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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?
The OSCE has published the latest report from their Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), based on information received as of September 8.
The report presents a markedly different picture of the situation on the front line to the claims of both the Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatist authorities.
While the Ukrainian government’s ATO Press Centre reported yesterday evening that the situation on the front had remained relatively calm, with only one ceasefire violation between 6:00 and 18:00, in the Lugansk region, the SMM reported:
While present in the city centre [of Donetsk], the SMM heard 58 explosions which the SMM assessed to be consistent with artillery or mortar fire between 10:30 and 12:07hrs. The SMM could not confirm the type of weapon or whether the explosions were incoming or outgoing.
While the report itself says that the SMM could not determine the direction of fire, the table of ceasefire violations attached to the report states that, between 10:45 and 11:55 on September 8, an SMM team at the Park Inn Hotel in central Donetsk heard 63 explosions. The table denotes them as “outgoing.”
In Schastye, in the Lugansk region, the SMM “heard 16 explosions assessed as heavy artillery at a location south-west of its position.”
Since the announcement of the latest ceasefire at the end of last month, we have seen numerous, unconfirmed reports on social media of shelling heard in Donetsk. The official reports issued by both the Ukrainian military and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) have, described very few ceasefire violations – almost all of them, especially in the last two days, small arms or grenade launcher attacks.
A report issued by the ‘defence ministry’ of the DNR this afternoon does claim Ukrainian forces used mortars in an attack on Spartak, in the north-east of Donetsk, within the past 24 hours. But this lies outside the time frame described by the SMM.
Does this mean that both sides are attempting to play down the level of fighting ahead of further peace talks?
The entire full OSCE report can be read here.
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service (DPSU) reports that one of their patrols was attacked today near Novotroitskoye, south of Donetsk.
According to a statement on the DPSU website, the patrol was travelling in a Cougar armoured vehicle near the crossroads between Novotroitskoye, Dokuchaevsk and Beryozovoye, on the Donetsk-Mariupol highway, when they came under mortar fire.
One mortar shell exploded next to their vehicle, showing it with shrapnel, however none of the passengers were wounded, thanks to its armour.
As a result of the mortar fire, the Bugas and Beryozovoye checkpoints are temporarily closed to traffic to ensure public safety.
— Pierre Vaux
President Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has declined to comment on claims made yesterday by Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of the Russian Investigative Committee (SKR), that the Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, fought in the first Chechen war and killed Russian soldiers.
“The investigative Committee is working, and such statements are never unfounded. However, it would be premature to make any comments before the Investigative Committee completes work and presents the appropriate solutions.”
Even if Peskov is treading carefully around the dramatic claims while maintaining support for the SKR, Russia’s diplomats are clearly taking Bastrykin’s story seriously:
Bastrykin claimed that Yatsenyuk, who’s official biography makes no mention of military service, fought in Chechnya from 1994 to 1995 as a member “the Argo and later the Viking punitive battalions.”
Furthermore, he said that SKR investigators had linked the prime minister to the torture and execution of Russian soldiers in Grozny in January, 1995.
Bastrykin’s claims have been met with wide ridicule. Yatsenyuk’s press secretary, Olga Lappo, wrote on Facebook last night that the SKR head should seek psychiatric help.
However Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has pointed out a much darker element to the story.
Coynash notes that LifeNews, a channel long-suspected of having close ties to Russia’s security agencies, ran a story last night saying that testimony incriminating Yatsenyuk had come from two Ukrainian prisoners, Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykh.
Both are charged by the Russian authorities with participating in the Chechen war against Russian forces.
A third suspect in the affair was named in an SKR report last month as Aleksandr Malofeyev. His case has been separated from that of Klykh and Karpyuk as he has agreed to cooperate with the investigation.
Coynash explains the grim implications of such “testimony” from these prisoners:
According to Maria Tomak from the Centre for Civil Liberties, Karpyuk has still now not seen any lawyer chosen by his family and the consul has not been allowed to visit Klykh. The latter, as reported here, was also held in maximum secrecy for a long time, with a stream of ‘lawyers’ appointed by the investigators and in no way concerned to represent the interests of the detained men. 10 months after his arrest, lawyer Marina Dubrovina took on Klykh’s case. She spoke to Tomak about the case and preliminary hearing on Sept 15 in Grozny.
Klykh, she says, was subjected to a range of forms of torture for the first two months after he was taken into custody. These included: being beaten; suspended; electric shocks; being deprived of food and drink; psychotropic substances. “He was beaten until he’d memorized the calibre of the Kalashnikov rifle with which they claimed he shot Russian soldiers” Dubrovina points out that Klykh is an academic who’s never held a rifle in his hands and did not even do military service. He has lost 15 kilograms and his health urgently needs attention. All of this was disregarded in the medical examination he was given at the beginning of the summer which found him fit to stand trial.
Klykh totally denies all the charges and has recently lodged a complaint over the torture. Dubrovina describes the procedure they’ve gone through but acknowledges that it’s unlikely that any criminal proceedings will be initiated against Klykh’s torturers.
All of the evidence against Klykh is based on testimony from this mystery individual called Malofeyev whom Dubrovina has never set eyes on. From the file material, it seems that he is a Ukrainian national and was in Chechnya, after which he moved first to Crimea where he committed an armed robbery or something similar and served a sentence. In 2005 he moved to where his mother lives in Novosibirsk (Russia) and there committed more crimes. In 2009 he was sentenced to 23 years imprisonment. It is unclear, she adds, whether he has been subjected to physical force, but it is certainly easy to exert influence on him by depriving him of medication since, as well as being HIV positive, he is also suffering Hepatitis B, C and tuberculosis, and is addicted to opium.
The same dependence on ‘testimony’ was seen in the trial of Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko. The fact that Oleksy Chirniy refused to testify in court and Gennady Afanasyev not only retracted his testimony, but described in detail the torture that he had been subjected to, was ignored by the court which sentenced Sentsov to 20 years, Kolchenko to 10, for nothing.
— Pierre Vaux
While the Ukrainian military reports low levels of fighting over the last few days, the secretary of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC), Oleksandr Turchynov, claims today that Russia is concentrating resources behind the front line and may launch a new offensive “at any time.”
Turchynov’s claims, made on a Ukrainian television channel, were relayed in a statement on the NSDC website this morning.
According to Turchynov, Russia is building up stocks of weapons, vehicles, and ammunition for both artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems. He stressed that the forces deployed against Ukraine were no longer “so-called Russo-terrorist groups” but the armed forces of the Russian Federation.
Turchynov does not expect a major intensification in attacks by Russian forces before the next session of the United Nations General Assembly, which is due to open on September 15. The Kremlin, says Turchynov, is preparing to to attempt a fresh round of negotiations with the USA.
Despite the vastly reduced level of shelling since the announcement of a new ceasefire deal at the end of last month, Turchynov says that the situation on the front remains tough, with soldiers killed or wounded almost every day as a result of a switch in tactics by Russian-backed forces to diversionary attacks.
The Ukrainian military reported 4 attacks last night.
The ATO Press Centre reports that, at 18:30, Russian-backed fighters attacked a Ukrainian defensive position in Luganskoye, south-east of Artyomovsk, with small arms.
In the Lugansk region, a defensive position near Schastye was fired on with an automatic grenade launcher. According to Lieutenant Colonel Ruslan Tkachuk, spokesman for the military operation in the region, the attack lasted only two minutes.
To the north of Donetsk, there were two attacks on Ukrainian forces to the south of Avdeyevka. According to the ATO Press Centre, Russian-backed fighters used infantry fighting vehicles, grenade launchers, heavy-calibre machine guns and small arms.
Between midnight and 6 am today, the Press Centre claims, there have been no recorded attacks.
Lieutenant Colonel Tkachuk also reported in more detail on the deaths of a civilian and a Ukrainian soldier that were first reported yesterday morning.
Tkachuk said that the body of a male resident of Stanitsa Luganskaya, born in 1980, was found on the banks of the Seversky Donets river at 10:30 yesterday by soldiers.
The man died of shrapnel wounds after setting off a tripwire-rigged explosive device.
A dead soldier brought into a Stanitsa Luganskaya hospital yesterday was today identified by Tkachuk as a Ukrainian scout, born in 1989.
They died as a result of a gunshot wound to the head. The circumstances of the soldier’s death are still being established.
Tkachuk announced the death of a another Ukrainian soldier, during fighting in the Sharov Kut area, east of Bolotennoye, in the early hours of yesterday morning.
The engagement was reported by the ATO Press Centre yesterday, but no mention was made of the casualty.
According to Tkachuk, the soldier, born in 1969, was shot in the head.
Meanwhile, in the Donetsk region, Vyacheslav Abroskin, head of the regional department of the Interior Ministry, today announced the death of a civilian woman, born in 1985, after she set off a landmine on the Donetsk-Mariupol highway yesterday.
— Pierre Vaux