Ukraine Liveblog Day 199: NATO, Divided, Meets To Discuss Ukraine

September 4, 2014
British armoured vehicles parked in front of the Celtic Manor Golf Course ahead of the NATO summit. Photo: Reuters

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

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For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

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Below we will be making regular updates so check back often.

Shelling Heard In Mariupol, Eastern Defences Reportedly Abandoned

Wojciech Bojanowski, a correspondent for Poland’s TVN24 brings worrying news from the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol:

Others report and photograph explosions coming from the east, where Russian forces are advancing from the direction of Novoazovsk.

Large fire beyond the eastern checkpoint towards Novoazovsk. Sounds like Grads are firing in the distance.

Mariupol, hearing artillery and Grads. NATO, USA, EU – all loudly voicing their concenrs about Putin. The truth is: Ukraine is completely on its own.

Mariupol news site spoke to Andriy Biletsky, the commander of the Azov volunteer battalion, who are defending the city.

They report (translated by The Interpreter):

As the commander of the Azov battalion told us, battalion task forces were on the attack. “On the attack were a tank company, a BMP company with Grads, mortar batteries and conventional artillery,” he said. “In terms of heavy weaponry, Azov had only mortars, a rocket launcher and a Fagot anti-tank missile system.”

Biletsky said that the fortifications constructed with the help of volunteer residents had been crucial to the defence of the city.

According to the commander, 2 enemy tanks and a Ural truck were knocked out before Russian forces retreated and began an artillery bombardment.

Biletsky said that the fighting today has destroyed almost half the village of Shirokino, with both tanks and Grads firing on the area.

Fortunately, the Azov fighters managed to withdraw. The invaders destroyed all of Azov’s heavy equipment and knocked out their BTRs. “There were many wounded and there are missing,” said Biletsky. “We really hope that they are missing, because the trenches they were in have been completely churned up.”

Nevertheless, Biletsky assured that the enemy had been repelled and that Shirokino remains a Ukrainian village. 

However Azov fighters have still not received artillery support.

The OSCE has published the following report on the situation in Mariupol today:

The situation in Mariupol and the surrounding area raises concern due to increased military activity, primarily to the east of Mariupol city. Reportedly, heavy fighting in the area of Shyrokyne (24km east of Mariupol city) and Bezimenne (34km east of Mariupol city) is taking place. Local residents are nervous and fear that Mariupol may be attacked soon.

Ukrainian authorities informed the SMM early on 4 September that the situation in Mariupol was worsening by the hour and that there was a danger that irregular armed groups could move into the city tonight.

On 4 September the SMM visited the checkpoint (CP) in the eastern part of Mariupol city on the E58 road towards Novoazovsk. The SMM noticed approximately 16 units of military hardware there (eight trucks and eight armoured personnel carriers) leaving the CP and moving in the direction of the city. The SMM observed 100-150 Ukrainian forces, possibly from the National Guard. The governor of Donetsk, Serhiy Taruta, was also present at the CP and gave a press conference.

Shelling began at 12:40 on 4 September in the area of Shyrokyne and Bezimenne. The SMM was informed by local inhabitants that they heard 50-60 explosions and that at 17:15 four explosions were heard from the direction of Shyrokyne. In Berdyansk village the SMM was told by local inhabitants that Shyrokyne was shelled and that there had been casualties. In Shyrokyne the SMM saw at the entrance of the village burning fields on both sides of the road. Local inhabitants told the SMM that fighting between Ukrainian army and irregular armed groups had been ongoing during the entire day. The electric power station in Shyrokyne was destroyed and subsequently the village was left without electricity. It appeared that neither Ukrainian army nor irregular armed groups were in control of the village. On the way out of Shyrokyne the SMM could hear five to six artillery shelling from the direction of Bezimenne towards Mariupol.

John McCain Says Putin Does Not Want a Successful Ukraine
US Senator John McCain has said that sanctions can work, but that the sanctions which have been passed are minor.
“Put yourself in Vladimir Putin’s shoes. He has paid a very low price.” McCain said “To restore the Russian empire, Putin has made significant progress.” Putin also said that Russia does not want to see a successful Ukraine because it would mean that people would want the same thing in Russia.
John McCain Says Putin Has Invaded, Wants Frozen Conflict

McCain says that 4,000 Russian soldiers, tanks, and heavy equipment are trying to achieve a land-bridge to Crimea which will put pressure not just on Ukraine but also on Moldova.

McCain also said that he, Senator Menendez, and Senator Levin were trying to make it a law to provide Ukraine with additional weapons and supplies.

 McCain says that he is hoping that there will be agreement for additional sanctions against Vladimir Putin, and he would hope that “very stringent” sanctions would be passed as a result of this invasion.

“I don’t know if that will happen. But if it doesn’t happen, in light of an invasion… that will give Vladimir Putin a green light… Because we did not support Ukraine Putin has become emboldened.”

McCain said that anti-tank weapons would be “required,” but also said that the US needs to provide Ukraine the intelligence information that they need. “Anti-armor, anti-air, all kinds of equipment which they do not have” needs to be provided.

McCain said that there was little chance of true peace in the east right now. “What Putin would like to see is a ‘frozen conflict'” like Moldova, South Ossetia, and elsewhere. “There must be a withdrawal of Putin’s forces from the border.”  

John McCain Calls For Arming the Ukrainian Government

Senator John McCain started his comments by saying that this was his fourth trip to Ukraine since the protesters struggled for their freedom. He says that what is happening here is not just about Ukraine, but the principles that Europe and the World has been based on since 1945.

He then defined the word “invasion” and said that if the West cannot say clearly that what is happening in Eastern Ukraine is not an invasion, then we are living in “Putin’s World.” He said that if Putin could invade for no other reason than greed, belligerence, and imperial ambition, then what would stop others from doing so? “Freedom is indivisible everywhere or it becomes negotiable everywhere.” 

McCain then spoke about the need to help Ukrainians defend themselves, not with troops, but with greater assistance from the West. It was argued, he said, that arming Ukraine would trigger an invasion. But Putin has invaded anyway and it is now clear that this is due to Western weakness.

McCain said he came to Kiev to show support for Ukraine’s government and people and to urge his country to provide intelligence, weapons, and other assistance to Ukraine and to impose “truly crushing” sanctions to Russia.

John McCain At Press Conference In Kiev

US Senator John McCain is at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center In Kiev and is giving a press conference. The Interpreter’s Michael Weiss and James Miller are in attendance.

Unverified Reports of Ukrainian Forces Withdrawing from Mariupol, Russian Forces Storming

There are reports that the Russian-backed separatists are storming Mariupol now, and Ukrainian forces are leaving — but these are unverified and both sides have been vying in social media to portray their narrative.

Translation: Azov Battalion and border guards have suffered losses in repelling an attack on Mariupol.

Translation: Commander of the fifth company of the Azov Battalion: “Finally! Our aviation has gone on the offensive.

People are continuing to tweet photos of a pro-Kiev rally in Mariupol..

Translation: Mariupol now.

Translation: Mariupol right now. Sign: No to War.

And for some people, ordinary life goes on:

Translation: That didn’t turn out bad.

Translation: Ukrainian forces are leaving Mariupol. Residents are waving them goodbye with a “kind” word.

In the video, the townspeople can be heard commenting on the BTRs and laughing, saying the troops seem to be waving good bye to them. They say they are withdrawing their military vehicles.

Title: The storming of the city by the militia has begun; huge columnn of Ukrainian BTRs 04.09.2014.

The video was taken from the city web cam.

Translation: BREAKING: DPR army storming Mariupol.

Translation: Paradox of the Ukrainian army: they entered Mariupol fighting and now are trying to leave Mariupol fighting.

Russian Artillery Shooting for the Cameras, Say Ukrainian Forces

Russian Federation artillery shooting in the town of Bezymyonnoye near Mariupol are deliberately shooting to provide footage for Russian state media, say Ukrainian forces, according to a report from UNIAN.


Russian forces. Photo by

The ATO [anti-terrorism operation] has posted the comment on Facebook, says UNIAN (translation by The Interpreter)

Battles are close to Mariupol. About two hours ago in the area of the town of Bezymyonnoye, Russian artillery opened fire on the positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

According to reconnaissance data, not far from the weapons placements are camera crews from Russian television stations. Their purpose was to film the latest provocation material. Really, the unprincipled nature of the Russian army and mass media knows no bounds. The firing positions of the Russian artillery have been set up on the grounds of the Utes rest home. But the Ukrainian soldiers have not fallen for this provocation.

Conflicting Reports on Battles Near Mariupol

As we reported earlier, Russian Federation forces accompanied by Russian-backed fighters are reportedly closing in on Mariupol, as can be seen from this map showing their spearhead:


There are conflicting and unverified reports as usual:

A blogger has a wry comment on the situation (translation by The Interpreter)

On the Left Bank the echoes of explosions are heard. Battles are
underway in the area of Bezymyonnoye and Shirokino (that is on the coast
to the east of the city). Through the city web site, the headquarters
of the defense of Mariupol, using  the words of Azov Battalion, is
calming residents, assuring them that the enemy will not pass further
than Bezymyonnoye, therefore there is nothing to be afraid of. What is
happening now is only a reconnaissance mission via a battle.

day on the news wires there have been reports of how reliably reinforced
and defended the city is: here is Taruta the Great Robocop, and Lyashko
with sharp attacks aimed at the city fathers, and Azov, now involved in
training everyone who wishes in the art of repelling Russian

In the city, it seems, panic is starting. Our
relatives are calling, “What’s happening with you? What do you hear? Why
don’t they let you go home?” But we have a lot of work. And although we
are on the Left Bank, we aren’t above sea level, therefore we can’t
hear the explosions and are keeping calm.

One small detail. One
of our clients from out of town reached us through the checkpoint, a
VIP. He decided to “check out” the mood of the fighters and simply thank
them for defending our cities, risking their lives every minute. He
liked their answer:

“Why the f**k are you sticking your nose in here. If the tanks come in, then we are dropping our machine guns and leaving.”

those who are not very strong in Ukrainian, I will translate this to a
commonly understood language: In connection with the fact that the
development of the situation does not entirely meet our expectations, we
are compelled to leave you!

A video has been uploaded to YouTube reportedly showing the first Russian shelling of Mariupol residential areas:

Note that the video shows smoke on the horizon, but it is not clear that it has hit residential buildings.

The citizen who has uploaded the video says: (translation by The Interpreter)

‘Well, some sort of volleys are heard, boom-boom, like thunder, it is thundering somewhere over there. Far away. Some smoke has risen. I don’t know. We are waiting, waiting, waiting… for something….”

The video is tentatively geolocated here, based on the appearance in the video of a spire at 0:03 which is similar to this one in Google.


Ukrainian President Poroshenko Announces Peace Plan for Trilateral Talks in Minsk

The Ukrainian Council for National Security and Defense (CNSD) is announcing peace proposals for the talks in Minsk, reported.

The details of the Ukrainian president’s “peace plan” were announced at a briefing by NSDC information and analytical center spokesman Andriy Lysenko, a Ukrinform correspondent reported.

“According to President [Petro] Poroshenko, the action plan should
include mutual obligations regarding the regime of a bilateral
ceasefire, its monitoring and verification on the part of the OSCE, the
withdrawal of all foreign troops from Ukrainian territory, the
introduction of a buffer frontier zone, and the release of all hostages
and citizens of Ukraine illegally held by terrorists in Russia,” Lysenko

President Porosenko confirmed the offer in a tweet:

Translation: Tomorrow at 14:00 the meeting of the Trilateral Group will take place. A document is planned for introducing the Peace Plan of Ukraine.

Fighting Breaks Out Near Mariupol; Azov Rushing to Defense

There reports that defenders are rushing to the trenches to the east of the strategic city of Mariupol and that fighting is breaking out nearby.

The battles are at these locations on Google Maps:

* Shiokhino

* Kominternovo

* Hnutovo

Translation: Eastern part of Mariupol — there are battles on the horizon.

Last week there were repeated reports that Russian Federation troops and Russian-backed fighters were taking over towns near Mariupol to the north and east, and had Mariupol in their sights.

But Western journalists repeatedly reported that Mariupol was clear and empty of troops. Ukrainian forces remain in control of Volnovakha.

Some citizens of Mariupol have been demonstrating in support of Kiev and digging trenches, while others say they back the separatists.

The offensive seems not only likely due to the NATO summit, but due to another supposed ceasefire in the works:

Translation: Taruta has come to the eastern checkpoint in Mariupol. He says the city is defended.

Serhiy Taruta, a Ukrainian oligarch is the governor of Donetsk Region

A web cam of the city of Mariupol was just recently still showing the flags of Ukraine.


‘Novorossiya’ Claims Agreement with Moscow to Get Direct Gas Deliveries
According to a report in the pro-separatist press, Aleksandr Granovsky, minister of fuel and energy of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” says there have been “successful negotiations about the sale of Russian gas to the DPR and LPR [Lugansk People’s Republic],” says Leonid Baranov, DPR minister of state security.

Baranov claimed the talks were at “the very highest level” in Moscow.

“Just now in Moscow we discussed the issues of the heating season, and gas. We have a separate line, we are guaranteed the delivery of gas. The pipeline enters Lugansk Region and exits to Donetsk Region, we are the only two regions which are not at all dependent on Ukraine as a whole.”

Baranov said it was too early to discuss the prices of Russian gas for the “people’s republics.”

Sky News Films What Appear To Be Russian Troops Near Novoazovsk

Sky News reported yesterday that they had encountered soldiers who appeared to be in unmarked Russian uniforms operating Russian military vehicles at a checkpoint near the recently occupied town of Novoazovsk on Ukraine’s southern coast, close to the Russian border.

Here is a YouTube mirror of their report:

Sky reported that Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russia’s security forces, had told them that the uniforms worn by the men were indicators that they were Russian soldiers rather than volunteer separatist fighters:

Mr Galeotti said: “They are definitely wearing modern Russian kit – the camouflage, helmets and body armour are distinctive, as well as the white armbands I mentioned above.

“The kit is subtly different from the Crimean ‘little green men’ but again that’s what I’d expect, as in Crimea they were Naval Infantry (marines) whereas here I’d expect them to come from the ground forces or paratroops.”

He also noted that the rifle carried by one of the men, though difficult to identify conclusively, had extra fittings similar to those he had seen used by Russian Spetsnaz special forces.

Henry Boyd, an analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, told Sky that:

“In the two pictures you can see the soft-skin UAZ-469, you can also clearly see the discolouration on the front bumper where the number plate has been removed.

The strong implication here would be that the number plate in question was of the distinctive Russian military variety.”

On Eve of NATO Summit, US, Estonian Presidents Pledge Political Support for Ukraine
Yesterday President Barack Obama and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves met in Tallinn on the eve of the NATO summit in Wales today. Obama visited Estonia to convey US support for its long-time ally and reiterate US commitment to NATO’s Article 5, which means that if any one member of the Alliance is attacked, the others will consider this an attack on themselves and will “take the actions it deems necessary, including the use of armed force.”


Yet both leaders made it clear that we cannot expect NATO, individually or collectively, to provide substantial military aid to Ukraine, as this would involve direct military confrontation against Russia.

Obama spoke of initiatives to bolster the Baltic states as a front line in Europe against Russian aggression:

“On my visit to Warsaw this spring, I announced a new initiative to bolster the American military presence here in Europe, including in the Baltics, and we’re working with Congress to make sure that we deliver. Today, I can announce that this initiative will include additional air force units and aircraft for training exercises here in the Nordic-Baltic region. And we agree with our Estonian allies that an ideal location to host and support these exercises would be Amari Air Base here in Estonia. With the support of Congress and our Estonian friends, I’m confident that we can make this happen. And I look forward to discussing this further when we meet with Presidents Bērziņš and Grybauskaitė this afternoon.

As President Ilves indicated, we spend a great deal of time on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. I’ll have much more to say about this in my speech today. For now, I just want to commend Estonia — including President Ilves — for being such a strong voice both in NATO and the EU on behalf of the Ukrainian people. Estonia has provided assistance as Ukrainians work to strengthen their democratic institutions and reform their economy. And because we’ve stood together, Russia is paying a heavy price for its actions, and NATO is poised to do more to help Ukraine strengthen its forces and defend their country”.

President Ilves for his part looked for credible deterrence from NATO:

“We are grateful to the United States for sending troops here and for actively participating in the Baltic air policing mission. Your presence underlies the credibility of NATO’s Article 5. Without a doubt, your bilateral contributions have helped set an example for other NATO Allies. A robust and visible Allied presence here in Estonia is the best way of discouraging any possible aggressors. We look forward to the NATO Summit confirming this.
But we face a completely new security situation in Europe, and we are pleased that this is reflected in many of the summit’s documents. We expect the NATO Summit in Wales to adopt the readiness action plan that will guide allied nations for years to come through a set of practical steps and measures of reassurance and deterrence.”
While NATO is unlikely to take any robust action to defend Ukraine or fast-track it to membership, many observers have pointed out that it could do the minimum, which is to cancel the NATO Partnership Agreement with Russia. Ilves took a question from a reporter on this issue:

“Well, from our side, first of all, NATO did decide to freeze its relations with Russia several months ago. But on the issue in terms of what is the — what are the implications of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, I suggest all those who say we can’t do anything because of the NATO-Russia Founding Act read the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which says that these conditions hold — to quote — “in the current and foreseeable” future, or “the security environment of the current and foreseeable” future. That was the security environment of 1997, when Boris Yeltsin was President, and there had been no violations of either the U.N. Charter or the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the 1990 Paris Charter.

So I would argue this is an unforeseen and new security environment, and therefore one has to hold on to certain provisions. It does not mean we have to give up the whole act, but certainly when an agreement in certain parts no longer holds, well, then it’s time to make a change.”
Obama responded that “the circumstances clearly have changed” but believed “there was a complacency here in Europe about the demands that were required to make sure that NATO was able to function effective”. He noted that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had made some “fairly sharp speeches” in this regard.
Asked by a reporter to explain what could be done directly to help Ukraine, Ilves replied:

“Well, most importantly, Ukraine needs above all continued political support. And from that support comes decisions that involve everything else — economic aid, humanitarian aid, and also military aid. And from that come also decisions on equipment.

In Wales, the NATO-Ukraine committee will gather and will decide how to increase NATO defense cooperation with Ukraine. This is the kind of decision that we in NATO take together. On the humanitarian side, we have doubled our humanitarian and development assistance in looking for what more we can do. We have already brought wounded, seriously wounded Ukrainian soldiers to our top-notch rehabilitation center here and will continue to do so. That is certainly one thing that is — we know the Ukrainians lack that and we have it at a superbly high level, and also, I should add quickly, that with the assistance with the United States and the Walter Reed Hospital that we have this here.”
So Europe and particularly Estonia are standing by to help the wounded. What about helping to fight the war?
Obama’s reply indicates that he continues to have faith in Western sanctions as forcing Putin to stop his war on Ukraine:

“Political support is absolutely vital. And one of our goals at the summit over the next several days is to once again project unity across NATO on behalf of Ukraine’s efforts to maintain its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The sanctions that we’ve applied so far have had a real effect on Russia. And I think it’s important for us to continue to impose costs on Russia so long as it is violating basic principles of international law. And so far at least we’ve been able to combine efforts between Europe and the United States and some of our allies around the world, and the results are a Russian economy that is effectively contracting, capital flight putting a burden on the Russian economy that at the moment may be overridden by politics inside of Russia as a consequence of state-run propaganda, but over time will point to the fact that this is a strategy that’s not serving Russia well, in addition to not serving Ukraine, obviously, well.”
Obama also sees direct economic aid to Ukraine as vital, while identifying the problem clearly as induced by Russia:

“The military efforts that have been required to deal with Russian-financed, Russian-armed, Russian-trained, Russian-supported and often Russian-directed separatists has meant that — has meant a drain on the Ukrainian economy, not to mention the fact that you have major industrial areas inside of Ukraine that obviously have been impacted by the conflict there.

So we’re going to have to make sure that the international community stands behind the Ukrainian economy in the short term, even as we encourage and advise and work with Ukraine to carry out some of the basic reforms that are going to be required in order for them to achieve the kinds of models of success that we’ve seen in Estonia and Poland and other places. And that’s a tough row to hoe. It took a couple of decades for some of the countries who are currently in the EU to achieve the sort of market-based reforms that have led to such great prosperity.”
The NATO summit is thus unlikely to produce any surprises regarding defense of Ukraine; the question is how much credible deterrence NATO will muster for Europe.
Reports Of Ukrainian Battalion Encircled Near Debaltsevo

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Larisa Sargan, press secretary to Yuriy Lutsenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian president and the leader of the Bloc Petro Poroshenko party, has written on her Facebook page that a Ukrainian battalion has been encircled near Debaltsevo.

She wrote (translated by The Interpreter):

“The lads are being promised heavy equipment for the second week now, but it will not fall from the sky! The commander is afraid to pull his guys out of the encirclement, there have no orders. They can’t bear to make the decision themselves because they will be considered deserters like the Carpathian battalion.”

The Carpathian battalion was a volunteer battalion that withdrew from the Donbass combat zone at the end of August. They withdrew back to the Kirovohrad region, where they were stripped of their weapons and their commander arrested on charges of desertion.

The members of the battalion insisted that they were rotating back as instructed, having spent two months in the ATO zone, and that they had “been in hell,” coming under heavy shelling from Russian forces.

Sargan said that her neighbour Pavel was amongst those trapped in the encirclement and urged the military leadership to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy in Ilovaisk.

Debaltsevo is of strategic importance as it lies on the main highway linking the separatist-held cities of Donetsk and Lugansk. This route was used many times for transporting Russian armour and supplies imported across the Izvarino border crossing. Ukraine’s seizure of Debaltsevo had been a major breakthrough in disrupting separatist operations in the area.