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REN-TV just can’t seem to get the pictures right for a sensational story of mass graves at the center of the Kremlin’s unsubtantiated claim that Ukraine has committed “genocide” in defending itself from the war launched by Russia itself, starting in February in Crimea.
At first, the TV station, owned by an oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin, published photos of the victims of MH17 as if they had been disinterred from the mass graves found in Nizhnyaya Krynka, about 60 kilometers from Donetsk. When that was called out by Stephen Ennis of the BBC yesterday, REN-TV then deleted the MH17 photos and substituted a photo of a victim that purported to be from the Nizhnaya Krynka site in September.
But as a reader of The Interpreter points out, it’s actually a photo from a victim of clashes in Mariupol in May of this year covered by Reuters:
REN-TV cropped a photo from the Mariupol scene in such a way that it would not be readily recognized or found in Google Image Search:
A man looks at a dead body after Ukrainian forces attacked police headquarters in an attempt to drive out pro-Russian militants in Mariupol May 9, 2014. Ukrainian security forces killed about 20 pro-Russian rebels who tried to seize control of police headquarters in the eastern port city of Mariupol on Friday, the Interior Minister said. (Photo by Marko Djurica/Reuters)
At least 3,000 people have been killed of a variety of ethnic groups including Ukrainian, Russian, Crimean Tatar, and Chechen, but there is no evidence of a specific policy of “ethnic cleansing”.
Moscow accused Ukraine of atrocities last week when three graves containing 9 victims were found, although forensic examination is not complete. OSCE observers emphasized that they do not supply such forensic expertise.
Then Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” had to walk back statements widely reported September 29 to the effect that “40” civilians were in mass graves and “internal organs were removed”; he subsequently explained on September 30 that these were both separatist fighters and Ukrainian soldiers, not civilians, and they had suffered shrapnel wounds.
There was also another provocation staged by a pro-Russian Latvian human rights activist Einars Graudins who was styled in the Russian state media as an “OSCE expert” claiming without basis that there were “400 bodies” in the graves — a number that evidently related to the number of identified bodies in general in the morgues in Donetsk, not in the mass graves, although this was not confirmed.
OSCE then later disassociated itself from Graudins in a tweet.
The Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) is the group that filed the original report of the mass graves.
This is just the latest episode in a chronic disinformation and distortion campaign related to victims of the war.
Graudins plans to run in the Latvian general elections on October 4. He also appeared on TV Novosti on September 29
(with a different spelling of his name) accusing the Ukrainian army of
“genocide” and rape of underage girls — a claim that he is the only one
to make, and for which there is no basis. These charges have also been
repeated on other pro-Kremlin websites in a chorus of disinformation.
Last weekend, pro-government groups in Moscow staged a rally on the theme of the “murdered innocents in Donetsk” at the Poklonnaya Gora war memorial, denouncing the Kiev government as “fascist.”
It’s getting cold in parts of Europe, with low temperatures in the 40s (F) or even below freezing in some locations. And yet, as retribution for supplying Ukraine with gas, Russia is cutting Europe’s natural gas supply. The Moscow Times reports:
Amid international tensions over the crisis in Ukraine, a steep drop in deliveries to Europe pushed Gazprom’s total gas exports down 24 percent in September compared to a year prior, a report by UralSib Capital said Wednesday.
Exports to countries outside the former Soviet Union fell 18.6 percent year-on-year, following declines of 14 percent in July and August, the report said, citing preliminary data gathered by CDU TEK between Sept. 1 and 28. Exports to these areas had grown over the first two quarters of the year by between 1 and 2 percent.
Gazprom has scaled down its gas deliveries to Poland, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary since September, Reuters reported, in what has been widely viewed in the West as an attempt to put pressure on both Europe and Ukraine leading up to the critical winter months.
The Russian media is reporting on a different angle of this story — Russia’s attempts to find new markets for its gas. Russia is massively expanding its supply to natural gas to Turkey. The Russian state-operated ITAR-TASS reports:
“Turkey is our most dynamically developing market in regard to supplies. Gazprom has always reacted to the growing demand for gas in Turkey by increasing supplies through the Blue Stream,” [Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller] said.
“Today’s decision will allow the Turkish economy to progress to new stages,” the Gazprom CEO said.
This year, Russian gas supplies to Turkey hit historic levels, reaching 30 billion cubic meters compared with 26.6 billion cubic meters in 2013.
The Blue Stream gas pipeline, launched in December 2002, with the total length of 1,213 kilometers (754 miles), carries gas from Russia to Turkey across the Black Sea.
Turkey is the second largest Russian gas importing country after Germany. Last year, 26.61 billion cubic meters of gas were delivered to Turkey on two routes, particularly by land and Blue Stream.
UNIAN reports that a representative from the Lugansk Regional State Administration (OGA) has told them that the town of Schastye is being shelled with mortars, allegedly striking the area around the stadium and power plant.
UNIAN adds (translated by The Interpreter):
In addition, the OGA representative did not rule out the possibility that the terrorists will attempt to storm the power station. The streets in the town have been deserted, people are hiding at home.
In the same statement which we excerpted and translated below, Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the SKR also announced that a Ukrainian volunteer fighter has “testified” to war crimes.
The man in question, Sergei Litvinov, was reportedly a volunteer in the Dnipro-1 volunteer battalion. Markin claimed that Litvinov was arrested in Russian territory, seeking medical aid while “disguised as a peaceful civilian.”
This line echoes Russian claims regarding the illegal rendition of another Ukrainian military officer, Nadezhda Savchenko, who was captured by separatist militants in the Lugansk region, filmed by Russian TV, but then, Russia claims, made her way across the border on her own will before being arrested.
Savchenko is now being held in Moscow, where she will undergo psychiatric testing at the infamous Serbsky Centre, once used for indefinitely detaining and torturing Soviet dissidents. According to Markin, Litvinov will also be subjected to the same ‘examination’ there.
Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reports in English:
“Litvinov has testified that he personally killed peaceful civilians, including women and children who were not linked to the military conflict, in the villages of Melovoye, Shirokiy, Makarovo and Kamyshnoye /in Ukraine’s Lugansk region/ on the basis of information provided by anonymous sources,” Vladimir Markin, the head of the Russian Investigative Committee, said, adding Litvinov had received remuneration from oligarch Igor Kolomoisky’s personal funds for committing the murders.
“I would like to calm those who are going to accuse us of bringing the man into Russia from the territory of another state: this man has entered the Russian territory himself disguised as a peaceful civilian in order to be admitted to hospital. At present, Litvinov has been arrested and will be escorted to Moscow soon to undergo a psychological examination,” Markin said.
A psychological examination is a standard procedure required when someone is suspected of committing grave crimes against human life and health.
In the picture posted by Gypteau, he is facing southwest and the rocket appears to be stuck in the ground as if it came from where he is facing. We’ve lined up the Google Street View and Gypteau’s picture, though we’ve positioned the camera on the Street View further back to give a sense of the wider scene:
Here is a map of the current situation around Donetsk, drawn from LiveUAMap.com. To the southwest of Donetsk, the closest Ukrainian controlled territory is more than 30 kilometers from the area where these rockets landed. Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists have agreed to a buffer zone which would put their artillery another 15 kilometers behind the front lines. That means that it is highly unlikely, or maybe completely impossible, that Ukraine could have fired rockets from the southwest. However, separatist rockets could be outside of that buffer zone and still hit this target.
We are working with arms experts to identify the rocket used in this attack, and a positive identification may definitively rule out the Ukrainian military as having launched this attack.
In this graphic video, you can see many of the victims, the bus which is on fire, and some of the nearby buildings.
Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee (SKR) has claimed, in a statement published on the SKR site, that today’s civilian casualties in Donetsk are evidence of an ongoing Ukrainian campaign of genocide against Russian-speakers.
The statement criticises those in the “liberal-minded public” and the Ukrainian media who have made “sneering remarks” regarding the legitimacy of Russia’s claims.
Markin then writes (translated by The Interpreter):
Today’s mortar attack in Donetsk, against the backdrop of the peace agreement, which targeted not only civilians, but school children, who had arrived, following a month-long delay, for their first lessons, once again confirms the cynicism and hypocrisy of the Ukrainian authorities.
There were at least eight killed in Donetsk today. These are the latest victims, confirming the deliberate annihilation of the civilian population. Their only fault was that they spoke the Russian language and did not want to join in the nationalist hysteria and allow fascist ideology into their homeland.
These eight victims joined the already dreadful list at the Donetsk regional morgue, through which 1374 bodies of those killed in this war have passed so far. Among these victims are more than two hundred women and children.
The SKR opened a criminal investigation into acts of ‘genocide’ in eastern Ukraine on September 29. The SKR appears to have distorted an OSCE report and state-linked media have made false attributions in order to push this claim.
Earlier today the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Special Representative for Human Rights Konstantin Dolgov told the Russian state-operated RIA Novosti that the shelling of the school in Donetsk today was a “grave violation of humanitarian law.”
France had previously made the decision to put on hold the sale of two amphibious assault ships to Russia over the crisis in Ukraine. However, they did so unwillingly and only while under heavy pressure from the US and other European allies.The Moscow Times reports that French President Francois Hollande could sign the agreement to sell the ships to Russia as early as late October. More disturbingly, Interfax, citing an unnamed source, says one of the ships may be delivered on November 4th:
According to an unidentified source quoted by Interfax earlier Tuesday, the first ship — named the Vladivostok — should be transferred to the Russian navy at a ceremony scheduled for Nov. 4.
Sevastyanov said the transfer “must be signed in Saint-Nazaire,” where the ship was built. Russian sailors are currently training alongside French sailors to operate the vessel, which has advanced war-fighting capabilities that the Russian navy does not already have and cannot domestically acquire.
The second Mistral is slated for delivery next year.
Russian Foreign Ministry’s Special Representative for Human Rights Konstantin Dolgov told the Russian state-operated RIA Novosti that the shelling of the school in Donetsk today was a “grave violation” of humanitarian law:
“The particular cynicism of this shelling is the very fact that today was the children’s first day at school. And on this day, artillery directly targets them. These are blatant, intolerable things,” Dolgov said.
He emphasized that these actions are grave violations of international humanitarian law that take place at the moment when “there are real prerequisites for a political settlement.”
“Shelling is going on, despite the announced ceasefire, which is a blatant violation. Civilians are still being killed. This situation is absolutely unbearable. We insist that all crimes against civilians should be systematized and an independent international investigation should be launched,” special representative for human rights stated.
But as we pointed out earlier, the rockets which hit the school landed very close to the Donetsk airport which is controlled by the Ukrainian military. In a blatant and extremely well documented continual violation of the ceasefire, Russian-backed separatists have been captured on video on multiple occasions attacking the airport and reporters and witnesses in the city confirm the daily reports from the Ukrainian government that Russian-backed militants continue to attack the area.
Stephen Ennis reports for BBC Monitoring that Russia’s Kremlin-linked REN TV has been using photographs of victims from the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash to illustrate reports on claimed “mass graves” in eastern Ukraine.
We discuss this matter further on our Russia This Week blog here.
Here is an excerpt from his report:
On 25 September, REN TV’s website ran a story quoting Russian-backed insurgents as saying that “dozens” of bodies had been discovered in three graves, some with organs removed. It illustrated the story with an image of men carrying what appears to be a body bag.
Four days later, REN TV’s website – from which a screen grab was taken, above – reported that “bodies continue to be discovered” in areas that it said had been recently vacated by Ukraine’s National Guard. The report contained an image of numerous body bags placed on the ground near to what appears to be a piece of white wreckage.
But both of these images were details from photographs that had appeared over a month earlier on the website of the Ukrainian version of the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty in a report referring to MH17, which was downed over insurgent-controlled east Ukraine on 17 July.
The full version of the photographs clearly shows fragments of the airliner’s wreckage.
The second image used by REN TV appears intended to support the reports of “mass graves”. The reality is rather different.
An OSCE report on 24 September about the graves mentioned by the Russian media said that two of them contained two bodies apiece. It said that at another site there was a mound resembling a grave marked by a plaque bearing the names or initials of five individuals and suggesting they had been killed on 27 August. There was another inscription saying they had died for “Putin’s lies”, the OSCE noted.
Russian media reports suggesting that more “mass graves” have been discovered, that the number of victims was much higher or that they had been subjected to torture or other abuses have not been confirmed.
OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw told Deutsche Welle radio on 25 September that a further investigation of the allegations was impossible without a forensic examination. “We do not have a single version about who carried out these killings,” he said.
Russian media, though, have been suggesting that the OSCE supports their claims. “3 mass graves found near Donetsk by self-defence forces, OSCE confirms,” ran a headline on the website of international broadcaster RT (formerly Russia Today) on 25 September.
Both the REN TV reports discussed above have since replaced the MH17 images with the following “exclusive” photo:
This image does not return previous instances in Google image search. However the photo’s provenance is unknown at this time and could even be staged.
Ukrainska Pravda reports that the press office of Serhiy Taruta, the governor of the Donetsk region, has told them that Taruta’s comments on negotiations to exchange Donetsk Airport for occupied territory elsewhere were misunderstood.
Taruta’s press office told Ukrainska Pravda (translated by The Interpreter):
“This phrase has been taken out of context. The off-record conversation was about the fact that the militants are demanding that Donetsk Airport be handed to them. In return they are offering to free several villages. They have been voicing such demands for several months already.”
The original 62.ua article reporting on Taruta’s comments has now been deleted.
Serhiy Taruta, the governor of the Donetsk region, has told Donetsk news site 62.ua today that negotiations are under way on the exchanging Donetsk Airport (which Russian backed fighters are continuing to attack today) for separatist-held territory elsewhere.
Taruta said (translated by The Interpreter):
“Negotiations on exchanging the airport are indeed under way. Unfortunately Novoazovsk is not being discussed in these negotiations – it will remain an occupied town for now. The exchange will include territory right next to Donetsk. We’re talking about large areas of territory.”
Donetsk news site 62.ua reports that the City Council has confirmed that at least 10 civilians have been killed after shells struck a school and a bus in the north of the city in yet another day of heavy shelling around the government-held airport.
The shells struck two locations, close to each other, to the south-east of the airport: a bus stopping at the Poligraficheskaya Street stop andSchool 57 on Yasnogorskaya Street.
The report says that, according to the City Council, the shells struck at 10 am, and were fired from an MLRS (multiple-launch rocket system) operated by Russian-backed fighters.
Another statement from the City Council describes the casualties at the bus stop:
6 civilians were killed – two people in the bus itself, two at the bus stop, one person received fatal shrapnel wounds at the pedestrian crossing and one more at the bus stop on the opposite side of the street. The number of casualties is to be confirmed.
Russia’s LifeNews and Komomoslkaya Pravda were soon on the scene and filmed the aftermath:
Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that the shells came from a BM-30 Smerch MLRS.
A YouTube copy of LifeNews’ report from the scene was deleted due to it’s graphic content.
This tweet includes screen captures from the video and questions why LifeNews (who have long been suspected of close ties to Russia’s security services) knew of the incident so quickly. The tweet says that there were in fact 8 bodies.
At around the same time, a short distance away, to the south-east, the grounds of School 57 on Yasnogorskaya Street were also struck. The school was filled with not only students and staff, but also parents as today is the first day of the school term.
62.ua reports, citing the City Council once more:
“A shell exploded 5 metres from the school building. There were 238 people there at the time, amongst them 70 children and 28 teachers. Four people were killed and eight received injuries of varying severity, seven of whom have been taken to hospital. None of the students were injured. Shrapnel damaged windows on the first and second floors of the school building.”
However Reuters reported that witnesses had told them that one teacher and a parent were among the four dead.
A correspondent of theirs was on the scene:
A Reuters correspondent at the scene saw a blast hole in the playground of school number 57 in Donetsk’s Kiev district and another crater in a nearby street. No children appeared to have been killed or hurt.
This footage was filmed inside the school today following the attack. At least one armed fighter is visible.
62.ua reports that there were numerous reports on social media this morning of artillery and rockets firing out of the city centre towards the airport and returning fire.
“In the city centre Grads have been firing since 6:00, from 7:00, howitzers joined in. Yesterday’s scheme. From the intensity, this is the loudest 2 days in the centre.”
“A Grad flew out from the centre to wake the kids up for school lest they oversleep. And they still call themselves defenders,” write residents.
Return fire from the airport was also reported:
“Grad flying from the direction of the airport. Don’t know where to. Feels like it’s closer to the railway. There’s now black smoke coming from there.”
All translations by The Interpreter.