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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?
Daniel Baer, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, warns that the Russian-backed separatists and the Russian military are breaking the Minsk ceasefire every day, even engaging in joint attacks against Ukrainian military and industrial positions:
Last week’s reports from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) had described lower levels of fighting, but in the last few days the SMM has reported intensive shelling in and around Donetsk airport, Avdiivka, and Shyrokyne. The shelling has come from mortars, heavy artillery, and tanks, which were supposed to have been withdrawn according to the Minsk agreements.
Russian-separatist forces are responsible for the overwhelming majority of the ceasefire violations as they attack Ukrainian positions on the Ukrainian side of the line of contact, in clear violation of the Minsk agreements. Each Russian-separatist attack, each new provocation of a defensive response, is a violation that makes a real ceasefire more difficult to attain.
We again call for a full cessation of the fighting and for full implementation of the Minsk agreements, including unrestricted and safe access for SMM monitors so that they can monitor and verify the ceasefire and heavy weapons withdrawal.
According to SMM reports, more than 200 explosions, consistent with rounds from heavy weapons, were recorded in and around Donetsk airport on May 24. That same day in Shyrokyne, the SMM observed intensive shelling as well as anti-aircraft and heavy machine gun fire. We condemn these ceasefire violations that undermine the peace initiatives laid out in Minsk.
We, like others, were alarmed by the report of bullets from small-arms fire coming dangerously close to SMM monitors. This is unacceptable. We once again call on all actors to cease and desist from actions that threaten the safety of SMM monitors or restrain their ability to carry out their mission.
The SMM observed the presence and movement of heavy weapons, contrary to the Minsk agreements. On different days during the past week the SMM made observations such as 10 tanks in an area controlled by the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR)” and 11 tanks in an area controlled by the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).” These weapons were observed in the areas the SMM could access or observe. However, combined Russian-separatist forces consistently deny the SMM access to large portions of territory, and the SMM has been unable to report on what weapons are kept in these areas and what kind of military activities are being carried out there. We know from other sources that what is occurring in these black holes are large-scale exercises by combined Russian-separatist forces, such as the live fire exercise carried out last week in separatist-controlled territory in Luhansk.
Images of the exercise circulated via social media show tanks, armored personnel carriers, trucks, and military personnel on maneuvers.
Russian support for the separatists and active participation continues to fuel the violence in eastern Ukraine. In the last week, combined Russian-separatist forces attacked a coke and chemical plant in Avdiivka, 13 kilometers from Donetsk. The Avdiivka coke and chemical plant employs over 30,000 people, and serves as a temporary home for many who are unable to return safely to their houses in nearby areas.
Combined Russian-separatist forces began their attack with a bombardment on May 21 that damaged the plant’s facilities and killed one worker. They continued their attack through May 23.
The SMM, which was in the area at that time, reported artillery impacts on the plant that injured one person, started a fire, and created an ammonium leak.
Over the course of several days, Russian-separatist forces hit the plant with 45 mortar and artillery rounds. More than 200 shells are estimated to have hit the plant since it first came under attack in July 2014. The plant’s ability to continue operating amidst the incessant shelling is becoming more tenuous.
The SMM’s weekly report, issued on May 27, called the latest attack on the plant “a critical and worrying turning point.” Considering the central role the plant plays in the region’s economy, the SMM concluded that the consequences of the most recent attack “may reverberate long after the fighting ends.”
These attacks by combined Russian-separatist forces threaten both the security of the area and the economy. Russia and the separatists insist they are concerned about the residents of eastern Ukraine. Yet, by destroying the plant, all they will have accomplished is to damage the region’s economy, destroy more lives, and further destabilize Ukraine.
Once again, we have evidence that Russia’s aggression has tremendous human costs.
Baer’s assessment is consistent with evidence collected by The Interpreter, and by Reuters, which indicates that Russia is building its forces on the border of Ukraine and is likely moving large amounts of hardware and soldiers across the border.
In another sign that open war in Ukraine similar to what was witnessed in August and again in January is becoming increasingly likely, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko today restated that if Ukraine is attacked he is prepared to sign an order which would declare martial law. 24 Today reports:
“The key position is that if the truce is violated now, the demarcation line is crossed, the attack on the Ukrainian Armed Forces is organized, a decree on introduction of martial law will be immediately signed by me and submitted to the parliament,” the president said at the Year with Poroshenko TV program which was shown by the Ukrainian TV channels Thursday night on the occasion of the year of his tenure as the president.
— James Miller
Slon.ru reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed an decree rendering reports of Russian military casualties from “special operations” during peacetime state secrets.
Existing state secrecy laws applied only to the reporting of losses incurred during wartime.
The document has been published on the official portal of the Russian government.
Disclosure of information classified as a state secret is punishable under article 283 of the Russian Criminal Code with up to seven years in prison.
The intent of this law is clearly to prevent reporting on the Russian special forces’ casualties in Ukraine.
Last week, a group of Russian bloggers reported in detail on three Spetsnaz soldiers killed in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military claims today that Russian-backed fighters continued to press their attacks across the front last night, with three clashes occurring and numerous shelling attacks.
According to this morning’s report from the ATO Press Centre, shelling was particularly intense in the Donetsk area.
Peski was shelled, Opytnoye, the Butovka mine and Novotroitskoye were attacked with grenade launchers while Avdeyevka was fired on with heavy-calibre machine guns.
At night, a clash between Ukrainian forces and a sabotage and reconnaissance group of a Russian-backed fighters took place near Beryozovoye, which lies on the strategically important Donetsk-Mariupol highway.
According to the report, Russian-backed forces bombarded this area with Grad MLRS. Taramchuk, to the north, was also shelled.
Furthermore, the ATO Press Centre reported that Marinka, the Ukrainian-held suburb on the south-western edge of Donetsk, north-west of Taramchuk, was shelled.
Last night, there were reports on Twitter that heavy fighting was under way just south of Marinka, near separatist-held Aleksandrovka
Translation: #Marinka 23:33 Battle is shifting from the GAI* and closer to Zelyoniy Gay and towards Aleksandrova. Very hot near Balka in Telmanovo.
*GAI refers here to a traffic police post in Marinka.
The reports of fighting near Balka, just south of Granitnoye, in the Telmanovo district, were not echoed by today’s Press Centre report, but this area has been subject to intense attack in recent days.
Attacks continued on Shirokino, to the south, continued with the use of 120 mm mortars, while Nikolaevka was shelled with 82 mm mortars.
The ATO Press Centre also reported mortar attacks on Lozovoye, Troitskoye and Novozvanovka, east of Artyomovsk.
The military claimed that a clash had occurred in this area with another sabotage and reconnaissance group. One more such clash was reported near Nelipovka, west of Gorlovka.
Further to the east, the report claims that Russian-backed forces conducted attacks on Orekhovo, Zhyotoye, Schastye, Tryokhizbenka and Bolotnoye, all in the Lugansk region.
— Pierre Vaux
Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Kiev police have announced that one person has been killed as a result of an explosion in the capital.
According to the report, the explosion occurred in a dacha suburb in the Dniprovskyi district, east of the city centre.
The police received a report from a doctor at around 9 am of one wounded and one 34-year-old man killed.
The cause of the blast has not been ascertained yet.
Police investigators and explosives experts from the Interior Ministry are operating on the scene.
— Pierre Vaux