Ukraine Liveblog Day 129: Fighting in Kramatorsk

June 26, 2014
Activists find a somewhat romanticised portrait of Viktor Medvedchuk at his party offices on February 27. Medvedchuk has been proposed as a 'mediator' in the crisis by the Kremlin and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Photo: LUFA

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

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Four OSCE Monitors Released in Donetsk

Four civilian monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a 57-member body devoted to security and human rights, were released from captivity tonight in Donetsk, Russia media reported.

The release was confirmed by the official Twitter account of the OSCE monitoring mission.

That leaves 4 more OSCE monitors who are still being held in Lugansk by pro-Russian separatists. No word has been received on their status.

Separatists On The Attack In Slavyansk
The Ukraine Reddit forum caught a tweet we missed:
There are multiple reports of fighting in Slavyansk that back this up:
We also have this video, reportedly taken earlier today near Slavyansk, which reportedly shows a convoy of Ukrainian forces, including Grad BM-21 multiple rocket launchers headed toward the front:

Earlier, several videos claim to demonstrate that rebels did in fact attack a checkpoint near Slavyansk. If this video is from today (which is unconfirmed) it could explain why the Ukrainian convoy appears to be in such a rush, but without more info we can;t say which video was uploaded first:

Heavy Fighting Reported In Donetsk
Gunfire and explosions are reported in central Donetsk:

That video, entitled “”Battle in the Mayak region of Donetsk 6/26/2014 22:35 pm. Storming of army base 3004,” reportedly shows the gunfire at the Ukrainian military base (either base 2004 or 3004, there is some debate about the name but we think it’s the same base as was attacked earlier). At one point the narrator says that the gunfire has resumed at base 3004.

In this video, gunfire and explosions can be heard:

Intense gunfire and explosions in this video:

Stringer For ANNA Missing In Mariupol

ANNA news service which features live stream videos, reports that one of their streams, Vlad Alexandrovich, age 16, has gone gone missing and is believed to have been kidnapped by pro-Kiev forces in Mariupol.

In a video calling to “Save Streamer Vlad,” his news service gave a sparse report, and featured a telephone interview with his weeping mother, who said she had talked to him on the phone, and he said he was finishing up a upload and would be back in five minutes. Then she lost contact with him and hasn’t heard from him since. reports that Vlad, 18 years old (not 16) is missing. Below is a partial translation by The Interpreter:

Representatives of the South-East front [the pro-Russian
separatists] managed to reach Vlad’s mother, Elena Aleksandrovich.
According to her, yesterday at about noon, she and her son had gone to
the competitions at the Palace of Pioneers. Suddenly Vlad decided to go
away for 5 minutes, and since then, no one has seen him. He did not take
with him his tablet, mobile phone, ID and apartment keys. He was
wearing a t-shirt and shorts. His mother said she went to the police
station. There she was told that the boy had not been brought to the

Curiously, shows a picture of Vlad carrying a weapon.



So was Vlad “kidnapped,” or perhaps arrested? Or perhaps he is just
missing? So far all the reports are pretty light on details but we’ll
keep looking for more.

Vostok Battalion Reportedly Attacking Donetsk Military Base
An interesting detail about this attack from The Guardian’s Alec Luhn — the Vostok Battalion, which, as we point out here and here has the reputation for being the Kremlin’s main arm in the field, may be responsible for today’s attack (which is ongoing) on a Ukrainian base in Donetsk:
A freelancer for Getty/Corbis images reports:
We believe that it is a national guard base, base 2004, that is under attack. That is what locals who have uploaded videos to Youtube have said. But there is some confusion, and we’ve yet to see video or pictures directly from the base, nor have we seen official statements from Kiev yet:
Shots Ring Out In Donetsk As Separatists Attack Military Base
More confirmation of an attack on the National Guard base in Donetsk:
National Guard Base Reportedly Under Attack in Donetsk
There are new reports of fighting at a national guard base near Donetsk:

This video was uploaded today and it claims to have been taken near the base. While this may sound like thunder (it was raining today so that element of the video matches) a closer analysis of the sound does suggest that it may be gunfire.

Another video in which one can clearly hear gunfire and the occasional
explosion. It is also reportedly taken near the “Strum” National Guard
base in Donetsk. At one point someone in the background says that the
shooting is coming from “the army base, I think number 2004,” which
matches other descriptions that base 2004 is the one that is under
attack (although  others say “3004”).

One of the men in the background expresses his frustration, and fear, over the event:

“I was sitting there eating my kasha and not bothering anyone, and now this…I won’t be sleeping tonight.”

Several other videos show similar scenes:

Moscow Warns EU Association Agreements Could Harm Russian Economy

Tomorrow, on June 27th, the European Union is scheduled to sign association agreements with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Interestingly, all three have expedited this process since February, citing fear of further Russian aggression. Russia, however, is essentially begging them to delay the process as, according to Moscow, it could hurt both their own economies and Russia’s. Here is the latest statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (translated by The Interpreter):

Commentary from the Russian Foreign Ministry Regarding Consultations in the Formation of Russia-Ukraine-EU

In accordance with agreements reached at the Russia-EU summit in January of this year, bilateral consultations are being conducted with the EU on the economic consequences of the signing of associations agreements with the European Union with the participating states in the Eastern Partnership program. Their second round took place in Brussels on 16 June of this year, during which once again we expressed our concerns. In our opinion, colleagues from the EU could not prove the “advantages” of the association agreements for the countries of the Eastern Partnership and Russia. We continue to consider that the signing of association agreements with Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia are capable of harming the Russian economy as a result of the disruption of cooperative relations and the reduction of trade and economic relations with our neighbors.

The European Commission proposed to hold further contacts at the ministerial level in the format of Russia-EU-Ukraine on 11 July, to which we gave our consent. Without a doubt, such meetings must be held before the signing of such important documents. Previously the Russian and Ukrainian governments proposed a trilateral format for consultations, however Brussels rejected them. At the present time, the question of conducting a preparatory meeting at the expert level is being reviewed.

The US, on the other hand, is essentially promising Russia that the economic impact to Russia could come in the form of new sanctions. Gulf News reports:

Obama said sweeping economic sanctions were imminent unless the Kremlin stopped “the flow of weapons and militants across the border”.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was even more explicit in Paris on Thursday following talks with French counterpart Laurent Fabius.

“We are in full agreement that it is critical for Russia to show in the next hours, literally, that they’re moving to help disarm the separatists, to encourage them to disarm, to call on them to lay down their weapons and to begin to become part of a legitimate process,” Kerry said.

The State Department added that sanctions would be also discussed by EU leaders on Friday when they sign the full Association Agreement with Ukraine that was ditched by the ousted pro-Russian president in November and now lies at the heart of the raging crisis.

Quartz has been asking experts about the prospects of new sanctions and they all seem to be on the same page – Putin may dodge this bullet:

Alexander Kliment, of the political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group, played down the likelihood of new sanctions anytime soon. He called the talk “a strategic leak … designed to demonstrate—not only to the Kremlin, but also to markets—that the threat of sanctions remains real.” In a note to clients, Kliment said he expects no new penalties against Russia immediately, but escalated tensions and sanctions later, as the interests of Moscow, Kyiv and the West continue to collide in Ukraine.

Matt Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute, a research center in Washington, also said he does not expect immediate new sanctions. One reason, he told Quartz, is that the West hasn’t stated explicitly what it wants Putin to do. Nor has it organized an attack against Russia’s main pressure point, which is its reliance on the income from natural gas exports to Europe. Some 75% of Russia’s gas exports go to Europe, and gas income makes up about 15% of government revenue.

And is it really a bullet even if sanctions are passed? As we showed in yesterday’s economic analysis, Russia’s stock indexes have been among the top performers in the world in the last few months and have now rallied out of the hole that they were in back in February and March.

Despite this, there does seem to be some timidity from investors in Russian stocks. The MICEX closed down .65% for its second day of losses in a row. The RTS was down .3% as well. Bloomberg reports:

The Micex Index (INDEXCF) fell for a second day, led by OAO Gazprom, as the threat of U.S. sanctions on Russian industries including energy and technology increased as violence marred a cease-fire in Ukraine.

The equity gauge lost 0.4 percent to 1,476.83 by 4:37 p.m. in Moscow, after falling 2.4 percent yesterday. Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas-export monopoly, retreated 0.8 percent, trimming this month’s increase to 4.5 percent. OAO Magnit, the nation’s largest food retailer, declined 1 percent as consumer staples companies paced the Micex’s retreat.

Russia Used Pension Funds To Invade Crimea

This is a excerpt from an update on our Russian liveblog:

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has announced that there are no funds in state coffers to return frozen pension savings for 2014 — they’ve been used to pay for Putin’s forcible annexation of the Crimea, ITAR-TASS and reported. The Interpreter has provided a translation:

“There are no sources for this [repayment]. No one intended to return these funds, because these funds went to the Crimea, on taking anti-crisis measures. Now while that resource exists, most likely it will go to supporting a program of social-economic development of the Crimea and Sevastopol. To simply say that we will return these funds is a proposal not contemplated, which was not discussed.”

Siluanov added that there was no question of freezing pensions in 2015.

Read more details about the statements, including a breakdown of the costs of annexing Crimea (which could easily be more than $34 billion) on our Russia liveblog.

Tatar Flag Day In Crimea Despite Ban

Today is a holiday dedicated to the Crimean Tatar flag. However, the Simferopol city council has banned the celebration of the holiday. The website for the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reports:

The Simferopol City Council has refused to allow events to mark Crimean Tatar Flag Day from being held in the centre of the city.  It claims that on that day, June 26 the civic organization ‘Russian Community’ is holding a Mordovia – Crimea marathon on the central Lenin Square.  The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People had originally been told that the Flag Day events could not be held in a more central park, at which point they applied to hold it on Lenin Square.

The City Council’s executive body has instead proposed that the events should be held in Al-Mechet on the outskirts of Simferopol in the area around the mosque.

Just over a month ago, on May 17-18, the Crimean occupation regime prohibited the traditional mass rally in the centre of Simferopol which this year marked the seventieth anniversary of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars.  A general ban on all public meetings in the Crimea was declared on May 16, with it extending up till June 6. 

Celebrations, however, are taking place despite the ban. QHA, the Crimean News Agency, reports that a flash mob has been held in Simferopol, but in the Fontany district, not in the city center where the celebration has been banned. RFE/RL has posted this livestream from the celebration.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Stalemate or Forced Stagnation in Ukraine

Welcome to the pendulum that is Ukraine. Just weeks ago it looked as if the crisis were coming to a close. Last week everything looked like it was falling apart for Kiev, and now, with a ceasefire falling apart, there is considerable doubt as to which direction Ukraine is moving.

Today, in a separate analysis, The Interpreter’s Andrew Bowen writes that the pendulum shifting is actually designed by Moscow, an effort to ensure that neither Kiev nor independent separatists gain too much control:

While it is clear that Russia does not want to annex the east, at least physically, and has no desire to send in “little green men” in such a public fashion as they did in Crimea, they do want to reserve the ability to pull the strings of the separatists and the power brokers. Additionally, preventing too much success for Kiev and handing a quick political victory to the new president is as much as positive for Moscow as it is a loss for Kiev.

In short Russia is searching for equilibrium; tolerating neither too much control by Kiev nor independent thought from the separatists. And despite the public pronouncements about seeing common interests and working towards a peaceful solution, missiles will continue to fly and tourists will continue to cross the border for as long as it is seen necessary to ensure Russia’s dominance in negotiating with Kiev.

Read the article here.

Separatist Militants Reportedly Attacking Kramatorsk Airbase

There are reports of heavy fighting in Kramatorsk at the moment. Artem Shevchenko, a journalist who works for the Espreso and TVi channels, reports on his Facebook page that separatist fighters are attacking the government-held airbase.

He writes (translated by The Interpreter):

Massed and well trained militants are attacking Kramatorsk airbase, which has been under the control of the ATO for all this time.

This time, the enemy appears to have decided to take a strategic step – the balance of forces is in their favour by 1:3.

There are around three hundred assailants against approximately one hundred defenders.

All kinds of heavy weapons are being used. Eyewitnesses reported that a militant BM-21 Grad MLRS travelled down Parkovaya Street towards the airfield.

Our guys need immediate and effective support, including from the air.

Some videos have appeared on YouTube purportedly recording gunfire near the scene. We have not yet been able to verify these:

There were also reports that loud gunfire could be heard in the centre of the town:

Translation: In the centre of Kramatorsk gunfire can be heard very clearly

There were also reports of shelling last night, purportedly recorded on this video. Again, this recording has not been verified yet (note that the preview image is not connected to the video):