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?
There’s been a lot of social media discussion lately about the exact
position the Kremlin is taking regarding the self-proclaimed “Donetsk
and Lugansk People’s Republics” (DNR and LNR), particularly in
connection with President Vladimir Putin’s disappearance from public
view for 11 days this month.
As we reported, bloggers were saying that Russian state media had
“stopped” using the term “Novorossiya” — although we found that they
continued to use it and BBC reported the word still occurred in state broadcasts as well.
There was also a claim that Russian state media was no longer even
using the term “DNR and LNR” but saying “Donetsk and Lugansk Regions”
and even a claim (that no one could verify) that TV announcers were
calling the Russian-backed separatists “bandit formations.”
All of this was so much speculation or even disinformation, because
now Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has made a pronouncement —
that Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Leonid Plotnitsky, the respective leaders of the DNR and LNR are “recognized” — and even by the
UN Security Council.
Translation: Lavrov called Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky recognized leaders of the DNR and LNR.
According to a report March 21 by Lenta.ru and other news media, Lavrov made the statement on a Saturday talk show on Rossiya 1, which was then issued by the state wire service RIA Novosti (translation by The Interpreter):
“The Minsk agreements are officially attached to the text of the resolution of the UNSC 2202 and are an inalieable part of it. The names of these people are fixed in a consensus document of the Security Council. Moreover, in the preparatory stages within the framework of the Contact Group when Lugansk and Donetsk appointed their authorized representatives for the negotiations, the Kiev authorities did not want to meet with them. But now it’s “give us Zakharchenko, give us Plotnitsky” — that means these people have some sort of legitimate meaning for Kiev. “
This is now “obvious to all,” said Lavrov, adding:
“But the problem is that both the Americans and Europeans (to a lesser extent) are feeling very uncomfortable when they are forced to criticize Kiev. They try to avoid this in every way possible. They sort of sheltered and supported the new Ukrainian government, forgave them a lot, but now the feed doesn’t suit the horse.”
While actual recognition of the territories of the DNR and LNR such as they are — with additional cities and areas grabbed since the September 19, 2014 original Minsk agreement — is still not granted by the Kremlin, a further step has been taken.
All of this relies on a certain sleight of hand. Originally, when four world leaders — Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met in Minsk in February, there were hopes that they would sign a document “in the Normandy format,” i.e. with their signatures backing a peace agreement.
But Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky refused to sign it — despite reportedly the best efforts of Vyacheslav Surkov (who himself has mysteriously still not appeared in public in Russia — even for the signing of the treaty of integration of South Ossetia — which is supposed to be his portfolio.)
That necessitated a substitution — a different document with agreed points on the ceasefire, weapons pull-back, exchange of POWs, the passage of a law on certain districts of Donetsk and Lugansk, etc. — which was in the “Trilateral Contact Group” format which had in fact five signatures: Amb. Heidi Tagliavani of the OSCE, Amb. Mikhail Zurabov, the Russian ambassador to Kiev, former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, and Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky.
What tied together that “Trilateral” document to the “Normandy” document? Nothing except a press statement on osce.org saying the four leaders had called for implementation. OSCE is a consensus organization that does not involve binding treaties although diplomatically, the OSCE parties essentially blessed “the Minsk package” or as it came to be known “Minsk-2.”
The Russians then insisted that the UN Security Council — which is a body with binding treaties — further endorse this “Minsk package” with a resolution which was passed unanimously. Resolution 2202 (2015) doesn’t contain much of anything but an affirmation that the Council:
1.Endorses the “Package of measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”, adopted and signed in Minsk on 12 February 2015 (Annex I);
2 Welcomes the Declaration by the President of the Russian Federation, the President of Ukraine, the President of the French Republic and the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in support of the “Package of measures for the
Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”, adopted on 12 February 2015 in Minsk (Annex II), and their continuing commitment therein to the implementation of the
3. Calls on all parties to fully implement the “Package of measures”, including a comprehensive ceasefire as provided for therein;
4.Decides to remain seized of the matter.
(The last sentence is UN jargon for “keeping it on the agenda.”)
During the UNSC debate about the resolution, the US, UK and Lithuanian ambassadors invoked the problem of the exploitation of the peace agreement to seize the strategic hub of Debaltsevo and other issues at the time such as imprisoned Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, but they were ignored because there had never been an agreement mentioning Debaltsevo or Savchenko’s status as such in the “Trilateral” or “Minsk-2” document.
Lavrov bided his time and then announced over this past weekend that the document attached to that resolution — attached so as to give substance to the affirmation of the Minsk-2 peace agreement and the call to implement it — was now blessed as “international recognition” — although the text was signed by the former president of Ukraine, not the current one, who was serving only as a negotiator, and the two “people’s republic” leaders were not elected in any recognized election under Ukrainian law, but merely staged their own heavily managed ballot under gunpoint.
The Western parties that signed this resolution most likely conceived of “legitimacy” of the leaders of these territories to come only after they had conducted the elections under Ukrainian law specified in the agreement itself — not before. President Poroshenko has also made it clear that he expects such elections would occur with free media, unhindered registration of parties, and access for international monitors.
Meanwhile, DNR spokesman Denis Pushilin today was quick to pick up another statement by Dnepropetrovsk Governor Igor Kolomoisky mentioning “the DNR and LNR” and bless that, too as “recognition” of their “real power.”
Translation: Pushilin: the recognition by Kolomoisky of the DNR and LNR strikes against the authority of Poroshenko.
Lithuania convened a meeting of the Council members on human rights
in Crimea on March 19, at which Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev
(Cemilev) spoke, the Grigorenko Foundation reported.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Ukrainska Pravda reports that Rada Deputy Andriy Denysenko has admitted, at a briefing at the Dnipropetrovsk State Regional Administration (OGA), that Denis Gordeyev, a member of his Sich organisation, shot an SBU officer in Volnovakha on Saturday.
Denysenko said that he had heard from “witnesses to the event” that Gordeyev had shot the SBU officer during a brawl after Gordeyev himself had stopped three trucks carrying contraband.
While the SBU claim that the SBU officer was shot by gang members who were participating in the smuggling operation, Denysenko claimed that the officer, and a representative from the Prosecutor’s Office, had been called to the scene by one of the drivers of the trucks to help cover up the operation.
According to Denysenko, the SBU officer was reaching for a weapon when Gordevev grabbed it and shot him.
Denysenko said that the moves against the Dnipropetrovsk OGA were part of a Russian-backed campaign to discredit the volunteer movement that had lain at the heart of the EuroMaidan revolution. According to the MP, a secret protocol was signed in Minsk which included three points: the elimination of Kolomoiskiy, the liquidation of the volunteer movement, and the neutralisation of Praviy Sector.
He said that 26 fighters from Sich, Praviy Sector and other volunteer units had already been arrested.
Early in the morning on Friday, March 20, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest
oligarchs and the governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, Ihor Kolomoisky,
sent a group of men, “in military fatigues with bulletproof vests and
black bags that may have held weapons,” who seized control of the
headquarters of UkrNafta, Ukraine’s state-owned energy giant.
Two parliamentary deputies accused Kolomoisky of sending the
masked men into the offices of UkrTransNafta late on Thursday night
after it was announced that its chairman, an ally of the 52-year-old
oligarch, had been sacked.
Kolomoisky, governor of the eastern
Dnipropetrovsk region and one of Ukraine’s richest men with a net worth
of about $3 billion according to Forbes, later came out of the building
and clashed angrily with journalists.
“I came to free the
building from Russian saboteurs,” he could be heard saying on a YouTube
video clip in which he swore several times at reporters.
The incident was also sparked in part by a vote in the Verkhovna
Rada held the day before which changed the rules to allow state
companies to hold board meetings when a simple majority of shareholders
was present, instead of more than 60% previously required under law.
Since Kolomoisky owns the bank Privatbank, which in turn controls 43% of
UkrNafta, Privatbank’s shareholders were refusing to go to board
meetings to avoid making any decisions that would change the status quo.
Thus, the new law, which passed without any members of parliament
voting against it, is directly aimed at UkrNafta and Privatbank.
Kolomoisky is the governor of the industrial city of Dnepropetrovsk,
Ukraine’s fourth largest city which is central to many of Ukraine’s
biggest industries, from manufacturing to energy to software. Despite
being located so far east, there were hardly any pro-Russian or
pro-separatist demonstrations in the city, and “little green men” have
never taken a foothold there. Perhaps the biggest reason for those facts
is that Kolomoisky personally funded volunteer battalions to battle
separatism, and he used his influence with his employees and business
allies to ensure that separatism never caught on in Dnepropetrovsk.
that Kolomoisky, who is also a potential rival to President Petro
Poroshenko, had personal and business motivations for backing the
Ukrainian state over the Russian-backed rebels. But Poroshenko also has a
motive to confront the Ukrainian tycoon:
Kolomoisky, however, wasn’t being entirely selfless. He lobbied
hard against competitors, such as Rinat Akhmetov (net worth $6.7
billion) and Viktor Pinchuk ($1.5 billion), and seemed to believe he
should be able to expand his business empire in exchange for the help he
rendered to the Ukrainian state. He also continued exerting power over
several nominally state-controlled businesses at which he had installed
his managers under the previous regime.
One of these was
Ukrtransnafta, Ukraine’s state-owned oil pipeline operator, where
Kolomoisky had a loyal figure, Oleksandr Lazorko, appointed as chief
executive in 2009. That personnel change resulted in a redistribution of
pipeline capacity in favor of an underused, Kolomoisky-owned refinery
and enabled the plant to receive crude oil from Azerbaijan without
incurring the substantial extra cost of carrying it by rail. The Russian
oil giant Lukoil, which as a result had to shut down its refinery,
complained bitterly about being squeezed out of the pipeline and was
forced to look for alternative transport.
Poroshenko remains an
oligarch despite a (unfulfilled) promise to sell his confectionery
company as president, but he has no personal interest in the oil
business. Kolomoisky’s independence and influence, however, pose a
political threat. “He was too demonstrative in his puppeteering,”
Mustafa Nayyem, a legislator with Poroshenko’s electoral bloc, told me
of Kolomoisky. “The elite grew scared of him.”
On Thursday, the
government appointed a new chief executive for Ukrtransnafta, but
Lazorko didn’t want to leave. The bodyguards for the new appointee had
to fight through a security cordon to get their boss into the office.
Kolomoisky’s reaction was swift. He occupied Ukrtransnafta’s
headquarters with a detail of camouflaged men, arriving with an
entourage that included legislators.
Many Ukrainian liberals and Western observers believe that
Kolomoisky’s actions are a direct threat to true Western-style
democracy, and are the surest sign that oligarchs, not voters, still
rule in Ukraine. Devin Ackles writes for the Kyiv Post:
If Kolomoisky succeeds in pressuring the government to repeal the
law or maintain his control over the company, the continued ability of
oligarchs to directly influence the decisions of Ukraine’s
democratically elected authorities will once more be enshrined as a part
of its political and economic reality – a reality that Maidan and its
supporters have already expended so much energy, and lost so many lives,
to consign to the dustbins of history.
It also sets another very
dangerous precedent. If Kolomoisky is not punished for his blatant
disregard for the law and his decision to use armed personnel to contest
it, then other powerful interests may feel justified to do the same
whenever they do not agree with the law.
This would fundamentally
undermine the entire series of comprehensive reforms aimed at
establishing the rule of law, an issue with which Ukraine has struggled
since gaining independence and that has stifled its economic development
But the Ukrainian government has not yet used police action against
Kolomoisky, instead deciding to directly negotiate with him. That may
now be changing, however.
Ukrayinska Pravda reports
that the Ukrainian government may now be preparing to use the SBU,
Ukrainian state security services, to confront Kolomoisky’s men. SBU
head Valentyn Nalyvaichenko told reporters at a briefing today
(translated by The Interpreter):
“President Petro Poroshenko has ordered the disarmament of all
the people in Ukrnafta, and the SBU is prepared to to assist the MVD in
Nalyvaichenko added that they are only waiting for the proper permit before taking action. The article continues:
According to him, employees of the Sich security organisation,
established in Dnipropetrovsk, which hides behind the name of one of the
volunteer battalions, may be in the Ukrnafta building.
confirm that illegal activity by armed indivudals has been recorded by
the MVD and journalists. We confirm that there no legal grounds
whatsoever for the activistis of the Sich organistaion in Ukraine,” saud
the head of the SBU.
In a separate article, Ukrayinska Pravda quotes Nalyvaichenko as suggesting that Kolomoisky could be the target of several criminal investigations (translated by The Interpreter):
The SBU is scrutinizing high-ranking officials in the
Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration (OGA) for involvement in
the financing of gangs, related to smuggling contraband across the
demarcation line in the ATO zone, kidnapping, and the murder of an SBU
officer in Volnovakha.
Nalyvaichenko said that that the officer had been shot in the head
by individuals in Ukrainian army uniforms when he, together with a
representative from the Prosecutor’s Office, had stopped a truck
carrying contraband in the town on Saturday.
Several members of the gang were subsequently arrested, amongst them “a direct accomplice of the SBU captain’s killer.”
said that members of the gang, “hiding behind the name of a volunteer
battalion, tried to attack law enforcement officers during searches
conducted in Dnipropetrovsk.”
“We are dealing with a very dangerous, inter-regional gang, making money with bloodshed, cynically hiding behind the credentials of volunteer battalions. We have reasonable reports that they are receiving support, and sometimes funding, from high-ranking officials in the Dnipropetrovsk OGA. We are now verifying these reports,” said Nalyvaichenko.
The SBU chief said that Andriy
Denisenko, a Rada deputy and member of Praviy Sector, had come out in
support of the individuals concerned in the investigation.
Meanwhile, Ukrainska Pravda notes that MP Borys Filatov has written
on his Facebook wall that officials Korban and Oleynik were questioned
on Friday, a day before the murder in Volnovakha took place.
— James Miller, Pierre Vaux
Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council (NSDC), told reporters this morning that Russian-backed fighters have continued to shell Ukrainian positions over the last 24 hours.
Interfax-Ukraine reports that Lysenko said that small arms, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and tanks had been used in the attacks.
He said the Ukrainian positions near Avdiyivka have been shelled twice, even though the artillery systems should have been removed in accordance with the Minsk agreements.
Militants also used mortars in shelling Krasnohorivka, he said.
The situation is particularly tense in Donetsk airport area, he said, adding that the enemy has delivered six strikes against Ukrainian positions near the town of Opytne, including with tanks.
A fight between militants and Ukrainian forces started at about 13.00 on March 22 and lasted for about 30 minutes, he said. “The Ukrainian military held their positions and repelled the enemy attack,” Lysenko said.
Novosti Donbassa reports that Anatoly Stelmakh, spokesman for the ATO press centre, told reporters that the attacks had continued through the night.
Stemakh said that Russian-backed fighters had mounted an unsuccessful assault on Ukrainian positions close to Shirokino, east of Mariupol, at around 20:00. The village was later fired on with 120 mm mortars.
Meanwhile, Peski, just north-west of Donetsk, was shelled with 120 mm mortars at 22:05 and that Opytnoye had been attacked twice with tanks at 23:20 and around 1 am.
On the Bakhmutka highway in the Lugansk region, the village of Orekhovo had, he claimed, been shelled with Grad rockets at 1:15, “in a flagrant violation of the peace agreement.”
To the east, Stelmakh reported “contact” with small arms fire between Ukrainian troops and enemy infantry near the separatist-held village of Sokolniki at around 3 am.
There were also small arms attacks on the villages of Leninskoye and Shumi, near Gorlovka.
There was also were unconfirmed reports of fighting in Gorlovka itself today:
There has been yet another bombing in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa. Ukrainska Pravda reports that the blast went off at around 23:30 (21:30 GMT) last night on the ground floor of a 9-storey apartment block on Geranevoy street.
Ukraine’s Hromadske TV reported that the target of the bombing was the office of a volunteer activist:
Translation: Blast in Odessa tonight took place at the office of Odessa volunteer Alevtina Korotkoy. This was confirmed by Alevtina herself.
The internet TV channel had a video report from the scene:
Ukrainska Pravda reports that the epicentre of the explosion was within the building itself.
The Interior Ministry said that, based on preliminary reports, there were no casualties.
Local news site Dumskaya.net reported that 74 windows in the block had been shattered by the blast, the shock wave from which had reached the seventh floor.
Meanwhile, while not reported to be connected with the bombing or separatist activities, there were two fires in the city last night.
Dumskaya reported that two shops had burnt down on Academic Glushko prospect in the early hours of the morning, while two cars had been torched by unidentified arsonists. A cyclist, who attempted to intervene, was beaten.
— Pierre Vaux