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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?
As we reported, President Petro Poroshenko noted this morning at the YES Conference that this was the first 24-hour period without shelling in southeastern Ukraine in 18 months.
Since the latest “ceasefire” was declared September 1 as the Minsk peace talks continue, fighting has been reduced and yesterday there was only one Ukrainian soldier and one civilian hurt by shelling.
But unfortunately, the day wasn’t over yet.
An hour ago, the ATO [Anti-Terrorism Operation] press center announced on their Facebook page that from 12:35 to 13:02 south of Avdeyevka, Ukrainian positions were pummeled once again with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms, and one Ukrainian serviceman was injured.
At 17:20, Russian-backed separatists fired from the direction of Spartak from large-caliber artillery and grenade-launchers on Ukrainian positions in Opytnoye.
Even so, Ukrainian Armed Forces are using the relative calm to attempt to restore utilities in Zaytsevo and Mayorsk areas and are also building bridges in Krasnogorovka and Soledar. Schools that were hit by artillery fire early this year in Luganskaya and Svetlodar are being repaired, and mines are being removed from around grain silos.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Fontanka, an independent Saint Petersburg newspaper, has published an interview with Aleksandr Khodakovsky, the commander of the Russian-backed Vostok Battalion in Donetsk.
Khodakovsky is remarkably candid about Kremlin support for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), saying that 70 percent of the DNR budget comes from Russia.
The Interpreter translates:
“[Russia] doesn’t reveal the full volume of their aid. They only talk about the ‘white convoys’ but this is just zero point **** ten percent of their real material aid. I’m not talking about weapons or personnel now, this subject is still generally taboo. I’m talking about economic, methodological help with the issues of creating a power vertical.
Because, as you know well, all of the government institutions, all of the agencies, all the organisations simply took off and left Donetsk. And we have to work, forgive me, with the stuff we have left. I never thought that I would be a military leader, I’m sorry. But at the same time, we need to perform these functions.
Consequently, we operate, to large extent, on aid from Russia, and we’re pulling through situation thanks to financial aid, making up, by my reckoning, something in the order of 70 percent of our budget. And this allows us to pay for today’s pensions, public sector salaries and welfare. In this situation, I’m not inclined to say that Russia is ‘jettisoning’ us.”
— Pierre Vaux
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has travelled to Russian-occupied Crimea today to meet with President Putin, in defiance of Ukrainian visa controls and EU policy.
Dmitry Smirnov, special correspondent for Komsomolskaya Pravda, has been following the trip:
Translation: Putin and Berlusconi met in the Gasfort hills, walked to the monument to dead Italian soldiers. The Italian graveyard has been there since 1855.
Translation: Putin and Berlusconi are flying around Crimea by helicopter. Their next stop is Massandra. Dinner and wine tasting.
Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reports that Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said on Wednesday:
“Any contacts with politicians and government officials having such rank as Berlusconi – no matter whether they are incumbent politicians or non-incumbent ones – are certainly a matter of diplomacy.”
The report also suggests that Sergey Aksyonov, the self-proclaimed prime minister of Crimea, known during his days in organised crime as ‘Goblin,’ is to meet with Berlusconi, having “urgently departed for Sevastopol.”
Berlusconi, who was convicted of tax fraud in 2012 and is still the subject of two other criminal investigations in Italy, is a close friend of Putin.
The former prime minister is not the first European politician to travel to Crimea since Russia occupied and annexed the Ukrainian peninsular last year.
A group of French politicians, mostly members of the Republicans (formerly the UMP), visited Crimea in July this year, to the consternation of Kiev and the Élysée.
While Poroshenko says that his partners are still committed 100 percent to Ukraine, the world is a dangerous place and other priorities are a distraction. However he stressed that what the world needed was unity and adherence to its values which would help it deal with problems like the refugee crisis and Russian aggression. Ukraine, he stressed, was leading the way for Europe by aligning policy to the principles of democracy and resistance to its threats and he reminded Europe to help Ukraine in its mission.
— James Miller
After his speech Poroshenko entered into a Q & A session. He was asked whether Ukraine was reforming quickly enough. He said that reforms are going forward but they need new parliamentary elections. When asked whether he was going to sell his own assets, a campaign promise, he said that he had been unable to find a buyer for such assets during wartime and his operations in Russia had been attacked by Russian authorities, his mangers put in prison.
He also stressed that progress has been made despite military spending increases.
— James Miller
Ukraine’s president said that critics of the European Union note that it’s foreign policy is lacking both “Europe,” meaning European values, and “union.” Ukraine had spilled blood for European values in the revolution of 2014, and continues to spill blood to defend Europe against an invader. In just one year Ukraine had accomplish what many thought was “nearly impossible,” the development of an army to fight Russia despite a desperate economy. Ukraine struggles against corruption and Russian aggression, and yet they continue to try to make their country better and more European.
— James Miller
Mr. Poroshenko told the crowd at the YES conference that for the first time in a year and a half, there have been no ceasefire violations in the last 24 hours. But peace will not be achieved until Russian troops withdraw, Minsk is implemented, local elections are held legally in the Donbass, and borders are restored. Minsk is a lot more than just a ceasefire but a cessation of hostilities is a crucial first step.
— James Miller
The YES conference started this morning with an address by Mr. Poroshenko. First, though, a video featured actors portraying Ukrainians, a “little green man” and members of the West.
As the Ukrainian woman asked for help against an aggressor, the others held up signs with excuses as to why they were unable or unwilling to intervene. By the end the Westerners handed their signs to the soldier and the Ukrainian woman was left to face him alone.
— James Miller