The Azov Regiment has declared that a video, in which men, presenting themselves as Azov members, burn the Dutch flag and threaten to carry out terrorist attacks if the Netherlands fails to ratify the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine, is fake.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.
For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: How We Know Russia Shot Down MH17.
- READ OUR SPECIAL REPORT: An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlinâs Dirty War in Ukraine
A planned rally in Kiev today of anti-fascist activists in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova — respectively a human-rights lawyer anda Novaya Gazeta journalist who were both murdered by members the Russian neo-Nazi BORN group in 2009 — was made private due to threats from ultra-nationalists.
Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported last night that, as a result, the location of the gathering had to be issued by request only as “various Ukrainian far-right groups” had reacted “with primitive antagonism.”
This afternoon Ukrainian journalist Maxim Eristavi reported that a number of activists, including Ilya Ponomarev — the sole Russian MP to vote against the annexation of Crimea (who has since fled his homeland) — did meet today, but that many were still so afraid that they requested their faces be blurred in photographs:
While most of the activists went to the new, privately disclosed rally site, around 15, Eristavi writes, traveled to the original, planned location and were met by between 40 and 50 ultra-nationalist activists.
Thanks to the moderate police and media presence, violence was avoided.
However, Eristavi reported that one journalist had been attacked while heading to the meeting:
Unfortunately, Arten Tidva, editor in chief of a local leftist magazine was attacked, beat up by far-rights on his way to the rally today. According to his and witness accounts, local police didn’t intervene.
The nasty incident would be totally avoidable, though. There is not a single indication of rising public far-right and neo-Nazi sentiments in Ukraine. Elections and polls in recent two years show quite the opposite with the Ukrainian public holding the least far-right views in Europe. The boneless attitude of the Ukrainian government and authorities towards rising violence of far-right radicals and paramilitary fighters who keep terrorising leftist and LGBTI minority is the only problem. Those thugs just feel themselves above the law and are cocky enough to issue death threats to us publicly.
— Pierre Vaux
There are unconfirmed reports on social media this afternoon of fighting on the northern fringes of the separatist-held city of Donetsk:
Translation: #Donetsk Kievsky district, some sort of shoot-out nearby, automatic grenade launcher/RPG and something heavier + small arms 16:36
Mark Feygin, a lawyer defending Nadezhda Savchenko, reports that doctors have been called to the pre-trial detention centre in Novocherkassk in which she is being held.
Yesterday Ilya Novikov, another member of her defence team, reported that Savchenko had lost 15 kilogrammes in weight after a month on hunger strike.
Translation: I’ve left after seeing Savchenko at pre-trial detention centre number 3. Doctors came, they’ve given her glucose by drip twice, she feels better. She sends her greetings to everyone.
Nadezhda Savchenko is a military officer (and now MP) who was captured by separatist fighters near Lugansk in June, 2014. She was subsequently taken across the border to Russia where she has been jailed and charged with the murder of two Russian journalists, Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, during a mortar attack on a checkpoint.
— Pierre Vaux
The Ukrainian military claimed this morning that Russian-backed forces had, as of 6:00 today, conducted 47 attacks over the last 24 hours.
According to the ATO Press Centre, attacks were concentrated near Donetsk and Mariupol.
Ukrainian defensive positions near Marinka, Peski, Avdeyevka and the Butovka mine were attacked with small arms and grenade launchers.
Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, told reporters at noon today that Krasnogorovka, a town west of Donetsk, had been shelled with 100 mm Rapira anti-tank guns and mortars.
Outside Luganskoye, on the Artyomovsk-Debaltsevo highway, infantry fighting vehicles opened fire on Ukrainian positions.
The situation in the south has continued to deteriorate, with Ukrainian positions in Shirokino, east of Mariupol, fired on with 82 mm mortars, grenade launchers and small arms. A series of shoot-outs between Ukrainian and Russian-backed fighters ensued.
To the northwest of Shirokino, Motuzyanyk reported that two mortar attacks as well as “a variety of more minor provocations” took place near the village of Lebedinskoye.
Further north, Russian-backed fighters used an infantry fighting vehicle and a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun to fire on Ukrainian positions outside Starognatovka.
Motuzyanyk claimed that Russian-backed forces were concentrating heavy weaponry, including tanks and Grad MLRS in the Donetsk area.
The deputy head of the separatist-controlled Novoazovsk district, Anatoly Yanovsky, claimed meanwhile that Ukrainian forces shelled the village of Kominternovo yesterday evening.
According to Yanovsky, Ukrainian troops shelled the village from around 20:00 until 23:00 from the village of Vodyanoye with 82 mm mortars, infantry fighting vehicles and grenade launchers.
A little further to the east, Andrei Oprishchenko, commander of the Russian-backed 9th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade,reported to pro-separatist media that Ukrainian troops had shelled the village of Sakhanka for around an hour with 82 mm mortars and grenade launchers.
— Pierre Vaux
Masked, armed men, claiming to be members of the Azov Regiment, appeared in a video uploaded yesterday in what appeared to be a threat to the Dutch people lest they vote in favour of ratifying the European Union Association Agreement with Ukraine in a referendum due to be held on April 6.
The video, which begins with the standard Azov ident, was uploaded on a YouTube account branded ‘PATRIOT’ in Ukrainian. The channel, which carries a banner of both a Ukrainian flag and a widely used imagined self-portrait of Ukrainian national poet, Taras Shevchenko, has no other uploads or favourites recorded.
The men threaten to conduct terrorist attacks in the Netherlands if the public votes against ratifying the Association Agreement.
Before burning the Dutch flag, one of the men says, in broken English:
“Dear Dutchmen, don’t you dare going against Ukraine. It will end very bad for you. We will bring chaos, not only in your brains, but in your very homes. You will see to regret this. We will find you everywhere. In a movie, at war, in your bedroom, public transport. We have our guys in the Netherlands and they are ready to obey any order.”
Any video featuring purported Azov members engaging in lurid behaviour raises suspicions, given that the unit has been the subject of many fakes in the past, with spurious videos showing what appeared to be Azov soldiers conducting crucifixions or hangings of prisoners.
The Azov Regiment, while now part of the National Guard and subject to the chain of command, was formed out of the Azov Battalion paramilitary unit, whose leadership has roots in the neo-Nazi Social-National Assembly and Patriot of Ukraine political organisations. While the rank and file membership of the regiment can by no means all be called ultra-nationalists, Azov maintains a distinct, ultra-nationalist political presence via their press office and campaigns such as their ‘Azov Reconquista’ on social media.
This means of course that the group is a go-to bogeyman for Kremlin-aligned media which have painted Ukraine since the EuroMaidan protests as a state overrun by fascists.
In the case of this video, the first thing that sticks out is the overall shambolic presentation. The men look uneasy, with one, on the left, fidgeting and shifting around. The Ukrainian flag hung lopsidedly and the uniforms seem inconsistent.
Indeed the Azov press office has now responded and claims that the video is a fake.
Andriy Diachenko, deputy commander of the regiment, released this video statement:
According to another statement put out on the AzovPress website, one of the men is carrying an airsoft replica of a Kalashnikov AK74M assault rifle.
EuroMaidan Press has a translation of the statement, which is notably more anti-EU in sentiment than that issued by Diachenko above. The point is that only does the video appear faked, but that Azov is in fact opposed to the EU Association Agreement.
A video in which a group of camouflaged people destroyed the flag of The Netherlands began spreading online in the evening of January 18. The people on video attempt to impersonate the soldiers of the Ukrainian [Azov] regiment. It’s clear at first glance that these persons can’t be from Azov: they lack regimental chevrons, wear inappropriate footwear and uncharacteristic uniforms. But it’s the airsoft guns that make this clip ridiculous. Anyone who is minimally knowledgeable in weapons will notice this immediately. The airsoft gun model AK-74M (which is simply not in service in the regiment) is loaded with magazines from an AKM of a completely different caliber! Further comments on the quality of the fake are unnecessary; we will only mention the voice of the “main spokesman,” which sounds identical to the voice of the previous fakes directed against Azov.
The video’s content is also laughable to anybody familiar with the position of the regiment regarding the EU. Azov members, as it befits Ukrainian nationalists, have always perceived the idea of Ukraine joining the European Union negatively, instead supporting the idea of a Baltic-Black Sea alternative union for our country. In addition, from the very beginning of its existence, the regiment insisted on the unity of European nations in the fight against the “Asian invasion” in whatever form it would take (post-Soviet or Islamic). Thus, it makes no sense for Azov soldiers to burn the flag of an allied European nation, and especially with a pro-EU argument. However, it makes lots of sense for Russia, which is trying to spoil the international image of Ukraine. The referendum which will take place on April 6 in The Netherlands is a very appropriate opportunity for this. Putin’s Federation is prepared to demonize Ukraine in general and the Ukrainian volunteer movement in particular to neutralize negative reporting of his actions in Crimea and Donbas in the eyes of the international community. However, it is obvious that the Russian propaganda machine, as always in the history of this country, is at least as “dirty” as it is “quick”: the fakes are filmed with the same actors, dressed in second hand clothing, and equipped with toy guns.
Meanwhile in the Netherlands, Kees Verhoeven, an MP in the Democrats 66 (D66) party, called yesterday for investigation into possible Russian influence in Dutch politics, and in particular the campaign against ratifying the Association Agreement with Ukraine.
Nu.nl reported that D66 want the Dutch government to investigate the referendum campaign to see if there is any Russian influence on the No campaign or funding provided to political parties.
Verhoeven cited a report published on Saturday by The Telegraph on US concerns that Russia was manipulating European politics.
Russia accused of clandestine funding of European parties as US conducts major review of Vladimir Putin's strategy
"It really is a new Cold War out there," the source said, "Right across the EU we are seeing alarming evidence of Russian efforts to unpick the fabric of European unity on a whole range of vital strategic issues."
While parts of the Association Agreement provisionally came into effect on January 1, the full package does not become law until all EU member states have ratified the agreement.
The referendum in the Netherlands came about as a result of a petition last year that collected 427,000 signatures.
The BBC reported at the time:
Although the result will not be binding on the government, it will have to be considered if turnout is above 30% and a majority votes against the agreement.
— Pierre Vaux