Ukraine Live Day 374: Despite Reported Fighting, Poroshenko To Order Artillery Withdrawal

February 26, 2015
Civilians on the streets of front-line Stanitsa Luganskaya today. Screengrab from RFE/RL video.

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.

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?

Savchenko Replies to Appeal from Crimean Tatar Leader

Mustafa Dzhemilev (Cemilev), Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian presidential commissioner for Crimean Tatar affairs who is now barred from his homeland in Russian-occupied Crimea, posted a response from imprisoned Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko to his letter yesterday, the Crimean Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Dzhemilev urged Savchenko to give up her hunger strike, now in its 76th day, to save her life. While doctors provided injections of glucose for a time, she recently rejected them and her life is in danger.

The Interpreter has a translation:


Greetings, Mustafa,

If you will allow me to appeal to you, Ilya Novikov showed me your appeal to me on the Internet. I have also often asked my lawyers how things are with your son, whose defense they are also involved in.

It is a great honor for me that you have appealed to me. I know your history and the history of your people who in all times, imperial Russia oppressed no less than my people.

And it would seem: free Tatars and free Ukrainians had only just began to breathe freely on their land, when once again our freedom and our choice of a path in life has been suppressed by the selfish ego of the “Kremlin”!

But the bone is too tough for the teeth! It will choke!

And not just on me alone, but all my people!

Respected Mustafa, in your day, you accomplished a victory for your people, staging a hunger strike in prison for 303 days! If it had not been for your act, it is possible your people would never have returned to their land.. I have a worthy example — it is you! I have not been on a hunger strike as long, but I will withstand as much as needed so that my people have the right to be Ukrainians on Ukrainian Land, live righteously, honestly and by their conscience and to decide their fate on their own!

Ukraine will be victorious! I believe!

With enormous respect for you and the Tatar people

Ukrainian Nadezhda Savchenko
February 26, 2015

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Source Close to IMF Says Ukraine Could risk $17.5 Billion Bailout if Russian-backed Separatists Attack Mariupol
Yesterday Andrew Mayeda of published a story based on two anonymous sources “familiar with the matter” that “Ukraine risks losing support from IMF member countries for a proposed $17.5 billion bailout if the conflict in the former Soviet republic continues to escalate”:

The new four-year loan program is awaiting approval by the International Monetary Fund’s executive board, which represents the lender’s 188 member nations. Getting the panel’s consent will become more challenging if pro-Russia rebels continue their advance and seize territory such as the strategic port city of Mariupol, one of the people said.

A second person said that while a worsening conflict would complicate approval, IMF country representatives are likely to maintain their support unless an open conflict with Russia breaks out affecting the majority of Ukraine. Both people asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

The first source is troubling because it implies that if Russian-backed militants seize Mariupol, it will somehow be Ukraine’s fault and it will jeopardize its urgently-needed IMF loan.

Yet as we reported earlier today, the real problem is that the militants continue to perceive Mariupol as “theirs” and are ready to storm it if their leaders give the order.

If Ukraine were to fight back, it would be facing Russian tanks and troops which have supplied battles in the Donbass in the past. Indeed, the head of the Grad crew firing on Mariupol January 24 was a Russian officer.

For now, there is a very shaky ceasefire as only today Ukrainian forces began to move heavy artillery back from the front line as stipulated in the second Minsk agreement, and forces of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” claimed to be doing the same, although this remains to be fully verified by OSCE.

But as the events of January 24 indicate, when DNR leader Zakharchenko gave the order to fire on the city and 34 civilians were killed, the threat to Mariupol remains real, and an assault  now even more doable as Russia and its proxies exploited the Minsk peace process to grab the strategic highway and rail hub of Debaltsevo, forcing Ukrainian forces to retreat.

Both sides have been officially upbeat about the results of the Minsk accord, Bloomberg indicates:

Ukraine’s military signaled Thursday that the latest attempt at peace is taking hold, saying there were no cease-fire breaches after 12:45 a.m. and the nation would start withdrawing heavy weapons from the front lines. local time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the peace deal was showing tangible results and there are no “ideal truces.” The rebels said some fighting continues.

But attacks continue on Popasnaya, a city the militants also want to grab before it’s all over.

Meanwhile, officially, IMF is not invoking any conditionality related to the battlefield. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said today that Ukraine might need $40 billion in foreign assistance to service its financial obligations through 2019, reported.

The IMF said yesterday that its expanded bailout of embattled Ukraine will include ‘heavily front-loaded’ cash payments once the board approves the program.

The meeting of the executive board of the IMF, which represents 188 member states, will be held on March 11, TASS reported. Like any multilateral body, it has a political process in which various interested parties attempt to influence decisions on loans.


— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian-backed Militants Consider Mariupol as “Theirs”
As the Ukrainian army withdraws heavy artillery from the front line today, representatives of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) are saying they continue to view Mariupol as “their” territory, Vesti and RIA Novosti reported.

At a news conference today, DNR representative Denis Pushilin said (translation from The Interpreter):

Throughout the entire territory, within the framework of administrative units of the former Donetsk and Lugansk regions, we consider them ours and consider it correct that they are part of the DNR and LNR. But we are doing everything possible so that this happens through political means. How this will be in fact — time will tell.

Pushilin outlined the conditions under which the DNR would “rejoin” Ukraine:

If there will be a reunification with Ukraine, it will be another state with another Constitution. Whether it will be an autonomous [republic] or something else, time will tell. I very much hope that this will be decided peacefully with observation of the Minsk agreements.

The DNR has claimed to withdrawn heavy artillery, but OSCE’s report yesterday indicated that they were unable to confirm it and that shelling continued.

On January 24, DPR leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko was caught on tape saying his forces would make an offensive on Mariupol. That day Russian-led fighters shelled Mariupol, killing 31 civilians and wounding 90.

The Russian backed forces resumed their attack on Mariupol January 26.

Pushilin’s remarks highlight a recurring stumbling block with the Minsk peace process, whereby Russia and the forces it supports in Donbass essentially claim all of the existing Donetsk and Lugansk Regions as “their territory,” and believe they are justified in firing first “in self defense” which actually violates the cease-fire. A recurring theme of DNR war propaganda and recruiting infomercials is that Russians need to defend “their land.”

The militants of the DNR and LNR actually only control part of the Ukrainian administrative territories of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, but since the second Minsk agreement on February 12, they have succeeded in grabbing the key highway and rail hub of Debaltsevo, and are continuing to make encroachments on towns like Popasnaya. Ukrainian forces continue to hold key towns in Donetsk Region such as Slavyansk, Artyomovisk and Mariupol, which remain in the DNR’s sites., a site promoting the aspirational realm of  “Novorossiya” says that a DNR source told them they could take Mariupol “in a week,” and that they had “1,300 people ready for combat” in the city. The source said there weren’t “saboteurs” in the city, however, because it’s a town the Russian-backed separatists consider “theirs.”

The source then adjusted his assessment to say the DNR had “300 specialists” and about 1,000 “not so prepared, but strong and honest men” who could help their “storm” of Mariupol, which they believed could be done without tanks “if the order comes.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Another Suspect Detained in Terrorist Attack on Kharkiv

Oleksandr Turchynov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) announced that another suspect had been detained in the February 22 terrorist attack on a Maidan anniversary rally in Kharkiv in which four people were killed and eleven wounded, reported.

Their weapons and ammunition have been confiscated, including a plastic explosive, detonators for the explosive device and grenades.

He said among those detained are presumed to be those who directly carried out the attack.

Turchinyov added that another two persons were detained in Mariupol and 10 kilograms of TNT were confiscated from them. Law-enforcers believe that they were connected to those in Kharkiv responsible for the bombing.

Ukrainian authorities had earlier reported that two other suspected detained on February 22 had been trained in Russia and were coordinating their activities with the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”.

On February 22, OSCE reported, citing information from law-enforcers, that the explosive device was the same as that used in Kharkiv on January 19 in a bomb attack of the Moskovky Region Court in Kharkov, in which 13 persons were injured. That device consisted of TNT and shrapnel and was concealed in a plastic bag.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

NATO Commander Says Russia Has 1,000 Pieces of Military Hardware In Ukraine

One of the many details to come out of yesterday’s briefing by NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Commander of U.S. European
Command, General Phillip Breedlove, to the House Armed
Services Committeeis that NATO now believes more than 1,000 pieces of Russian military hardware are in Ukraine. Breedlove said:

“More than 1,000 pieces of Russian military equipment have been transferred into Ukraine, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery pieces and other military vehicles and equipment… These are not the actions of a good faith negotiating partner.”

We have no way of directly verifying the number of Russian vehicles operating in Ukraine, except to say that the evidence which we have been gathering suggests that it is extremely substantial, often more advanced than the equipment the Ukrainian military has deployed, and is turning the tide of many battles in the Donbass.

James Miller

Gazprom Agrees to Discuss Deliveries to Donbass Separately from Naftogaz Contract

Gazprom is claiming to make concessions to Ukraine in the conflict over delivery of gas to the Donbass, reports.

Sergei Kupriyanov announced that Gazprom has agreed to discuss these deliveries separately from the contract with Naftogaz.

Nevertheless, Kupriyanov once again warned that Gazprom may opt to stop deliveries to Ukraine if it does not receive the pre-payment on time.

Russian presidential administration Dmitry Peskov said that is prepared to look at free gas deliveries to the Donbass in case of emergency (translation by The Interpreter):

Without a doubt, these issues will be looked at on an emergency basis if needed. But it is also an obvious fact that Russia is providing help in fairly large volumes.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Despite Some Reported Fighting, Poroshenko Expected To Order Withdrawal Of Heavy Weapons Today

Reuters reports that an unnamed Ukrainian military source has told them that President Petro Poroshenko is today likely to give the order for the Ukrainian military to withdraw heavy weaponry from the front line in accordance with the Minsk agreement.

“We expect the statement by the president later today,” the source said.

Interfax-Ukraine reports that Anatoly Stelmakh, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military’s ‘Anti-Terrorism Operation’ (ATO), told reporters at a briefing this morning that the military was awaiting the order to withdraw.

Stelmakh added that the withdrawal of heavy weapons would depend on a complete ceasefire across the front line and that this had not yet occurred.

Vladislav Seleznyov, spokesman for the General Staff, said that there had been some ceasefire violations over the night near Donetsk.

The Interpreter translates:

Here, from 22:00 to 23:00, close to the Dutovka mine, militants unsuccessfully attacked Ukrainian soldiers’ positions. And from 23:45, for almost an hour,  the fired on the settlement of Peski with small arms. There were no more ceasefire violations recorded.

Novosti Donbassa reports that the office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, has announced that the majority of front-line positions in the region were quiet last night.

For the first time in days, no shells struck the town of Popasnaya, which suffered intense bombardment on the night of February 24-25. 

Neither was shelling reported in other settlements along the volatile northern front line in Lugansk, such as Tryokhizbenka, Gornoye, Schastye and Nizhneye.

In an RFE/RL video report, Ukrainian soldiers in Stanitsa Luganskaya reported complete silence in the town, which has been the target of almost daily attacks for months now. 

While RFE/RL reported that civilians, tired of the devastation, were hopeful, Ukrainian soldiers were somewhat less confidant, noting that after every “so-called ceasefire, the situation on the front line only becomes more difficult.”

Governor Moskal’s office did indeed report that the ceasefire did not appear to cover the entire front line, with shells reportedly landing on the outskirts of Zolotoye and Svetlichnoye.

Fortunately, shells did not strike the villages themselves.

There was more cause for concern as Moskal’s office reported that (translated by The Interpreter):

“We have not had any communications from two settlements that are frequently shelled. This is Novotoshkovka, close to the 29th checkpoint on the Bakhmutka highway and Troitskoye, in the Popasnaya district, not far from Debaltsevo. Ukrainian troops are deployed in both villages, however it is still unknown whether there was shelling there yesterday evening of over the night.”

— Pierre Vaux