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?
The Guardian’s Christian Borys says that this drone and another, shot down on May 8, are definitive proof that the Russian military is flying drones over Ukraine:
Russia licensed the Searcher technology from Israel for manufacture by the Ural Works of Civil Aviation with the name Forpost. Gressel said it was the most advanced drone Russia had in current service, costing up to $6m (£3.8m) each.
Chazin, a former Israeli soldier, also believes the drone is a Searcher type. “A normal drone pilot cannot fly this drone. It takes years just to understand the idea of how to build this technology,” he said.
Alexander Golts, a Russian military analyst, agreed: “We’re talking about a complex weapon, you need to specially train and prepare to use it, not just one or two months but years.”
As Ukrainian experts were picking this drone apart, the Dnipro-1 battalion announced on Thursday that it had shot down another drone, which looked to be of the same make. Markian Lubkivsky, of the Ukrainian security services, said he believed the drone had been manufactured in 2013 at the Ural plant.
We’ve previously written about Israeli drones sold to the Russian government. Israel made the decision to license these weapons for use in Russia sometime after 2010, after Russia’s sale of advanced anti-aircraft missiles, the S-300, to Iran was suspended. Some have speculated that as part of this negotiating process, Israel refused to see drones to Ukraine which has repeatedly requested them. The presence of Israeli drones in eastern Ukraine is not only further proof of the involvement of the Russian government, and another sign that the Russian military is escalating activity in Ukraine, but it is also an illustration, a consequence, of the complex global politics in which Russia and the rest of the world are engaged.
Carroll is an experienced field reporter who has spent time in Ukraine’s battlefields since the start of this conflict, so his impression should mean something to readers.
Carroll is also hardly alone in his prediction that a new eruption in fighting is just around the corner. Voice of America reports that the Ukrainian government, and some Moscow analysts, believe that the Russian-backed separatists are preparing a summer offensive:
In an interview Wednesday with the BBC, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he believes the Russian-backed rebels are preparing a summer offensive.
Pavel Felgenhauer, a defense analyst and columnist with Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow, argued there are few signs pointing to a de-escalation of the military confrontation in Donbas.
“If you want a frozen conflict,” Felgenhauer said, “you have to try and rebuild the basis of peaceful existence, at least to some extent.”
Instead of that, he argued, “all the effort is going into re-arming and reorganizing the rebel forces and proxy forces for a new offensive, which means it is inevitable.”
This matches what the staff at The Interpreter has seen — the preparations for a major offensive are underway in eastern Ukraine:
The OSCE has visited the two men who were captured by Ukrainian soldiers near Schastye. Both men admit that they are active-duty Russian soldiers and that this is not their first deployment to Ukraine:
The SMM visited the two individuals currently held at the military hospital in Kyiv, who received medical treatment. The SMM spoke to the two individuals without the presence of Ukrainian authorities. The SMM assessed their general condition and gathered their accounts about their capture.
One of them said he had received military education in the Russian Federation. Both individuals claimed that they were members of a unit of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. They claimed that they were on a reconnaissance mission. They were armed but had no orders to attack. Both of them said that they came under fire, got injured and were captured on 16 May 2015 at the contact line near Shchastya. One of them said he had received orders from his military unit to go to Ukraine; he was to “rotate” after three months. Both of them said they had been to Ukraine “on missions” before. One of them stressed repeatedly that there were no Russian troops involved in fighting in Ukraine. Both said they were provided with a Ukrainian lawyer who visited them today.
The Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) is also saying that a LifeNews interview with Yekaterina Aleksandrova, the wife of Aleksandr Aleksandrov, was rehearsed.
Markiyan Lubkivsky, SBU spokesman told BBC Russian Service (translated by The Interpreter):
The interview on the Russian channels with the wife was rehearsed. The wife must have known where her husband was because he works in the human resources department of his army unit.
Ukrainian military officials said Aleksandrov is an active officer of the Defense Ministry’s GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate).
In the LifeNews show, Aleksandrovna said she didn’t know her husband was in the Donbass in order to join the “militia” of the self-proclaimed “Lugansk People’s Republic.” She said that while her husband had served in the army on a contract, he had long ago resigned (translated by The Interpreter).
“When I saw Sasha [Aleksandr] on the Internet in photographs, at first I could not believe that this was my husband. But then I had to believe it. He was serving on a contract and resigned in December 2014 before New Year’s. He said he was not happy with everything, and that he had been offered a good job in Samara. The pay was good and together we made this decision and I supported him in this.
He once told me that he had relatives in Lugansk Region on his father’s side. He also said that he had to take some kind of training courses in Voronezh. He called me and said everything was fine and that he would be coming home soon.”
LifeNews is a pro-Kremlin channel which collaborates closely with Russian intelligence and law-enforcement.
Aleksandrova also claimed her husband was tortured:
In the video, sasha is speaking quietly, his jaw isn’t moving, he practically doesn’t blink. I think that he was tortured after he was wounded.
The SBU said they offered the detainees the opportunity to call relatives, but Aleksandrov was unable to reach his wife, said RBC.ru.
— James Miller, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
There is no question that in the last week or so there has been a a renewed focus within the Russian-backed fighters on the city of Schastye and several other key positions on the Seversky Donets river, north of Lugansk. The key goal appears to be to secure key river crossings, while also potentially paving the way for a push north in several locations at one time. A successful push at several of these locations would not only win the Russian proxies the river, it could also leave Ukrainian frontline positions in yet another “pincer.” By attacking northward at multiple positions between Lugansk and Donetsk, particularly around Gorlovka (Horlivka) and Schastye, the strategy makes it hard for Ukraine to respond to all of these threats.
Now the Ukrainian SBU says that the two Russian Special Forces soldiers captured near Schastye this week were part of a mission to capture the town and secure a key power plant to the north. Kyiv Post reports:
Based on information gleaned from two Russian military intelligence officers who were captured on May 16 in the area, their autonomous group of 16 soldiers has been conducting reconnaissance and hit-and-run missions since March, SBU counterintelligence chief Vitaliy Haida said at a briefing in Kyiv. They were to carry out missions until June.
Russia’s leadership has repeatedly denied sending actively serving Russian soldiers into Ukraine.
On the day of their capture, a firefight erupted near the Luhansk Power Plant between Ukrainian forces and up to 15 Russian military intelligence special operations soldiers. One GRU officer was killed, and three officers were wounded in addition to the two captives. A Ukrainian junior sergeant was killed and three were wounded.
Fourteen of the special forces group currently operating near Schastya have been identified, Haida said, adding that the SBU has already identified 60 Russian soldiers with ranks as high as major that have fought in Donbas from this particular unit.
— James Miller
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has announced that a Russian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) was shot down by Ukrainian troops yesterday.
The drone is clearly identifiable by its markings as a Forpost UAV, manufactured by Russia’s Uralskiy Zavod Grazhdanskoy Aviatsii (Ural Civil Aviation Factory), a subsidiary of the state arms complex Oboronrprom. The drone bears the serial number 923 and was manufactured in 2013.
The volunteer-based Dnipro-1 Battalion claimed to have shot down the drone near the village of Vodyanoye, just outside Donetsk.
The battalion’s Facebook post noted that Russian-backed forces have used such drones not only for reconnaissance, but to adjust the targeting of artillery strikes on positions near Peski.
The battalion posted more photos of the wreckage:
The drones antenna was evidently manufactured in 2013 by Israel Aerospace Industries:
Here is a photo of an intact Forpost at an Oboronprom arms exhibition in 2013:
— Pierre Vaux
Yesterday evening, the Ukrainian military reported intense fighting both east and west of Svetlodarsk, which lies between separatist-held Gorlovka and the strategically important Ukrainian front line positions on the Artyomovsk-Debaltsevo highway at Luganskoye.
Earlier this morning, the military’s ATO Press Centre claimed that there had been attacks on positions in the Donetsk region throughout the night.
According to the report, this same area, around Gorlovka and Luganskoye, was the scene of continued shelling, with mortars, grenade launchers and machine guns directed at the settlements of Luganskote, Lozovoye, Kirovo, Leninskoye and Mayorsk.
Ukrainian military analyst Dmytro Tymchuk claimed on Facebook today that Russian-backed forces had been manoeuvring to the south of Luganskoye, near Rassadky, going on a “hunt” for Ukrainian armoured vehicles.
According to Tymchuk, Russian-backed forces shelled houses in Rassadky with 120 mm mortars while bringing tanks up to the front lines.
Tymchuk explained (translated by The Interpreter):
“Knowing that Ukrainian units would try to suppress the mortar fire on the settlement, the militants prepared to open fire on Ukrainian military vehicles with guided anti-tank missiles.”
However Tymchuk claims that after two unsuccessful missile attacks, the Russian-backed fighters’ positions were “covered” with fire from the Ukrainian army.
In the immediate vicinity of separatist-held Donetsk, Russian-backed fighters shelled Avdeyevka, Opytnoye, the Butovka mine, Krasnogorovka, Kamenka, Starognatovka, Peski, Vodyanoye and Marinka, the ATO Press Centre reported.
To the south, the military reported an anti-tank missile attack on positions in Granitnoye, which lies to the east of Volnovakha.
There was also shelling in Shirokino, east of Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces are holding the west of the village.
According to the ATO Press Centre, the majority of shells failed to strike their targets, landing in neutral territory and even striking the positions of Russian-backed fighters.
Meanwhile, in the Lugansk region, according to the press office of the governor, Hennadiy Moskal, there were several clashes both last night and this morning.
Once again, the village of Katerinovka was the scene of combat. According to Moskal’s office, a battle took place on the outskirts of the village at 5:45 this morning. Russian-backed forces first shelled Ukrainian positions with heavy weapons from the direction of separatist-held Molodezhnoye, before infantry approached Ukrainian defensive positions and fighting broke out. The battle continued until 6:20.
Stanitsa Luganskaya, north-east of separatist-held Lugansk, was shelled twice with mortars, immediately after midnight and at around 3:00. The shells, the governor’s office claimed, fell near Ukrainian positions on the outskirts of the town.
Electricity was down in the settlement for several hours this morning but has since been restored.
Schastye, west along the Seversky Donets river, which forms the demarcation line in this area, was reportedly fired on with grenade launchers from the direction of separatist-held Vesyolaya Gora. Fire was directed at a Ukrainian checkpoint and the bridge over the Seversky Donets.
Finally, the governor’s office reported combat yesterday evening on the outskirts of Krymskoye, on the southern banks of the Seversky Donets, west of Schastye.
— Pierre Vaux