Ukraine Liveblog Day 242: Poroshenko And Putin Talk In Milan

October 17, 2014
Photo: Reuters

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

Intense Shelling of Donetsk Airport, Then Lull

Currently, the live feed trained on the airport seems quiet and there are no sounds of shelling.

But there have been reports of occasional shelling tonight.

And 3 hours ago at 20:50 local time (GMT+3), there were reports of intense artillery shelling, even “the  highest since the confrontations in the area of the airport began,” reports.

Fierce battle at the Donetsk airport continues several hours already. Ukrinform journalist reports that the intensity of artillery shelling increased and now it may be considered one of the highest ever. The explosions could be heard in the center and northern part of the city, Censor.NET reports.

Heavy artillery equipment is used – tanks and self-propelled guns perhaps, the media says.

The situation in Donetsk remains tense. The energy supply to the districts, where the power was cut at night, is partially restored.

Earlier, the City Council reported that the shooting and explosions were heard this afternoon in Donetsk in almost all districts.

Despite devastation of the airport buildings, Ukrainian troops have managed to keep their flag on top of the damaged air traffic control tower.

Translation: Very strong photo: the flag of Ukraine hangs on the broken tower at the Donetsk airport.

Putin Refuses Further Gas Delivery to Ukraine on Credit; Urges ‘Consumer Discipline’
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has made it clear after talks with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko that he will not sell any more gas on credit due to Ukraine’s gas debts, and demands pre-payment, reported.

Russia is willing to discount Ukraine’s gas debt by $100 per 1,000 cubic meters (tcm), which would bring it down from $5.5 billion to $4.5 billion and that’s it.

But Russia has offered a price of $385 tcm, less than the $400 average for its European customers, and Kiev has argued that this is too high and wants to reduce it to $285 tcm.

Moscow has also threatened to reduce Europe’s gas deliveries if it siphons off its gas to give to Ukraine.

Speaking to journalists today
at a press conference in Milan after his meeting with Poroshenko, Putin said (translation by The Interpreter):

Russia will no longer deliver anything on credit. And I will say why. First, there has to be a certain consumer discipline; in fact the level of collection let’s say, in Ukraine, is very low, lower than in Russia, and the cost, the price is fairly low.

He reminded reporters that Russia had given Ukraine a $3 billion loan at the end of last year, and Ukraine owed $1.4 billion for the last two months of 2013.

This is an undisputed figure. Regarding the deliveries last year, on the whole no one disputes anything. But no one wants to pay the money.

According to our estimates, $4.5 billion is Ukraine’s debt for gas already delivered and not paid for. Gazprom has moved to a pre-payment procedure in accordance with the contract and can’t change the terms of delivery. We understand the financial state of our Ukrainian partners and we see that really, they have a cash gap.

Trilateral talks will resume among Russia, Ukraine and the EU on October 21.

OSCE Report On Shelling In Donetsk And Schastye

The OSCE has published the latest report from their Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine.

The report discusses the ongoing shelling in the separatist-held city of Donetsk, where Russian-backed forces are currently fighting to push Ukrainian forces back from the airport. 

The report also describes reports of shelling directed at the power station in Schastye.

Here is the full report:

On 16 October the SMM visited Shchastya (24km north of Luhansk) and heard outgoing mortar fire from an unknown location west of the town. Ukrainian soldiers at a checkpoint west of Shchastya town informed the SMM that this mortar fire had been heard constantly on 15 and 16 October.

The SMM spoke with members of the “Aidar” volunteer battalion, based in the power plant in Shchastya (see Daily Report of 4 September). They told the SMM that a power outage in the region on 15 October had nothing to do with military activity, but was due to a technical failure. Members of the 24 battalion told the SMM that the shelling from “Lugansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) usually takes place during shift changes and that four civilian workers had been wounded during the time the battalion was deployed in the plant.

The mayor of Popasna (85km north-west of Luhansk), which is controlled by Ukrainian forces, informed the SMM that the town has undertaken repair work in preparation for winter. According to the interlocutor the gas and water supply in the town has been re-established and a commission has been formed to assess damage caused to housing due to shelling. The town only has funds (mainly from charitable donations) to repair windows and roofs. Of the 200 houses and 30 apartments damaged in Popasna, about half have been repaired, the interlocutor said.

On 14 October, in Debaltseve (72km north-east of Donetsk), the SMM met Lieutenants General Yuryi Dumanskyi and Aleksandr Lentsov, the Ukrainian and Russian heads of the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC). The generals said that their contingents had been deployed under Article 8 of the Minsk Memorandum, which had referred to deployment of an OSCE mission. The SMM explained that only the OSCE PC could deploy field missions, as it had done in the case of the SMM. The SMM’s presence in the Security Zone had been further increased following signature of the Minsk Memorandum, and its monitors were present there and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine. The SMM also explained that monitors could not be integrated into the JCCC itself, which was a bilateral initiative, but assured the sides that the SMM would continue to assign personnel to the JCCC HQ in Debaltseve and to its teams in each of the JCCC’s four sectors. These personnel would monitor and report on the work of the JCCC, and on compliance with the Minsk Memorandum; and facilitate dialogue between members of the JCCC at HQ and sector level, as necessary.

In the city of Donetsk and its surroundings, the overall security situation was volatile. On 16 October at 13:40 the SMM heard loud explosions consistent with artillery or mortar rounds from an unspecified close distance to the west of the SMM location. At 16:23 the SMM heard a series of loud explosions (more than 10), consistent with incoming artillery or mortar rounds in the northern outskirts of the city. At 17:00hrs the SMM heard a series of loud explosions consistent with outgoing artillery or mortar rounds at an unspecified close distance to the west of the SMM location.

In Mariupol the security situation remained tense. The SMM did a follow-up visit to the site of the shelling in the village of Sartana on 14 October (see Spot Report 15 October). The site was covered with flowers and tributes. On 15 October 2014 in the evening, the SMM observed a public rally in Mariupol to support the people of Sartana following the shelling incident. The rally in Mariupol was called by the mayor in order to show solidarity with the people of Sartana. Opening the meeting with a speech, the mayor promised support to the people of Sartana, including the transfer of some casualties to Kyiv for further treatment. The crowd was observed by approximately 20 police officers. No incidents were reported.

The situation in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Kherson remained calm.

In Odesa the SMM monitored a rally of activists of Ukraine’s unity in support of Vyacheslav Babeyko, accused of hooliganism in connection with beating up a member of parliament in front of the Odesa Regional Administration building on 30 September. The SMM saw at the Regional Investigation Department building about 40 police officers and about 15 activists. At the District Court, when the hearing of Babeyko started, a crowd of about 30 Maidan and “Right Sector” activists were present –both women and men. No security incidents were reported.

The situation in Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv and Kyiv remained calm.

Poroshenko – No Concrete Results On Gas Following Talks With Putin

Interfax-Ukraine reports that, following tête-à-tête talks with Vladimir Putin, Petro Poroshenko has told reporters that no concrete results have been reached in their discussions on gas supplies.

Poroshenko said (translated by The Interpreter):

“We were unable to achieve any concrete results on the gas issue. But we’re hoping that we will be able to find a solution to this issue by the 21st of October and the meeting in Brussels of delegations from Ukraine, Russia and the European Commission.”

Earlier today, President Poroshenko had said that “limited progress” had been made on the issue, adding that the “main parameters of the contract” had been agreed upon. 

Speaking to reporters immediately afterwards, President Putin reiterated his position that Russia will not supply Ukraine with gas on credit:

DNR Leader Says Kiev Special Status Law Is A Bluff

The Russian Interfax news agency reports that Andrei Purgin, the ‘first deputy prime minister’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), has told the agency that the Ukrainian government is not, in fact, fulfilling the Minsk protocols with the signing yesterday of the law on the special status of the Donbass.

Interfax reports (translated by The Interpreter):

“The version of the law on the special status of the Donbass signed by Poroshenko is meaningless, because it does not specify which districts are afforded special status rights,” said Purgin to Interfax on Friday by telephone.

He believes that an additional Rada ruling is required, which would state the specific areas in which the law will come into effect. However it will be difficult to pass such a ruling “considering the militaristic frenzy in Ukraine on the eve of the elections,” noted Purgin.

“This step can be regarded as a simulation of the fulfilment of the Minsk accords by Kiev. This is clear. The Minsk accords are not actually being fulfilled. There appears to be a special status, but has not actually been granted to anyone. This is a bluff and a PR move from Kiev specifically for the Milan meeting with Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel,” said Purgin.

The special status law, which was signed into effect by President Poroshenko yesterday, was passed by the Verkhovna Rada on September 16.

Milan Negotiators Agree On Commitment To Minsk Accords

Interfax-Ukraine reports that President Petro Poroshenko has announced the agreement of two main points during today’s talks in Milan between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, Germany, the UK, Italy and EU officials.

“The first decision is: the parties remain firmly committed to the implementation of the Minsk memorandum and concentrate their efforts on implementing absolutely all the 12 clauses of the Minsk memorandum,” Poroshenko told journalists following the negotiations on Friday.

Secondly, the parties agreed that local elections in eastern Ukraine “should be based on the law that I signed yesterday,” he said.

“The elections should be held on the territory that is determined by the Minsk protocol as of September 19,” Poroshenko said.

It was reported earlier that Poroshenko had signed into law a bill on special self-government procedures in part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions on Thursday.

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Poroshenko told Ruslan Deynychenko from Voice of America about three key topics of negotiation:

“Firstly, all the points of the Minsk memorandum must be fulfilled, the second point is the holding of elections in the Donbass, 3 – concrete progress on gas.”

Poroshenko And Putin May Have Bilateral Talks Later In Day – Peskov

Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reports that Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s spokesman, has said that the Russian and Ukrainian presidents may meet later for “tête-à-tête” bilateral negotiations following continued round-table talks in Milan today.

Peskov said that the talks began on the issue of gas supplies. The Russian delegation in Italy includes the head of Gazprom, Alexei Miller, and the Russian energy minister, Aleksandr Novak.

Reuters reports that President Poroshenko has told reporters that Russia and Ukraine have “agreed on the main parameters of the [gas] contract.” 

DNR Say They Will Not Allow Ukraine Or ‘International Mediators’ To Control Border With Russia

Interfax-Ukraine reports that Andrei Purgin, the ‘first deputy prime minister’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), has said that the separatist administration will not allow the Ukrainian state border service to control the section of the Russo-Ukrainian border in their hands.

“We control the border and we will not let Ukrainian border guards return there. We don’t need any international mediators on the border, either,” Andrei Purgin, first deputy prime minister of the DNR, told Interfax.

Otherwise “there will be a blockade and they will simply stifle us,” Purgin said. “We can’t let that happen,” he said.

Ukrainian border guards and customs officers “voluntarily left the international road checkpoints [located on the part of the border controlled by the militia],” he said.

“Some of these former Ukrainian checkpoints are now empty and the others have been disassembled by local residents for scrap metal,” Purgin said.

4 Ukrainian Soldiers Recovered After 11 Went Missing Following Ambush Near Smile

Ukrainian military spokesmen have today announced that 4 Ukrainian soldiers have been recovered out of 11, who went missing following an ambush yesterday near Smile in the Lugansk region.

AFP reports:

Eleven Ukrainian soldiers are missing in action after getting caught in an ambush in the conflict-torn east, a military spokesman told AFP Friday.

“Yesterday the fighters from a special forces battalion were going to a checkpoint near the village of Smile (Lugansk region) but came across an ambush,” said spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov. “11 soldiers are missing,” and burnt-out Ukrainian military equipment was found in the area.

Ukrainska Pravda reports further on Seleznyov’s comments (translated by The Interpreter):

“On Thursday fighters of a special battalion from Vinnytsia, who were headed to a National Guard checkpoint near Smile, fell into an ambush. On Thursday, 11 people vanished without a trace. Their BTR and BMP were destroyed,” said Seleznyov.

“However, as of Friday, four fighters returned to their deployment base. We’re waiting for the rest,” he said.

Seleznyov explained that there are diversionary groups of militants scattered around the area, who are “using portable mortars to periodically shell our positions.”

“There was no shelling recorded in the area on Friday morning,” Seleznyov added.

In turn, the spokesman for the SNBO [National Security and Defence Council], Andrei Lysenko, said at a briefing that the “situation in the Smile area has been stabilising, the enemy has been repelled, our positions fortified, and their defenders have received the required reinforcements.”

He summarised that, “over the last 24 hours, the checkpoint has been shelled 8 times.” 

The incident comes during an offensive by separatist fighters in the area around the Bakhmutka highway, with multiple attacks at various points in the area over the last few days.

On October 15 the governor of Lugansk, Hennadiy Moskal, reported that 112 Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded near Smile by militants claiming adherence to the “Army of the Don Cossacks,” led by Pavel Dremov. 

Poroshenko And Putin Speaking In Milan

A second round of talks including Presidents Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin has just begun in Milan at the ASEM summit of European and Asian leaders.

The round-table talks are a continuation of those held earlier today and also include the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the French president François Hollande, the British prime minister, David Cameron, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy and the EU high commissioner on foreign policy, Federica Mogherini.

President Poroshenko’s press secretary Svyatoslav Tsegolko took both the picture above and the one below, which shows the first round of talks:

Reports from both the Russian and Ukrainian camps indicate that the first round of talks did not go very well.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Russian president’s talks with the EU and Ukraine are “difficult”.

Reuters reports that Peskov:

poured cold water on hopes of any breakthrough, saying “certain participants” had taken an “absolutely biased, non-flexible, non-diplomatic” approach to Ukraine.

“The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, the exchange opinion is in progress,” he said.

Poroshenko’s comments to the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, were even gloomier.

A Reuters reporter witnessed the Ukrainian president say:

“Unfortunately, I am not very optimistic.” 

While Putin reportedly says that he has no desire to see the war in the Donbass become a frozen conflict, as seen in Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh, he is still not willing to discuss Russia’s active role the fighting.

A Kremlin statement on a meeting in the early hours of this morning between Putin and Merkel suggests that the Russian president insisted that conflict is a domestic affair:

The two leaders continued to express serious differences in views on the source of Ukraine’s domestic conflict, as well as root causes for what is happening there today.