Ukraine Liveblog Day 214: Shelling Continues In And Around Donetsk

September 19, 2014
A Ukrainian volunteer operating a drone while attempting to locate enemy firing positions near Donetsk Airport. Screenshot from Espreso TV

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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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.


Russian Aircraft Challenging North American, European Air Defense Zones

Russian aircraft have been flying into European and North American air
defense zones in recent days, apparently in retaliation for EU, US and
Canadian support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.

Six Russian fighters were intercepted two days ago by US aircraft near Alaska, AFP reported:

Two Russian fighters entered a US “air defense identification zone” two
days ago and were intercepted by American F-22 jets near Alaska,
military officers said.

The incident occurred on the eve of a visit by Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko  the US to meet with President Barack Obama and speak before the US Congress, although officials discounted the connection, said AFP:

But Pentagon spokesman Rear
Admiral John Kirby said there was no indication of a link between
Poroshenko’s visit to Washington and the air incidents.

faced these kinds of incidents before. We take them very, very
seriously. And we routinely intercept them,” Kirby told CNN.

make our intentions known to Russia as we always do and we’ll certainly
discuss our concerns with them at the appropriate time and in the
appropriate venue.”

It was
unclear if the Russian aircraft were in the area due to exercises
announced by Moscow in far-eastern regions, including the off-shore
naval training grounds of the Kamchatka region.

Then according to the Canadian Globe and Mail, this afternoon, Russian planes also flew near Canadian territory:

A patrol of Russian bombers veered to within 50 to 100 kilometres of
Canada’s northern landmass the day after Ukraine’s President received a
hero’s welcome in Ottawa for his struggle to defend his country from
Moscow’s aggression.

This pair of Tupolev bombers, conducting what
Moscow has long referred to as training flights, are among those that
have flown the closest to Canada’s mainland, a government source says.

The incident follows closely on the heels of an official Canadian visit
by Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko, who’s been fighting Russian-backed rebels
for months and addressed Canada’s Parliament on Sept. 17.

And the UK’s Royal Air Force also scrambled today as Russian aircraft came near a NATO defense zone, the Telegraph reported:

RAF Typhoon jets have scrambled to investigate long-range Russian bombers
north of Scotland for the first time since moving to their new quick
reaction airbase.

The intercept force fighters launched to meet the Tu-95 ‘Bear’ aircraft as
they approached a Nato air defence zone north of the UK.

Sweden also reported a Russian incursion, reported:

The two Su-24 attack planes took off from Kaliningrad and skirted
the Polish coast before heading north at low altitude towards the
Swedish island of Öland in the Baltic Sea, newspaper Expressen reports.

A source told the newspaper several JAS Gripen fighter jets scrambled
to intercept the Russian aircraft, which left Swedish airspace when one
of the Swedish planes arrived and headed off the encroachment.

As we reported earlier, Sweden has filed a complaint with Russia over the violation of Swedish air space.

Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania Form Joint Military ‘LITPOLUKRBRIG’ Brigade
An agreement was signed in Warsaw today among Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine on the creation of a joint military brigade called LITPOLUKRBRIG, UNIAN reported.
The Defense Ministry published a report on its Facebook page. RBK Ukraine reports (translation by The Interpreter):

It is known that from Ukraine, the soldiers from the 80th Separate Air Mobile Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will go into the joint brigade. Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Polish military will take part in joint exercises and also take part together in operations.

The technical documentation will be drafted for two years, by which time the brigade will be in full operational readiness.

The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, in a government decree no. 732 dated 9 July 2014, assigned Ukrainian Defense Ministery Valeriy Heletey to sign an agreement with Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland on the creation of a joint military unit.

Exxon Forced To Wind Down Russian Artic Drilling Due to New US Sanctions

The US government has granted ExxonMobil a short-term license to “enable the  safe and responsible winding down of operations” in the Russian arctic, since in the long-term new US sanctions block US companies from doing business with key Russian energy giants. As Financial Times reports, these new sanctions go much further than previous rounds:

It added that it would be bringing to an end all activities associated with the project, a joint venture with Russia’s Rosneft , “as safely and expeditiously as possible”.

Exxon’s announcement shows that the new round of sanctions has changed the legal basis for US and European companies seeking to work in Russia’s frontier oil areas such as the Arctic and shale formations, which are specifically targeted in the measures.

The previous round of sanctions, announced in July, did not prevent Exxon and Rosneft from starting to drill a well in Russia’s Arctic Kara Sea last month, part of a planned $700m exploration programme.

Those sanctions restricted only the export from the US of technology for Arctic and shale oil exploration. The new measures broadened that to include bans on US companies providing services or technology, with a deadline of September 26.

NSDC Says Russian-Backed Forces Continue To Attack In Eastern Ukraine
A summary of the latest fighting, according to the National Security and Defense Council:
It’s not just the Ukrainian government that is reporting breeches in the ceasefire. While separatists claim that they have been attacked (Ukraine claims that the Russian-backed militants have done all the attacking and they have only returned fire), the fighters are also bragging about their artillery barrages to pro-Russian propagandists.
Can Ukraine Afford Austerity, Or Will IMF’s Loan Drive It Into Economic Collapse?
Responding to our last update about Ukraine’s sinking currency and sagging GDP, Josh Cohen sent along his thoughts on the matter:

Ukraine is fighting a war against Russia, but it is also trying to recover from years of corruption and economic stagnation and months of revolution, and it has to do this with a government that is made up of a mix of novices to government and hold-overs from the former regime. Though, to be clear, certainly not everyone in the previous government was corrupt or is tainted, many of those who were have already been replaced, mostly by people with little-to-no governmental experience. Some of those who are still in place are still operating in the culture of the former failed governments.

Cohen argues that Ukraine simply cannot afford the austerity measures which come attached to the IMF’s injection of funds:

While the IMF’s loan is designed to support Ukraine’s budget and allow Kiev to pay its external debts as they come due, the fund now says that Ukraine’s central government will have a substantially higher deficit then originally predicted due to a spike in military expenditures combined with reduced tax collection as its taxable base shrinks along with the broader economy. The IMF now acknowledges that Ukraine could need a further $19 billion in emergency support over the next 16 months.

Despite the economic crisis, the IMF’s loan requires Kiev to enact a series of policy changes, all of which will accelerate the collapse of the economy and decrease the purchasing power of ordinary Ukrainians.

The IMF demands that Ukraine make immediate cutbacks to reduce the fiscal deficit. To meet this requirement, Kiev has already enacted a series of laws raising excise and property taxes, reduced social income support expenditures for retirees and public employees, frozen Ukraine’s minimum wage, and cut public-sector wages.

Another target is the energy sector. Ukraine is required to increase natural gas and heating tariffs for consumers by 56 percent and 40 percent in 2014, respectively, and by 20 to 40 percent annually from 2015 to 2017. At the same time, as gas prices increase sharply, gas subsidies to end users will be completely ended over the next two years. With Russia ceasing gas supplies to Ukraine since June as a result of a payment dispute, Ukrainian consumers may face further price increases unless Kiev is able to obtain gas from other sources.

The entire article can be read on Foreign Policy.

Ukraine’s Currency May Be Headed To Record Lows, GDP Revised Downward

With recent dismal estimates of Ukraine’s GDP growth, and with news of more breaks in the ceasefire in the east, Ukraine’s currency has taken a tumble this week and is down again today.  Ukrainian News reports:

The hryvnia exchange rate in the interbank currency market fell by 35 kopecks to 14.35 UAH/USD on Friday, after falling by 5 kopecks on Thursday, currency exchange market players told Ukrainian News.

According to them, the hryvnia rate fluctuated in the range of 14-14.30 UAH/USD at the start of trading, the quotations fell to 13.80-14.25 UAH/USD by 11:50, and rose to 14.30-14.80 UAH/USD by the end of trading.

According to participants in the currency market, most of the transactions were concluded at an exchange rate close to 14.35 UAH/USD.

According to Bloomberg, Ukraine’s currency may soon slip even further:

The exchange rate  slid 11 percent to 14.40 per dollar by 4:25 p.m. in Kiev today, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It is down 9.9 percent this week and 43 percent this year, the most among all currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

Ukraine’s military said rebels shelled positions in the Donetsk region overnight, adding to reports of violations of a truce that began on Sept. 5. Goldman Sachs Inc. and BNP Paribas AS analysts said this week a failure to resolve the conflict may prompt a sovereign-debt restructuring. Bank of America Corp. warned the hryvnia may slump to 15.5 per dollar in a year.

The exchange rate had been gradually getting worse for Ukraine since the Maidan revolution kicked off last year, but the fall of the Ukrainian Hryvnia accelerated greatly as the violence, then the revolution, and the war, have created significant doubts about the future of Ukraine’s economy. At several points in time, however, the Hryvnia has made significant recoveries. Receipt of the IMF loan, the success of the presidential election, and other events had, at various points, begun to restore confidence in Ukraine’s currency. However, at every turn the news of the worsening war and escalating conflicts with Russia have reversed that momentum.


The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has revised downward Ukraine’s GDP projections. Ukraine is now predicted to lose 9% of its GDP in 2014 and Ukraine’s GDP is expected to contract by 3% in 2015 — original estimations projected that it would stagnate. Global Post reports:

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on Thursday revised its outlook of the Ukrainian economy in 2014, expecting its gross domestic product (GDP) to decline by 9 percent.

The downward revision, from the 7 percent fall projected in May, was a result of “the disruption to production and trade, agricultural losses and a partial military mobilization,” the bank said in a statement.

“The volatile security situation in Ukraine makes the forecast exceptionally uncertain,” the statement said.

Shelling Reported In Mariupol

Local news site reports (translated by The Interpreter):

Salvoes from heavy weapons were heard around 15 minutes ago from the direction of the villages of Talakovka and Sartana in the Ilichevsky district.

This is reported to 0629 by local residents.

“It all started at once with shots from a Grad, now quieter salvoes can be heard,” a resident of the Ilichevsky district told 0629.

According to the headquarters for the territorial defence of the city, they have also received many calls on the matter. It is now established at the headquarters that they have come under fire.

According to the head of the village of Sartana, Stepan Makhsma, it is now quiet in Sartana itself, but shots can be heard. “They firing from the wind turbines towards the village of Olovskoye in the Telmanovo district,” he said.

Russia Says Scottish Referendum Did Not Meet Standards, Separatists Cry Foul

Russia is complaining that the Scottish independence referendum, which was defeated last night, did not meet international standars. The Guardians’ Luke Harding, however, points out that the complaints mirror the international condemnation of similar referendums held in both Crimea and eastern Ukraine:

In an apparent attempt to mirror persistent western criticism of Russia’s own elections, Igor Borisov – an accredited observer – said the poll failed to meet basic international norms.

Borisov and three other Russians arrived in Edinburgh on Wednesday evening, the state news agency Ria Novosti reported.  The team from Moscow’s Public Institute of Suffrage watched voting take place in the Scottish capital and the surrounding area. It also met with Scottish politicians, voters and representatives from non-governmental organisations, Ria said.

Harding also points out that the Russian-backed separatists are also complaining about the Scottish referendum:

On Friday the Donetsk People’s Republic – the Ukrainian rebel enclave – said that it, too, believed the Scottish referendum had been falsified. Miroslav Rudenko, a member of the republic’s self-declared supreme council, said he suspected the UK government was guilty of foul play. “I don’t rule out that the British authorities have falsified the results of this referendum. The difference between those who voted in favour of independence and against it is not so great,” he told the Russian news agency Interfax .

Rudenko said the west was guilty of “double-standards”. It had allowed a referendum in Scotland but refused one for Donestk and Luhansk, the rebel enclaves where separatists backed by Kremlin firepower are fighting Ukrainian troops.

Beside the fact that thus far there don’t seem to be similar complaints being issued from Western election watch dogs, and the results match polling conducted ahead of the vote, there is an obvious rebuttal to Russia’s complaints:

Moscow Peace March Organisers Deny Reports That Protest Has Been Cancelled By Authorities

The organisers of the Moscow Peace March against the war being prosecuted by Russia in Ukraine have denied reports disseminated in the Russian media that the protest march, planned for Sunday, has been cancelled.

The Versia newspaper reported that the march would not go ahead as the organisers had been unable to reach an agreement with the Moscow mayor’s office.

Versia wrote: 

The mayor’s office and the opposition are still unable to agree on the theme of the event, planned for September 21 and named the ‘Peace March.’ The matter at hand is that by the end of the week, the opposition had to agree on slogans and ideological actions.

According to a source in the Moscow mayor’s office,”no agreement has been reached, if there are anti-Russian slogans, then there will be no march in Moscow. The negotiations are fruitless. The opposition is insists on slogans in support of the Ukrainian punishers and against Russia. This is unacceptable,” said the source.

The Versia report was picked up and repeated by numerous Russian media outlets, including Moscow24 TV and the state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official mouthpiece of the Russian government.

Izvestia and LifeNews also reported that the march had been cancelled, but have since deleted this reports from their sites.

The LifeNews report is still visible here on Google’s cache. According to their report, Alexei Mayorov, the head of the Moscow authority’s security department, had said that the march had been cancelled as an agreement had not been reached upon the route. reports that the mayor’s office has not yet made any official comment.

But the organisers of the march denied that the event had been cancelled.

The BBC’s new Moscow Correspondent, Sarah Rainsford, tweeted:

Speaking to the Yod news site, Sergei Davidis, one of the organisers of the march, said:

“Yesterday we had a meeting at the mayor’s office, where we discussed and agreed upon everything. We have already talked to the police about security at the event and gone over the whole route that we will head along during the rally.”

Following the second wave of (now deleted reports from Alexei Mayorov, Davidis then reiterated to Yod that the march would go ahead.

The organisers of the march have also encountered other problems.

The MSK Moscow news agency reports that a video advert, displayed on screens at the Okhotnyi Ryad metro station in Moscow, were now under investigation. 

According to Vasily Oleynik, the first deputy head of the department of regional security,  the advert, calling on Muscovites to join the march, is illegal.

All translations by The Interpreter.

Putin Proposes Ukraine Talks Be Hosted In Vienna

Reuters reports that Vladimir Putin has proposed to the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, that negotiations to establish peace in eastern Ukraine be held in Vienna.

Putin and Faymann held a 20-minute phone call yesterday evening on the subject of the conflict.

Speaking to Austria’s ORF radio, Faymann said:

“On the one hand he said he took the new measures to secure the borders, that practically no soldiers are now in the area where they used to be. What I note positively is that he also said the peace plan and talks with Ukraine are going positively. He also said decidedly that he is of the opinion that he sees a step-by-step improvement.”

Faymann said that they did not discuss the lifting of EU sanctions on Russia.

He also reported that Putin had proposed holding peace talks in Vienna, something that he also commented upon in an interview with the Osterreich newspaper:

“It looks better now than it did the last time I spoke with him, but we are not yet at the finish line. He praised neutral Austria’s active peace efforts and sees Vienna as a good place to hold potential peace talks with Ukraine.”

Reuters notes:

Faymann’s government has taken a harder line on Russia’s suspected role, but much of Austria’s commercial community remains firmly on the side of business as usual with Moscow.

Putin visited Austria in June, getting a warm welcome from the country’s business elite despite the frosty EU ties to Russia.

Austrian traditionally has strong commercial ties with Russia, which is a key energy supplier and the main source of profits for two big Austrian lenders.

Swedish Government Files Complaint To Russia Over Violation Of Swedish Airspace

As we reported yesterday, the Swedish government reported that two Russian Su-24 bombers deliberately entered Swedish airspace yesterday, and two Su-24s were escorted away from Latvian airspace as well (it’s unclear if they were the same two bombers or different ones).

The Swedish newspaper The Local provides some additional details:

The two Su-24 attack planes took off from Kaliningrad and skirted the Polish coast before heading north at low altitude towards the Swedish island of Öland in the Baltic Sea, newspaper Expressen reports…

The Armed Forces declined to comment on what happened until it has conducted a full analysis. 

Expressen’s source however said the Armed Forces believed Russia had sent the fighter jets to test how ready Sweden was to respond.

The Aviationist is running with a story titled “Two Russian Attack Planes Intentionally Violated The Swedish Airspace To Probe Local Air Defense.” They note that this fits a pattern of aggressive Russian action:

Last year Russian Tu-22 bombers conducted some mock attacks on Sweden; more recently an airliner almost collided with a Russian spyplane off Sweden. The increased Russian activity in the area and the crisis with Moscow caused by the situation in Ukraine, pushed Stockholm to move some Gripen jets to Gotlad island, off the eastern coast of Sweden, in the Baltic Sea.

The Su-24 Fencer is a supersonic, all-weather attack aircraft developed in the Soviet Union and serving, among the others, with the Syrian, Iranian and Libyan Air Force.  It’s twin-engined two-seater plane with a variable geometry wing, designed to perform ultra low level strike missions.

The Swedish government has officially filed complaint to Russia today over the incident, according to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

Russia Detains Lithuanian Fishing Vessel One Day After Russian Bombers Enter Swedish Airspace
In yet another diplomatic incident this week, Russian authorities have detained a Lithuanian fishing vessel. 

The Lithuania Tribune reports that both Russian and Lithuanian officials are confirming that the vessel has been detained and it being towed to Murmansk:

Darius Nienius, head of the Agriculture Ministry’s Fisheries Department, told BNS the vessel, called Jūrų Vilkas (Sea Wolf), was detained for entering Russia’s territorial waters, but the detention itself took place in international waters.

“We are now looking into the whole circumstances and details as it’s a very recent incident. But judging from the data from our satellite system, the vessel was detained in international waters and not in Russia’s economic zone. Judging from what we have, the allegation is that it had entered Russia’s economic zone and carried out fishing activities there.

“The satellites communication system, which is used by both the administrative commission (The International Boundary and Water Commission – BNS) and European Fisheries Control Agency, as well as our inspectors, shows that the vessel entered on 8 September and that was a short entry for an hour. They could have not done anything there in such a short period of time,” he told BNS.

The ministry’s representative said that, in Lithuania’s opinion, Russia has violated international commitments. “We are stating the fact that, in our opinion, the vessel was detained in territorial (international – BNS) waters in violation of international commitments and agreements. So from that perspective the fact becomes rather ambiguous. (…) If it had been detained in Russia’s economic zone, that would have been obvious,” Nienius told BNS.

Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Linas Linkevicius, reports:

Lithuania has also been a vocal critic of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. Here are a few tweets from Linkevicius from just the last day:

Yesterday two Russian Su-24 bombers entered Swedish airspace at the same time that their Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, was having a meeting with the Swedish military to discuss Sweden’s response to an increasingly-aggressive Russian neighbor. Bildt is a vocal critic of the Russian actions in eastern Europe and Ukraine, and has become one of the favorite targets for pro-Kremlin media and trolls. Two Su-24s were also escorted away from Baltic airspace yesterday.

One has to ask whether these international incidents are connected with Russia’s anger over policies pursued by its neighbors.

Repressions Against Crimean Tatars Continue As Scholar Attacked And Stripped Of Passport

Following an escalation in attacks by the occupying Russian authorities in Crimea upon the Crimean Tatar people this week, in which the Mejlis has been raided by armed men twice and ordered to vacate its premises, a Tatar scholar, Nadir Bekir has been attacked and stripped of his passport.

RFE/RL reports that Bekir had been due to attend a UN conference in New York before the attack occurred, preventing him from travelling:

Bekir, an expert on indigenous peoples, told RFE/RL he was attacked on his way from Simferopol to the city of Dzhankoi, where he planned to board a train for Kyiv and then fly to New York.

He said a white minibus abruptly blocked his car on the highway. Four masked men emerged, pulled him from his car, forced him to the ground, and took his Ukrainian passport and mobile phone. He said one of the attackers opened his passport and told the others: “Yes, that ‘s him!”

Without his passport, Bekir said he cannot leave Crimea. He believes the attack was meant to prevent him from participating in the September 22-23 UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, part of the UN General Assembly. 

Furthermore, the RFE/RL report notes that the Crimean Tatar library in Simferpol has announced today that it is being shut down “in accordance with an August government resolution to replace libraries on the peninsula with Russian state entities.”

Shelling Continues In And Around Donetsk

Ukrainska Pravda reports that the ATO Press Centre has announced that the Ukrainian forces defending Donetsk Airport have repelled another attack by Russian-backed forces.

The ATO Press Centre claimed that reports that Ukrainian forces were attacking the surrounding areas were disinformation spread to discredit the Ukrainian operation.

The pro-separatist Yuznews tweeted that, by 13:00 (10:00 GMT), fighting had resumed near the airport:

The Donetsk city council website reports that shelling and salvoes from heavy weapons have been heard in the Petrovsky, Kirovsky, Kuybyshevsky and Leninsky districts of the city this morning.

The following tweet makes the unconfirmed report that a bus has exploded in the Petrovsky district:

Translation: A number 42 bus has been blown up on Petrovsky. There are casualties.

OstroV reports that Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council has blamed Russian-backed fighters for the shelling.

They report (translated by The Interpreter):

“The terrorists have carried out rocket artillery strikes on the Kirovsky and Petrovsky districts of Donetsk, the Sovietsky district and the Khimik area of Makeyevka as well as the the town of Panteleymonovka in the Gorlovka area,” he said.

UNIAN reported that the Makeyevka town council had announced that two people had been killed and one wounded in the village of Kalininovo-Vostochny due to shelling yesterday. In addition, two civilians from the villages of Krasny Oktyabr and Khanzhenkovo had been injured.

OstroV also reported that:

A. Lysenko added that, as a result of the terrorists’ shelling in Donetsk, gas reservoir pipes had been damaged and several houses had been cut off from gas.

Electricity supplies are still being disrupted each day by the shelling. The city council reports that 6 electricity substations were knocked out this morning in the Kalininsky district, however by lunchtime 4 had been brought back online. Repair teams were still working to restore 5 offline substations in the Kievsky and Kuybyshevsky districts.

Numerous tweets report that traffic police are today advising drivers not to travel into Donetsk:

Translation: Traffic police have advised drivers to refrain from travelling to Donetsk.

Translation: Traffic police have closed off entrances to Donetsk.