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.
The rebel in that last video says that the mortar is a gift from Ekaterina Gubareva, wife of Pavel Gubarev, the self-appointed governor of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. Each mortar is labeled for a battle that they lost or their cause. They shout that these are “hot presents… for Slavyansk… for Novorossiya,” etc. On one of the mortars it is written “from Kashin,” though it’s unclear what that means (perhaps ‘Andrei’s’ last name?).
Below is a translation by The Interpreter.
“A real Russian patriot, ‘Andrei,’ transferred to the account of Ekaterina Gubareva, substantial financial aid for the militia of the Donbass. And he asked for a personal request, to ‘burn the fascists, with labelled mortars”. We’re fulfilling your request [points to missiles labelled with names]. Here are these hot presents from patriot Andrei. Soon they will reach their appointed targets and we will be closer to victory. Novorossiya will exist!
We will win together! For Novorossiya!”
The video appears to have been taken in the stadium in Shakhtyorsk (map).
Yesterday July 29, Ukrainian media sources reported that a bus ferrying children from Donbass orphanages fleeing armed conflict in the region came under gunfire. One child was killed and 11 were injured, ukrinform.ua reported.
There is now a correction to this account, but also conflicting reports that not separatists, but Ukrainian forces could have fired on the bus. And there is yet another intercept supplied by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) purporting to catch a separatist fighter admitting that his fellow rebels shot at the convoy as it broke through a separatist checkpoint.
We are continuing to research the story.
The pro-Kiev Information Resistance Group originally said the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” had organized a convoy of 60 children from Donetsk to Mariupol, and separatists fired on it. It then corrected the report as follows on Facebook:
“We had very much wanted to be mistaken but to our deep regret the IR report regarding the shooting by the DPR terrorists of the bus with civilians and the killing of a child is confirmed.
Our sources only made one inaccuracy, in that the convoy was not of orphans from orphanages brought out of Donetsk (the convoy with these children was shelled by [separatist] fighters, but fortunately got through without casualties). The tragic incident with the shelling of the bus and death of the child about which we reported took place yesterday during the evacuation of refugee children, whose parents tried to take them out of Donbass privately.”
Earlier, Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Council on National Security and Defense, said separatists did not allow the children to be evacuated by authorities and took them in the bus themselves.
But Russian state media claimed that Ukrainian forces had fired on the bus, based on a report from Konstantin Krynik, head of the South-Eastern Front information center:
“As a result of the firing, a 3-year old kid and around 12 passengers suffered gunshot wounds.”
“Strelkov’s Dispatches”, a pro-separatist community on the Russian social media site VKontakte, had a detailed report on the incident based on a LifeNews broadcast.
They cited a police source in Torez who said the shooting occurred in DPR-held territory in Rassypnoye on Belova Street. Eight children were taken to a hospital in Torez, and four to Snezhnoye.
The father of the 3-year-old child killed, who gave his name as Valery S., said the bus was shot at by Ukrainian soldiers, and that residents of Gorlovka had been shelled from ambush before that:
“The shelling, as far as I understand, was from both sides of the road, from the woods,” he added. “I didn’t see people, I only saw shells. When we were traveling, a tripwire went off, a grenade exploded, there was an ambush. Then no one was shooting any longer. We broke through ahead. The firing stopped. Someone was wounded. Then the ambulance came.”
He said the convoy was made up of two minibuses and two passenger cars and was headed toward Rostov Region in Russia.
“When they began shooting, I shouted, ‘Children!'” the father of the dead child recalled in horror. “It’s possible that is why the shooting stopped. I lost my son. My wife and 10-year-old daughter are severely wounded.”
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), uploaded a video 30 July purporting to be an intercept of two separatist fighters talking about this incident, one nick-named Dublyor (“Understudy”) and the other unnamed.
We have not been able to verify the video and do not recognize the voices.
Fighter: Dublyor [Understudy]!
Dublyor: What’s up with the Commander? [Igor Girkin or “Strelkov”]
Fighter: He’s sleeping, in general, over there.
I get it, well, I’ll report, and you can report to him. Alright, don’t
wake him up. It’s already happened already anyway.
In the area of
Torez from the direction of Yablonivka, four cars slipped through at
night, shit…do you get it? With their emergency lights on.
Dublyor: And they flew through without stopping, long story short, shit.
They flew through in the area of Petropavlovsky. Well, and shit, our guys
were stationed there. There’s that checkpoint there, shit. They opened
fire all over f**king shit…Do you get it?
In short it turned out that it was from Gorlovka…They were bringing
out children, and some others…long story short, shit. One child was
killed, shit, 10 were wounded. So…shit, you get the situation.
Fighter: I understand you. I..understand you, sort of.
You understand, if we had been told that a convoy was coming. “Guys,
please, help us, let them there.” Then there’d be no problem. But, shit,
they flew through…
Fighter: Well, at any rate, I believe, they should have driven up, stopped, and said what they were about.
Well, of course. You see, four cars come flying through, from where the
Ukes were coming, shit, and they flew through with their emergency
lights on, we know that they drive with their emergency lights on and go
around in Russian uniforms! That is, they go around in our uniforms.
And what should be done next? So, long story short, it’s fucked.
Fighter: I realize. Well, that’s it…sort of…since it’s already all happened…Tomorrow then…
Dublyor: Oh, don’t get him upset. Let him sleep. Tomorrow then.
RFE/RL reports that the EU has passed new sanctions — mostly on Putin’s acquaintances and officials, but also on three companies:
The list includes three longtime acquaintances of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the first deputy chief of staff of the Russian presidential administration, two officials in the self-declared governments of separatist-held territories of eastern Ukraine, a pro-Kremlin official in the Crimea area, illegally annexed by Russian in March, and a person linked to separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Three business entities were also on the sanctions list — the joint stock concern Almaz-Antey Defense Corporation; Dobrolet, a subsidiary of a Russian state-owned airline; and the Russian National Commercial Bank.
The Russian National Commercial Bank was the first Russian bank to enter Crimea after the region’s annexation earlier this year.
In the leaked audio from the separatist commander Igor Strelkov (translated in a previous update below) the militia members are discussing the town of Shakhtyorsk (here on our interactive map). The town is critical for several reasons. First and foremost, it is on the road that links the self-declared ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (DPR) to the west with the self-declared ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ (LPR) to the east. That also means it is one of the key roads linking the DPR to Russia, which is critical for the DPR’s supply lines.
The second reason Shakhtyorsk is important is because it is near the MH17 crash site and the towns to the east in which the Buk missile which took down MH17 was spotted. And that’s not a coincidence. The Buk was in this area because these towns are so vital to the Russian-backed insurgents. But this also means that the town has become one of the primary goals for both the separatists and the Ukrainian military, and so the fighting is halting the investigation into the downing of flight MH17.
How important is this town to the separatists? Three days ago a large convoy was spotted moving toward the town. The video of the convoy is labelled “troops from Russia.” The convoy consists of a large group of heavy armor — mostly BMPs, towed artillery and anti-aircraft guns, troops transports… and two Strela-10 advanced anti-aircraft systems. All of the vehicles have uniform paint configurations, but those paint configurations don’t match the Ukrainian military’s. These weapons very likely came from Russia.
CNN says that they cannot verify the claims, but the Ukrainian military is claiming that the area around the MH17 crash site has been mined by rebels:
Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council claims that “terrorists” — the term it uses to describe rebels — have set up firing positions and laid mines on the access road to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
The Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels are fighting over control of eastern Ukraine.
Dutch investigators in Ukraine did not mention mines but announced Wednesday that unsafe conditions kept their contingent from visiting the crash site for the fourth straight day.
CNN could not independently confirm the veracity of the statement by the Ukrainian officials, though CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh traveled to and from the debris field safely Wednesday.
Here is what we know. The travel to and from the MH17 crash site is largely due to the fighting nearby as Ukraine tries to retake the towns in this area. While we do not know whether mines have been placed here, rebels have placed mines in Slavyansk, the former stronghold of the Russian-backed militia (the recapture of which triggered the wave of intensification of Moscow’s efforts to arm the rebels which ultimately seems to have brought the Buk into Ukraine which shot down MH17).
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has posted to its YouTube channel today an intercept purporting to be a conversation between Col. Igor Strelkov of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and a separatist fighter nick-named “Kep”. The voice sounds similar to other recordings of Strelkov that have been verified.
The Interpreter has translated the conversation:
Unknown: I’ll give the phone to the commander-in-chief now.
Kep: Hello, ok, ok.
Kep: Hello, Comrade Colonel.
Strelkov: I can’t get a connection on the closed [encrypted line?–Interpreter]…that means we have to knock them out of the woods. Out of the woods where..there are tanks there. Try to get up closer and burn the shit out of them.
That is Gornoye there. That is, you have to prevent them from shelling the block. You have to occupy Gornoye somehow. Send out the anti-tanks groups.
Kep: Yes, sir.
Strelkov: Knock them out of there.
Kep: But there’s about 107 vehicles there.
Strelkov: 107? Where?
Kep: 107. Right there. Now I’ll tell you exactly from the map.
Kep: In the Gornoye area. There is just a CSV (command-staff vehicle) and some sort of big battery, covered by the woods. I want to send people over there now. I’ve already summoned them.
And over there, between…more to the right. I’ll tell you. Just a second. So…Hmm. Here’s Krasnodarskoye. That’s Shakhtyorsk. This is north of Shakhtyorsk. Beyond Krasnodarskoye.
Kep: There’s an automobile testing track. There, at that testing track they said there are about 107 vehicles.
Strelkov: Is this inside the city or on the outside?
Kep: It’s already the outskirts of the city. The outskirts.
Strelkov: Well, at any rate it has to be cut off. You have to cut them off from that…from those…That is to occupy that– Krasnodarskoye. Occupy Shakhtyorsk. Cut off their supply.
Kep: Shakhtyorsk is still ours. They’re only on the outskirts.
Strelkov: But Shakhtyorsk has to be occupied. And occupy Shevchenko. And all of that shit, so as not to allow them to slip through further. If they get through further, it’s good-bye. You know.
Kep: Yes sir. I know, Comrade Colonel.
Strelkov: So, go on, move out. You’re covered from the south by Russian artillery. And while we still have the night, while the reserves are coming, you must clean up everything there. While they’re there. The 107 won’t reach there yet. Knock out the tanks which are on the road there. Otherwise you will not get reinforcements. Neither your nor us. Go on, move out.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has released a statement on the latest round of US sanctions (translated by The Interpreter):
Commentary from the Russian Foreign Ministry Related to the Latest Anti-Russian Sanctions of the USA
We have repeatedly made statements about the contrived nature and illegitimacy of the anti-Russian sanctions being taken by the USA. Washington’s decisions do not bring anything except the further complication of Russian-American relations and the creation of an extremely unfavorable background in international affairs, where the interaction of our countries plays an often decisive role.
The USA Administration, which strains to create the semblance of “consistency” in its current behavior, in fact is only trying to escape responsibility for the tragic turn of events in Ukraine. Not Russia, but the Kiev regime and its trans-Atlantic backers are to blame for the growing number of victims among the civilian population in the eastern regions. In its dramatic prosecutorial manner, the White House continues to advance groundless claims against us, covering for the bloody operation of Kiev’s military which despite all international norms has reached the low of missile shelling of civilian cities.
We get the impression that the American sanction pressure, which is now at the sectoral level, pursues only one goal: to settle scores against us for an independent policy inconvenient for Washington.
Let us also draw attention to the clear elements of unscrupulous trade and economic competition in the actions of the USA.
The real losses of such a destructive and myopic line will be quite tangible for Washington.
Ukrainska Pravda reports (translated by The Interpreter):
The SBU has offered up evidence of shelling of Ukrainian territory by Russian saboteurs, who were inside the territory of Ukraine.
Corresponding satellite photos, which were taken by the Ukrainian security services in July, were revealed at the headquarters of the ATO by the head of the SBU, Valentin Nalyvaichenko.
Marks left by launches from Grad rocket batteries are visible on the images.
According to Nalyvaichenko, the Russians penetrated 1-2 km into Ukrainian territories to set up the batteries.
Once a battery had finished its work, the equipment was whisked back to Russia.
“That is to say they went out and set up, fired and returned, fulfilling the orders of the criminal commanders,” he said.
In addition, according to the images provided by Nalyvaichenko, Russian technical reconnaissance cars had intruded on Ukrainian territory, which, not far from the border, gave updated further directions to Russian vehicles and saboteurs towards settlements in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions.
Furthermore, images were revealed that prove the already long known fact of the movement of Russian military equipment and saboteurs, sent by Russia, into Ukrainian territory.
The SBU uploaded this video to YouTube, which shows the images they released today:
Here are larger stills of the images. We have yet to attempt to geolocate or analyse them:
One day after sanctions were passed Russia has banned the import of fruits and vegetables from Poland today and could expand the ban to the rest of the EU. Reuters reports:
Moscow, which buys more than 2 billion euros worth of EU fruit and vegetables a year making it by far the biggest export market for the products, said the ban was for sanitary reasons.
Polish fruit growers said the ban was political, although Russia denied this. Moscow has frequently been accused in the past of using sanitary inspections to restrict trade from countries with which it has political disputes.
Just this week Russia also banned dairy imports from Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine are large players on the world dairy stage, Novakovic says. Russia is the fifth largest milk-producing country in the world, just ahead of but about equal to Germany. It’s the fourth largest by population. Ukraine is geographically much smaller than the top five, but it is often mentioned as an emerging market economy among rising milk producers, along with Brazil, Russia, China and India. Ukraine ranks about 14th and produces more milk than Australia.
“Although Russia is a big milk producer, it still hasn’t gotten over the mismanagement of the Soviet era and does exist in an agronomic climate that has more than usual challenges,” says Novakovic. “As such, it often flip-flops between having enough milk to go around and being a big buyer of butter or other dairy products. Ukraine is logically a likely source as it is typically surplus.”
This tactic used by Moscow is nothing new. Though it received almost no attention in the Western press, Russia has spent more than a year using import bans and other trade-war tactics to pressure former Soviet states, particularly Ukraine, into moving away from the European Union and toward Russia’s alternative, the Customs Union. Those trade wars were the backdrop for the unrest in Ukraine last fall which ultimately ended when protesters overthrew the Yanukovych government in February.
Russia’s stock markets have shot up today because the perception of Russian investors is that the sanctions passed by Europe and the United States are weak. This morning the Russian index MICEX is up 1.13% following yesterday’s softer gain.
Bloomberg analysts believe that the markets have been dropping for days in anticipation of harsher sanctions so this is a market correction, just like we saw in April and May:
Russian stocks rose for a second day as OAO Sberbank, the nation’s largest lender, gained after being omitted from a list of companies sanctioned by the U.S. VTB Group slumped after being included on the list.
The Micex Index added 2 percent to 1,397.12 by 11:32 a.m. in Moscow, trimming its July decline to 5.4 percent. That’s still the worst monthly loss since May 2012. VTB, Russia’s second-largest bank, retreated as much as 3.8 percent and traded down 0.4 percent. Sberbank jumped 3 percent.
The U.S. and European Union sought to put more pressure on Russia’s stumbling economy by targeting the banking, energy and defense industries for sanctions in a bid to persuade President Vladimir Putin to back down in Ukraine. The Micex’s 14-day relative strength index fell below 30 on July 28, a level that to some analysts signals the gauge is oversold.
Kyiv Post’s Timothy Ash has identified five reasons why the Russian markets are rallying, but the bottom line is that the West is hesitant about passing new sanctions, so the other four reasons are taking precedent in the minds of investors.
Actually Russian markets are partaking in something of a relief rally this morning, with the rouble stronger, credit tighter and the Russian stock market higher, which is a reflection of a range of factors:
First, relief that the latest sanction iteration was not worse, and did not extend to existing debt/equity holdings, only future long term financing.
The line perhaps – if this is the worse you can do from a market perspective, “bring it on.”
Yesterday President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry explained that the sanctions are designed to convince Putin to stop interfering in Ukraine and to avoid further escalation. But if Putin is not really paying a price, and Russia’s stocks eventually correct back to normal, we have two major problems:
– The first is that there is no incentive for Russia to stop current behavior since the markets will recover and in a few weeks/months it will be as if nothing happened.
– The second is that when escalation does happen, which we’ve seen time and time again, the hit to the Russian economy is less severe than many have predicted and is, again, only temporary.
CNN reported last night that unnamed US officials had told their correspondent that the US had detected launches of ballistic missiles from government-held territory in Ukraine.
CNN’s Barbara Starr said that “three US officials” had confirmed to her that ballistic missile launches had been monitored by the United States. The missiles had been fired towards separatist-held territory.
A senior official within the Ukrainian counterterrorist unit told CNN on Wednesday that Tochka-U ballistic missiles were fired Tuesday toward the Saur-Mohyla area of eastern Ukraine, a strategic hill that has been the scene of fierce fighting for the past week. The Ukrainian military claimed to have captured the hill on Monday.
It’s the same area where pro-Russian rebels shot down two Ukrainian warplanes last week.
Three U.S. officials told CNN on Tuesday of reports that Ukraine’s government had used short-range ballistic missiles against the rebels over the previous two days.
The Tochka-U (known to NATO as the Scarab B) is in fact reported to have a range of around 120 km (here are some sources. The weapons circular error probability is reportedly less than 92 metres, this means that 50% of impacts are expected to fall within that radius. The weapon is therefore highly unsuitable for deployment in urban environments. The area around Saur-Mogila, the scene of heavy fighting in recent days, with Ukraine claiming that Russia is providing direct artillery fire support for counter-attacking separatists, is however, largely rural.
However, the Ukrainian government denies that ballistic missiles have been fired. As CNN notes, the Ukrainian foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin has denied these reports.
Interfax-Ukraine reported on a further rebuttal of the US claims by Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council.
According to Lysenko:
“The Ukrainian armed forces do not use ballistic missiles. They have enough less powerful arms, which are used effectively when freeing eastern regions of Ukraine from terrorists.”
If such weapons have been deployed, we can expect to see some reports in the near future from separatist territory of their impact sites or remains. The destruction wrought by a single strike by such a missile would be dramatically larger than that of individual artillery shells or Grad rockets.
Ukrainska Pravda reports that Aleksei Dmitrashkovsky, a press officer for the Ukrainian government’s Anti-Terrorism Operation (ATO), has told journalists that a Ukrainian aircraft was targeted by a Buk SAM system this morning.
A Russian-supplied Buk missile, fired from separatist-held territory, is widely believed to be responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
Dmitrashkovsky told Ukrainska Pravda (translated by The Interpreter):
“Whilst flying over, the aircraft was targeted by a Buk system. But, by skilfully manoeuvring, the aircraft was able to lose the lock-on, shall we say, and was able to land at its own designated airbase.”
It had earlier been reported by locals that a Ukrainian aircraft had been shot down by separatist fighters.
UNIAN reported that a local source had told them that an aircraft had been shot down at around 9 am, and had described 6 or 7 parachutes in the air.
Photos from the VKontakte social network were published in the article:
Videos purportedly showing the same scene also appeared on VKontakte and YouTube:
However the photos and videos appear to show flares, not debris (or parachutes as some had claimed, which would not leave smoke trails). An aircraft evading a missile is likely to dispense flares and chaff. In the YouTube video, the sound of an aircrafts engines is also still clearly audible, suggesting that a plane is still flying in the area.
Indeed, the Ukrainian military quickly dismissed claims of the downing of an aircraft.
Vladislav Seleznyov from the Anti-Terrorism Operation press centre and Andrei Lysenko from the National Security and Defence Council both told Interfax-Ukraine that all aircraft on combat duties today were accounted for with no losses.
The Belarusian president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, has agreed to host trilateral talks between representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE.
Interfax-Ukraine reports that Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, appealed to Lukashenko:
for assistance in arranging a meeting in Minsk on July 31 of the trilateral contact group on the settlement of the situation in Donbas, including second president of [independent] Ukraine Leonid Kuchma, Russian Ambassador Mikhail Zurabov and an OSCE representative,” the presidential press service reported on Tuesday evening.
UNIAN reports on Lukashenko’s agreement with the proposal. They cite a statement by the Belarusian president’s press office (translated by The Interpreter):
“Today, July 29, on the initiative of the Ukrainian side, the president of the Republic of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, had a telephone conversation with the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. The heads of state discussed a range of pressing issues of mutual interest,” says the statement.
The press office reported that the president of Ukraine had turned to the head of the Belarusian state with a request to “to use the Republic of Belarus as a platform for holding discussions involving all interested parties on the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis.”
“Aleksandr Lukashenko agreed with this initiative,” says the statement.
Lukashenko, long regarded as Europe’s last dictator, and the president of the only country in Europe to retain the death penalty, appears to have been using the crisis to position himself in a favourable light to the EU, who have imposed sanctions on Belarus for a number of years. Lukashenko has carefully made public avowals of the importance of Ukrainian territory while maintaining close ties to Russia.
Andrei Sannikov, a leading figure in the Belarusian opposition, wrote for us on July 3:
Now things are even worse. There is a tendency to promote the supposed “independence” of Lukashenko in the West, as someone who stands against Kremlin in supporting the Ukrainian fight for freedom — if only because he fears that Belarus might be invaded and annexed by Russia next.
The absurdity of this thinking is self-evident. Lukashenko is a well-known and well-documented tyrant with a long-standing record of suppression of human rights and basic freedoms in Belarus. He does everything to preserve his regime, which actually served as a model for the regime in Kremlin, and for Yanukovich who was ousted by the Ukrainians. It is simply impossible to regard him as any kind of ally, even a geopolitical one, in the fight for democracy.
Lukashenko knows very well how to use words to cheat the West again and again. Now he uses words to demonstrate some difference with Russian position on Ukraine, but these are just words and the deeds prove the opposite. He speaks about territorial integrity of Ukraine but his delegation in the U.N. votes against this territorial integrity. He is involved in numerous military preparations with Russia and promised Putin yesterday to fight together with Russians. Today there are Russian troops under Russian flags on a military parade in Minsk.