Ukraine Liveblog Day 44: Yanukovych Adopts Kremlin Talking Points

April 2, 2014

Ousted President Viktor Yanukovych has given a definat speech today, while Ukraine’s new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk tries to find a path forward to rebuild the government.

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. Be sure to visit or refresh the page often.

2053 GMT: Russia has cancelled negotiations with Ukraine, scheduled to take place in Minsk on April 4th. The Belarusian news agency Belsat reports:

The Russian side cancelled the talks of foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia which were scheduled on April 4 in Minsk.

‘We agreed on deputy-ministers-level contacts. This meeting was almost arranged, but yesterday we got a message that unfortunately, Mr Karasin would not be able to arrive in Minsk on April 4,’ acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia told agency Interfax-Ukraine.
According to him, the Ukrainian side will be weighing other options for negotiations.

1835 GMT: A major breakdown in international relations, as a program that predates the end of the Cold War appears to be drawing to a close:

It’s worth noting, however, that Russian officials have been threatening to cut off NASA for some time. In August, Russia threatened to stop sending the US the RD-180 rocket engines for use in Atlas V rockets, which would be a major blow to an American space program that is now dependent on Russian spacecraft and private space companies.

1828 GMT: If Russia is pulling back from Ukraine’s border, foreign intelligence agencies including NATO and the US are not seeing any evidence of it:

1819 GMT: Speaking of Ukrainian Oligarch Dmitro Firtash (jump to update 1745), John Horne forwards us a clipping from the UK publication Public Eye that established an interesting fact. The increasingly-infamous London PR firm Bell Pottinger is circulating a dossier defending their newest client, Firtash:

2014-04-02 15.51.36 (1)

If we find more details we’ll publish them.

1800 GMT: The Ukrainian government is angry with Russia over the seizure of 70 of its ships, including the corvette Ternopil, taken as Russia annexed the Crimea, and is demanding their return. Many of the ships that were captured were trapped in Donuzlav lake as the Russian navy scuttled many warships in the outlet between the lake and the open ocean, and while most of the Ukrainian equipment was captured after the Crimean referendum, the lake was closed off on March 5th.

Donuzlav lake Crimea   Google Maps

1745 GMT: RFE/RL has details on the charges that Ukrainian oligarch Dmitro Firtash, a former ally of Viktor Yanukovych, is facing in US courts.

U.S. prosecutors have accused Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash and five other people of being part of an international racketeering conspiracy in which millions of dollars of bribes were paid to Indian officials to secure titanium-mining licenses.

The U.S. Justice Department unveiled the indictment against Firtash on Wednesday. It says that beginning in 2006, the suspects conspired to pay more than $18 million in bribes to secure mining contracts in India’s Andra-Pradesh state.

Firtash was arrested last month in Vienna on an U.S. warrant, but the allegations against him were not immediately divulged. He was released on a record 125 million-euro ($172 million) bail on promises he will not leave Austria. The other five suspects remain at large.

For more information on Firtash, read Foreign Policy’s Married to the Ukrainian Mob

1445 GMT: The OSCE has deployed monitors to eastern Ukraine. Financial Times reports:

Monitors from the OSCE have arrived in Kiev and fanned out to nine cities across Ukraine on a six-month mission to study developments in the escalating conflict with Russia and reduce tensions on the ground.

Initially 100 monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe will work in Ukraine before rising to as many as 500. The deployment is the result of a hard-fought compromise between western countries and Russia, which is a participating state in the OSCE and insisted the mission be limited to mainland Ukraine and exclude Crimea, which it annexed last month.

On Russia’s insistence, the mission will also deploy to cities in western Ukraine, where support for the Kiev government is highest, and not just the eastern and southern cities that have been the site of pro-Russian demonstrations and clashes with counter-protesters in the past month and a half.

The Kyiv Post reports that a small group of pro-Russian protesters have gathered outside the hotel where the OSCE is staying, demanding an objective assessment from the monitors.

A quick check on social media indicates that there is no significant protest at the moment in Kharkiv.

1422 GMT: While European markets have risen, the ruble is once again falling, despite Russian efforts to bolster the falling value of its currency. The Wall Street Journal reports:

In other news, the ruble weakened around 0.3%, as the dollar rose as high as 35.42 rubles after Finance Minister Anton Siluanov’s comments.

“The reason they [the Russian authorities] are doing it now is they have the view the situation has calmed down and that additional dollar purchases aren’t going to push the [ruble any lower],” said Peter Kinsella, a currencies strategist at Commerzbank in London.

Russia’s currency slumped to record low levels against the dollar and euro in early March as concerns over the country’s actions in neighboring Ukraine hit markets. In March, Russia’s central bank sold foreign currencies at its fastest clip since January 2009 to prop up the ruble.

The ruble has staged a recovery recently and currently trades at 35.286 against the buck, up around 4% from the record low it fell to March 3.

Russian stock markets also fell, with the MICEX down nearly 1% and the RTS down nearly 2%:

INDEXCF Quote   MICEX Index   Bloomberg april 2

Both indexes have benefited from Russia’s rescue of the ruble, and from decreased chances of further Russian invasion, but the reality is that the weak growth of both indexes is widely seen as a market correction from the record drop in February and early March, and the gains have failed to erase the losses. The MICEX is down 9.4% since the start of the year, despite 5.66% gains in the last 30 days.

1407 GMT: The Interior Ministry investigation into the death of prominent Right Sector member Oleksandr Muzychko, aka Sashko Bily, has determined that Bily shot himself:

The inquiry by the interior ministry said Oleksandr Muzychko, aka Sashko Bily, had shot himself in the heart as police tried to wrestle him to the ground during the chase.

The investigators determined that Mr Muzychko, 51, had shot twice as police were trying to arrest and handcuff him.

The first shot scratched his skin, they said, but the second proved fatal.

The policemen tried to treat him at the scene and called an ambulance.

Earlier, one of the police officers was shot and injured by Mr Muzychko during the chase.

The inquiry concluded that the police had acted lawfully.

To say that this will not go over well with Right Sector is an understatement. Earlier this week, Right Sector members held a rally in front of the Rada where they demanded the resignation of Ukraine’s top cop, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

1352 GMT: US President Barack Obama has been criticized by some as not sending a strong enough message to Russia, but the fact remains that the American people are in a very isolationist mood:

US support for nato poll

Interestingly, if you dig within this poll, it seems that the American people may not be clear who NATO is, since their support for defending NATO is higher than their support for defending several NATO members:

The latest research from YouGov shows that most Americans (60%) still support the American commitment to defend NATO allies if they are under attack, while 17% say that it is no longer necessary. Support is highest among Republicans (65%) and lowest among Independents (56%), while 60% of Democrats support the NATO commitment.

In one of our podcasts, we explore the issue of American isolationism as we ask a basic question: Why should we care about Crimea? Listen below, or click here to open in a new window and see links to other podcasts.

1340 GMT: Meanwhile, Ukraine’s government is maintaining that it is a “war-time” government, and one that is struggling to fix the military and economy that they say have been dismantled by the former president:

“This is a war-time government,” [Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk] said, speaking at an investors’ conference in Kyiv sponsored by Dragon Capital. “We prevented Russian military operation in the eastern and southern parts of the country…”

“Everything needs to be reformed, from energy to constitution,” he said. “We expect a version of the new constitution to emerge in the next two weeks.”

He called the macroeconomic picture “not as good as could be, but it’s not as bad as we feared,” Yatsenyuk said, with the expectation this year of a 3 percent drop in gross domestic product with a flexible exchange rate for the hryvnia.

“The government is very tough on cutting. The public sector will be cut down 10 percent,” he said. “This will reflect on unemployment data, but it’s the price we have to pay.”

1322 GMT: NATO’s top commander warns that not only has Russia not withdrawn from the borders of Ukraine, but that in reality their forces are in position so that, once the order is given, Russia could meet its goal of successfully invading Ukraine within 3-5 days.

Calling the situation “incredibly concerning”, NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said NATO had spotted signs of movement by a very small part of the Russian force overnight but had no indication that it was returning to barracks…

NATO military chiefs are concerned that the Russian force on the Ukrainian border, which they estimate stands at 40,000 soldiers, could pose a threat to eastern and southern Ukraine.

“This is a very large and very capable and very ready force,” Breedlove said in an interview with Reuters and The Wall Street Journal.

The Russian force has aircraft and helicopter support as well as field hospitals and electronic warfare capabilities.

“The entire suite that would be required to successfully have an incursion into Ukraine should the decision be made,” Breedlove said. “We think it is ready to go and we think it could accomplish its objectives in between 3 and 5 days if directed to make the actions.”

Last week, things looked as if Russia was rapidly moving towards an invasion of Ukraine. But that pace has lessened of late. We noted last week that some of the heated rhetoric that we would expect to come from the Kremlin had not yet reached fever pitch. This past weekend, Russia put the emphasis on diplomacy, and now their message is that diplomacy has not worked. Take this tweet, for example, sent just minutes ago by the Russian Foreign Ministry:

The message is in reference to NATO’s decision to cease military cooperation with Russia. In other words, as NATO responds to their intelligence on Russia’s military action, Russia is using that response to claim that they are under threat from NATO.

Russia’s pre-invasion rhetoric may not yet be at the level that it was at when they invaded Ukraine, but once it reaches that point Russia’s military will only be 3-5 days away from striking. And as we see, if Russia starts that countdown, the world will respond, and Moscow can use that response to justify military action. Will this happen? That’s hard to tell. The point is that it could, and Russia wants the world to know that it could.

1305 GMT: Former President Viktor Yanukovych has spoken on TV Dozhd in Russia today. The key points:


There is a huge and growing body of evidence that suggests that this latest claim is completely false, and in reality the snipers were Interior Ministry special forces under Yanukovych’s control:

The bottom line from Yanukovych, which has been in development over the last several public statements he has made, is that it is he is the rightful leader of Ukraine, what happened in Kiev was a coup led by radicals, and while he initially said that Russia should not invade Crimea or tamper with the territorial integrity of Ukraine, his position has now changed. Russia was just doing what it needed to do. Yanukovych’s initial statements upon fleeing from Ukraine were out of sync with the Kremlin. Now, their positions are essentially the same, except that Yanukovych adds the talking point that maybe, if the radicals in Kiev are removed, Ukraine can have Crimea back. But unless Russia invades Kiev, that’s not likely to happen anyway.