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The Foreign Media Unit of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council has released this press release summarizing the news of the week and previewing next week. The main theme: as a coalition government is formed in Kiev, elections which the government consider to be illegal will be held on Sunday in areas of the Donbass occupied by Russian-backed militants, and fighting is on the increase.
Expectations for the next week: New coalition and peace plan jeopardized by the terrorists
1) The situation in DPR and LPR held territories is alarming again. The terrorists are systematically violating the ceasefire with an increasing number of attacks and shelling. Another attempt to disrupt the Minsk agreement – the so-called “elections”, announced for this Sunday. These elections are considered illegal by Ukraine, condemned by the US, EU states and UN Secretary-General, and even caused a protest rally among the Donbas people who have left the territories (app. 400 000 officially registered DP’s already). However, DPR and LPR leaders continued preparations, supported by Russia publicly and, as phone interception demonstrates, directly.
2) Those elections put in jeopardy not only the peace solution and rebuilding of the region, but also the area’s civilians – Ukrainian intelligence reports that provocations are being prepared that will take place during the illegal elections: terrorist are painting Ukrainian army insignia on tanks, which, along with the increased number of Russian media coming to Donetsk, is a warning for the authorities. Media and artists from Russia continued to participate in the “hybrid war”. Friday Ukrainian State Security Service initiated criminal proceedings against Russian film actor Mikhail Porechenkov. Actor was pictured shooting at Donetsk airport from the terrorists position to Ukraine’s units. Porechenkov was also wearing “PRESS” helmet, that caused protest of OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
3) The key issue for Kyiv politics next week will be the coalition negotiations. The preliminary results of the Parliamentary elections, held this week, demonstrated that pro-European and pro-reform parties led by the President, Prime-Minister and the mayor of the western-Ukrainian city of Lviv received a substantial majority, while the Communist Party and pro-nationalist Svoboda were unable to pass the election threshold. President Poroshenko already called this election as the “completion of the Re-load of power, and for the reforms”. But the format of the coalition and its coordinating rules are highly important.
a) The parliamentary majority appoints the prime minister. According to the Constitution, the head of the government is a heavy, potent figure. Conflicts between the prime minister and president have caused huge losses for Ukraine in the past. Still, both President Poroshenko and current Prime Minister Yatsenyuk have declared their understanding of the urgent need to work together, and both called the EU Association agreement as the basis for the coalition and Government program.
b) The new parliament and new coalition will open the way to the comprehensive reforms urged by the majority of Ukrainians and western partners. Dozens of reform projects, draft laws and programs have been developed and announced by the president already, including the reforming of the State Judiciary system, law enforcement reform and transformation from a post-Soviet to a competitive, transparent economy. Still, some developments are still significant – President Poroshenko continued to fulfill lustration legislation, and dismissed 30 local administration heads from different regions.
4) Next week will also be less tensed in the energy part of the conflict with Russia. While Ukraine still expects the decision of the Stockholm Arbitration Court on the gas contract with Russia, Ukraine, Russia and EU reached temporary agreement on the price and conditions of the gas supply to Ukraine, that will allow Ukraine and EU to secure energy supply this winter.
Russia started this year by annexing Crimea, and then within weeks had already begun to militarily and politically support the separatists in Ukraine, culminating in what could only be called a limited invasion at the end of August.
However, as a new treaty between Abkhazia and Moscow is being hashed out at the moment, there are signs that Russia is once again doubling down its efforts to control the disputed territory of Abkhazia, which most nations recognize as part of Georgia. Some see the new draft treaty as alarming — effectively codifying Russia’s annexation, or near annexation, of the breakaway province. Open Democracy’s Sergey Markedonov, a specialist on the Caucasus at the Russian State Humanitarian University, has analyzed the draft document and argues that while alarming it’s not a significant deviation from the current relationship between Russia and Abkhazia:
But what is causing such an emotional response among Abkhazians? Here we need to bear in mind that territories with ‘disputed sovereignty’ (or as some specialists refer to it, ‘suspended’ sovereignty’) are naturally very sensitive about the whole subject of sovereignty. Unrecognised or only partially recognised statehood can give rise to questions, scathing comments, and sometimes contemptuous sneers; and for the governments and populations of such states, any question about handing over powers to anyone else is a cause of deep sensitivity and alarm. If Russia, a nuclear power and permanent member of the UN Security Council, puts the preservation of its ‘full sovereignty’ at the centre of its relations with the West (in both its internal politics and on the global stage), then little Abkhazia, recognised by only a handful of other countries, regards any intervention from outside with apprehension, at the very least.
The draft Russo-Abkhazian agreement does, however, contain clauses proposing the handing over of a considerable chunk of sovereignty to Russia, in the shape of ‘a concerted foreign policy,’ and ‘the formation of a common defensive and security zone’ that will include ‘the creation of a ‘joint force for repelling any attack from outside,’ as well as joint operations to protect the Republic of Abkhazia’s borders.
Another clause provides for the creation, within a year of the treaty being signed, of a Coordination Centre to facilitate joint police action against organised crime, and other dangerous criminal activities, and extremism on Abkhazian territory. The treaty would also create a single trade and customs zone across the two countries, although Russia would set up a ‘specialised customs agency’ whose monitoring activities would have to be recognised by the Abkhazian authorities.
In essence, there is nothing new in this document. Russia already has an FSB border checkpoint inside Abkhazia; and agreement has also been reached on a joint army base. The only extra element here is integrated policing.
Still, that analysis makes no mention of Ukraine, or Russia’s aggressive actions toward NATO. In light of recent history, one could be excused for thinking that the draft treaty is Moscow’s may of finishing a job it started in 2008’s invasion of Georgia.
The latest OSCE report highlights two examples of heavy fighting in Lugansk oblast over the last two days. The first incident highlights reports that Ukrainian positions are under attack. The second highlights that Ukraine appears to be firing rockets:
On 30 October the SMM visited Stanitsa Luhanska (17km N of Luhansk), controlled by Ukrainian forces, where local residents and the head of the local administration informed the SMM that the town is subject to constant exchanges of fire between Ukrainian forces and irregular armed groups affiliated to the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”). The head of the local administration said that on 29 October the bus station in the town had been shelled at 11.00hrs and that a woman had been injured. According to the head of the local administration, “LPR” forces, positioned on a hill on the southern riverbank, are shelling the town on a daily basis. According to a local resident, one Ukrainian tank and one armoured personnel carrier (APC) are located in the city, next to the area which had been shelled the previous day.
The SMM visited Popasna (80km E of Luhansk) on 29 October, and while in the town it heard the sound of shelling. After leaving the city, the SMM was able to ascertain that the continued shelling was coming from the direction of Zolote and Popasna, both under control of Ukrainian forces. The shelling appeared to be outgoing, however the SMM was unable to ascertain whether there was also incoming shelling from “LPR”-controlled areas.
To be clear, the Ukrainian government itself has reported returning fire at positions held by Russian-backed separatists, so it’s not clear if that’s what the OSCE was witnessing in Popasna.
As we analyzed earlier today, the two parties which have the most seats in the new parliament are the parties of Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and its Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. RFE/RL reports that Poroshenko is now proposing to keep Yantsenyuk on as Prime Minister:
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is proposing that Arseniy Yatsenyuk stay on as prime minister following the country’s parliamentary elections last weekend.
“I have proposed that the Petro Poroshenko Bloc put forward Arseniy Yatsenyuk to the post of prime minister,” Poroshenko wrote on Twitter on October 31.
Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front party narrowly beat out the Petro Poroshenko Bloc in voting by party in the October 26 election, according to a nearly complete count.
But Poroshenko’s bloc fared better in first-past-the-post voting and was positioned to take more parliament seats than the People’s Front, according to election commission data.
UNIAN reports, citing a TV news report by TSN, that Ukrainian soldiers at the 31st checkpoint near the Bakhmutka highway in the Lugansk region have come under attack.
The checkpoint has become the foremost point of defence since over 100 Ukrainian troops were evacuated from the 32nd checkpoint, near Smile, after being pinned down and attacked for nearly two weeks.
The 31st checkpoint came under heavy shelling today, seriously wounding at least one soldier and killing another.
This is not the first shelling attack on the checkpoint, according to local residents, who told TSN that such bombardments are happening several times a day at the moment. The locals have taken to sheltering in basements.
The nearby 29th checkpoint was also attacked. One shell reportedly struck a dugout, but it has not yet been possible to ascertain any information on casualties.
As we reported earlier, a Russian actor, Mikhail Porechenkov, has been filmed wearing press insignias while shooting a machine gun. Porechenkov wasn’t just firing in an exercise, he was actually firing toward the Ukrainian military position in Donetsk Airport. He is now being investigated by the Ukrainian Security Services for participation in “terrorist activities.”
The OSCE has condemned the incident and the misuse of press insignias.
“This is a deplorable and shameful abuse of press insignia. It puts journalists in conflict zones at grave risk and it is detrimental to all efforts made to protect members of the media”, Mijatović said.
“Journalists’ safety is paramount and press insignias are one of the few measures they can take to ensure their safety in conflict zones.”
But as we’ve pointed out in our Russia This Week liveblog, this is hardly the only incident where Russian or pro-Russian journalists have blurred the lines between reporters and combatants. For instance, Graham Phillips, an RT stringer, has dressed in the uniform of the Russian-backed insurgents and has been filmed firing a gun in an insurgent training camp.
Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer who was captured by separatist militants and illegally taken across the border to Russia, where she is standing trial for the alleged murder of Russian journalists, has left the Serbsky Centre, where she had been sent for ‘psychiatric evaluation’ and is being transferred to a pre-trial detention centre (SIZO).
On October 27, having lost an appeal, her detention was extended for another 3 months.
Savchenko’s lawyers, Mark Feygin and Nikolai Polozov, have been tweeting on the case:
Translation: So then, everything is confirmed. They are now transporting Nadezhda Savchenko from the Serbsky clinic back to SIZO. They’ve finished the examination.
Translation: So they didn’t let us see Nadezhda in the hospital. Now she’s already in jail again.
Polozov is worried that, as the Unity Day public holiday is approaching, Savchenko’s jailers will have a window of opportunity to work her over while her lawyers are unable to visit the detention centre.
Translation: Given that today is the last working day before the holiday, we will not be able to see her until Wednesday at the earliest. They are deliberately hiding her from us.
Translation: We have serious reason to believe that, up until November 5, they will put pressure on Savchenko in order to get her to reject her defence team.
All translations by The Interpreter.
We’re beginning to get a sense of what Ukraine’s parliament will look like. There are a few important data points. The first is that the ultranationalist Right Sector and Svoboda did not receive a high enough percentage of votes to have any proportional representation in the Verkhovna Rada. While some individual candidates from those parties did win some seats, they will make up an extremely small percentage of the Rada.
The next point is that while the President, Petro Poroshenko, did win a large victory and his party holds the most seats. But as you can see in the infographic below, he will need the help of a lot of other parties if he wants to get anything done.
Perhaps the most important thing, however, is that as the graph above shows, the major establishment candidates outnumber the smaller fringe groups. Radical agendas, or pro-Russian candidates who won, will not be able to stop progress because Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk, and others will not allow that to happen.
In an informative and concise article, Kyiv Post explains that the pro-EU and pro-reform parties have significant power but still need a coalition:
Six parties that have crossed the 5 percent threshold through the proportional system will carve up 225 seats in the parliament that officially has 450 seats. Representatives of other parties, as well as an assortment of independent candidates, will take the remaining seats, with the exception of 27 seats in the constituencies where elections were not held because of the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s invasion of Donbas.
Poroshenko’s party is slated to have 132 seats in parliament along with candidates elected in single-seat districts, while the People’s Front expects to have 83 deputies. Together, that’s just 10 seats short of the majority.
Other important unanswered questions remain. The most important is how well the Ukrainian government will deal with the legacy of corruption and Ukraine’s decimated economy. But the results of the election at least guarantee that radicals and pro-Russians will not stall this agenda.
Yesterday October 30, the pro-separatist “Novorossiya TV” uploaded a video to YouTube showing a famous Russian actor Mikhail Porechenkov, shooting a machine gun at the Ukrainian position at the Donetsk Airport.
Porechenkov is known for his war action films like D-Day, the
Russian remake of the American film Commando. He gives an
emotional speech in support of for the
“Novorossiya” fighters, conveying the support of the “folks back home.”
Asked about how the Chechen war, which he experienced, differed from
the war in Ukraine, he said it was “horrible” in the same way — but
Then he and his hosts laugh at the idea of any “cease fire” and he starts shooting at the airport:
What’s troubling about the scene is not only that he is taking the side of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and shooting what appears to be live ammunition at Ukrainian soldiers, he is dressed in
the protective clothing issued to Russian journalists — the same
bullet-proof flack jacket and helmet with the word “PRESS” stenciled on
“PRESS” can be seen clearly on his helmet when he turns around after shooting to greet his fans.
In a statement on its Facebook page,
the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) announced it has opened a criminal
case against Porechenkov under Art. 258-3 (“participation in terrorist
activities”) with the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”.
Of course this is not the first time we’ve seen the distinction blurred between journalist and soldier. For more coverage see our Russia This Week blog.
But where are those aircraft flying? Washington Post gives us this infographic below. They report that it’s not just the frequency and location of the Russian aircraft that is unusual, but it’s also the type of jets Russia is flying that is raising alarm — that combined with the fact that some of the flights are a threat to civilian airliners since the Russian craft turned off their transponders:
In at least one of the four incidents, the aircraft had switched off their transponders and had not filed flight plans with civilian air traffic controllers. That means that civilian air traffic control cannot track them, potentially creating a risk for civilian planes.
That incident took place around 3:00 a.m. in Western Europe on Wednesday, when four Tu-95 long-range strategic nuclear bombers and four Il-78 tanker aircraft flew over the Norwegian Sea. Norwegian F-16 fighter jets scrambled to intercept them. Six of the planes returned to Russia, but two of the bombers skirted the Norwegian coast, flew past Britain — sending Typhoon fighter jets to scramble in response — and then finally looped west of Spain and Portugal, attracting Portuguese F-16s. Then the two bombers appeared to return to Russia, Janzen said.
The Tu-95 bombers are not commonly seen close to Europe, Janzen said. Nor are the MiG-31 fighter jets that were intercepted along with other aircraft above the Baltic Sea in two separate incidents Tuesday and Wednesday. It was not immediately clear whether the two incidents above the Baltic represented the same group of seven planes entering and departing a Russian military base at Kaliningrad.
As a result of incidents similar to these, and the recent hunt for a suspected Russian submarine, for the first time in history a new poll shows that more Swedes are in favor of joining NATO.
This week a fire destroyed the oldest movie theater in Kiev. Perhaps this is not an international headline, but the Zhovten theater is a cultural icon in the capital. However, witnesses say that the fire started when a man threw a smoke grenade in the middle of the theater while a LGBT movie was playing. The Moscow Times reports:
None of the 100 or so people who attended the screening Wednesday night appeared to have been injured, but the landmark movie theater, Zhovten, constructed in 1931, was badly damaged as the flames continued raging for hours, Ukrainian media reported.
The fire started during the screening of French film Les Nuits d’Ete (Summer Nights), which was showing as part of an LGBT program at the Molodist, or Youth, film festival.
Movie-goer Yevhen Zelman said on his Facebook page that the fire broke out when an unidentified man tossed an “incendiary smoke grenade” behind people sitting in back rows, adding that “it was very scary, because it was tossed right behind our backs.”
Film festival coordinator Alexei Chaschin, who attended the screening, said that the “film had been playing for 20 minutes already when people in back rows shouted: ‘Smoke!'” LB.ua news portal reported.
The Moscow Times notes, however, that not everyone is convinced that this incident was related to the movie:
Initial media reports cited movie-goers as saying the fire may have been started by arsonists who were outraged by the screening of the gay-themed film. Others in Ukrainian media and politics suggested a connection with a business dispute that saw the movie theater fighting to avoid eviction from its building.
Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency reports that a Russian convoy of trucks carrying “humanitarian aid” has entered Ukraine today. This is the fourth such convoy to enter Ukraine. Today’s carries, according to the Russian Emergencies Ministry, 1,000 tonnes of aid.
RIA Novosti reported that “part of the Russian humanitarian convoy has arrived in Donetsk and Lugansk.”
This is the first time such a convoy has headed to Donetsk, which is the scene of regular fighting around the government-held airport and daily exchanges of shelling.
Today, the fighting shows no sign of abating:
The convoy stopped in the southern Budenovsky district of the city, where, RIA Novosti reports, security forces, journalists and volunteers were gathered.
Silver Meikar took photos of the unloading in Donetsk. His report (in Estonian) is here to read at Delfi.
On October 28, Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, said that:
“The Ukrainian side received no official information, no official document in this regard.”