Russia and Ukraine have held their first meeting since this crisis began, and a leader for the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist movement “Right Sector” was killed.
Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.
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Below, we will be making regular updates throughout the day.
2400 GMT: The Ukrainian Navy’s minesweeper Cherkasy has been captured by Russian forces, UNIAN reported.
“As of 21:01 Ukrainskaya Pravda was able to get in touch with [sailor Oleksandr] Gutnik. “It’s over. We have been captured. Not a single one of the crew members has been hurt. We were not beaten, everything is fine,” said Gutnik.
The Cherkasy was the last boat to remain in the Crimea with the Ukrainian flag.”
As the FEMEN activist Inna Shevchenko noted on her Twitter feed, the crew of the Konstantin Olshanskiy, another ship seized by the Russians March 24, earlier recorded a YouTube video singing a Belarusian revolutionary anthem aboard the ship. The song is Warriors of Light (Voyny Sveta) by Lyapis Trubetskoi
1900 GMT: Reuters reports that Russia has staged military exercises in Transdniestria today. The unrecognised, breakaway state lies on Moldova’s border with Ukraine.
The Interfax news agency quoted a spokesman for Russia’s Western Military District, Colonel Oleg Kochetkov, as saying that Russian forces stationed in Transdniestria had “conducted an anti-terrorism drill and practiced operations to rebuff an attack on their military base”.
1844 GMT: Another update from Ukrainska Pravda on the fate of the Cherkasy. According to a report at 18:30 GMT from Ukrainian military representative Vladislav Seleznev, citing eyewitnesses, the minesweeper is being towed by a tug towards the 5th Military Base on the shore. The air over the lake smells of smoke, and Oleksandr Gutnik’s phone is not responding.
1812 GMT: More from Ukrainska Pravda on the assault on Cherkasy. According to a report from Oleksandr Gutnik, a sailor aboard the minesweeper, the ships main steering station has been knocked out by an explosion. The crew are now using an emergency steering post to control the ship. A Russian boarding party has now landed on the ship and are breaking down internal bulkheads to get to the room that the Cherkasy‘s crew have barricaded themselves inside.
1745 GMT: The Ukrainian Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, has responded to threats made by members of Right Sector following the death of Oleksandr Muzychko (known as Sashko Biliy). In comments to journalists from Hromadske TV, Avakov said that:
If, while I am in my position, criminals threaten the ministry, I will accept this challenge and I am prepared to accept any challenge, because that is my duty. And henceforth, my attitude will be pretty tough towards criminals, towards those who break the peace with armed force. I’m referring to any criminals, whatever the call themselves or whatever clothes they dress up in, whether they call themselves Right Sector, Batkivshchyna or Maidan Self-Defence.
Avakov’s comments come after threats were made by a Right Sector organiser, Roman Koval, in Rivne:
We will avenge ourselves on [Interior Minister] Arsen Avakov for the death of our brother. The shooting of Sashko Bily is a contract killing ordered by the minister.
1700 GMT: Ukrainska Pravda reports that Russian forces are once again attempting to capture the Ukrainian minesweeper Cherkasy. The Natya-class minesweeper has been trapped with other Ukrainian ships in the Lake Donuzlav bay since the Russian invasion. An attempt was made earlier this morning to capture the vessel, although the crew, joined by sailors from the now seized Chernihiv (another Nastya-class minesweeper), managed to repel the attackers. The ship was pursued by two Russian speedboats but manouevered to evade them.
According to the paper, as of 18:50 local time (16:50 GMT), Russian forces were storming the ship. This time they attacked with three speedboats and two Mi-35 Hind helicopters. A crew member reported that personnel were “battened down inside”.
The head of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence media centre in Crimea, Vladislav Seleznev, told Ukrainska Pravda that the Ukrainian tug Kovel is heading towards Cherkasy. According to some reports, shots and explosions have been heard.
1547 GMT: The Ukrainian defence minister, Ihor Tenyukh, has been dismissed, Reuters reports. In a session of the Rada, Tenyukh offered his resignation following harsh criticism of his handling of the Crimean invasion. He was criticised in particular for failing to withdraw Ukrainian armed forces from Crimea earlier. Tenyukh himself admitted that only 4,300 of the 18,800 servicemen in the Crimea planned to remain in the Ukrainian armed forces. The government has elected Mykhailo Koval, head of the Border Agency to replace Tenyukh.
1529 GMT: Ukrainska Pravda reports that the Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk, is calling for the liquidation of Regional State Administrations as the organs of executive power in the country. Instead he calls for their powers to be delegated to newly created executive committees following amendments to the Ukrainian constitution. According to the existing constitution, the heads of Regional Administrations are appointed by the president.
As prime minister, I insist on the liquidation of Regional Administrations, and I consider them a vestige of the past… The executive committees should assume all existing responsibilities for the state of affairs in each region.
1405 GMT: Kiev is preparing for the elections on May 25th. One important notice they’re trying to get out is that you will not be able to register for the first time at the actual election. This is to prevent voter fraud, much of which was reported in Crimea because people were able to register that day, perhaps at multiple polling stations. People will have to register to vote no later than May 19th.
Speaking of the election, Sergey Tigipko, a former Party of Regions (PoR) official and Yanukovych ally, will run for President.
PoR MP, ex-vice PM,ex-head of #yanukovych prez campaign in 2004,ex-head of National bank @SergeyTigipko registered prez candidate. #Ukraine
— Natalia Melnychuk (@pravolivo) March 25, 2014
by the way, Tigipko is running as an independent candidate, Mykhaylo Dobkin, ex-governor of #Kharkiv, will run from the PoR. #Ukraine
— Natalia Melnychuk (@pravolivo) March 25, 2014
Mikhail Dobkin, the former governor of Kharkiv oblast, has been arrested and is facing charges of separatism.
1345 GMT: Yesterday we reported that former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was caught, in a leaked tape, saying not-so-flattering things about Russians and Putin, things like how she wanted to “take up arms and kill the f*****g Russians along with their leader [Vladimir Putin],” the latter whom she wanted to “to grab a machine gun and shoot that motherf****r in the head.”
Tymoshenko has confirmed that the audio is genuine, though says some of it is clearly edited:
Tymoshenko confirmed that the conversation took place on Twitter from her verified account. But she pointed out that the end of the leaked recording, when she threatens to use atomic weapons against eight million Russians living in Ukraine, has been edited and manipulated.
A translation reads: “The conversation took place, but the ‘eight million Russians in Ukraine’ piece is a manipulation. In fact, I said that Russians in Ukraine are Ukrainians. Hello FSB [the Russian secret service] 🙂 Sorry for the obscene language.”
In the last part of the conversation, which is contested by the Orange Revolution leader, Tymoshenko says:
“I will raise all my connections and alert the whole world so as to turn Russia into a burned field.”
1325 GMT: In what an NPR correspondent described as the most awkward meeting of any two diplomats witnessed in recent history, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Ukrainian counterpart Andriy Deshchytsia at The Hague yesterday, at a summit on nuclear security.
“We set forth our vision to establish good national dialogue taking into account all residents of Ukraine,” Mr Lavrov told a news conference.
He also said he saw “no great tragedy” if Moscow was expelled from the G8 group of leading nations over its annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
“If our Western partners think that this format has outlived itself, then so be it. At the very least, we are not trying to cling on to this format,” he told reporters.
The remaining members of the body, who also met on the sidelines of the nuclear summit, agreed that the planned G8 summit in Russia in June would be called off because of Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine.
Instead they will meet as the G7 in Brussels at about the same time.
Lavrov demanded constitutional changes that would give more autonomy for the eastern regions of Ukraine. These demands were essentially being dictated at the point of a gun:
Before the meeting, Mr Deshchytsia said his government fears a Russian military build-up near Ukraine’s border. ‘The possibility of a military invasion is very high. We are very much worried about this concentration of troops on our eastern border,’ he said.
Several news agencies have witnessed additional Russian troops landing in Crimea, especially in the bay of Sevastopol:
1310 GMT: We start with some news we covered late last night.
UA.press.info reports that Sashko Biliy (Oleksandr Muzychko), the Right Sector coordinator for the Western district, has been found dead.
According to AutoMaidan activists, Beliy’s body was said to be found outside the city of Rovno, near the settlement of Barmarki with two bullets in his head, with his arms handcuffed.
Citing the Ukrainian online news site Charivne, Gordon.ua.com reports that Muzychko was shot about midnight in the cafe Tri Karasi. Three Volkswagen vans (two black and one white) pulled up, then unidentified persons took all the customers out of the cafe, including Muzychko. Then they placed handcuffs on him, and beat him and his two bodyguards.
“Subsequently people heard two automatic rounds. He was shot immediate behind the cafe,” said one witness. Police have not confirmed the story.
In a video appeal uploaded to YouTube 4 march, Biliy commented speaks of his plans:
“Yes, we go around with guns in our hands. The majority of these weapons we have are lawful and registered. We go around with guns, because it is a very difficult time now, there was a revolution and a civil war was underway, and now there is aggression against the government. As soon as the threat to our statehood disappears, then the guns will be where they should be, in safes and in the homes of every citizen.”
Right Sector has confirmed that Sashko Beliy is dead, obozrevatel.com reported, citing charivne.info which obtained confirmation from Jaroslav Granitniy, chairman of the Rovno Region Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA):
“Those who killed him were sure that he didn’t have a bullet-proof vest on him, and then shot him in the heart.”
Granitniy said that in the attack on the cafe, five people were kidnapped, three from Right Sector and two others, including Vladimir Datsenko, the head of the city employment center.
Официально. Правый сектор подтвердил смерть Александра Музычко (Сашка Білого).
— Майдан |#Одеса (@maidanod) March 25, 2014
Translation: @maidanod Official. Right Sector has confirmed the death of Oleksandr Muzychko (Sashka Beliy). Maidan. #Odessa
Biliy (Muzychko) was among those Ukrainians targeted by Russian law-enforcement for investigations of allegations of fighting alongside Chechen insurgents and torturing and killing Russian soldiers.
“Muzychko brutally tortured prisoners of war among the Russian federal forces and then killed them. During the period under investigation, Muzychko personally tortured and then murdered at least 20 prisoners to extract the information he required,” Markin said.
It is difficult to get facts on the case as most of the sources are Russian state news outlets or pro-Russian bloggers. Russian authorities have investigated links between Ukrainian nationalists and Chechen terrorists in the past. RIA Novosti added this context:
“Although most of those who took to the streets of the capital Kiev for anti-government protests during the last three months were peaceful, Russian state media has tried to cast the demonstrations as a predominantly Fascism-inspired movement. Many prominent figures, however, particularly those involved in violent clashes with police, have long links with far-right groups espousing aggressively nationalistic and ultraconservative views.”
This quote in itself is interesting. RIA Novosti is a Russian state-operated news agency, but one that has, traditionally, been viewed as fairly objective and independent. That was until this past fall, when RIA Novosti was taken over by Kremlin-stooge Dmitry Kiselyov. Kiselyov is the editor of Russia Segodnya (Russia Today), the new formulation of a formerly respected Russian state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti. Kiselyov is an old-school pro-Kremlin hatchet-man, and his antics are infamous. He’s been in the headlines this week because he gave a televised speech where he reminded everyone that Russia was the only country that could “reduce America to nuclear ash.”
If you really want to look into his eyes and see his soul, a good place to start would be the first speech he gave after taking over RIA Novosti.
Several agencies were shut down during this process and folded into “Rossiya Segodnya” or “Russia Today.” This was seen as the Kremlin’s way of tightening the message. As RIA is still often read by non-Russians, is Russia realizing that their initial message was not resonating with enough people in the West, so it has decided to change it?