Ukraine Liveblog Day 254: Poroshenko’s Party Publishes Draft Coalition Agreement

October 29, 2014
Smoke rises above Gorlovka today. Photo: @girkingirkin

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.

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.

Human Rights Watch And The Balance Of Reporting On Cluster Munitions In Ukraine

On October 20, Human Rights Watch published a report, “Widespread Use of Cluster Munitions,” which concluded that there was strong evidence that the Ukrainian government used cluster munitions. 

We had some questions about this report which we covered in a post on October 22, Assessing The Human Rights Watch Report On Cluster Munitions In Donetsk.

While HRW’s report said that both sides were implicated in the use of cluster munitions in civilian areas, the case studies by HRW focused only on their alleged use by Ukrainian armed forces. They said that could not be conclusively tied to Ukrainian forces, and mentioned the possibility that Russian-backed militants could be implicated, but did not produce any findings regarding the militants.

As we noted, the HRW report pays a great deal of attention to claims that the Ukrainian military used cluster munitions, it makes little to no effort to address the regular shelling from the Russian-backed separatists which provides the backdrop for Ukraine’s military response in Donetsk and which also kills civilians.

Not surprisingly, the Russian Foreign Ministry has now seized on HRW’s report, and urged the international community to take action only against Kiev:

However, Human Rights Watch then appears to have made some effort to address this imbalance. The Deputy Executive Director Carroll Bogert sent this tweet:

Faced with the Kremlin’s misuse of its report for its own agenda, Human Rights Watch’s researcher Ole Solvang then published a “Memo to Russia on Ukraine Cluster Munitions.” An excerpt:

We found evidence of cluster munition use in 12 locations. For some of these attacks, in particular several attacks on Donetsk in early October, we gathered significant evidence that Ukrainian armed forces were responsible.

But there are also serious allegations that pro-Russian rebel forces, and possibly Russia itself, have used cluster munitions in eastern Ukraine. All parties to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine have access to the same weapons, so it is not always possible to draw definitive conclusions with respect to specific attacks. In one case we documented in our report, cluster munitions killed 3 civilians and injured 17 in Starobesheve, a village south of Donetsk. The attack took place during  a major offensive by Russian-backed rebels against Ukrainian armed forces, who eventually  abandoned the area with very significant losses.

Ukrainian authorities immediately accused Russian forces of firing cluster munitions from Russian territory. Our on-the-ground investigation established that, given the incoming direction, these cluster munitions could have been fired by either Ukrainian or Russian forces. While circumstances raised the possibility of Russian or pro-Russian rebel responsibility, we ultimately made no definitive attribution of responsibility for this attack. But this case and others warrant more investigation.

The emphasis has now shifted to greater concern about the rebels’ use of cluster munitions, but no further findings have been produced.

One look at our reporting shows that the area in question shifted hands several times. Not only this, but evidence suggests that Russian military units were involved in at least some of the fighting. We reported on August 15 that Ukrainian forces re-took Starobesheovo, but by August 27, we reported how not only Russian-backed forces, but Russian Federation forces themselves had occupied the area. Fighting continued through the 30th.

Therefore we believe further investigation is indeed warranted.

Human Rights Watch received a significant amount of criticism for their initial report. It is interesting, then that this pop-up appears on their newest report:


The advertisement, which has also been running on Youtube and elsewhere, redirects to a petition to US Secretary of State John Kerry to “urge [Kerry]  to work in conjunction with the European Union to call for the repeal of Russia’s repressive legislation and to support Russia’s independent activists. The Kremlin’s escalating crackdown on civil society must end.” The conflict in Ukraine is only mentioned in the petition in so far as it has overshadowed human rights abuses inside Russia.

In Two Days NATO Has Intercepted Nearly As Many Russian Jets As All of 2013
NATO is reporting an alarming amount of Russian jets flying near NATO airspace over the last two days:

NATO’s Allied Command Operations has released a press release detailing each of the incidents:

NATO detected and monitored four groups of Russian military aircraft conducting significant military manoeuvers in European airspace over the Baltic Sea, North Sea/Atlantic Ocean, and Black Sea on 28 and 29 October 2014.  These sizable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace.

To drive home how unusual this amount of Russian activity is, the statement ends with a note that there have been over 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft this year — which means that the last two days may make up one quarter of all incidents. In fact, according to these numbers, the last two days may have seen nearly as many interceptions as all of 2013:

NATO jets were on standby throughout the duration of both Russian flights and Russian aircraft were continually tracked using Allied assets on the ground and in the air.  NATO has conducted over 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft in 2014 to date, which is about three times more than were conducted in 2013.

Scrambles and intercepts are standard procedure when an unknown aircraft approaches NATO airspace.  However, such flights pose a potential risk to civil aviation given that the Russian military often do not file flight plans, or use their on-board transponders. This means civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft nor ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic.

NATO Allies protect their airspace on a 24/7 basis. Allied air defence efforts are focused on stopping unauthorised incursions into NATO airspace and on preventing acts of airborne terrorism.

Estonian President Toomas Ilves is rejecting the word “intercept,” however.

Svoboda and Right Sector May Hold Only 8 of the 450 Seats In Parliament
No two political parties in Ukraine are more maligned by the Russian
government and its online supporters than Svoboda and Right Sector, two
of Ukraine’s best known Far Right parties. Ukraine’s parliament is
elected by a 50-50 system. Half the Rada is chosen based on which
parties people vote for, and the other half is chosen when individual
candidates win elections. However, neither Svoboda nor Right Sector have received the
minimum amount of votes to have representatives elected in the first manner, and the two have only had a total of 8 candidates win in individual seats. The result — the two parties may make up less than 2% of the new Rada.
German Air Force Scrambles to Intercept Seven Russian Air Force Planes

According to a report yesterday October 28 in The Aviationist, the Latvian military reported that German Air Force
Eurofighter jets on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) at Amari, Estonia, were scrambled to intercept seven Russian Air Force planes flying over the Baltic Sea in international airspace.

The German jets are stationed in Estonia, which joined NATO in 2004, to provide NATO Baltic Air Policing. The Latvians reported:

The German interceptors identified the Russian planes as a large package, made of attack planes and escort, which included 2x MiG-31 Foxhound, 2x Su-34 Fullback, 1x Su-27 Flanker and 2x Su-24 Fencer jets.

to whether the Russian aircraft were involved in one of the frequent
training missions in the Baltics or were commuting to/from the Russian
airfield in Kaliningrad oblast, the package on Oct 28 represents one of
the largest “formations” intercepted by NATO fighter planes during the last couple of years.

As we reported, in September, Latvia had to scramble two jets to intercept two Su-24s and escort them back into Russian territory.

And in August,  Russian nuclear bombers violated US airspace 16 times in 10 days.

Grad Rockets Fired In Donetsk Right Now
Grad rockets and flares are being reported in Donetsk right now.
“Outgoing” Grad fire likely means that the rockets are coming from Russian-backed militants, but we can’t confirm that yet.
Ukraine Seeing Increase In Shelling And ‘Terrorist’ Activity

As we’ve been reporting since yesterday, after more than a week of reported deescalation, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine is reporting increased shelling, and an increase in activity by both Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.

Here are some tweets from their briefing this morning:

After boycotting Sunday’s parliamentary elections, the separatists are set to hold their own elections on November 2nd.
The video below was making the rounds yesterday and reportedly shows some insurgents harassing, beating, and threatening each other.
How an RT Columnist Tries to Influence the Debate on Russia and Ukraine

We have written an exposé about RT’s newest Irish columnist, Bryan Macdonald:

Journalists who do cover Russia for mainstream outlets are used to being bombarded by abuse from dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of pro-Putin Twitter accounts accounts, many of them bought-and-paid for by the Russian government. Natural fellow travelers and bullyboys of the Kremlin abound online as well, as do Russian state-media personalities who forecast or telegraph Moscow’s policy under the guise of “alternative” viewpoints. There are those who try to steer the conversation about Russia in one direction or the other by insinuating themselves into the debate and injecting empirical or interpretive doubt or confusion about major stories where none exists.

One person utilizing some of the aforementioned tactics is a man who goes by the name of Bryan MacDonald. Though that is not his original legal name as we’ll see (and his name is often spelled differently in his various media appearances), MacDonald is a new columnist for RT, formerly Russia Today, one of the most prominent Kremlin-funded mouthpieces, although he has been working for many months to influence more respectable Western outlets’ coverage of the crisis in Ukraine. To do so, MacDonald has resorted to means both subtle and not-so-subtle.

A closer look into MacDonald’s online activity raises more questions than answers. He hides his electronic paper trail by deleting most of his tweets, entire blogs, and many of his comments. He appears in the media under multiple spellings of his name, a phenomenon which makes it more difficult to investigate his true identity and his online behavior. His job title at RT, on Western media outlets, and on Twitter, continues to change. Moreover, his biography and professional curriculum vitae is suspect, as is his sudden rise to online fame as a pro-Moscow manipulator of international media coverage of the Euromaidan Revolution.

MacDonald also resorts to threats and intimidation against those whom he fails to influence, and he is especially sensitive to any inquiries about his resume or his role as a pro-Kremlin mouthpiece.

Read the entire article here: Life of Bryan: How an RT Columnist Tries to Influence the Debate on Russia and Ukraine

In response to the article, Bryan MacDonald has sent a series of questions to The Interpreter’s editor-in-chief Michael Weiss. MacDonald’s email is enclosed below:

Hello Mr. Weiss,

The following are a list of questions for an investigation by RT. Our deadline is tight, so a prompt response is appreciated

1. The Interpreter ‘magazine’ is funded by the Institute of Modern Russia and London’s Herzen Foundation, according to its own information. We are aware of Khodorkovsky’s institute but the Herzen Foundation is less transparent. The well-known Herzen foundation closed in 1998 and was associated with the CIA agent Peter Reddaway. Is this the same organisation, re-booted? Or if it is another – can you explain your relationship with them and how they can be contacted?

2. You ran as a Republican candidate for the New York State Senate in 2004 and were heavily defeated. Are you still a member of the Republican party? If not, do you still have contacts with the party in a media role?

3. You travelled to Kiev shortly before President Poroshenko made a speech to the US congress. Why did you travel to Kiev at that time and what did you there? On the same trip, you were seen in Lviv. Why did you travel to Lviv and what did you do there?

4. Apart from the Interpreter, what is your relationship to the US government or any US state agency?

5. How and when did you meet Ben Judah?

6. How and when did you meet Anne Applebaum?

7. How and when did you meet Oliver Bullough?

8. Have you met President Poroshenko? If so, how and when?

9. Have you organised the publication of articles in the US media for Ben Judah, Oliver Bullough or Peter Pomeranstev?

10. Have you ever threatened a journalist that you will destroy their career in the USA for “not toeing the line?”

11. Do you believe that  that only modern liberal democratic states are truly legitimate?

12. How and when did you meet Sir Richard Dearlove?

13. How and when did you meet James Woolsey?

14. Which US politicians did you work closely with on behalf of the Magnitsky act?

15. Do you see yourself as first a campaigner or first a journalist?

16. Which political activists have you partnered with in Russia?

Yours faithfully,
Bryan MacDonald 

Reports Of Shelling Near Gorlovka

There are multiple reports on social media of shelling to the north-west of the separatist-held town of Gorlovka.

The Gorlovka NoW VKontakte page posted the following photos, they appear to have been taken today and show smoke rising beyond the Komsomolets area of the town, on it’s north-western side.




A comparison with this geotagged Panoramio photo:


This landmark appears to the right hand side of today’s picture and to the left of the slag heap in the Panoramio shot above:


This tower, lying between two slag heaps, is also visible in the following 

photos from the pro-separatist Gorlovka Self-Defence VKontakte page:



These photos were included in a tweet from the ‘Situation in Novoroissiya’ Twitter account, which said (translated by The Interpreter):

The militia say that they have destroyed a Ukrainian tank.

There were other reports on Twitter:

Translation: Gorlovka, in the Komsomolets are a battle is under way…

Translation: Gorlovka – a column of Bes’ [separatist militant Bezler] criminal gang’s BMPs went through Nikitovka [an area to the north of the town centre] at 11:00.

Poroshenko’s Party Publishes Draft Coalition Agreement

Bloc Petro Poroshenko, which has, based on the latest Central Election Commission (CEC) figures (with 98.49% of votes counted), come second in the October 26 parliamentary elections, just behind the Popular Front (Narodnyy Front), has published a draft coalition agreement on their website.

The party proposes a coalition with the Popular Front and the Samopomich parties, forming a broadly reformist and pro-EU bloc.

UNIAN have published an English-language summary of Ukrainska Pravda‘s report on the details of the agreement:

According to the agreement, the opposition will head the committees on regulations, on freedom of expression, on Culture and Spirituality, on Family, Youth and Sports, and the control commission on privatization.

In addition, the draft coalition agreement does not foresee deputy ministers being appointed from the various parties under a quota scheme, as was the previous practice.

It is also proposed to introduce the post of Secretary of State Government instead of the post of Minister of the Cabinet.

According to the draft agreement, all decisions of the government have to be countersigned by the ministers in charge of the portfolios affected by them.

Also, according to the draft coalition agreement, bills “in pursuance of the program of the coalition” can be submitted to parliament by the government, the president or deputies, subject to agreement with the Executive Committee on Reforms.

However, Ukrainska Pravda’s source said the Popular Front of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk disagrees with some of the proposals of the Bloc of Poroshenko regarding the administration of the country. On October 29, in mid-morning, the representatives of the party are to announce their position on the formation of a future coalition.

The source also reported that the negotiations on forming the coalition were difficult.

The Executive Committee on Reforms is a presidential advisory body, and is today headed by Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Dmytro Shimkiv. 

Ukrainska Pravda also reported on a series of fail-safe measures included in the bill, to ensure the government complied with the agreement.

The Interpreter translates:

It is written in the text that the authorities shall be formed “according to the new structure of the Cabinet of Ministers,” which likely envisions changes in its make-up.

The prime minister and other ministers will be required to sign a “commitment” to comply with the coalition agreement.

If the members of the Cabinet fail to comply with this “commitment” then this should be “grounds for their dismissal,” which should be ensured “by the members of the coalition who nominated the individual concerned for the position.”

The very same fate awaits the whole Cabinet if they fail to comply with the agreement.

“In the event of a failure by the Cabinet to implement the agreement, the coalition must initiate a vote in the Verkhovna Rada on the resignation of the Cabinet,” says the draft agreement.

They also want the Cabinet to be obliged to give a monthly report on the implementation of the agreement before the Verkhovna Rada.

Interestingly, Poroshenko’s party proposes that a minister can choose their own deputies.

“The minister specifies candidates for the duties of their deputies, and also the leaders and deputy leaders of the central executive bodies of the government, whose activities are directed by and coordinated with the minister. Quota allocation for these posts is prohibited,” says the text.

Later this morning, Interfax-Ukraine reported that the prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, has announced that his Popular Front party has prepared their own coalition agreement:

“We have prepared a coalition agreement,” he said at a press conference in Kyiv on Wednesday, adding that the project is 2.5 pages long.

According to him, it contains 36 bills that should be passed before the end of the year, and an action plan for the current government concerning the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

Here are the latest election results from the CEC as of 10:54 GMT:


Parties highlighted in red have reached the necessary 5% share of votes to enter parliament based on party lists. Smaller parties may still get into parliament if their members are elected in single-vote (odnomandatnyy) districts.