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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel today via phone. The Ukrainian government has produced a readout of the conversation. Both leaders agreed that the Minsk ceasefire agreement needed to be implemented, and Poroshenko said that he was working to implement his side of the deal despite the fact that “militants” were breaking the ceasefire. But then there was this interesting development — Poroshenko has renewed his call for peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine and has requested that they be made up of members of the European Union:
The parties have agreed that the EU must pay proper attention to the situation on the fulfillment of the Minsk agreements by all the parties in the context of its further policy on Russia.
The President has underlined the importance of efforts’ coordination for the deployment of the peacekeeping contingent in Ukraine and emphasized that Ukraine wanted the given contingent to be formed as a mission of the EU.
Petro Poroshenko and Angela Merkel have also discussed the economic situation in Ukraine and the opportunity of additional measures for its stabilization. Angela Merkel has assured of further support of Ukraine in the issue of providing a new broadened program from the IMF. The parties have agreed to maintain substantive dialogue between the two governments, including the Ministry of Finance.
While Germany’s statement on the phone call has not yet been translated into English, the German statement indicated that Germany would be willing to consider more sanctions against Russia should the Minsk accord fail, but providing ” military assistance to Ukraine is currently not up for debate” [Google translation].
— James Miller
Ukraine’s LIGABusinessInform reports that the head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, has told reporters that the agency has intercepted a document drafted by Vladislav Surkov, a supremely influential aide to Vladimir Putin, directing the separatist leadership on their approach to the recent Minsk deal.
Nalyvaichenko said that the SBU now had a body of evidence that Surkov was organising political and military interference in Ukraine. He presented a document, a “circular” (one of many, he claimed) which had been distributed amongst the separatist leadership, authored he said, by Surkov.
The document contains recommended responses to Ukrainian moves or statements, in effect, talking points, like a PR firm advising a client.
The first point on the memo indicates that the separatists should respond to a request by the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council to the UN, for peacekeepers to be deployed along the Russo-Ukrainian border in the Donbass, should be met by a statement from the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’s’ representative, Denis Pushilin.
The statement suggested by the author is that the Ukrainian request would be a violation of the Minsk agreement as Kiev is, according to the deal, only to re-assume control over it’s south-eastern borders with Russia after holding local elections in separatist-held areas and conducting constitutional reform.
Point number two says that the separatists should respond to any Ukrainian accusations of ceasefire violations by listing Ukrainian violations in turn.
The third bullet point is extremely revealing, if the document is genuine, as to the power dynamic at play here.
The Interpreter translates:
Isn’t it a pity that you’re not paying attention. Find out from A why Basurin agreed with the introduction of peacekeepers?
Isn’t it a pity that you’re not paying attention!!!
Swiftly issue a rebuttal on his behalf. Immediately. Along the lines that his words were distorted and taken out of context. And then knock him on the head.
The author is keen to stress that the separatists should not appear to oppose the idea of peacekeepers per se, but that the issue of border control cannot be discussed until prior points of the Minsk agreement are implemented.
Certainly, this is what one would expect of the ‘grey cardinal,’ Surkov, a former PR and advertising man turned architect of Vladimir Putin’s ‘managed democracy.’
Back in December we reported in more detail on Surkov’s alleged policy shop overseeing the Kremlin’s operations in Ukraine.
— Pierre Vaux
Eight men have been arrested in raids which have taken place across the Spain. New York Times reports:
Those arrested, the ministry said, recently returned to Spain after going to Ukraine last year to join pro-Russian troops around Luhansk and Donetsk. The ministry said that they had been identified partly by information that the eight had posted online, including photographs of themselves wearing paramilitary uniforms and training with explosives and assault rifles.
The fighters are likely to be charged with taking part in activities considered to be terrorism by Ukraine, the ministry said, including taking part in assassinations and carrying illegal weapons. The ministry also said that fighting in Ukraine could in itself amount to a violation of “the neutrality of Spain.”
The Local, a Spanish newspaper which publishes in English, adds that the men were sympathetic to communist and far-left ideologies:
Officers detained the eight suspects in six regions across Spain, the government said in a statement. A source close to the investigation described them as “pro-Russian” and far-left in ideology.
The Spanish suspects were said to be inspired by the International Brigades, the multinational volunteer forces that joined Republican forces to fight against Francisco Franco’s uprising during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.The arrests took place in Asturias, Catalonia, Extremadura, Murcia, Navarra and Madrid.
The men, whose ages range between 20 and 30 years-old and were all affiliated with Communist organizations, received support from a pro-Russian European league, according to Spanish daily, El País.
Last summer two of the men posted this video, in English, where they claim that the news on Spanish and American TV is false. “Junta of Kiev are criminals,” the men explain, as they claim that everyone fighting in Donetsk are just locals fighting for their own territory. “In this war information is very important and it is being controlled by the same people who are killing these people [the people of Donetsk].”
Interfax-Ukraine reports that the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, has said that the separatist-held portion of the region, the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR), is now completely supplied with electricity from the Russian grid.
“The self-proclaimed republic is taking all electrical power from the Russian Federation,” Hennadiy Moskal, the head of the Luhansk region’s administration, said.
Moskal reiterated that the LPR “had fully disconnected from power supply from Ukraine” as of Friday.
“That is, the thermal electrical power plant in Schastia and the thermal electrical power plant in Severodonetsk are not supplying a single kilowatt to the occupied territories.”
Back on September 6 last year, Marieluise Beck, a German politician and member of the Bundestag Committee on Foreign Affairs, specialising in Eastern European affairs, reported from Lugansk that Russian military engineers were constructing new power lines “towards Russia” in the separatist-held city.
The news follows Gazprom’s announcement that the Russian state gas company had begun direct supplies of gas to separatist-held territory, through gas metering stations that are beyond the control of the Ukrainian state gas transit body, Ukrtransgaz.
— Pierre Vaux
Yelena Masyuk, journalist and a member of the Presidential Council of the Russian Federation for Civil Society and Human Rights, has visited Nadezhda Savchenko in jail and reports that her health is seriously deteriorating.
Masyuk addressed the head of the Council, Mikhail Fedotov, urging him to appeal to the authorities for Savchenko to be removed from jail and placed under house arrest, suggesting either the Ukrainian embassy or a flat rented by her lawyers in Moscow.
Masyuk wrote (translated by The Interpreter):
After today’s meeting with Nadezhda, I must say that her health has sharply deteriorated over recent days. Today is the 76th day of her hunger strike. For 15 days, she has refused glucose injections. She has begun to suffer serious problems with her internal organs.
Nadezhda Savchenko could die within days.
Masyuk commented that it appeared that the Russian Investigative Committee (Sledkom) appeared to be trying to pin the guilt for all the crimes the Committee is accusing Ukrainian forces of conducting in Donbass conflict on Savchenko alone, as they cannot arrest the other suspects named such as the Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, or the oligarch and governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ihor Kolomoyskyi.
No evidence, Masyuk says, has been presented by Sledkom to connect Savchenko to the deaths of two Russian journalists, whom she is charged with murder, for the near-nine months the Ukrainian officer has been held in pre-trial detention.
Masyuk also warned that Savchenko’s death in custody would likely lead to more sanctions against Russia and the creation of a “Savchenko list” to follow the Magnitsky list of Russian officials connected with the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in pre-trial detention, who are barred from entry to the USA or using American banks.
Nadezhda Savcheno is a Ukrainian military officer (and now an MP) who was captured by separatist fighters in the Lugansk region, documented undergoing interrogation (in a video which was uploaded to YouTube) and then taken to Russia where she was accused of illegally crossing the border and participating in the murder of two Russian journalists who were killed while standing at a separatist checkpoint which came under Ukrainian mortar fire.
She has been on hunger strike, protesting that her trial is illegal and must be suspended in light of her status as a prisoner of war (which the Russian government does not recognise her as) since December 13.
— Pierre Vaux
Following a day on which the Ukrainian government claimed no fatalities for the second day running, and military sources told reporters that Ukraine may withdraw artillery from the front line, there has been renewed violence with three Ukrainian soldiers and one civilian reported dead.
Ukrainska Pravda reported this morning that the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, Andriy Lysenko, had announced that three Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and seven wounded.
Novosti Donbassa reports that the press office of the Mariupol branch of the Interior Ministry has announced the death of one civilian in the village of Shirokino, where Ukrainian troops are under attack by Russian-backed forces.
A body of the man, born in 1966, with multiple shrapnel wounds, was brought to the Mariupol morgue. The report claimed that he had been killed as a result of shelling conducted by Russian-backed fighters.
However the date of the man’s death is, the report says, still being determined.
He may well have been killed on an earlier date as Dmitry Chaly, spokesman for the military headquarters in Mariupol, announced earlier that there had been no recorded artillery bombardments or military engagements in the Mariupol area over the last 24 hours.
Meanwhile, shelling was heard in separatist-held Donetsk. Local news site 62.ua reported this morning that “blasts from heavy weaponry were heard across most districts of the city last night.”
In addition to reports of blasts from incoming shells, the site cited residents’ reports of intense, outgoing fire from the city.
Yesterday afternoon the site had reported that the sounds of intense fighting, including artillery, could be heard coming from the direction of Peski and Donetsk Airport
This video, uploaded yesterday, was purportedly filmed in Makeyevka, to the immediate east of Donetsk. Artillery fire is audible. The video is sarcastically titled “Withdrawal of weaponry in Makeyevka.”
Meanwhile, the press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, reported that there had been some attacks on front-line Ukrainian positions in the north of the region.
According to the report, Russian-backed fighters attacked the 29th checkpoint on the Bakhmutka highway, near Novotoshkovka, with mortars at around 22:00.
To the north-east, near the former 31st checkpoint, which fell to Russian forces in January, there periodic exchanges fire between Ukrainian and Russian-backed fighters on the outskirts of Krymskoye, with the use of small arms, grenade launchers and mortars.
— Pierre Vaux