
“If such an encirclement did take place then proceeding from normal logic, those who have been encircled, will make attempts to break out and those who are outside will make attempts to establish a corridor for their encircled fellow serviceman.”
Putin’s first words in that quote are perhaps the key. According to him, the rebels negotiated this settlement on the “assumption” that Debaltsevo is theirs. In other words, just like at Donetsk International Airport, the separatists are not likely to stop their attack on the town, and Putin says that this is Ukraine’s fault (it’s worth remembering that the fight for Donetsk Airport turned the first broken ceasefire into a completely shattered one, leading events to where they are now). Furthermore, the ceasefire does not start for another two and a half days — leaving both sides plenty of time to ramp up fighting over the town. Is it realistic, then, that intensified fighting will simply end when the ceasefire deadline arrives?
We are already receiving reports that there is further military escalation today in multiple areas, including near Donetsk and near Mariupol (update forthcoming). And then there’s this:
Following all-night talks involving the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, a deal has been announced. A ceasefire will come into effect on Sunday, February 15.
“We have managed to agree on the main issues,” he said following marathon talks involving Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, as well the leaders of France and Germany.
French President Francois Hollande said it was a “serious deal” but not everything had been agreed.
Other measures agreed upon include the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the line of contact.
Anna Ivanchenko, a producer for the Russian-owned RT channel, posted what are purportedly complete proposals of the deal:
As noted in a draft proposal we reported on yesterday, the initial points of which largely correspond with today’s, the document stipulates that the Ukrainian army withdraws its artillery by the relevant distances from the “actual line of contact.”
Meanwhile, the Russian-backed separatists are to withdraw by those same distances from the line of contact agreed upon in the Minsk memorandum from September 19, 2014.
The withdrawal and resultant buffer zone is, according to the document, to be monitored by the OSCE.
Dialogue is to begin “on the first day after the withdrawal” on the implementation of local elections in accordance with the ‘special status’ law on self-governance in “certain regions of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions,” that is to say, the areas under separatist control.
These measures are to be set in place by a Rada resolution no later than 30 days from the signing of this document.
Poroshenko insisted that the assignation of special status for the occupied regions of Ukraine would not equate with federalisation.
Amnesties and pardons are also stipulated for all who took part in the conflict in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
The release and exchange of hostages and “illegally detained persons” must be conducted on an “all for all” basis, with the process to be completed within five days of the withdrawal.
This, President Poroshenko said, would apply to Nadezhda Savchenko, who is now on her 62nd day of a hunger strike.
On February 10, the Basmanny Court in Moscow ruled that Savchenko’s detention be extended until May 13, by which time, should she not abandon her hunger strike, she would almost certainly be dead, her lawyers reported.
Nikolai Polozov, one of Savchenko’s lawyers tweeted, in response to today’s news:
Translation: Our struggle, for the freedom of Nadezhda will not stop until her final release and return to her homeland. #FreeSavchenko
Another point of note is the demand that the full restoration of social benefits and taxation across the Donbass is worked out. This would require considerable cooperation between Ukrainian tax authorities and the separatist leadership.
The document also states that Ukraine will re-establish full control over it’s borders with Russia in the Donbass region by the end of 2015, after the political settlement regarding the ‘special status’ of the separatist-held regions is concluded.
Interestingly, the document demands the withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries from Ukraine, under the auspices of the OSCE, as well as the disarmament of “all illegal groups.”
This wording appears to allow for the withdrawal of Russian forces while leaving open room for the Kremlin to claim it refers to the departure of the supposed Western forces that Russian propaganda speaks so much of.
It remains to be seen whether there will be some attempts to either legitimise or criminalise certain separatist military outfits or Ukrainian volunteer battalions during the political negotiations.
A key point of debate, which remains to be settled, with regards to the line of contact, is the situation in Debaltsevo, where Russian-backed forces are pressing and closing on the nearly surrounded Ukrainian defenders.
Others were sceptical of the delay between the declaration of the agreement and the start of the ceasefire:
Certainly, there seems to be no let-up in fighting so far: