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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?
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has spoken to Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk today. Here is the White House readout of that conversation:
Vice President Joe Biden spoke today with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine and Ukraine’s reform agenda. The Vice President congratulated the Prime Minister on a successful international reform conference and encouraged Ukraine to continue implementing economic and rule of law reforms to improve the business climate and attract investment. Regarding the security situation in eastern Ukraine, the two leaders called on Russia to fulfill its commitments under the Minsk agreements, including the withdrawal of all heavy weapons and foreign fighters; the release of all prisoners in Russian custody; and allowing Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe election monitors to begin preparations for local elections as provided for in the February Minsk Implementation Plan.
The holding of local elections according to Ukrainian law is a key part of the Minsk agreement, a deal brokered with the approval of both Russia and the Russian-backed separatists, and yet there are no indications that the separatists are making any attempt to hold these elections and thus reconcile the so-called ‘Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics’ with the rest of Ukraine.
— James Miller
Lugansk News Today has published the transcript of a Ukrainian interrogation of a Russian soldier captured in Donetsk Region by the Ukrainian armed forces who fought on the side of the Russian-backed militants. He said that he observed paratroopers from Pskov attack Ukrainian positions in August 2014, and also participated in this attack.
Last August, we reported the finding by the Ukrainian army of a Russian BMD-2 infantry fighting vehicle in the Lugutino District after battles in Georgievka (Heorhiivka) and Lutugino (Lutuhyne). This appears to have been the same battle that the prisoner describes.
The Ukrainians’ discovery at that time was the first solid proof that the Russian military was fighting in Ukraine, not merely as random volunteers but as members of regular army units who were made contractors. Roman Bochkala published photos of the BMD-2 and a logbook showing soldiers’ names. The finding of the BMD-2 also matched information we published from geolocated military convoys seen first near the border at Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, then in Sukhodolsk, Ukraine.
Other evidence of the involvement of the Pskov 76th Air Assault Division was also found, first in Crimea then in the Donbass, most tellingly through the deaths in combat of some of the members of the division which were reported by Russian independent media.
The story is accompanied by a video uploaded by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) yesterday April 30 showing the soldier speaking to several interrogators off camera. At times, his voice sounds monotonous, as if he were giving a prepared speech. At other times, he seems more genuinely responsive when asked questions, especially when clarifying them.
In the video, the man holds up his passport and gives his name as
Aleksey Yuryevich Zharkov, born February 11, 1987, a native of the city
of Orly, and a citizen of the Russian Federation.
Zharkov said he came to fight in the Donbass under the influence of Russian state TV.
We note that because his confession was made in captivity, we can’t be certain his statements are true. The following is a transcript translated by Lugansk News Today which we have edited slightly for grammar.
Investigator: Under what circumstances did you decide to go to Ukraine and what was the aim?
Russian: After [seeing] propaganda on Russian TV, I decided to come and
join an illegal armed group of the Lugansk Republic. There were two platoons
of us and we were on 24-hour shift rotating every 24 hours until we
captured Georgievka (Heorhiivka) and Lutugino (Lutuhyne).
Investigator: Who was capturing Georgievka (Heorhiivka) and Lutugino (Lutuhyne)?
Russian: The first time, the Russians tried capturing [them], but they failed, we sent the wounded back after that…
Investigator: Who are the Russians?
Russian: Paratroopers from Pskov.
Investigator: You personally saw then?
Russian: Yes, I saw them.
Investigator: How many of them approximately were there?
Russian: There were about 200 of them. Because the Zarya [Dawn] intelligence [LNR armed group of separatists from Lugansk]
reported that there were not many Ukrainian forces in Georgievka, about
300 men went to take Georgievka. As I recall, there were about 100 men
from Chechnya on the left of us and paratroopers from Pskov were in
front and on the right of us.
Investigator: Did they have any insignia on their uniforms?
Investigator: On their vehicles?
Russian: No, there was nothing.
Investigator: Did you ask them why they had no insignia?
Russian: I thought that was for maskirovka (disguise), in order not to stick out much. You mean did the Pskov paratroopers have insignia?
Investigator: Yes, yes, yes.
Russian: No…they were beaten hard, the 1st platoon got surrounded, they barely escaped.
Investigator: Did they take part in the fight?
Investigator: How long did the fight continue?
Investigator: How long did the battle last?
Russian: About 2 hours.
Investigator: Did they have a lot of killed in action?
Russian: ….. (nodding yes)
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Aleksandr Zakharchenko, gave a lengthy interview to Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency yesterday.
Zakharchenko discussed the early months of the DNR at length: the occupation of administrative buildings in Donetsk and the withdrawals from Slavyansk and Kramatorsk.
But some comments of his have important bearings on the current situation in the Donbass, with the ceasefire effectively over and fighting raging at key points across the front line.
The Interpreter translates:
Aleksandr Chalenko (for RIA Novosti Ukraine):
In December last year you said that the DNR would be prepared for peace only after the complete liberation of the Donetsk region. Just recently the secretary of the Security Council of the DNR, Aleksandr Khodakovsky said: the war will come to an end when there is a pro-Russian, anti-fascist state to the south of Russia. To put it another way, we need all of Ukraine. So what is the united position of the DNR leadership?
To guarantee the safety of our Republic (and we understand that neighbouring territory could be used for shelling or these territories could be used as staging grounds for the start of military operations), we must take those areas that are guaranteed to ensure the security of our lands. And how far we go into those territories depends on Ukraine alone.
That is, if they are prepared to speak with us normally after the liberation of all the territory of the DNR, and show us that they are prepared for dialogue, then we will talk with them.
If, however, they go on shelling us, then we will have to take Kharkiv and all the other cities to ensure the security of the land of Donetsk.
When Zakharchenko says he is only ready for dialogue after the “liberation of all the territory of the DNR,” does he mean he will not commit to further negotiations until Mariupol and other towns previously controlled by the separatists before being retaken by Ukraine last year are in DNR hands?
This, of course, relates back to one of the most opaque elements of the Minsk agreement from September last year (reiterated in the February agreement): the delineation of which settlements would fall under the “special status law,” granting limited self-governance.
A full list of these settlements has never been published and it remains unknown whether Kiev has agreed to include areas retaken by Ukraine last year in this zone of self-governance.
Could Zakharchenko be interpreting the Minsk agreements to associate DNR control with self-governance? His language certainly suggests he aspires to more than that. How then do statements such as this allow for the progress of any peace plan in accordance with the Minsk agreement?
Chalenko asked Zakharchenko whether, in his opinion there could be further Minsk deals.
The DNR leader replied that the previous two rounds of Minsk talks had each followed a major military defeat for Ukraine – first at Ilovaisk, then at Debaltsevo.
“This will go on indefinitely until Ukraine either ceases to exist as a state or understands that fighting us is impossible and futile.”
— Pierre Vaux
Yesterday we ran a story — and provided some highly-skeptical analysis —
that Putin, on a phone call with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, “agreed with the possibility of the deployment of contingent of peacekeepers to the Donbass.”
Today it seems like Putin is backing off that narrative:
“Before the text of the Minsk agreement and its concrete points are implemented we believe that it would be absolutely wrong to raise any other issues including that about peacekeepers,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.
Asked on Friday whether Putin agreed to a peacekeeping force in Ukraine, Peskov said: “No, this is not true.”
Peskov said that Russia is not against the idea of a peacekeeping mission but it is not up to it to agree to one as it is not a party to the conflict.
It was up to Kiev and the rebel regions to agree on the issue, added the Kremlin spokesman.
“There is a document signed by representatives of Kiev and Donbass and guaranteed by three countries,” Peskov added, insisting that the parties respect the agreement.
— James Miller
In what will doubtless be seen as a provocative act by Ukraine’s Communists, who are holding rallies to mark International Workers’ Day, fighters from the Aidar volunteer battalion have pulled down a bust of Lenin in the village of Nizhnetyoploye in the Lugansk region.
Volunteer Maksim Osadchuk posted photos of the event on his Facebook page today, writing (translated by The Interpreter):
Lenin’s cause lives on and triumphs: minus one huge stone head. As expected, absolutely empty inside.
— Pierre Vaux
The leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU), Petro Symonenko, fled a KPU rally in Kiev today after being confronted by anti-communist activists and showered with kefir yoghurt.
TSN reports that Symonenko fled, escorted by several bodyguards, from “two opponents of the communist ideology who were trying to express their contempt to him.”
Around a thousand Communists had gathered outside the Museum of the Great Patriotic War on the outskirts of Kiev to celebrate International Workers’ Day.
Earlier in the day, police detained 19 youths who were trying to start a fight with KPU members.
The activists, several of them masked, had tried to get into the museum and were prevented from entering by police officers. Hromadske reports that the activists put up resistance.
“The arrest was aggressive, one of the participants was beaten on the head, there was blood.”
Translation: Clashes and arrests of people in masks, allegedly tried to get into the GPW memorial.
According to Ukrainska Pravda, the Kiev police said in a press statement that the arrests had been made to prevent the situation become aggravated and avoid “provocations and confrontations.”
— Pierre Vaux
Russia’s Interfax news agency reports that President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, has denied the claim made yesterday by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko that Putin had “agreed with the possibility of the deployment of contingent of peacekeepers to the Donbass.”
Peskov said (translated by The Interpreter):
“Until all of the texts of the Minsk agreements have been fulfilled and their points made concrete, we believe that to raise any other issues, including peacekeepers, is absolutely incorrect.”
As we reported yesterday, Putin’s alleged agreement with the proposal was reported after a conference call in the ‘Normandy format’ between the Russian, Ukrainian, French and German leaders.
However this unexpected change in position was reported in only one of the official reports on the conversation – the Ukrainian announcement. Neither the report from the Kremlin, nor the offices of President Francois Holland and Chancellor Angela Merkel made any mention of such an agreement.
Meanwhile, reiterating the Kremlin’s pretence that Russia is not involved in the conflict, claimed that:
“Russia has never opposed the idea of peacekeepers, but neither Russia nor the other side can give their consent for it. First of all, this must be done by the interested parties in the conflict – Kiev and the Donbass.”
Putin’s position on peacekeepers remains in line with that explained in what the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) alleged in February were briefing notes given to separatist leaders.
According to the document, which the SBU claims was written by Vladislav Surkov, a vital aide of Putin’s who has had tremendous influence in establishing the form of Kremlin rule since 1999, the separatist leadership must vigorously oppose Ukrainian proposals for the introduction of peacekeepers.
— Pierre Vaux
Leviy Bereg reports that Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian military’s Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO), has announced at a briefing today that two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and another two wounded yesterday.
Last night the press office of the Interior Ministry’s Azov regiment reported that three of their fighters had been wounded in fighting, which they said had lasted throughout the day, in the village of Shirokino, east of Mariupol.
The ATO press centre today claimed that Russian-backed forces had conducted 21 attacks on Ukrainian positions between 18:00 and midnight yesterday, often using heavy weaponry, prohibited under the Minsk agreement.
The Interpreter translates the Ukrainska Pravda report:
In the Donetsk region our positions near Avdeyevka were shelled with 122 mm artillery. In this same area the enemy used 120 mm mortars, heavy machine guns and small arms.
Furthermore, criminals fired on an ATO force defensive position near Peski 5 times – with 120 and 82 mm mortars, automatic grenade launchers, snipers and small arms. Our positions near the villages of Vodyanoye and Novgorodskoye were also subjected to mortar shelling.
In the Lugansk region armed groups attacked defensive positions near the town of Schastye and the village of Sizoye with machine guns and automatic grenade launchers.
In turn, Eduard Basurin, spokesman for the ‘defence ministry’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), claimed today that Ukrainian forces had conducted more than 140 mortar and artillery strikes on the area around Donetsk Airport over the last 24 hours.
He claimed that, in addition to the ruined airport complex, the Volvo Centre, a separatist-held position to the south-east of Peski, had been the main target of shelling, conducted with 120 mm artillery as well as 120 and 82 mm mortars.
Basurin said at a briefing in Donetsk that Ukrainian attacks had intensified after Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko gave a televised address in which he declared the necessity to bring the war to a close. The DNR spokesman claimed that this had been a signal for the military to step up their attacks.
— Pierre Vaux