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For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?
Ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s political party, the Party of Regions, is not exactly en vogue in Ukraine after the Euromaidan revolution. But while many former Yanukovych officials have fled to Russia or have gone missing, others are still engaged in politics in Ukraine.
They’re just operating under a different banner. And while most Ukrainians may be aware that the “Opposition Bloc” is just a rebranded version of the Party of Regions, many in the West who read their op-eds may not be aware of the politics and background of the authors whom they are reading.
Today, we received multiple tweets like this one from accounts with relatively few followers:
The article linked to is published on Real Clear World, an outlet which gained its fame by analyzing American politics and electoral statistics. The article, titled “The Right Peace for Ukraine,” is written by Sergei Lyovochkin, who is described as “a member of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, or parliament, where he is a leader of the Opposition Bloc.” It opens with the suggestion that the status quo in Ukraine is a “bad peace,” which is still better than a “good war.”
But then the article suggests that it is up to Kiev to ensure that a “bad peace” does not explode into renewed war:
The world has seen how unpredictable our adversary is. Yet our fate today depends as much as ever on ourselves, and on whether we learn from past events or repeat mistakes.
One year has passed since Russia annexed Crimea. Let us take stock of the current situation. Two well-armed groups tied to the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics challenge Ukrainian forces, and the zone of recent warfare is located in direct proximity to other regions, such as the Nikolaev and Zaporizhya oblasts, where the reactors of two of Ukraine’s four nuclear power plants are located. Civilians are suffering, and residents of Donetsk and Luhansk, who have been deprived of social support from Kiev, have so far borne the brunt of that suffering.
The periodic shooting wears on, despite the Minsk agreements. As it does, the mood in Ukraine darkens. If full-scale warfare resumes in the area surrounding Mariupol – a key industrial center and a seaport – an escalation of the conflict is inevitable. Last week, USA Today reported a story out of Mariupol citing a poll in which more than half of respondents in the Southeast said that what they want most are “peace and pensions.'” Millions more throughout the country agree with them.
To a casual observer, the article seems designed to present a reasonable middle ground. A closer read reveals that there is no mention of many of the underlying causes of Ukraine’s problems. Russian support for the separatist militants in the Donbass is never mentioned, nor are the repeated incidents where those fighters have broken the ceasefire, but the article highlights a need to implement the Minsk agreements. The article bemoans the decision for Kiev to stop paying for pensions and utilities in the Donbass, but makes no mentions of the various security and logistical problems which have, according to Kiev, made those programs impossible. The article is sprinkled with bent-truths, half-truths, convenient omissions, mild distortions, and vague references to recent events (making each claim harder to fact-check in this hyperlink-less article).
In fact, for all of Russia’s involvement in this crisis, the word “Russia” only appears three times, once in the passage quoted above, and once to describe a Russian idiom.
The third use of the word “Russia” in this article points to an incident which took place on New Years’ Eve:
Inter, one of the Ukraine’s top TV stations, whose news programs are sometimes critical of the government, has had its signal intermittently blocked during its news broadcasts. Now, the regulators threaten to revoke the channel’s licenses on the specious basis that a popular holiday program included Russian showmen.
These “Russian showmen” include Joseph Kobzon, a member of the Russian State Duma who has openly supported the separatists. Kobzon’s crimes have been bad enough to land himself of the European Union’s sanctions list — so he’s hardly just an entertainer. Kobzon, along with the other Russian “showmen” Oleg Gazmanov and Valeriya, have all been banned from entering Latvia because of their support of separatism. Inter has other problems which could get the channel’s license revoked, including allegations that it’s programming is predominantly in the Russian language, a violation of broadcasting regulations which stipulate that at least 50% of broadcasts must be in Ukrainian.
None of this is mentioned in Sergei Lyovochkin’s article in Real Clear World, but there are far more problematic omissions in that article. The first concerns Lyovochkin’s full biography. He is not just a Ukrainian MP, he’s also the former chief of staff for ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a fact which is never mentioned anywhere on Real Clear World’s website. Furthermore, according to The Daily Beast, Sergei Lyovochkin is a part-owner of the television channel Inter, a channel known for voicing pro-Russian viewpoints, which he was defending in this article, though indirectly.
In other words, if a reader only knew what Real Clear World said about Lyovochkin — that he is a member of Ukraine’s parliament — and you were sent the link to this article by a Twitter account sporting the Ukrainian flag, you’d never know that he helped lead the government which the Euromaidan revolution overthrew, and you’d never know he owned the television channel which he is now defending.
Real Clear World, it seems, is hardly clear about the true identities of some of the authors who are writing some of their editorials.
— James Miller
Ukrainian air force pilot Nadezhda Savchenko — who was captured by Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine, was kidnapped across the border into Russia, and is now facing murder charges for the deaths of two Russian state journalists who were killed by mortar fire — has appealed for a new judge. Her current judge is currently sanctioned by the United States for his role in the death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.
That appeal has been rejected. RFE/RL reports:
The judge, Artur Karpov of Moscow’s Basmanny Court, explained his March 26 decision by the “lack of justification” of Savchenko’s request to replace him with another judge.
Savchenko’s lawyers requested Karpov’s replacement, saying that Karpov was included in the list of Russian officials the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on for their involvement to the case of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow jail in 2009.
The U.S. sanctions bill is known as Magnitsky list.
— James Miller
Ukrainian government and military sources have reported attacks yesterday across the northern front line from Peski in the west to Stanitsa Luganskaya in the east.
Ukrainska Pravda reports that Anatoly Stelmakh, press secretary for the ATO headquarters, claimed this morning that Russian-backed fighters had shelled the Ukrainian-held settlements of Peski and Avdeyevka during the night with 120 mm mortars.
Stelmakh also reported small arms attacks on Novoselovka and Kamenka, to the north-east of Donetsk, and Shirokino, east of Mariupol.
In addition, a border guard detachment was attacked in the village of Fedorovka, between the two towns.
According to Slobodyan, an anti-tank missile was fired at an SBGS Cougar armoured car, exploding several metres away
Meanwhile, the press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, reported that Russian-backed fighters had attacked Ukrainian positions in Tryokhizbenka, on the northern banks of the Seversky Donets river.
Moskal’s office said that there had been a shoot-out with automatic weapons near the wrecked bridge across the river (which Russian-backed fighters had attempted to cross on the night of March 17-18).
According to the report, Russian-backed fighters climbed up onto the bridge and fired rocket-propelled grenades at a Ukrainian defensive position. They retreated after Ukrainian forces opened fire in response. There were no reports of casualties.
The governor’s office reported periodic skirmishes between Ukrainian and Russian-backed forces in the area between the villages of Krymskoye and Sokolniki, the latter of which is occupied by separatist fighters.
Gunfire was also reported on the outskirts of Stanitsa Luganskaya both last night and this morning.
— Pierre Vaux
Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Interior Ministry (MVD) has announced that a blast went off outside the offices of the Regional State Administration in Zaporozhye in the early hours of this morning.
According to the MVD, the blast was first reported at 1:30 (23:30 GMT). The explosion was, according to preliminary findings, caused by an improvised explosive device. There were no casualties.
The blast caused broke glass in the door of the building but there was no significant damage.
The leader of the local Samooborona (self defence organisations that sprang up during the EuroMaidan protests) which is based in the same building, Sergei Tiunov, told ipnews.in.ua that he did not believe the attack was conducted by “professional terrorists,” but rather by locals who were drawn to the separatist cause.
— Pierre Vaux
Praviy (right) Sector fighters operating in the Mariupol area have been ordered by the Ukrainian military to either leave the combat zone or join the regular forces of the Ukrainian military or National Guard.
UNIAN reported last night:
Commander of the 8th separate company of the Right Sector Ukrainian military volunteer corps Andriy Cherven said that his troops had been ordered to leave the town of Shyrokyne outside Mariupol before March 27, and the anti-terrorist operation zone itself before April 1.
According to him, the order says that all the troops that are not part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the National Guard should be withdrawn from the zone. Cherven added he couldn’t disobey the order.
Artyom Lutsak, chief of staff of the 8th Aratta company of Praviy Sector, told UNIAN that his fighters had been given an ultimatum to subordinate themselves to the military command structure or leave the area. He said that his troops were headed for their base.
Oleg Sushinsky, press officer for the military headquarters in Mariupol, confirmed the ultimatum:
“They want to fight, but it’s not right. There are civilians and there are military. If they consider themselves to be professionals, let them join [the army] officially,” he added.
Artyom Skoropadskiy, chief of Praviy Sector’s information centre, told Ukrainska Pravda that, under certain conditions, the fighters could join the army, but that they would not subordinate themselves to the National Guard, which is headed by the Interior Ministry.
The Interpreter translates:
“We will definitely not join the National Guard, because there has been no lustration at the MVD [Interior Ministry], and many of our fighters do not want to become employees of the MVD,” explained Skoropadskiy.
He said that negotiations on the conditions for the legalisation of Praviy Sector were constantly being held with the authorities and are still ongoing.
Skoropadskiy said that the organisation would oppose any move to dissolve the fighting units and reassign soldiers as members of various extant army units, insisting that Praviy Sector’s paramilitary wing be maintained as a whole fighting unit, operating under the command of Praivy Sector leader, Dmytro Yarosh and their corps commander, Andriy Stempitskiy.
Speaking to UNIAN, Skoropadskiy stressed the importance of Praviy Sector’s autonomy:
“We’ve got a free-standing structure. We work both with the National Guard and the Defense Ministry at the frontline, rather than with the General Staff or the Defense Ministry [high-ranking officials], we work with majors, lieutenant colonels – we cooperate with them: they help us, we help them,” he added.
He confirmed to Ukrainska Pravda that Yarosh himself had been offered a post in the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
“That is true, there was such a proposal. But we are still considering it, as it is still unclear what powers he will have there.”
Yesterday, the press office of the Donbass battalion claimed that their fighters had conducted a “clean-up” with Praviy Sector fighters near Shirokino, killing 29 Russian spetsnaz troops.
— Pierre Vaux
A bus carrying 26 civilians between Ukrainian-held Artyomovsk and separatist-held Gorlovka was struck by a landmine last night on a dirt road near Mayorsk, just north-east of Gorlovka. Four people were killed and 21 wounded.
The head of the Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry (MVD), Vyacheslav Abroskin, wrote on his Facebook page last night that the bus driver had taken the decision to drive along the unsecured dirt road in order to bypass a checkpoint.
Abroskin reported that an investigative team from the Artyomovsk police department were on the scene and that the wounded were being taken to hospital.
He, and his deputy, Ilya Kiva, posted photos of the aftermath:
Kiva made the additional claim that, after the landmine went off, at around 19:00 (17:00 GMT), separatist fighters had fired at the site with mortars, hindering Ukrainian rescue efforts.
This claim has not been repeated by Abroskin or the Donetsk MVD press office, which announced today that a criminal investigation had been opened, qualifying the event as a “terrorist attack.”
— Pierre Vaux