Ukraine Liveblog Day 128: Russian Senators Follow Putin’s Instructions to Revoke ‘Right’ to Deploy Army to Ukraine

June 25, 2014
Federation Council chamber. Photo: wikipedia

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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Ukraine Crisis Changing The Way Europe Views NATO

NATO expansion is often cited by Russia as the reason for the need for a more aggressive foreign policy. In fact, however, NATO has largely shifted units out of eastern Europe and the defense spending by most NATO members has been steadily declining, as this chart from the CATO Institute illustrates:


John Kerry has spoken at a press conference at NATO headquarters in
Brussels today. The general theme — while NATO is not a threat to
Russia, Russia’s actions in Ukraine prove that NATO nations need to take
seriously the external threats that they face. One way to do this is to
increase defense spending, something which has slipped in recent years
in Europe:

As Secretary General Rasmussen has said,
Russia’s recent moves in Ukraine served as a wakeup call. As our
economies begin to grow again, a strong NATO requires defense spending
by all, and President Obama is committed that the United States will do
its part, and he has asked Congress for an additional $1 billion for
defense spending in Europe.

As we head to the Wales summit, every
ally spending less than 2 percent of their GDP needs to dig deeper and
make a concrete commitment to do more. And all you have to do is look at
a map in order to understand why – Ukraine, Iraq, Syria – all threats
to peace and to security, and they surround the region.

(Kerry’s comments and responses to questions can be read here.)

The comments were generally received positively by NATO allies it seems:

These tweets were retweeted by Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Estonia has been a NATO member since 2004.
NATO expansion is often cited by Russia as the reason for the need for a more aggressive foreign policy
Russia, of course, views things differently.
Russia Moves MiG-29 Squadron to Ukrainian Border

UNIAN reports that Vladimir Chepovoy, the secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (SNBO), has told a briefing today that Russia has relocated a squadron of MiG-29 fighters to Millerovo, close to the Ukrainian border.

UNIAN reports (translated by The Interpreter):

“A squadron of MiG-29 fighters has arrived at the town of Millerovo in the Rostov oblast of the Russian Federation, which lies 30 km from the state border with Ukraine,” said Chepovoy.

In addition, he stated that the Russian air force had stepped up reconnaissance flights along the border. 

“Russian aircraft are being observed on reconnaissance missions along the Ukraino-Russian border, within the range of the Lugansk oblast,” he said.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Says Russia Controlling Separatist Militants

Interfax-Ukraine reports that Yevhen Perebiynis, the spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, has clearly implicated Russia in the conflict in Ukraine’s south-east. He also said that Russian officials were directly coordinating hostage taking, including the kidnapping of two OSCE observer groups.

Interfax-Ukraine report (translated by The Interpreter):

The militants acting in eastern Ukraine are financed, controlled and supported by Russia, and a large portion of them are citizens of that country, said the director of the Foreign Ministry’s Information Department, Yevhen Perebiynis.

“It is with Russian weapons, which freely and (there are good reasons to speak of this) under the auspices of the Russian authorities, find their way in large quantities into eastern Ukraine, that the terrorists are killing Ukrainian soldiers and civilians”, said Perebiynis at a briefing on Wednesday.

According to him, the activities of the militants are controlled from Russia. “In fact, Russian officials are giving commands to the militants on when, where and how to capture or release hostages, including observers from international organisations,” said the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. 

Praviy Sektor Seizes Oil Refinery in Kirovohrad

Interfax-Ukraine reports that members of Praviy Sektor have taken control of an oil refinery in the central region of Kirovohrad today. 

Praviy Sektor claimed that their members had seized the Dolynsky Oil Refinery due to suspicions that the company was financing separatist fighters.

Interfax-Ukraine reports (translated by The Interpreter):

“The enterprise belongs to structures close to the “family” of Yanukovych, an MP from the Party of Regions, Ruslan Tsyplakov, who has fled to Moscow and whose brother, Sergei, is one of the leaders of the ‘DNR’ terrorist organistion,” said the announcement.

Praviy Sektor mentioned that the refinery was brought under their control after they received reports from its staff on the use of company funds to finance terrorist networks in eastern Ukraine.

As has been reported, Ruslan Tsyplakov was the motorsport partner of Viktor Yanukovych (son of the former president).

What Sanctions? Russian RTS The Third Best Performing Index In The World

In February and March there was a logic at play that nearly every politician, pundit, and economist subscribed to — Russia’s economy was vulnerable, Russian interference in Ukraine tanked Russia’s already fragile stock indexes, and market pressure alone could change Putin’s behavior, especially if they were further encouraged to do so by international sanctions.

Crimea has been annexed, there’s strong evidence that Russia has now sent tanks into eastern Ukraine, and despite the Kremlin’s rhetoric the separatists are still on the attack and Russian troops are just across the border to pressure Ukraine into not using its full military force to counter the threat.

So how are’s Russia’s markets doing? They’re outperforming most of the rest of the world. Financial Times reports:

Over the past three months, Russia’s RTS index has been the third best-performing exchange worldwide, having risen 33 per cent from its mid-March low. On Tuesday, after Mr Putin asked Russia’s upper house of parliament to cancel a mandate to send troops into Ukraine, the index added 3.8 per cent.

And in specific industries, ones that were supposed to suffer the most, the opposite has been true. Again, FT reports:

Among Russia’s best market performers have been those stocks that were believed to be most at risk of sanctions. Gas group Novatek has added 37 per cent since the US Treasury placed sanctions on its shareholder Gennady Timchenko in March and is up 7 per cent for the year. Rosneft has gained 17 per cent since its chief executive Igor Sechin was placed under sanctions in April and is up for the year.

State-owned lender VTB has gained close to 40 per cent since it hit a three-year low in March, even though the bank is seen as a potential target for US sanctions.

Though the MICEX closed down by 2.15% today, yesterday it closed higher than at any point all year. The bottom line — while even before this crisis the Russian economy showed serious signs of weakness, this crisis does not appear to have significantly weakened the Russian economy. Though the recent rally is largely a market correction from the collapse of the markets in February and March, and Russia’s economy is still basically stagnant, if sanctions were supposed to ‘change Putin’s calculus,’ then that plan has collapsed.


Four OSCE Monitors ‘Could be Freed Soon’

Interfax reports that they have been told by the vice-premier of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, Andrei Purgin, that militants in Severodonetsk may soon release four OSCE monitors held hostage.

Interfax reports (translated by The Interpreter):

“Four of the OSCE observers are currently in Severodonetsk. Very good conditions have been prepared for them, this is no prison, they’re living in comfort. At the same time, they are a guarantee of non-aggression towards the town, which is the site for very dangerous chemical production, the destruction of which could produce a terrible ecological disaster,” said Purgin.

According to him, the OSCE observers should be released in the coming days.

“Negotiations are now under way, and the observers will be released in the near future. This will not be an exchange of hostages but an act of good will. They will be able to return to their homes without any conditions,” said A. Purgin.

The whereabouts of the other four OSCE hostages is not referred to in this report.

Yarosh Claims Praviy Sektor has Captured Pushilin Associate

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of Praviy Sektor, has claimed on his Facebook page that members of Praviy Sektor, in coordination with the Ukrainian armed forces in Donetsk, have captured an associate of Denis Pushilin, the self-declared ‘chairman of the supreme soviet’ of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) separatist group.

Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):

According to the announcement, the captured man is “the leader of the DNR terrorists in the town of Ugledar, citizen Pyotr Borisovich Gilyov, who is an associate of Pushilin and the handler of the separatists in the western regions of the Donetsk oblast”.

Passes and permits from the DNR, including ones for all of their “state institutions”, were seized from the detainee, along with a flash drive containing surveillance information on Ukrainian checkpoints, says Yarosh.

“Gilyov, by his own testimony, led the whole terrorist network, which is made up of several hundred people, and was also the organiser of the May 11 referendum in several towns and rural areas of the Donbass”, notes the leader of Praviy Sektor.

Praviy Sektor claimed that Gilyov had been a karate instructor and had organised titushki Antimaidan activists in Kiev before becoming involved with armed separatist groups. 

Yarosh claimed that Gilyov was “voluntarily giving evidence against his accomplices” and would soon be handed over to the SBU.

Russian Troop Movement Continues Near Border
Paul Sonne reports:
7 More Blasts on Donetsk Railway in Last 24 Hours

OstroV, a regional news site for south-eastern Ukraine, reports that there were 7 more blasts on the Donetsk Railway in the last 24 hours.

We reported yesterday on two blasts in the Lugansk region, as well as the damaging of a bridge by explosives in the Zaporozhye region.

OstroV reports that the Interior Ministry’s railways department has announced that, in addition to those attacks, a further 4 occurred later in the day.

Tracks were damaged on the GorlovkaPanteleymonovka and GorlovkaNovobakhmutovka lines (serving Nikitovka station), the KaravannayaDolya line (serving Donetsk station) and the BulavinDebaltsevo line (serving Debaltsevo). The investigators are treating them as terrorist acts.

Reports were received of damage on the Gorlovka-Panteleymonovka line at 19:20 (16:20 GMT), and the Gorlovka-Novobakhmutovka line at 19:49 (16:49 GMT). 

Sections of the tracks had been destroyed and power lines damaged by the blasts.

The report of the blast on the Karavannaya-Dolya line came from railway workers at 20:06 (17:06 GMT). An investigative team found damage to cables on both sides of the track and that 50 metres of the track had been wrecked.

The Bulavin-Debaltsevo blast was reported at 22:10 (19:10 GMT).

In the early hours of this morning, 3 more blasts were reported on sections of track in Gorlovka. The explosions were reported to Nikitovka station at 5:30 (2:30 GMT), 6:55 (3:55 GMT) and 7:35 (4:35 GMT).

Two of the blasts damaged the 7th and 9th points at Dolomit station. Services were not affected by this. 

The other blast damaged 4 metres of track on the Dyliivka-Nikitovka line. Trains were suspended on this stretch of track. 

No injuries have been reported. 

NATO Secretary-General Says Russia Failing to Meet Commitments

The NATO Secretary-General has said today in Brussels that Russia is failing to meet its international obligations with regards to the Ukrainian crisis. 

Reuters reports that Anders Fogh Rasmussen, also the former prime minister of Denmark, said:

“I regret to say that we see no signs that Russia is respecting its international commitments. 

So today we will review our relations with Russia and decide what to do next.” 

The British foreign minister, William Hague, was also critical of Russia, explicitly linking them to the separatist groups fighting in south-eastern Ukraine:

“While there have been welcome words from Russia about that (the peace plan) we have not seen yet the actions to go with that, including tragically the shooting down of a Ukrainian helicopter yesterday with the death of nine more people.

So we urge Russia to take the necessary action to stop the flow of arms across the border (and) to stop supporting illegally armed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine because in the absence of that action by Russia the case for stronger sanctions from European Union nations will of course become stronger.” 

The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was somewhat more conciliatory in tone, suggesting only that the separatists were “possibly helped by third parties”.

He welcomed the announcement that the Russian Federation Council had voted to rescind their approval for the use of Russian armed forces in Ukraine. No mention was made of their continued deployment in occupied Crimea, which all European states still recognise as Ukrainian territory.

“But seeing the development afterwards – the downing of the helicopter with nine dead – we see how fragile everything is and how quickly progress just reached can be destroyed again by activities of the separatists on the ground in eastern Ukraine, possibly helped by third parties.

As there is no military option, it is crucial that we – despite the incidents of the last couple of days – leave no possibility unused and try cautious steps for the building of a minimum of trust, trust which has been completely lost between Russia and Ukraine.”

Russian Federation Council Revokes Approval of Use of Armed Forces in Ukraine

The upper house of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council, has, as requested yesterday by President Putin, rescinded the authorisation it gave in March for the use of Russian armed forces in Ukraine.

Reuters reports:

A senior lawmaker said the move, which Putin had requested, it should be seen as an act of goodwill to help facilitate peace efforts in Ukraine, where Moscow sees itself as the defender of the rights of the Russian-speaking minority. But he said the authority could be reinstated at short notice.

“The President of the Russian Federation has enough means under the constitution and federal law to effectively influence the situation in Ukraine,” Viktor Ozerov, head of the Federation Council’s security committee, told the chamber.

“If, to that end, the president needs to take measures of a military nature, the Federation Council’s Defence and Security Committee is ready … to swiftly consider such a motion from the president. But I hope that will not be required.”

The decision, effective immediately, was taken by 153 votes in favor to one against, with no abstentions.

As with the Duma vote held on the incorporation of occupied Crimea into the Russian Federation, there was only one dissenter. The speaker of the chamber, Valentina Matviyenko, was so surprised at this deviation that she asked the chamber if the the dissenting vote was cast by accident:

Russia’s parliament rarely deviates from the line taken by Putin. After the vote, the speaker of the chamber asked whether the lawmaker who voted against had accidentally pressed the wrong button.