Ukraine Live Day 520: Russia Formally Disowns Captured Spetsnaz Soldiers

July 22, 2015
Aleksandr Aleksandrov, captured GRU agent, in Ukrainian hospital, June 2015. Photo by Reuters

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Russian-Backed Militants Bring Heavy Artillery to Town Near Mariupol: OSCE SMM

OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) has recorded a build-up of heavy
artillery in the possession of the Russian-backed separatists in the
area of the town of Bezymyannoye (Bezimenne) near Mariupol, reports.

Translation: We Won’t Surrender Mariupol! Fighters have brought heavy artillery near Mariupol. OSCE: Special Monitoring Mission.

According to the SMM’s report from yesterday, July 21:

At a further Ukrainian Armed Forces holding area, the SMM noted that
weapons previously recorded at that location were no longer there,
though personnel present claimed that such weapons had never been held
at the site. At one “DPR” site the SMM verified that all weapons
previously recorded were present. The SMM was prevented from accessing
the other “DPR” site*.

Despite claims that the
withdrawal of heavy weapons was complete, the SMM observed the following
weapons’ movements in areas that are in violation of the weapons’
respective withdrawal lines. In government-controlled areas, the SMM
observed two anti-tank guided missile systems (likely 9K111 Fagot or
9M113 Konkurs) at different locations. The SMM unmanned aerial vehicle
(UAV) observed a concentration of 11 MBTs, 31 armoured personnel
carriers (APCs), four towed artillery pieces (probably 122mm D-30
howitzers) and at least 31 trucks in “DPR”-controlled Bezimenne (30km
east of Mariupol). In government-controlled Krasnohorivka (19km west of
Donetsk) one MBT was spotted. The SMM UAV was jammed flying over both
government and “DPR”-controlled areas*.

Bezymyannoye (Bezimme) is a town in Donetsk Region on the shore of the Azov Sea about a 11 kilometers to the east of Shirokino and about 37 kilometers from Mariupol.

Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces recently both withdrew from Shirokino under an effort by the OSCE to create a “demilitarized zone” but the separatists moved only a few kilometers away to the town of Sakhanka.


Last August, Ukrainian forces took up position in Bezymyonnoye when combined Russian and separatist troops took over Novoazovsk before the battle of Ilovaisk.

But now Bezymyannoye is now in separatist hands, one of many small towns the separatists have seized in the last year.


The SMM also reported on yesterday’s shelling of Donetsk, characterizing the situation as “relatively calm” despite significant shelling:

Despite the SMM observing 12 mortar explosions at and around Donetsk
airport (8km north-west of Donetsk city) and exchanges of small arms
fire between government-controlled Pisky (15km north-west of Donetsk)
and the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled Volvo Centre
(13km north-west of Donetsk), the situation in Donetsk region was
relatively calm[1].
In government-controlled Sopyne (16km east of Mariupol) the SMM heard
some small arms fire. Near government-controlled Novobakhmutivka (26km
north of Donetsk), the SMM heard over 100 bursts of small arms fire.

The SMM saw damage to three apartments at Kuibysheva Street in
“DPR”-controlled Donetsk city consistent with arrow-type anti-armoured
tank ammunition. The shell struck the north-facing external wall of one
apartment and passed through three internal walls. The SMM assessed the
tank shell to have been fired from a north-north-easterly direction.
According to residents the incident happened during the early hours of
21 July, and caused no injuries. Residents told the SMM the shell had
not exploded and was removed by “DPR” members.

The direction of “North/Northwest” would mean the shelling could have come from  Pisky.

Read the rest of the SMM report here.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Ukraine Condemns French MPs’ Visit To Occupied Crimea; Fabius “Shocked”

Volodymyr Groysman, speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, has written a letter to the president of the French National Assembly, Claude Bartolone, asking for a response to the announcement by French MP Thierry Mariani that he and nine other parliamentarians were to visit occupied Crimea this week.

In a statement published on the Rada website, Groysman said that the planned trip was in violation of Ukrainian law as the group, primarily comprised of MPs from the opposition Republicans party, is due to travel to Crimea from the Russian Federation, ignoring Ukrainian border controls.

Groysman wrote (translated by The Interpreter):

“Hopeful for the further development of friendly, trustful and mutually beneficial Ukrainian-French inter-parliamentary cooperation, I would like to hear your thoughts concerning this event, with which certain politicians are trying to cast doubt on the territorial integrity of our state.”

Oleksii Makeiev, political director at the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, tweeted:

Translation: The visit by French deputies to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea [ARK] is an irresponsible step, disrespectful to the laws of Ukraine and the French/EU policy of not recognising the occupation of the ARK. There will be consequences.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mariana Betsa tweeted: 

Le Figaro reports this afternoon that, according to sources in parliament, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, has said that he is “shocked” by the news of the visit and expressed his “hostility” towards it, speaking before a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly.

According to Le Figaro‘s sources, two of the senators who were due to travel to Crimea, Yves Pozzo di Borgo and Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, have now pulled out of the trip.

Fabius reportedly said that Gérard Larcher, president of the Senate (and a fellow member of The Republicans), had successfully talked the two out of travelling.

— Pierre Vaux

Poroshenko Appoints New Governor Of Lugansk, Georgiy Tuka

President Petro Poroshenko has appointed volunteer activist Georgiy Tuka as the new governor of the Lugansk region.

Translation: Helicopter on the way to Severodonetsk.

Poroshenko signed the order to make Tuka governor at a ceremony in Severodonetsk this afternoon, UNIAN reports:


“The Cabinet of Ministers has approved the appointment of George Tuka as Chairman of the Luhansk Regional State Administration. We kept the nomination in  secret. The decree will be signed right now, and I decide to appoint George Tuka Chairman of the Luhansk Regional State Administration…” Poroshenko said at a meeting with activists from Luhansk region, according to an UNIAN correspondent.

“I emphasize again: he is a new person, with an impeccable reputation, with intolerance to corruption, with new thinking, with modern non-standard decisions, and most importantly – with Ukraine in his heart. This is George Tuka,” he said.

Tuka replaces the acting head of the region, Yuriy Klimenko, who took over when governor Hennadiy Moskal was reassigned to head the Zakarpattia region last week.

Russian Backed Fighter Says Russian Troops Regularly Rotate Into Ukraine

A Russian citizen who is fighting against the Ukrainian government in the Donbass has told RFE/RL many details about the Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine:

He said that regular Russian troops enter Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions for a period of one week before they leave and are replaced by fresh forces. Russia also regularly sends military instructors to Ukraine’s east to train pro-Russian separatists, according to Rustam.

Once on the ground, Rustam learned that every separatist unit in eastern Ukraine has one military instructor sent from Russia. He claims that these instructors were sent under the guise of contractors.

Overall, he estimates that every unit “has some 15 volunteers from Russia” fighting for it. The other fighters, he says, “are local people.”

The fighter also says that Russian rubles are brought in by armored car each day and are distributed as needed.

Read the entire article here:

Volunteer Rebel Sheds Light On Russian Military Involvement In Eastern Ukraine

Russian troops regularly enter separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine and serve there on a rotational basis, according to a volunteer who has been fighting with the insurgents since October. Rustam, a Russian citizen from Tatarstan's Saba district who gave only his first name, made the claims in a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on July 20.

View full page >

Jul 22, 2015 19:28 (GMT)

In March, U.S. Army Europe Commander Ben Hodges said that there were approximately 12,000 Russian soldiers active in eastern Ukraine. In a recent article in The New York Times, Russian forces on both sides of the border were examined. The head of the OSCE mission in Ukraine also gave insight into the amount of soldiers who have crossed the border:
James Miller
Two Civilians Reported Wounded During Shelling Of Avdeyevka This Afternoon

Vyacheslav Abroskin, chief of the Donetsk regional branch of the Interior Ministry, wrote on his Facebook page at 12:04 GMT that residential areas of Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk, were under mortar bombardment.

Several houses on Kirov street were, Abroskin, wrote, completely destroyed by direct strikes.

Two civilians, a woman born in 1968 and a man born in 1965, have been wounded.

Abroskin reported the shelling continued at the time of writing. 

— Pierre Vaux

French MPs To Visit Occupied Crimea

Thierry Mariani, the former minister for transport under the government of Nicolas Sarkozy, has announced that he, along with nine other French MPs, are travelling to Russian-occupied Crimea this week.

Translation: T. Mariani, deputy in The Republicans, has said that he will travel to Crimea with ten parliamentarians

Last night, Le Monde reported that Mariani had said that the group would depart today (Wednesday) for Russia and then to occupied-Crimea, returning on Saturday.

Of the ten MPs on the trip, eight are members of The Republicans, the re-branded Union for a Popular Movement, which was founded in 2002 by President Jacques Chirac and remained in office until Sarkozy was defeated in the 2012 elections.

Sarkozy himself, who was in power when contracts were signed with Russia for the sale of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships — now suspended —  criticised President François Hollande in May this year for not traveling to the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow.

The other two MPs traveling are Yves Pozzo di Borgo, a senator from Paris in the Union of Democrats and Independents, and Jérôme Lambert, a former member of the governing Socialist Party and now MP for Charente in the Radical, Republican Democratic and Progressivist group.

Mariani said that the itinerary for their trip included meetings in Moscow with Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the State Duma, and with “all of the local authorities and minorities’ representatives” in Yalta and Sevastopol.

Mariani also said that they would meet representatives for the French military cemetery in Sevastopol, a relic of the Crimean War, which, the MP said, had been abandoned as a result France’s non-recognition of Russia’s annexation of the peninsular.

Sergei Naryshkin has an interesting relationship with France.

In April, 2014, while already on the EU sanctions list, he visited Paris, with the official purpose of attending a UNESCO event (sanctioned officials may travel to the EU if invited by certain international organisations), but in fact met with Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National.

While the French Foreign Ministry issued a warning to MPs that that they should avoid meeting with Naryshkin, who was also barred from entering the French Parliament, due to his sanctioned status, Le Pen ignored the instructions, claiming she was not aware of them. 

Naryshkin made a second, much more discreet visit to Paris in September that year, this time invited by the Parliamentary Association of the Council of Europe, during he “met with parliamentarians and businessmen.”

Ten days later, Mariani traveled to Moscow with 13 other French MPs to meet with Naryshkin in the name of “the development of friendly relations between the two countries.”

In May this year, Naryshkin received Le Pen at the State Duma.

While Le Pen has been outspoken in her support for Russia and the annexation of Crimea, with several members of her party acting as ‘observers’ during illegitimate referenda and votes in both Crimea and occupied areas of Donetsk and Lugansk, Yves Pozzo di Borgo has carefully stated that the trip is not, for him at least, “a recognition of the reunification of Crimea with Russia.”

Mariani said (translated by The Interpreter):

“At the current time, we must maintain dialogue with our Russian friends. We must have the Franco-Russian meeting that was cancelled in response to the sanctions against Russia. At the parliamentary level, there has been no dialogue for almost two years…

With what is happening now in Syria, in Iran, we see that Russia is an essential part of diplomatic relations. And I would add that, in the fight against terrorism, it has adopted a very clear stance in refusing alliances with states that fund terrorism, a stance that the United States has not always held.”

He denied, however, that the trip constituted a form of parallel diplomacy, saying that the group did not speak on behalf of the government or the National Assembly. On July 20, several of the MPs going to Russia received a letter from the president of the National Assembly, Claude Bartolone, demanding that they refrain from speaking in the name of the Assembly.

Today, Romain Nadal, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, condemned the parliamentarians’ trip to Crimea.

The Interpreter translates:

“This is a personal initiative by the parliamentarians. We strongly regret it. Such a trip to Crimea indeed constitutes a violation of international law.”

— Pierre Vaux

Ukraine Reports Around 80 Attacks Yesterday

The Ukrainian military’s ATO Press Centre claims that Russian-backed forces conducted around 80 attacks yesterday.

In addition to the tank attack on Opytnoye that killed a civilian that was reported earlier, the Press Centre reports attacks on positions near Peski, Vodyanoye, Avdeyevka, Krasnogorovka, Marinka and Donetsk Airport.

Elsewhere, 120 mm mortars and tanks were used to attack Ukrainian positions near Novgorodskoye, west of Gorlovka. Attacks were also reported yesterday near Stariy Aidar, Zolotoye, Mayorsk, Stanitsa Luganskaya and Shirokino.

The ATO press page for the Lugansk region reported today that 20 rounds from 150 mm artillery had been fired at Troitskoye, south-east of Artyomovsk, yesterday morning. Several of these shells struck a dam in the nearby town of Mironovsky.

According to the acting governor of the Lugansk region, Yuri Klimenko, both Mironovsky and Troitskoye would be flooded if this dam is destroyed.

As of 6 am today, the ATO Press Centre claims that Russian-backed forces have continued to shell positions near Opytnoye, Peski and Krasnogorovka.

At 3:16 AM, Ukrainian troops near Donetsk Airport reported coming under fire from a BMP.

Beginning at 5:10, positions near Beryozovoye, on the Donetsk-Mariupol highway, were shelled with 122 mm artillery and 120 mm mortars.

Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the ATO, went into more detail on some of the fighting at his daily press briefing.

According to Lysenko, Ukrainian-positions near Svetlodarsk, just west of Mironovsky, had been attacked with heavy weaponry:

Notably, Lysenko said that there had been a tank attack between separatist-held Komomolskoye and Volnovakha:

The OSCE has repeatedly reported observing concentrations of armour in Komomolskoye and other separatist-held towns on the eastern banks of the river Kalmius. Furthermore, at least one new military base has been constructed in this area in recent months.

Meanwhile, Lysenko reported military build-ups near Stanitsa Luganskaya and Gorlovka:

— Pierre Vaux
Civilian Woman Killed North Of Donetsk, At Least Five Ukrainian Soldiers Wounded

At least one civilian has been killed and two wounded in the Donetsk region over the last 24 hours, reports Information Resistance, citing the Donetsk Military-Civil Administration.

According to Donetsk news site, a civilian woman was killed yesterday evening when a shell fell outside her home in the Ukrainian-held village of Opytnoye, north of Donetsk Airport.

At around 20:00, the police received a notice that the body of the woman, born in 1957, had been brought into a morgue in Krasnoarmeysk. reports that Russian-backed forces had been shelling the village with tanks at the time.

In addition to the civilian casualties, the Donetsk Administration reported that seven soldiers had been wounded over the same period.

Meanwhile, Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Presidential Administration on the military operation in the south-east, claimed at noon today that five Ukrainian servicemen had been wounded in action over the past 24 hours:

— Pierre Vaux
Russia Formally Disowns Captured Spetsnaz Soldiers

The Russian Ministry of Defence has formally denied any relation to two Spetsnaz soldiers, Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, who were captured in Ukraine earlier this year.

The MOD stated this in a response to a query from Sergei Krivenko, who is the director of the Citizen and Army project at the Presidential Human Rights Council, which monitors military affairs and safeguards soldiers’ rights.

Krivenko had asked the MOD to confirm the soldiers’ official status as of May this year, when they were captured near Schastye in the Lugansk region

Both men have repeatedly stated to both media and the OSCE that they are serving members of the 3rd Spetsnaz Brigade, based in Togliatti.

The day after their capture, General-Major Igor Konashenkov, an official spokesman for the MOD, said that they had “previously served in one of the units of the armed forces of the Russian Federation.” 

The MOD’s letter to Krivenko, published last night by, is more explicit:


The Interpreter translates:

Dear Sergei Vladimirovich!

Your inquiry of June 10, 2015, No 021, on A.A. Aleksandrov and E.V. Yerofeyev’s military service has been reviewed as requested.

It has been established that the citizens in question have indeed performed military service under contract in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

The events, connected to their departure from the Russian Federation and their presence in Ukraine, took place after their discharge from military service and have no relation to it.

With regards,

The chief of the servicemen’s records department, S. Botsvin.

At the end of May, both Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev told their lawyers that they wished to be tried as foreign intelligence agents, not terrorists.

However Russia’s official disavowal of their active military service means that they cannot receive the legal protection afforded to prisoners of war and complicates their defence argument as agents of a foreign state.

Both men have spoken of their disillusionment at being abandoned by their government, in interviews with Reuters’ Maria Tsvetkova and Novaya Gazeta‘s Pavel Kanygin.

— Pierre Vaux

— Pierre Vaux