Ukraine Liveblog Day 45: Ukraine Arrests Berkut Officers For ‘Mass Murder’

April 3, 2014
Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov shows documents reportedly proving the identity of Maidan snipers | Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov

Ukraine has arrested members of the disbanded Berkut riot police that the Interior Ministry says are guilty of shooting protesters during the five-day Euromaidan revolution in February.

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.

1655 GMT: Ukraine’s Pravda, citing Russian NTV, is running a headline, “Russian Media Report Detention of Ukrainians on Suspicion of Preparation of Terrorist Attacks” (translated by The Interpreter).

According to information from intelligence agencies directed to Russian journalists, terrorist attacks were prepared from the period of 14 to 16 March in seven regions: Rostov, Volgograd, Tver, Orlov, and Belgorod and in the Republics of Kalmykia and Tatarstan.

“All those detained, 25 persons, among whom were 3 activists of Right Sector, have already confirmed the receipt of instructions from representatives of the SBU [Ukrainian Security Service],” says the report.

According to NTV’s sources, among their assignments was the video-filming of places of deployment and movement of Russian military vehicles and armed forces in border regions, and also establishment of contacts with Russian radical organizations.

Interrogation and preliminary investigation are underway now with the detainees, says the report.

As is known, the Russian media recently has provided incorrect and distorted information about events in Ukraine and Russia.

1647 GMT: While the S&P 500 is surfing record highs, the Russian MICEX continues to struggle. It is down for the 2nd day in a row, losing .75% of its value again today:

INDEXCF Quote   MICEX Index   Bloomberg april 3

The ruble is down another .28% against the dollar.

Today Bloomberg took a look at Gazprom, the Russian gas giant, to see where the problems with that company lie:

Back in April 2007, in the midst of the greatest commodities rally on record, OAO Gazprom’s deputy chief executive officer, Alexander Medvedev, was talking big.

Russia’s natural-gas export monopoly aspired to be the world’s largest company, he said while offering up a prediction: its market value would quadruple to $1 trillion in as little as seven years.

Medvedev was off by $910 billion. Since he made that forecast, no company among the world’s top 5,000 has suffered a bigger collapse in market capitalization than Gazprom, a $154 billion plunge that’s become emblematic of the malaise that has overtaken President Vladimir Putin’s economy. The state-run company has tumbled three straight years in the stock market as it stepped up spending on everything from the Olympic games in Sochi to projects in Siberia.

“Gazprom is a champion in value destruction,” Ian Hague, founding partner of New York-based Firebird Management LLC, which manages $1.3 billion of assets including Russian stocks, said by phone April 2. “It’s not just Gazprom that failed to achieve its goal of increasing market capitalization. It’s Russia who failed. It failed to create an environment where state-owned companies would function as shareholder-owned entities.”

The bottom line – Russia’s economy was weak before this incident occurred. Now, it’s even weaker.

1547 GMT: In other entertainment news, the US sanctions on Russia are going to hit some Finnish music fans hard. Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus may have to cancel their show in Finland because the venue is owned by three infamous Russians, all of whom are on the new US sanctions list:

Helsinki’s Hartwall venue is owned by Gennady Timchenko and brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg.

All three appear on the US sanctions list as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “inner circle”…

Mr Timchenko is a co-founder of Russian oil trader Gunvor and was estimated by Forbes to be worth $15.3bn (£9.2bn) before the sanctions came into force last month.

Arkady and Boris Rotenberg are the billionaire co-owners of SMP Bank and childhood friends of President Putin.

Other American artists touring Finland will also be affected.

Other acts due to appear this summer include Robbie Williams, Peter Gabriel, Aerosmith and Elton John.

1536 GMT: Sorry folks, but Darth Vader won’t be the next president of Ukraine:

The Election Commission expressed concern over falsified documents, which it says it is investigating. Their key point, however, is that if this is all a joke, even though it is funny, someone paid 2.5 million hryvnia (nearly $220,000) to play this joke. In fact, the election commission said that the purpose was to make a joke out of the election — and Russia would benefit from that.

So no Darth Vader. I guess the Force is not with him. It’s not clear if he’ll be facing any additional charges as a result of this process, however.



1527 GMT: This is the first time we’re seeing this report, but is it a coincidence that it’s coming on the same day that the Ukrainian government arrested Berkut officers and implicated the Russian government in the deaths of civilians?

1502 GMT: Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, has given an interview to Interfax on Russia-US relations following the Crimean annexation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs published it on their own website (in Russian). Rybkov spoke of US “aggression” and “aggravation” on many issues, including missile defense, but this quote popped out at us (translated by The Interpreter:

“What can we advise our American colleagues? To spend more time in the fresh air, take up yoga, a food separation diet, perhaps watch some sit-coms on television. That would be better than to “wind up” oneself and others, knowing in fact that the train has left the station, and childish tantrums, tears and hysterics will not help.”

See a full translation: Russian Foreign Ministry Says US Should Do Yoga and Stop Worrying About Crimea

1436 GMT: The Ukrainian authorities have arrested twelve former members of the now-disbanded Berkut Riot Police on charges that they were involved in the use of snipers that killed dozens of protesters between February 18th and February 20th, the height of Ukraine’s revolution that led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych:

“By this morning (Thursday) twelve people had been detained, all of them suspected of mass murder on Institutska Street,” a spokesperson for the general prosecutor, reportedly told Reuters…

Oleh Makhnitsky, Ukraine’s acting prosecutor general, reportedly said Thursday that the chief of a specialized company called the “Black unit,” which operated within the Berkut riot police, was also among those detained. The unit had reportedly handed out weapons for use against demonstrators, according to Interfax, a local news source.

“The police officers of this company were trained for special operations including the killing of people. They were overseen by the presidential administration,” Makhnitsky said, according to Interfax.

But the charges go far beyond implicating the police in the sniping deaths. The Interior Ministry has said that their investigation has unearthed evidence that the former administration and the Russian government was involved in the decision to kill protesters:

Top Ukrainian officials have insinuated that Russian security services had a hand in the violence that led to more than 100 deaths in Kiev last month, and announced that a dozen Ukrainian police officers have been detained on suspicion of carrying out the shooting.

Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s interim interior minister, claimed his predecessor Vitali Zakharchenko, who is currently on the run, was directly involved in giving orders to shoot at protesters, along with the SBU security services.

Valentyn Nalivaichenko, the new head of the SBU, added that a number of officers from Russia’s FSB had been consulting with the SBU in Kiev in December and January, and that Russian citizens were present at SBU headquarters. He also claimed that explosives and weapons were delivered to Ukraine from Russia during the protests.

Earlier this week, The Daily Beast published an article which provided evidence that an “Alfa team” trained by the Russian SBU were responsible for the sniper deaths. As early as February 24th, Ares, or Armed Research Services, published a report that said that based on video evidence it was clear that the weapons being used to kill civilians belonged to Ukrainian Interior Ministry special forces units, units firmly under the control of the Yanukovych government.

And yet, the Russian government and the ousted president maintain that the Euromaidan protesters shot the civilians, and they even used the US embassy building to do it. To our knowledge, there is no evidence to support the Russian claims.

1425 GMT: In this week’s podcast, Boston College Professor Matt Sienkiewicz and Interpreter Magazine’s managing editor James Miller discuss the impact of Russia’s annexation of Crimea on geopolitics. Will we see a new Cold War? A Russia-China alliance? Russia isolated on the world stage? Perhaps this crisis will mean that the world’s superpowers, locked in an unending struggle, lose relevance as the rest of the world rises? We examine the scenarios, from silly to scary, the nuggets of truth hidden amongst the crazy theories and geopolitical “Risk” playing.

Listen below, or click here to open in a new window where we have links to the referenced articles and ways to subscribe to our podcasts.