View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map
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: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?
Below we will be making regular updates so check back often.
Londongrad — a phrase which has been used a lot lately, describes the amount of Russian money which moves through the UK. Russian elites are educated in London, Russian oligarchs do business and vacation there, and UK businessmen or often hired by Russian officials and businesses to serve as lobbyists for various causes.
But it appears that David Cameron was not joking when he spoke out forcefully about the need for the EU to effectively challenge and sanction Russia over its continued support of separatists in Ukraine. The Telegraph is reporting that the new EU sanctions will make the City of London the new front-lines of the conflict as the sanctions prohibit investing in or holding equity in any Russian state owned financial institution (defined as the Russian state owning 50% or more).
“The EU measures go further than United States sanctions that target only two Russian banks, Gazprombank and VEB, to cover all Russia banks with more than 50 per cent public ownership.
The four largest Russian banks with state ownership of over 50 per cent are Sberbank, VTB, the Russian Agriculture Bank and VEB. The first two are listed on the London Stock Exchange.
“The ban will prohibit anyone in the EU from investing in debt, equity and similar financial instruments with a maturity higher than 90 days, issued by state-owned Russian financial institutions anywhere in the world,” said an EU official.”
“In mark of lingering doubts and divisions, the EU has pulled back from other sanction measures in order to protect Germany’s high-technology manufacturers and the defence industry in France.”
United Shipbuilding Corporation of St. Petersburg, Russia, which is state-owned, was added to a list of entities with which U.S. individuals are prohibited from doing any business.
The European Union announced earlier on July 29 that it was adding eight individuals and three entities to a list of 87 individuals and 20 entities.
President Obama is now speaking at the White House. Here are the key points:
In response to the MH17 tragedy, the US is doing “everything in our power” to investigate the incident and stop the crisis in Ukraine, but “Russian-backed separatists” have undermined those efforts.
“Meanwhile, Russia continues to support the separatists, and encourage them, and train them, and arm them.” More Russian military equipment is on the way to the border, much of which has already been transported to the separatists, according to President Obama, who spoke about the GRAD rocket attacks across the border.
Obama went on to say that the US is trying to coordinate with allies and partners to ensure a unified response to this crisis and Russia’s actions which perpetuate it.
“We have also made it clear that if Russia continues on its path then the consequences for Russia will continue to grow.” The new sanctions will target energy, arms, and finance. Russia will now also be unable to finance programs through the EU and the US.
Obama then spoke about how Russia’s actions have made “a weak Russian economy even weaker.” These new sanctions ratchet up the pressure, “including on the cronies and companies” which are responsible for interfering in Ukraine.
“This is a choice that Russia and President Putin have made.”
Then Obama was asked if this was a new Cold War.
“No, this is not a new Cold War, this is a specific issue” where Russia has chosen isolation rather than engagement with a country which could be a strong partner, Ukraine.
Obama was also asked whether sanctions will stop Putin. He maintained that Ukraine is better armed and capable of fighting separatists, but that the civilian death toll will escalate in eastern Ukraine as long as Russia is interfering. Obama also mentioned that these new sanctions were a recognition of the “waning patience” Europe has with the Putin’s empty words.
But it is up to Putin to see that other options are pursued. This is about making sure Putin pays the price when he makes bad choices.
The Washington Post reports:
Germany is heavily reliant on Russian energy supplies, with Russia providing up to a third of the gas used in Germany. The other European heavyweights also have strong economic ties to Moscow, with Britain relying on Russian money to help fuel its thriving banking sector, and France selling warships to Russia to buoy its flagging defense industry.
Analysts expect that the new European sanctions would include measures targeting nearly $10 billion worth of bonds issued in Europe by Russian state-owned banks, an arms embargo, and restrictions on dual-use technology and energy industry equipment.
The impact of the much-anticipated sanctions was already rippling across Europe on Tuesday, with companies rushing to pull back on their dealings with Russian partners. In London, the effect was being felt most acutely among financial firms, which are trying to limit their exposure to any segment of the Russian economy that might be caught up in the new measures.
Now that Europe and the United states have announced a new wave of sanctions, we notice that preliminary reports on the new measures infers that they are much heavier-handed than previous rounds of sanctions:
The package “will limit access to EU capital markets for Russian State-owned financial institutions, (and) impose an embargo on trade in arms,” said a statement from the European Union.
The EU also said new penalties would “establish an export ban for dual use goods for military end users, and curtail Russian access to sensitive technologies particularly in the field of the oil sector.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Obama administration’s new sanctions would closely track those of the EU.
The Guardian calls today’s new sanctions “sweeping”:
The punitive measures, the most extensive EU sanctions imposed on Russia since the cold war, were agreed by ambassadors from the 28 member states after a seven-hour debate. They decided that Moscow had not fulfilled the conditions laid down by foreign ministers last week, to stop the supply of arms to the rebels and provide full cooperation in the investigation into the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17…
According to an EU official, the most important measure agreed was to deny Russian state-owned banks access to European capital markets. Under the agreed sanctions, Europeans will not be permitted to buy debt, equity or other financial instruments with a maturity higher than 90 days in Russian state-owned banks or their subsidiaries. Brokering or other services linked to any such transactions will also banned.
The problem? It looks like key exceptions have been built into the sanctions. Again, The Guardian reports:
Any trade in arms and “related material” with Russia, both import and export, will be banned but the embargo will only apply to future contracts, and therefore would not affect the €1.2bn sale of two French Mistral helicopter carrier ships already agreed. Russia imports relatively few arms from the EU, but sells Europe weapons worth more than €3bn.
Certain technology related to the energy industry will require specific prior authorisation, and export permits will not be given for exploration or production equipment for deep-water or arctic drilling, or for shale oil projects in Russia.
The measures do not affect the actual trade of oil, gas or other commodities.
Perhaps these are the strongest sanctions Europe could agree to pass, but it remains to be seen how Russia (and Russia’s markets) will react.
On that note, though the markets closed long before this new round of sanctions was announced, the Russian MICEX index closed up today for the first time in three days with a gain of .60%.
Novosti Donbassa reports that the press centre for the Ukrainian government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO) has announced that the town of Debaltsevo, which Ukrainian forces entered on Sunday (July 27), is now cleared of separatist fighters.
The ATO press centre said (translated by The Interpreter):
“Today, thanks to a successful military operation, the settlement of Debaltsevo in the Donetsk region has been liberated by ATO forces.”
The town is a strategic rail hub and lies on the main supply route for weapons and vehicles coming from Russia to Donetsk.
Having pushed through the town on Sunday, Ukrainian forces were able to move south on Shakhtersk and Torez, where they have engaged separatists in the area, and reportedly have taken key positions.
Rebels in east Ukraine accused the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Tuesday of “serving the interests of the United States and Ukraine” and said they could ban the security and rights group from working at the crash site of a Malaysian airliner.
The self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” also said in an emailed statement it was going to halt cooperation with the OSCE, until now the main body tasked with negotiating access to the crash site for international experts.
The President’s press secretary, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, commented on his Facebook page that within less than two minutes of the start of the attack, two Russian state-owned news agencies – ITAR-TASS and RIA Novosti, had mentioned the site being taken down.
According to Vitaly Kuksa, an adviser to the chairman of the chairman of the State Special Communications Service of Ukraine:
the first wave of hacker attacks was repulsed, but after that came a second, powerful DDoS attack with speeds of up to 9Gbit/S which is not characteristic of a ‘standard attack.’
There have been a lot of Western publications that are now officially calling the standoff between Russia and the West a new Cold War. Detractors from that idea would do well to investigate what the Russian people are saying about the situation. In the last six months the Kremlin has completely changed the media landscape, shutting down or taking over independent voices while ensuring that only the Kremlin’s propaganda is broadcast through the state-controlled media.
The West also seems the believe that passing more sanctions and exposing Kremlin lies will push the Russian people, and by extension their president, to change course in Ukraine. However, new polls suggest that the Russian people by and large believe the Russian propaganda — and the ones who do not are afraid to speak. In his Window On Eurasia column, The Interpreter’s Paul Goble reports:
That Moscow television plays a key role in structuring Russian views about Moscow’s policies in Ukraine is beyond question. Ninety-four percent say that they rely on television for news and information about events there, and 70 percent say they believe Russian media are giving “an objective picture” of the situation.
Aleksey Gorbachev, a political commentator for Nezavisimaya gazeta, cites a Levada Center poll showing that 64 percent of those surveyed blame the West for the war in Ukraine, 20 percent blame Kyiv, but “only three percent say that the civil war in the Donbas is the result of the interference of Russia.”
Even though there are good reasons to suspect these figures – given the climate of fear in Russia under Putin, ever more people are reluctant to say what they think if it differs with the opinion of the bosses – many opponents of the Kremlin’s policies in both Russia and the West are placing their hopes in the Internet.
Read the entire article: Internet Alone Won’t Transform Russians Into Opponents of Regime
While the problems are obvious, there seems to be a hesitance in the West to realize this fundamental fact — Putin receives his power from the people, the people believe in the media, and the media is beating the war drum while maintaining that peaceful coexistence is not an option because Russia is, in this worldview, under siege.
Of course this is largely a fiction narrative, which is why Paul Goble has also pointed out today that the Russian media is trying to explain why the people of eastern Ukraine are not flocking to the aid of the struggling insurgents. All the while the answer to that question is obvious — the vast majority of people in eastern Ukraine don’t support Russia or separatism, and the “separatist” movement is a creation of a Russian military intelligence operation.
We are faced with a second Cold War because Putin wants us to be faced with a second Cold War — with Russia’s economy stagnating, it’s his main strategy for staying in power.
Pavel Felgenhauer, a defence analyst for Russia’s independent Novaya Gazeta, has told The Guardian that there is a high possibility that Russia will abandon the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Earlier, we reported that the United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing an intermediate range ground-launched cruise missile.
Felgenhauer told The Guardian that this happened when Russia tested an R-500 missile for the Isankder system. The weapon in question is reported to be a cruise missile capable of launching from modified Iskander mobile launchers (which usually fire short range ballistic missiles). In 2007, a modified Iskander-K launcher was publicly revealed, which could apparently launch Klub-M cruise missiles, which have a range below the treaty-critical 500 km.
However the weapon being tested is reported at having a maximum range falling within the prohibited 500-5,500 km range.
The Guardian reports:
“Of course, this is in gross violation of the 1987 treaty, but Russian officials including Putin have said this treaty is unfair and not suitable for Russia,” Felgenhauer said. “The United States doesn’t have [medium-range missiles] but other countries do have them, such as China, Pakistan and Israel, so they say this is unfair and wrong.”
Russian press reports have suggested the missile may even be in deployment, with state news agency RIA Novosti reporting in June that the “Russian army currently uses its Iskander-M and Iskander-K variants.” Felgenhauer said he doesn’t believe the missile has been deployed, although he said it’s entirely possible that Russia will leave the treaty amid tensions with the US.
“The present situation of a new cold war in Europe – and not even cold, at least not in Ukraine right now – it’s a situation in which Russia can abrogate the 1987 treaty, and the possibilities are rather high,” Felgenhauer said.
Russian officials have previously criticised the 1987 treaty, including former defence minister Sergei Ivanov. In 2013, Ivanov, then presidential chief of staff, said of the treaty: “We are fulfilling it, but it can’t last forever.”
At the press conference, US Secretary of State John Kerry was directly asked by Voice of America what the US would do if Russia invaded Ukraine, and does the US consider Ukraine an ally.
John Kerry seemed unprepared for the question. However, Kerry eventually said that Russia would be isolated in the international community and would be subject to the highest degree of sanctions. Kerry also said that this was enough, and Putin knows it, which is why Russia has not invaded.
But the hesitation was obvious — the United States wants to work with Russia to solve the crisis in eastern Ukraine and does not appear to have a plan for when that fails (and it has clearly already failed). While Russia might pay further prices if it were to try to invade Ukraine, nobody is really going to make an attempt to stop them.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin are giving a joint-press conference at the moment.
A few highlights:
Kerry started by saying that it has only been two weeks since “MH17 was tragically shot out of the sky in separatist territory in Ukraine” and then he called for an unimpeded international investigation into the crash site.
“The United States supports a thorough international investigation into the heinous act.” He then blamed the separatists for blocking the investigation.
Kerry went on to say that the investigation was “critical.” He went on to say that Russia needed to use its “considerable influence” to convince the separatists to allow the international community to secure the crash site.
Then Kerry said that the Ukrainian government supports a ceasefire “now.” Kerry said he spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “but the Russians and their so-called volunteers are continuing to ship arms, and funds, and separatists across the border… While the Russians say they want to deescalate the conflict, they have showed zero evidence” that Russia is willing to bring an end to the bloodshed.
“President Putin can make a huge difference here if he chooses to.” Then Kerry threatened more sanctions. If Russia “continues down this path, then the international community will have no choice.”
Kerry then stressed that another $7 million will be given to Ukraine to rebuild the east. The administration is also asking Congress to increase support to small businesses in Ukraine.
Kerry then praised the Ukrainian government and its efforts to reform the government that was so corrupt in the last administration.
Foreign Minister Klimkin thanked the US for its commitment to Ukraine and its leadership during this crisis. He then outlined the peace plan:
1. Deescalation and ceasefire.
2. Humanitarian intervention and restoring infrastructure on the ground.
3. A permanent political solution.
Klimkin said that there needed to be a breakthrough on the issue of hostages, the presence of OSCE observers, and a bilateral ceasefire — not like the last one, which Kiev says was broken by the separatists more than 100 times.
Klimkin stressed that the stopping of the flow of weapons, fighters, and money across the border is a key part of the peace plan.
While Klimkin stressed that his government is willing to give more power to the regions, the key demand of the separatists, and allow each community to decide issues like what language is the official language in that region. In other words, Klimkin is reiterating that the legitimate concerns of the separatists and the people of eastern Ukraine will be met.
This is where there is a breakdown. Kerry’s statements infer that Russia could be a legitimate partner in this crisis, but it may or may not choose to do so. Klimkin’s statements focused on how there is a proposed peace process which will meet the demands of the residents of eastern Ukraine.
But are Russia or the Russian-backed insurgents really concerned about the political process in eastern Ukraine? The separatist leaders and the Kremlin have shown no willingness to engage in the political process. Having watched most of Kerry’s statements on the situation in Ukraine, there was no significant shift in policy or tone apparent in this press conference.
Peter Spiegel reports at the Financial Times that the ambassadors of all 28 EU states have agreed on “wide-ranging sanctions against Russia that include a ban on the country’s biggest state-owned banks from selling stock or long-term debt on European markets.”
He reports that “only minor modifications” were made during the negotiations, which lasted over seven hours, to the legislation proposed by the European Commission “which would also hit exports to Russian oil exploration projects and impose a blanket arms embargo on future weapons shipments.”
Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, is expected to make an announcement shortly, with full details on the sanctions to be published tomorrow.
Vladislav Seleznyov, the spokesman for the Ukrainian government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO) has written in a post on his Facebook page that Russian aircraft violated Ukrainian airspace today.
He writes (translated by The Interpreter):
Russian aircraft continue to violate Ukraine’s state borders.
Today, 29/07/14, from 8:33 until 8:38, ATO forces recorded a violation of the Ukrainian state border from the Russian side by aerial vehicles.
This is not the first such incident.
On the previous day, several instances were recorded of illegal trespassing of the Ukrainian border by aerial vehicles from the Russian side.
Occasionally these aircraft have gone up to 50 km inside Ukrainian territory, including travelling over the city of Lugansk. It is possible that among the tasks assigned to the Russian Air Force, is provocation, in the same format as that carried out in the town of Snezhnoye.
In turn, I once again remind you that the ATO forces are tightly following the orders of the Supreme Commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the prohibition of using artillery or air strikes in residential areas in the region.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has released a series of statements today that essentially accuse Ukraine of the same things that Russia stands accused.
An excerpt from ITAR-TASS:
“Judging by all appearances, Kiev is clearly afraid of the mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, being deployed at Gukovo and called upon to monitor the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian state border,” the ministry said in a statement.
The statement also said that Moscow demands Kiev stop shelling Russia’s territory and ensure security of international observers.
While the second statement could be defended as Moscow’s version of who is responsible for civilian deaths, the first statement is a bold and outright lie. As we’ve been documenting for more than a week, Russian citizens themselves have documented the shelling of Ukrainian territory with Russian rockets. And it is Russia that initially agreed for the OSCE to monitor the borders, but has since refused to allow the mission to expand.
At this point in the conflict we could spend tens of thousands of words, supported by hundreds of references, explaining how the Russian position is pure fiction. Instead, however, we’d like to point out that what is really happening is the death of any and all middle ground between Russia and most of the rest of the world in this conflict. Russia is shelling Ukraine, militarily supplying the insurgents, and providing them with advanced anti-aircraft equipment (to say nothing of apparently testing nuclear missiles). Russia’s statements and actions are designed to send a clear message — Russia is doubling down on their support for the insurgency and on their opposition to the West.
AFP has released a video about fighting near the MH17 crash site which includes statements by Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, the head of the Dutch police delegation in charge of repatriating the remains of the victims of the Malaysian Airlines flight. Aalbersberg said that the investigators were blocked from reaching the crash site for the second time, this time because of heavy fighting in the area. The statement was also carried by the Dutch government’s website:
This morning a team of 38 Dutch and 12 Australian experts headed out to the MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine for the 2nd time to investigate the area for the 1st time and search for remains and personal belongings. Unfortunately, they were unable to access the site because of gunfire near the town of Shaktarsk. In consultation with OSCE the team decided to return to Donetsk.
The experts and I are deeply disappointed that we were unable to reach the crash site again. Our colleagues in Donetsk are highly driven and motivated to get to work at the site. They left the Netherlands with great haste for this mission. It is frustrating to have to wait to do the job they came to do. Their motivation comes from the deep conviction that the relatives are entitled to have their loved ones and their personal effects returned to them. At the same time, we have to guarantee the safety of our people.
As we’ve reported below, Ukraine has accused Russia of providing fire support to the rebels just south of here, and there is now a conclusive body of evidence that Russia is providing that fire support. In other words, the fighting may only be continuing near the crash site because of direct Russian military intervention to prop up the rebels in the area.
Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):
According to Novosti Donbassa, the main terrorist force is still in Shakhtersk. “Their headquarters in the cinema on Kirov square remains intact. A tank and armoured vehicles are parked at the executive committee,” reports the publication on Twitter on Tuesday morning.
“In the area of active ATO operations, the extremists continue to put up resistance and are shelling our positions with mortars, multiple rocket launchers and 155 mm guns. Their firing positions are in the towns of Snezhnoye, Shakhtersk and Torez,” said the statement.
“The leaders of the occupiers” in Sverdlovsk (in the Lugansk region) are making “preparations for columns of military equipment with the aim of strengthening the militants around Rovenky in the Lugansk region and Snezhnoye in the Donetsk region,” stated the ATO press centre.
Meanwhile, the militants are continuing to shell Lugansk Airport with Grad rockets and mortars, as well as seizing administrative buildings.
At 00:35 on Tuesday, militants shelled an infantry checkpoint with BM-21 Grads and continued their attack with mortar fire. There were no losses.
At 20:50 on Monday, militants shelled a checkpoint near Dyakovo with artillery from the direction of the Russian Federation. There were no losses.
From 22:00 to 22:20 a mortar attack was conducted on Ukrainian Armed Forces’ positions near Chervonopartizansk [known in Russian as Krasnopartizansk]. “Losses are to be announced,” said the ATO press centre.
At 5:20 on Tuesday, a checkpoint was shelled with Grads from the direction of Pridorozhnoye.
News of the US conclusion emerged yesterday, when it was reported that President Obama had written a letter conveying the conclusions of US officials to President Putin.
The New York Times reports that the issue at hand is the prohibition in the treaty on the US or Russia possessing ground-launched cruise or ballistic missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 km.
The United States believes that Russia has tested a new intermediate range ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM), the development of which, let alone deployment of, is a violation of the treaty. The exact details of the weapon are not yet public.
The New York Times noted reports that the testing of a new GLCM by Russia was being investigated by the US in January. They reported at the time that there were erroneous reports in the media that the weapon being referred to was the RS-26, however the report says that this missile, while circumventing (via being tested at a range above 5,500 km as well as below it,) the treaty, the weapon of contention is in fact another device. Foreign Policy goes into greater detail on this aspect in an article here.
The New York Times reports that NATO’s top commander, General Philip Breedlove, said in an interview in April that a violation of the treaty “can’t go unanswered.”
UNIAN reports that Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (SNBO) has told reporters at a briefing today that Russia is providing direct artillery support to separatist fighters making counter-attacks on Ukrainian forces near Saur-Mogila.
They report (translated by The Interpreter):
Lysenko said that “just over the last day, the terrorists have mounted several counter-attacks on Saur-Mogila, which was retaken by Ukrainian soldiers. They are trying to regain the summit, from which they have repeatedly shelled ATO positions.”
According to him, the Ukrainian military has successfully repelled all counter-attacks.
According to reports from the State Border Service, the Russian military is providing fire support to the terrorists on Saur-Mogila from the area of the village of Novoaleksandrovsky. Grad launchers fired from a distance of 200-300 metres from the border,” said Lysenko.
Novoaleksandrovsky is a village in Russia, around 8 km from the border and around 35-40 km from Saur-Mogila. Between Novoaleksandrovsky and the border, there are open fields.
The US State Department has released what it claims is photographic evidence of Russian artillery and rocket bombardment across the border into Ukraine, and we have previously reported on and verified video footage of Russian Grad launchers firing from Gukovo in Russia towards Ukraine.