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Austria has rejected a request made by the the U.S. government to extradite one of Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarchs, Dmytro Firtash, wanted for bribing officials in India to seal a titanium mining deal. Reuters reports:
One of Ukraine’s most influential oligarchs, Firtash, 49, was arrested in Vienna a year ago at the request of U.S. authorities, which have been investigating him since 2006.
He was released from detention in March 2014 after posting bail of 125 million euros ($140 million).
New York Times reporter David Herszenhorn reports:
Herszenhorn previewed the Firtash case for the New York Times yesterday:
The timing of the request for Mr. Firtash’s arrest on Feb. 26, 2014 — four days after Mr. Yanukovych’s ouster — and interviews with lawyers and co-defendants in the case, suggest that Mr. Firtash’s dealings with Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, and events in Ukraine, where the new Western-backed government is moving aggressively to curtail the influence of so-called oligarchs, have been major factors in the bid to extradite him.
A top priority of Ukraine’s government — and a central demand of the Western creditors who have pledged more than $40 billion to help Ukraine avoid financial collapse — is a sweeping overhaul of the country’s notoriously corrupt natural gas industry, in which Mr. Firtash initially made his fortune, before branching out to build a vast business empire that includes interests in metals, manufacturing and media.
Concerns about Mr. Firtash’s continued influence in Ukrainian politics are well-founded. Even after he was arrested, Mr. Firtash played a very public role in brokering a deal between Petro O. Poroshenko, another Ukrainian billionaire, and the ex-champion boxer, Vitali Klitschko, who were then both vying for the presidency. The three men met at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel here in Vienna, and Mr. Klitschko bowed out, choosing to run instead for mayor of Kiev, the capital. Mr. Poroshenko is now president.
LifeNews, a Russian news outlet with notoriously-close ties to the Russian security apparatus, broadcast a report tonight of the testimony of Dmitry Firtash in the Austrian courtroom. The headline promised an account “behind the scenes at Maidan.”
LifeNews says Firtash claimed that his gas business was “interfering with the direct realization of the USA’s plans” for reform in Ukraine. The Interpreter has a translation of an excerpt from the article:
“In 2012 I realized that Yanukovych would not do reforms. I thought we needed a new candidate for 2015. I found such a candidate. It was Vitaly Klitschko.” In his words, Yanukovych reacted extremely badly at at the change in Firtash’s mood. And after the February events, not long before his flight from Kiev, Yanukovych fell into hysterics.
“When Yanukovych lost power,” Firtash told the court, “he phoned me and began shouting. He accused me of sticking a knife in his throat.”
Meanwhile, Yuliya Tymoshenko was placing serious pressure on Firtash, first demanding financial support from him and then winding up as a player in a group which the American interests were pushing toward power. “After the flight of Yanukovich, a niche in power was formed, and the Americans supported the power of Tymoshenko, Yatsenyuk and Turchynov,” Firtash was quoted as saying by observers of his speech and representatives of his defense.
Refusal to play a round with Tymoshenko became one of many factors attracting the persecution of Dmitry Firtash by the Ameircans. However, in his words, he had his own line. And despite US pressure, he put his chips on the businessman Petro Poroshenko and Vitaly Klitschko.
“I can say that we achieved what we wanted. Poroshenko became president and Klitschko became mayor,” he added.
Firtash did not hide the fact that he met with these figures while in Austria, where a substantial part of the billionaire’s assets are registered. However he has not revealed the circumstances of the meeting, citing a signed non-disclosure agreement.
Firtash’s company, RosUkrEnergo, not only had close ties to the Russian energy giant Gazprom, but Firtash and his company also had close ties with Semion Mogilevich, a notorious mobster with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In fact, one of the last things the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko did before he was poisoned was to record a tape in which he detailed Mogilevich’s ties to Putin.
Business Insider reports:
Although Firtash has repeatedly denied having any close relationship with Mogilevich, he has admitted to asking permission from the mobster before conducting business in Ukraine as early as 1986, Reuters recently reported. At the request of the FBI, Firtash was arrested in Austria for suspicion of bribery and creating a criminal organization.
Mogilevich may even have a working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a published conversation between Leonid Derkach, the former chief of the Ukrainian security service, and former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma.
“He’s [Mogilevich] on good terms with Putin,” Derkach reportedly said. “He and Putin have been in contact since Putin was still in Leningrad.”
That article can be read here:
Poisoned KGB Agent Said Putin Has A 'Good Relationship' With One Of The World's Top Mobsters
Before his death by poisoning, ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, recorded a tape. In it, he claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin had a "good relationship" with one of the most notorious mobsters in the world, a Ukrainian man named Semion Mogilevich.
According to a message in the group (translation by The Interpreter):
At 30.04.2015 at approximately 1:00 an explosion thundered […] The first to arrive at the scene was Avtomaidan which reported that the explosion occurred in the police department on Yeroshenko Street.
The group published pictures showing a building with a police sign but the extent of damage was not clear.
No injuries were reported.
The blast was the latest in a series of such attacks in Ukrainian cities.
On February 22, a bomb at a rally in Kharkiv killed 3 and injured 10.
In Kharkiv on April 7, a flag pole exploded. At least 45 such bomb blasts have occurred in Kharkiv.
On March 29, an explosion took place in Odessa in a volunteer center to help the ATO. Earlier there were at least 7 explosions in Odessa, including one at a volunteer’s home on February 22.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko has been moved back to the hospital war of a pre-trial prison from a regular hospital, Interfax reported.
Andrei Krapivin, chief physician of City Hospital No. 20 in Moscow confirmed that Savchenko had been returned to Matrosskaya Tishina Prison, saying her state of health permitted a continued stay in pre-trial detention under the observation of doctors.
The Federal Corrections Service (FSIN) also reported that she had been transferred to the infirmary of Matrosskaya Tishina.
Savchenko’s attorneys fought to have her returned to the prison because the conditions in the regular hospital were worse than at prison.
Savchenko had been transferred to the city hospital on April 28 due to low blood sugar.
Interfax also reported that the European Parliament passed a resolution today condemning the unlawful imprisonment of Savchenko and warning of possible further international sanctions if she is not released, as they believe her continued imprisonment is a violation of the Geneva Accords regarding prisoners of war.
The resolution also called for the release of Oleg Sentsov, a film-maker also held in Russia and charged with terrorism, and Khayser Dzhemilev, the son of Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemileva, held on charges of murder.
The parliamentarians urged the Normandy format leaders of France and Germany to include the issue of Savchenko as part of the Minsk accords.
Savchenko was abducted by Russian forces last year and charged with complicity in the murder of two journalists killed by shelling at a Russian-backed separatist checkpoint in Lugansk Region.
–Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has just released this press release, entitled “President had a phone conversation in Normandy format,” and there’s potentially a big headline here. The statement reads:
President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko has held a phone conversation in the Normandy format with President of France Francois Hollande, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel.
Presidents of Ukraine, France, Russia and Federal Chancellor of Germany emphasized the need to fulfill the Minsk agreements and called for strict compliance with comprehensive ceasefire regime in Donbas. They have also emphasized the need of providing access for the OSCE to execute monitoring and verification of the ceasefire regime in 10 locations along the collision line that have been defined earlier.
The parties have endorsed the proposal of the Ukrainian President on demilitarization of Shyrokyne and deployment of the OSCE post there. Instead, the rule of law can be provided by the Ukrainian police.
The interlocutors stand for the beginning of functioning of the working groups headed by the OSCE that should reflect the structure of the Trilateral Contact Group.
In the context of discussing the ways of peaceful settlement, President Putin agreed to an opportunity of deploying peacekeeping contingent in Donbas.
The Ukrainian President has emphasized the inadmissibility of sending so-called Russian humanitarian convoys through the uncontrolled border area between Ukraine and Russia. He has urged to facilitate the delivery of Ukrainian and international humanitarian aid to the residents of Donbas living in the areas controlled by militants.
The President of Ukraine has once again urged the President of Russia to liberate Nadiya Savchenko.
The parties have also touched upon other security, humanitarian and economic issues.
We’ve provided a better translation of the key headline:
Putin agreed with the possibility of the deployment of contingent of peacekeepers to the Donbass.
AFP notes that the press releases from Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande made no mention of the possibility of peacekeepers:
The leaders “noted certain progress on issues of how to ensure a ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons in the conflict zone,” the Kremlin statement said.
The French presidency also made no mention of peacekeepers, saying in a statement that the parties had reviewed the implementation of the peace accords and “considered areas for improvement”.
President Poroshenko has repeatedly called for the deployment of international peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko has also stressed that those soldiers would have to hail from the European Union or NATO nations, not Russia, as he clearly (and wisely) distrusts any mission which includes Russian troops.
However, a key strategy utilized by the Kremlin, and its allies such as Syria and Iran which it advises, is to negotiate the settlement of a crisis then change the meaning of the terms. There are countless examples of Russia using this method. Once Ukraine and Russia agreed for
the Red Cross to send supplies into eastern Ukraine, Russia started
sending unmarked and un-inspected military vehicles, some painted with a
red cross, across the border – the “humanitarian convoys” which
Poroshenko himself decries in the statement above. Similarly, when
Russia and Ukraine agreed that unarmed and illegal groups needed to
vacate the government buildings they occupy, seemingly a huge concession
made by the Putin regime, Putin immediately called the militants in the
Donbass the rightful owners of the government buildings which they
occupy and declared that the government in Kiev was illegal.
With that in mind, if Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France agree to send international peacekeepers as a way to end this crisis, what is there to stop Russia from immediately sending its own forces across the border under the ruse of ensuring the completion of that goal?
— James Miller
The latest OSCE report, dated 19:30 local time last night, April 29, warns of repeated ceasefire violations and increased presence of heavy weaponry inside the demarcation zone. The summary:
The SMM continued to observe ceasefire violations in and around Donetsk airport, and in the environs of Shyrokyne (20km east of Mariupol). At a location 8km north-west of Donetsk city-center, the SMM, for instance, heard the sound of 75 explosions coming from locations 2-6 kilometres west, north, north-west and south of its position, assessed to have been both incoming and outgoing 120mm mortar and heavy artillery rounds. In Donetsk city, the SMM heard a round of indeterminate nature explode approximately 700 metres from its position. In and around Shyrokyne, the SMM noted mostly the use of small arms. The SMM also observed two ceasefire violations in the Luhansk region. Whilst in government-controlled Staryi Aidar (20km north-north-west of Luhansk), the SMM heard eight outgoing mortar and artillery rounds approximately three kilometres east of its position. Whilst in government-controlled Stanytsia Luhanska (16km north-east of Luhansk), the SMM heard a few bursts of small arms fire approximately 10 kilometers east of its position.
While there were ceasefire violations noted in the Lugansk region, and other stories of import from other regions, below are excerpts from the report which focus on the Donetsk and Mariupol areas which are the focal points of the current escalation in fighting:
Following reports from the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) that “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled Horlivka (39km north-east of Donetsk) had been shelled on 28 April, the SMM – visiting the city the following day – observed craters and extensive damage to five civilian houses, one of which was near the local market place, and was told by interlocutors that one person had been killed and seven injured. The SMM assessed that 122 and 152mm artillery rounds – fired from locations to the north-west and south over a three-hour period – had been used in the attack.
Ukrainian Armed Forces representatives to the JCCC in government-controlled Avdiivka (15km north-west of Donetsk) told the SMM that “DPR” forces had shelled Avdiivka with Grad rockets over the two previous days. The SMM will follow up on these allegations.
The security situation in Donbas is fluid and unpredictable and the cease-fire does not hold everywhere.
On the evening of 28 April, “DPR” members manning a checkpoint in Donetsk city prevented the SMM from proceeding further, saying the SMM should have a “DPR” escort. As the “DPR” members clarified with their superior, a shell impacted nearby (see above; para 1, page 1), forcing the SMM to leave the area before a decision could be made.
Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel prevented the SMM from entering the government-controlled village of Mykolaivka (41km south-south-west of Donetsk), saying shelling was ongoing.
Meanwhile, Jeff Seldin, National Security Correspondent at Voice of America, has been following a series of statements from Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Commander of U.S. European Command General Phillip Breedlove, excerpted below. Breedlove is warning that Russia’s behavior is dangerous, and it’s not just destabilizing Ukraine:
The Ukrainian Embassy in Russia has sent the Russian Foreign Ministry a notice asking the Russian authorities to grant jailed Ukrainian military officer Nadezhda Savchenko’s request to be transferred back to a pre-trial detention centre from the civilian hospital she entered on April 28.
In the letter, a copy of which was published on Twitter by Savchenko’s lawyer, Mark Feygin, the embassy noted that Savchenko herself had described the conditions in the hospital as unsatisfactory. In addition, there have been issues regarding access for her lawyers and consular officials.
Yesterday, another of Savchenko’s lawyers, Ilya Novikov, wrote on his Facebook page that the conditions in the City Hospital No. 20 in Moscow were in fact worse than those in the medical unit at the pre-trial detention centre where Savchenko had been held.
Savchenko had been transferred to the civilian hospital after both her lawyers and Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, had said that her health was deteriorating and that she had resumed her hunger strike.
UNIAN translates Novikov’s comments:
“There is little air and light, walks and visits from family members are not allowed, and the mattress smells of bedridden patients. In this special block they often bring the dying, who can no longer walk. Nadia still can walk,” he said.
“According to Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service, she is considered as a person who is inclined to escape, violence and suicide. On the first day the guards were afraid: she was taken in handcuffs to the shower or toilet. Today, they are not afraid,” Novikov said.
“Our meeting, as well as in the Serbsky Institute, was held in the presence of the chief of the guard, although lawyers are supposed to have private meetings with their clients. I didn’t insist on our rights, as it was already 17:30 and we had a lot to discuss a lot. We limited the conspiracy to speaking in Ukrainian,” he said.
“The administrative system of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service has surpassed itself this time. Though Nadia is listed in detention center No. 1, the convoy to the 20th hospital is from detention center No. 6. Therefore, to visit Nadia you need to go to detention center No. 6 on Shosseinaya Street in the south-east of Moscow, to get written permission from the chief himself, and with this permission you have to go to Lenskaya Street in the north-east. And you must do this every time. I spent five hours on this procedure,” the lawyer said.
“Nadia sends everyone her greetings. She promised Yelyzaveta Hlynka that she would start to eat in the hospital. Yesterday and today she took food, and the doctors brought her a vial of medicine in my presence. She plans to participate in a court hearing on May 6, but she is not planning [further] ahead,” he said.
Feygin tweeted today:
Translation: From this moment, having agreed on our position with the defendant, Nadezhda Savchenko, we will insist on her return back to the infirmary at pre-trial detention centre 1.
Nadezhda Savchenko is a Ukrainian military officer and MP who was captured by separatist fighters in the Lugansk region and illegally transported to Russia, where she is on trial for the alleged murder of two Russian journalists.
— Pierre Vaux
Leviy Bereg reports that Andriy Lysenko, press secretary for the Ukrainian military’s Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO), has announced at a briefing that one Ukrainian soldier has been killed and four wounded over the last 24 hours.
Yesterday, Volodymyr Groysman, speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, claimed that more than 100 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the ceasefire was announced.
“Since the announcement of the ceasefire on February 15, Ukrainian positions have been fired on over 2,500 times. As a result, more than 100 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and more than 500 people injured,” Groysman said.
— Pierre Vaux
Novosti Donbassa reports that Oleksandr Alferov, spokesman for the Azov regiment, has told Radio Vesti that the volunteer regiment, subordinate to the Interior Ministry, will withdraw from the village of Shirokino if there is such an order from President Petro Poroshenko.
The Azov regiment has repeatedly made public its opposition to the proposed demilitarisation of the village, around 10 km east of Mariupol, which has been the scene of intense combat and devastation since Russian-backed forces counter-attacked after Azov and Ukrainian army forces retook the village on February 10.
The OSCE and both Russian and Ukrainian military representatives at the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) have supported the proposal to establish a demilitarised zone in the village, with an OSCE station to monitor for violations of the ceasefire.
However the Azov regiment has previously stated that a Ukrainian withdrawal from Shirokino would leave Mariupol exposed to artillery bombardment and assault.
The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, has also called the Ukrainian government’s proposed plans for demilitarisation “schizophrenia.”
However speaking to Radio Vesti today, Alferov said (translated by The Interpreter):
“In the event of an order from the supreme commander [the president] we will leave Shirokino.”
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrainian military’s ATO press centre has claimed that Russian-backed fighters conducted 26 attacks on Ukrainian positions between 18:00 and midnight yesterday.
According to the report, Ukrainian positions near Peski, north-west of Donetsk, were shelled five times with 120 mm mortars. The same weapons were also used, along with 82 mm mortars, against positions near Avdeyevka, Zaytsevo and Shirokino.
UNIAN reports that the Interior Ministry announced that a woman was wounded at around 18:00 in Peski during mortar shelling.
The Interior Ministry press service said that she had received a shrapnel wound to her chest and had been hospitalised in the town of Selidovo.
In addition, the ATO press centre reported that Russian-backed forces reportedly shelled positions near Avdeyevka and Opytnoye with 122 mm artillery.
Leviy Bereg‘s Oleksandr Rudomanov reports this morning, citing reports from frontline soldiers, that Russian-backed fighters had gone on to use 152 mm artillery in their attacks on Avdeyevka.
Rudomanov writes that the shelling lasted from 23:00 until 1:30 today. According to preliminary reports, there were no military casualties.
There were also small arms attacks near Lozovoye, Luganskoye and Troitskoye, the ATO press centre claimed.
According to the report, at at around midnight Ukrainian soldiers engaged a reconnaissance team of around 10 Russian-backed fighters close to Zaytsevo. The military say that the enemy fighters withdrew after being fired on.
In the Lugansk region, the press centre says, the town of Schastye was shelled with 82 mm mortars while positions near Stanitsa Luganskaya were fired on with anti-aircraft artillery, automatic grenade launchers and small arms.
The press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, reported further on these attacks.
The Interpreter translates the Novosti Donbassa report:
According to the Lugansk Regional Administration’s reports, fire was directed at an ATO force defensive position from the direction of occupied Vesyolaya Gora. Grenades exploded close to the bridge over the Seversky Donets and the bus station. According to preliminary reports, no soldiers were wounded. Over the last week the area around the bridge in Schastye has been shelled by the militants daily and sometimes several times a day.
In addition to Schastye, the militants carried out attacks on several other settlements along the contact line. On the outskirts of Krymskoe a fire-fight broke out between militants and Ukrainian soldiers, lasting from 18:00 until midnight. It was less intense than yesterday, there are no reports of casualties or destruction. The morning in Krymskoye was quiet. After midnight, the militants also fired on the village of Troitskoye (in the Popasnaya district near Debaltsevo). Bullets from small arms fell on the village. According to reports, which are yet to be confirmed, windows were shattered in several homes as a result of the attack.
— Pierre Vaux