Ukraine Live Day 505: Investigators Increase Charges Against Savchenko

July 7, 2015
Ukrainian soldiers patrol in Pisky, Donetsk Region, June 28, 2015. Photo by Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal

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No Major Fighting North Of Donetsk For The Next Two Weeks?

The latest OSCE report, dated last night, July 6, at 19:30 Kiev time, says that fighting continues to rage to the northwest of Donetsk:

The situation at and around Donetsk airport was tense. Between 07:30 and 17:30hrs, at the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) observation point at Donetsk central railway station (“Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled, 8km north-west of Donetsk city centre), the SMM heard over 60 explosions, consistent with incoming and outgoing mortar fire, as well as bursts consistent with small-arms, automatic grenade launcher, heavy machine-gun (HMG) and anti-aircraft gun fire. The SMM assessed that the explosions occurred at locations to the north-east, north, north-west and west at distances between 3 and 8km from its position.

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) said that things were quiet in Shirokino, where the Russian-backed fighters have withdrawn, and in areas ” across the contact line between Maiorsk (government-controlled, 45km north of Donetsk) and Horlivka (“DPR”-controlled, 29km north-east of Donetsk)” where the OSCE has negotiated a ceasefire to repair a major water pipeline which is utilized by both sides. That localized ceasefire appears to be holding, which suggests that major fighting north of Donetsk may not break out until the pipeline is repaired — which could take two weeks. Before this ceasefire, this area was one of the central locations of fighting, so it’s possible a large part of this conflict may in fact be officially frozen — at least until repairs are finished.

In Lugansk region, however, there is still plenty of fighting:

In Shchastia (government-controlled, 20km north of Luhansk) local inhabitants told the SMM that they heard shelling on the night of 6 July between 24:00 and 04:00hrs noting that night-time shelling had increased over the last three days. The SMM observed that the bridge in Shchastia was closed for traffic. Following negotiations with the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the “Lugansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”), the Ukrainian Armed Forces temporarily removed the anti-tank mines they had previously placed at the southern end of the bridge, and the SMM was able to cross the bridge for the first time since 16 May 2015.

Read the entire report here.

James Miller

Ukraine Negotiates With Russia To Restructure Electricity Delivery For Separatist ‘Republics’

AFP is reporting that Russia has cut electricity to Donetsk and Lugansk, territories controlled by the Russian-backed separatists:

Ukraine’s Energy Minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn said Tuesday that energy-rich Russia had recently also stopped supplying electricity to the militia-run regions of Lugansk and Donetsk because bills were not being paid.

“We held fairly productive negotiations with the Russians,” Interfax-Ukraine quoted Demchyshyn as telling an energy ministry meeting.

“We have been able to switch off four lines that ran from Russia to territories outside our control.”

The energy minister said the cables supplied an allowance of $15 million (14 million euros) of power a month.

“That money was not being paid,” Demchyshyn said.

The framing in the AFP article, however, leaves out an important detail — the Ukrainian government is technically supposed to be paying this bill, and they have refused. This is just one of the disagreements between Russia and Ukraine which are being negotiated in the current round of talks about the price of natural gas sold to Ukraine.  In an article published on June 15, Interfax explained the issue:

“There are flows from the Russian Federation to the uncontrolled territories. We see them and we know about them, but they are not taken into account in payments. Russia has been warned that we are not taking these five lines into account and Ukraine will not pay for this electricity,” [Yuriy Kasich, acting director at Ukrenergo, the Ukrainian national energy company] said.

The Luhansk thermal power plant has been operating separately from the national power grid in mainland Ukraine since last year and power flows between Starobesheve and Zuyevska thermal power plants and Ukraine’s national power grid have been minimal, Kasich also said.

In addition, on May 7, 2015 the Ukrainian Cabinet determined that LEO and DonetskOblEnergo, based in the uncontrolled anti-terrorist operation (ATO) zone, should buy electricity directly from local producers and supply to local consumers without the state company Energorynok. Sale and purchase of electricity between mainland Ukraine and the uncontrolled ATO zone is banned. Only payments for net power flows are allowed. The government has also banned electricity imports through the rebel-held part of Donbas.

This latest development is progress in the negotiations. Vladimir Demchishin, Ukraine’s minister of power and the coal industry, told Interfax that he has successfully negotiated with Russia to have Moscow stop supplying electricity to areas of Donetsk and Lugansk region which are not under Ukrainian control (translated by The Interpreter:

“We held fairly successful negotiations with the Russians; we managed to shut off 4 lines which had been running from the Russian side to the zone not controlled by us, and they had been supplying power monthly for 300 million hryvnias. And those bills are not being paid at the present time,” he said at an expanded meeting of his ministry in Kiev today.

According to Demchishin, a new plan of work with these territories, approved early by a decision of the Cabinet of Ministers, involves payment for overflows only, and enables saving about 800 million hryvnias per month.

Demchishin noted that along with taking into account other measures, this enabled the increase of the level of payment for electric power from 85% in the first quarter to almost 100% in the second.

“We expect that we will be able to maintain this level until the end of the year and that we will manage to buy both nuclear fuel and coal, he said.

This does not mean that these areas will have no electricity, however. It does mean that Russia has accepted the fact that Ukraine will no longer pay for electricity in the Donbass. If the territories controlled by the Russian-backed fighters want power, they will have to either generate it themselves or Moscow will have to pay for it. Either way there have yet to be reports of widespread power outages, beyond the (already terrible) status quo.

As such, the AFP article has misinterpreted a key aspect of this issue — the electricity is not necessarily being cut, as much as Russia and Ukraine now both agree that Ukraine won’t pay for it (they were refusing to do so anyway). AFP also used this article to echo a claim that this was another sign that Russia was cutting support for the separatists. That is not clear at all. In fact, there is no sign that Russian troops or armor in Ukraine have pulled back. The situation remains tense, fighting continues, and the conflict appears to be no closer to a resolution.

James Miller, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Separatist Envoys To Minsk Propose Further Demilitarisation And Weapons Withdrawals

Denis Pushilin and Vyacheslav Deynego, representatives for the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People’s republics at the Minsk peace talks, have given an interview to Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency.

In the interview, Pushilin said that, depending on the outcome of the DNR’s withdrawal from Shirokino, east of Mariupol, the separatists may propose the demilitarisation of other “hot spots” along the front line.

The Interpreter translates:

“If there is a positive result, if we achieve it, then we can consider a number of other ‘hot spots,'” said Pushilin, noting that there is talk of several settlements in the Donetsk and Gorlovka areas. Among them, he named Marinka and Krasnogorovka.

At the same time, the DNR envoy stressed that the self-proclaimed republic expects the demilitarisation of settlements controlled by Kiev, in particular, Avdeyevka.”

The balancing of Avdeyevka against Marinka and Krasnogorovka is odd here, as all three are Ukrainian-held settlements.

Pushilin continued:

“It’s important for us to see mirror actions by Kiev. So far, we’re seeing unconstructive actions by Kiev, pillaging.”

While Russian-backed fighters have withdrawn from Shirokino, Ukrainian troops remain in their original positions in the village, claiming that vacating the settlement would leave Mariupol exposed to attacks from the heights to the east.

Withdrawal from Marinka or Avdeyevka would leave Ukrainian supply lines both to the south-west and north-east of Donetsk exposed. Furthermore, the faith of the Russian side in the Minsk negotiations has been shown to be of highly questionable value following the assault and capture of Debaltsevo in February, after the second Minsk agreement was signed.

Pushilin and Deynego also said that members of the Contact Group were discussing the introduction of further requirements for the withdrawal of weaponry from the front line.

This would affect mortars with a calibre of less than 100 mm, tanks and anti-tank weapons.

Deynego suggested that tanks be withdrawn at least 15 kilometres from the front line.

Pushilin said that the withdrawal of 82 mm mortars would be especially important as, he claimed, Ukrainian forces routinely conducted attacks with larger mortars (already due to be withdrawn in accordance with Minsk II) and lied that they were using 82 mm ones.

Of course, the Minsk II withdrawal demands have had little effect, with Russian-backed forces routinely using prohibited weapons including Grad rockets, 122 mm howitzers, 152 mm artillery and 120 mm mortars.

Ukraine has also returned heavy weaponry to the front line near Marinka after Russian-backed forces assaulted the Donetsk suburb on June 3.

— Pierre Vaux


Ukrainian Soldier Arrested And Charged With Murdering Civilian

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Donetsk region Prosecutor’s Office has announced the arrest of a Ukrainian servicemen for killing a civilian.

The Prosecutor’s Office said that on July 5, the serviceman, born in 1974, got into a fight with a 31-year-old resident of Druzhkovka, in the Krasnoarmeysk district, and shot him in the head.

The report says that the arrested individual was a member of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

They have been charged with premeditated murder and the case will be transferred to the military prosecutor.

— Pierre Vaux

Strategically Important Bridge Supplying Russian-Backed Forces Damaged By Blast

A statement released this afternoon on the ‘official’ web portal of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), claims that a key road bridge in separatist-held territory has been damaged by an explosion.

According to the DNR, the blast occurred at  18:25 yesterday evening on a section of the T-05-08 highway over the river Kalmius.

The DNR claimed that the explosion was caused by Ukrainian saboteurs.

The bridge suffered extensive structural damage but limited vehicle traffic is still permitted.

Ukraine’s reports that their correspondent has been told that the incident took place in the village of Vasilyevka, which is now cut off from the settlement of Razdolnoye, on the northern banks of the Kalmius.

Indeed, this is the only place at which the T-05-08 highway crosses the Kalmius.


Last month, we reported extensively on the deployment of Russian-backed fighters to Razdolnoye, where they have documented themselves training in a former agricultural school to the west of the bridge. 

If Ukrainian forces did indeed carry out the bombing, then this is a very shrewd move. 

As we have reported, the OSCE has observed significant deployments of armour and troops along the eastern banks of the Kalmius, which forms a natural barrier between Ukrainian and government-held territory to the south.

Last week, we reported on a newly constructed military camp, complete with freshly paved roads, built in the woods near Sontsevo, to the south of Vasilyevka.

Severing or severely restricting resupply by road from the north could buy the Ukrainians more time to counteract a Russian offensive towards Volnovakha (and subsequently Mariupol) which appears ever more likely given the concentration of force in this area.


Russia can still resupply their troops and proxies from the south, via Novoazovsk and Telmanovo, but the main unloading point for Russian military trains on the border has been Matveyev Kurgan, near the Uspenka border crossing.

From there, columns could pass by road through Amvrosievka and Starobeshevo before heading south along the T-05-08. 

Informator reported that Ivan Mikhailov, a separatist commander in the Starobeshevo district, said that 10 columns of the central section of the bridge were damaged. 

The roadway itself is reported to be intact. Single cars are able to traverse the bridge but trucks can only cross unloaded and buses are unloading passengers who may then cross on foot to board another bus.

This clearly renders passage for tanks and other heavy vehicles impossible until either repairs are conducted or an alternative crossing can be constructed by military engineers. 

— Pierre Vaux

3 Ukrainian Soldiers, 3 Civilians Wounded Over Last 24 Hours

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Presidential Administration on the military operation in the south-east, has announced that three Ukrainian soldiers were wounded over the last 24 hours.

Lysenko said that the casualties had been incurred in the Lugansk and Mariupol areas.

The governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, reported that two of the soldiers had been wounded during fighting in Krymskoye, on the southern banks of the Seversky Donets river.

According to Moskal, the soldiers, aged 29 and 31, were lightly wounded during a skirmish and there is no threat to their lives.

The skirmish broke out near the tuberculosis clinic on the eastern fringes of Krymskoye when Russian-backed fighters attacked from the direction of occupied Sokolniki. The governor reported that small arms, mortars and grenade launchers were used in the battle which lasted around two hours.

Some shells exploded in residential areas of Krymskoye, but there were no civilian casualties. 

Elsewhere in the Lugansk region, two civilians were reported by Moskal to have been wounded while fishing near the Luganskaya power station in Schastye.

According to the report, Russian-backed forces shelled the area around the power station with mortars from the direction of separatist-held Vesyolaya Gora last night. 

While the plant itself was not knocked out of action, power lines were cut, leaving the town without water supplies until the morning.

Elsewhere, Moskal reported attacks on Troitskoye, Stakhanovets, Katerinovka and the 29th checkpoint on the Bakhmutka highway.

The governor also reported a disturbing incident on the front line outside Stanitsa Lugankaya. 

According to Moskal, a 16-year-old boy was shot in the leg by Russian-backed fighters after they had allowed him to cross a ruined bridge into Ukrainian-held territory.

Meanwhile, UNIAN translates today’s ATO Press Centre report on fighting across the Donbass:

Russia-backed militants attacked Ukrainian army positions and civilian areas in eastern Ukraine 26 times from Monday evening to midnight, including four attacks with banned 120mm mortars, the press center of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) wrote on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

From about 20:20, the militants fired mortar bombs for half an hour on the positions of the Ukrainian armed forces near the village of Troitske in Donetsk region. From 22:30, they fired for 40 minutes on the Ukrainian army positions near the village of Pisky. At 21:35, the militants attacked the Ukrainian troops near the town of Schastia near Luhansk, and at 22:00, they brought under fire the ATO soldiers near the village of Novotroitske in the direction of Mariupol.

From 17:50 to 19:30, near the village of Bohdanivka, in close proximity to Mariupol, the Ukrainian military successfully repelled the attack of the pro-Russian militants.

“Russia-backed militants provoked Ukrainian military to return fire, shooting at our positions with small arms. In Luhansk region, they attacked near the villages of Krymske and Stanytsia Luhanska, the towns of Schastia and Zolote. In the Donetsk region, they attacked near the villages of Verkhniotoretske, Pisky, Opytne, the town of Maryinka, etc.,” the headquarters wrote.

Today, from midnight the militants used 120mm mortars against the positions of the Ukrainian armed forces near the villages of Novhorodske and Pavlopil in Donetsk region. In addition, near Pavlopil, at 04:10 the militants fired tank shells. Moreover, they fired small arms toward the town of Maryinka, the villages of Luhanske and Opytne in Donetsk region.

— Pierre Vaux

Russian Investigative Committee Increases the Charges Against Savchenko to Murder

The Russian Investigative Committee has increased the charges against Ukrainian pilot and POW Nadiya (Nadezhda) Savchenko,  Interfax reports. Investigators changed the previous offense of “serving as an accomplice” to the murder of two Russian journalists in the Donbass, to “direct murder” of them.

As Sergei Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee said yesterday July 6, Savchenko is accused under the Russian criminal code of murder of two or more persons, attempted murder by publically dangerous means and also unlawful crossing of the Russian border.

Nikolai Polozkov, one of Savchenko’s attorneys, said he phoned the Investigative Committee yesterday and learned that all the appeals by the defense had been rejected, and the case transferred to the prosecutor’s office for trial.

Savchenko and her lawyers maintain that she was kidnapped and is innocent of the charges. Ukraine has urged that Savchenko, who served as a pilot in the Ukrainian Army, be treated as a prisoner-of-war, but Russia has rejected this definition, despite repeated interventions by Western leaders including at the Minsk talks.

Ilya Novikov, an attorney for Savchenko, confirmed for Interfax that the charges had worsened. “The charges have really been worsened. The investigation has changed its concept,” he said.

Meanwhile, the theory of the case had not changed, said Novikov, and the actions for which Savchenko was charged remain the same.

The Investigative Committee claims that during combat in Lugansk last year, Savchenko learned the geographic coordinates of a group of Russian state journalists and other civilians near Lugansk and relayed them to Ukrainian armed forces who used them to make an artillery strike, killing Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin.

As we reported at the time (here and here), the journalists, not wearing protective gear, were embedded with separatists at their checkpoint near Metallist in Lugansk Region. An artillery shell hit the road near a truck but didn’t explode; when a fighter approached the truck it went off, and the shrapnel killed the journalists.

Rossiya 24 first ran a news report as breaking news superimposed over another story about Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. published a longer version of the incident and the raw video footage.

Viktor Denisov, the member of the TV crew who survived, filmed how a Russian-backed separatist fighter runs by a gas station to a checkpoint,
then crouches by a tank. The group of journalists and civilians can be seen through
the highway railing, in a group.

Then smoke rises apparently from a shell that did
not  explode near a truck, a few moments pass, then there are several
explosions. The camera man dives for cover under the tank, but keeps filming. A fighter is seen dragging a body away from the road.

At the time, journalists at RFE/RL and the Russian Union of Journalists asked why state TV was sending such unprepared reporters into war zones.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick