Ukraine Liveblog Day 50: Russia Warns of Civil War

April 8, 2014
Pro-Russian militia in Donetsk, but are they really Russian airborne? | Reuters

In the last two days pro-Russian protesters have seized government buildings and held protests across eastern Ukraine. Now Russia accuses the government in Kiev of sparking a civil war.

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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An interactive map of today’s events:

View Ukraine: April 8, 2014 in a larger map

Below we will be making regular updates. Be sure to check back often and hit refresh.

2147 GMT: The pro-Russian protesters outside the City Hall in Donetsk are still out in force:

2133 GMT: While one of the occupiers of the Luhansk SBU building has denied claims of hostages, The Kyiv Post reports that an anonymous source in the Ukrainian Security Service has sad that there are 60 hostages, and that they may be acting as “willing or unwilling” human shields for the occupiers:

Security sources, speaking to the Kyiv Post on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give public statements, said that the civilian hostages inside the seized headquarters may be serving as human shields — willingly or unwillingly — to make an armed police raid against the separatists less likely. According to these sources, the civilians in the seized state building had been participants in recent pro-Russian rallies in Luhansk, suggesting at least some of them may have joined the separatists willingly. Some are said to be elderly “babushkas” who took part in demonstrations against Ukraine’s government in Kyiv.

2026 GMT: A cross-post from our Russia liveblog:

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is debating whether to strip Russia of its voting privileges for its aggression in Ukraine.

This morning, the assembly adopted a draft resolution on Ukraine’s democratic institutions, supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and objecting to the annexation of the Crimea. Then a second resolution was drafted to freeze Russia’s voting privileges, which will be voted on in plenary 10 April.

The Russian delegation to PACE has protested against the draft resolution on Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reports.

“Deputy head of Russian delegation, chairman of the CIS affairs committee at the State Duma lower house of parliament Leonid Slutsky told reporters: “The meeting of the monitoring commission on considering the PACE draft resolution on Ukraine in an expected way turned into rabid defamation of Russia, its actions in Crimea, absolutely inadmissible fantasies were supported. The report cannot be corrected at all. It should be just totally removed, because it has no place to put a patch on.”

Sergey Kovalev, a former Russian parliamentarian, human rights ombudsman and Soviet-era political prisoner, issued an appeal today to PACE:

“The civilized world is facing now an unavoidable choice. After the anschluss of Crimea by Russia, a new threat is growing every day — the threat of occupation of the eastern regions of Ukraine.

Ten years ago I was a member of PACE. I urge my former colleagues in voting on the resolution of the dangers posed by Russia today: remember Munich and Yalta, and the tragic consequences of both of these conferences.

I urge the international community to exert pressure on their governments to stop Russian expansion.”

2018 GMT: Pro-Russian protesters are riled up and the scene is becoming more tense in Donetsk right now:

1958 GMT: The pro-Russian separatists in Lugansk, who call themselves “the Army of the South East,” have spoken to Lugansk News, adding details to a video they released earlier (jump to update 1838). One key claim — that they took over the security building and were given the guns and bullet-proof vests by the head of the SBU in charge of the building. We have a lot of questions about their story, but the article, translated by The Interpreter, is below:

The coordinators of the Army of the South East, which has sezied the SBU Lugansk Region administration building, have given an interview about their seizure of the building.

According to the Army coordinators, there are only Ukrainian citizens in the building, and no Russians.

[text of their appeal from the video we posted earlier (jump to update 1838)]

They claim they allowed themselves to be arrested only because they knew that the SBU was tracking them. They had a cache of weapons, and they figured that after the arrests, the siloviki would find their cache and move it to the SBU building. On 6 April, they would be released, and they would go in the building and be able to use their own weapons. But the SBU agents didn’t find the cache.

“We used their own weapons. The general himself, the head of the SBU (Alexander Petrulevich), allowed us to take the weapons and gave us bullet-proof vests. He turned out to be a very nice man. He held up very well. Toward evening, we released him to go home. He went out last, like a real captain of the ship. He had become heavily agitated and is now in the city hospital… Most likely, it’s his heart, we don’t know exactly. He immediately told us, ‘Guys, I’m with you under the same article [of the criminal code–Interpreter] — I’m a traitor against the Motherland.”

1938 GMT: A sign that the Ukrainian military is taking the separatists in Lugansk seriously — Lugansk News posts this video that reportedly shows a column of Ukrainian BTRs and other vehicles headed south from Novoaydar towards Lugansk (approximate location on map):

The Ukrainian government continues to try to negotiate with the separatists. Spiridon Kilinkarov, a Ukrainian Communist Party deputy, said this live on 5 Channel (translated by The Interpreter:

“I have just been in touch with Lugansk (by telephone), and received the following information: two representatives, who have been in the SBU building, have been delegated today to the regional council. As far as I know, in Lugansk today there are government representatives including heads from the Security Service and the National Security council. I take it that already today, at the very least, contact has been established, dialogue has begun.”

1930 GMT: An ominous report:

1925 GMT: The Ukrainian media takes a look at the separatists in Lugansk:

1838 GMT: RFE/RL provides more details on the claims that separatists in Lugansk have placed explosives in a building that they are occupying and refuse to let anyone leave:

Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU) says pro-Russian separatists have placed explosives in an SBU building they seized in the eastern city of Luhansk and are holding around 60 people against their will.

The SBU on April 8 posted a statement on its website saying its counterterrorist units were trying to convince the separatists to free the captives.

The SBU said it has called on the separatists to lay down their arms and come out peacefully.

The statement accused the separatists of using “terrorist measures.”

Ukraine says the building was seized by armed pro-Russian protesters on April 6 when pro-Russian protesters also seized government buildings in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv.

RFE/RL also cites Reuters as reporting that one of the men inside the building has denied that they are holding hostages.

The gunmen in Lugansk have reportedly uploaded this video, which The Interpreter has translated below:

Good morning!

I would like to appeal with an official statement from the headquarters of the Lugansk Region from the building of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in the city of Lugansk.

First: here, in this building, of the SBU, in the city of Lugansk, there have never been, and are not now, representatives of the Russian Federation. There are no agents of the FSB or Russian citizens.

At this moment, there are residents of the city of Lugansk, and the Lugansk Region, and only we, citizens of Ukraine.

And we have here Afghan war vets, border guards, representatives of civilian professions, and we have only one, single lawful demand – we want to hold a referendum.

That is the expression of the will of our people, and we want to be heard.

If — and I see you have turned off the electricity, and are preparing a storm — against who? against us, combat officers, who only want to hold a referendum, then welcome to hell. We’ll give you a good welcome. God be with you, gentlemen officers!

1830 GMT: As we reported earlier, Russia has asked for the international community to examine, and presumably to debate, Ukraine’s draft constitution just ten days from now (jump to update 1524). But Ukraine’s Rada has announced that it will postpone “the issue of elaborating a bill on amendments to the Constitution” until May 15th. That means that the Rada will miss Russia’s requested deadline.

1823 GMT: We have added an interactive map of today’s news at the top of this liveblog.

1730 GMT: reports that the deputy head of Ukraine’s Presidential Administration, Andriy Senchenko, has announced that an agreement has been reached on the return of Ukraine’s ships from Russian-held Crimea. The first ships to return will be the corvette Ternopil, the missile boat Priluki and the tanker, Fastov, all of which are currently in Sevastopol.

Simultaneously, the head of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Crimean media centre, Vladislav Seleznev, announced that an agreement had been made on the return of Ukrainian aircraft from Crimea, adding that:

One plane will fly home under its own power following maintenance, several more will be transported over land.

1605 GMT: Kyiv Post reports that pro-Russian crowds have attacked police in Kharkiv, demanding that separatists arrested last night be released:

Several hundred aggressive men and women gathered on April 8 at Freedom Square near Kharkiv Oblast’s head administration office, cursing at and violently beating policemen who were guarding the building.

“Bastards! Animals! They imprisoned innocent people,” the crowd shouted, demanding to release 70 separatists who had been arrested earlier in the morning by police during during an anti-terrorist operation.

The separatists were arrested last night after police recaptured the administrative building that had been seized. After the police retook the building, we reported that separatists tried to light the building on fire and blocked fire trucks from responding.

“These special units have guns! Are they going to shoot at me?” said 40-year-old veterinary doctor Olga Shemiakina. “Why those who support Europe are called the heroes and the people who believe that the Russians are brotherly nation to us are called separatists,” she added.

Shemiakina believes that Russian troops located across the border some 40 kilometers from Kharkiv “must come here and defend peaceful citizens.” She denied, however, that there were Russian citizens present at pro-Russian rally the day before. In contrast to her statement, pro-European activists from a rival camp assured the Kyiv Post they had evidence of Russian citizens present at the rally.

Read the entire report here.

1556 GMT: Meanwhile, near the Donetsk city hall, pro-Russian crowds continue to erect barriers. This video was reportedly taken today:

1546 GMT: Ukraine police are moving into eastern Ukraine in buses likes these, and the buses are being attacked by pro-Russian provocateurs:



1538 GMT: Some breaking news:


1524 GMT: Russia’s Foreign Minister has said that leaders from eastern and southern Ukraine should be part of international talks, to be held in Brussels, on ways to diffuse the conflict. The Russian state-run outlet Voice of Russia reports:

Russia’s top diplomat suggested that some of the candidates set to run in May 25 snap presidential elections and representing Ukraine’s pro-Russian east and south could take part in the talks, AFP reports.

On Monday, Washington said it wants within the next 10 days to see four-way talks between Washington, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union to find a way to calm tensions in the east of Ukraine.

Russia also wants to see Ukraine’s draft Constitution, a document which is, to our knowledge, not yet finished and not yet public:

Russia has argued that the only way to calm tensions would be for Kiev authorities to conduct constitutional reforms to give the Russian-speaking regions more independence through federalization.

Lavrov lamented that the “constitutional reform was being prepared in secret” and said Russia wanted to see a draft of Ukraine’s new constitution before the crisis talks…

“If this ten-day period, which, as American representatives have said, is needed to call this multilateral meeting, was determined following Mr. Yatsenyuk’s public promises to complete the work on the draft constitution by April 15, my question is the following: may they be planning to call this multilateral meeting when the draft constitution is submitted to the Verkhovna Rada and when all of the regions that do not trust the currently authorities are simply presented with an accomplished fact?” he said. “Furthermore we will be invited to this meeting so that we, by our presence, could effectively “bless” and legitimatize the draft constitution, which no one has seen so far,” the Russian minister said.

1448 GMT: Russia fought allowing OSCE observers into eastern Ukraine (and it blocked them from entering Crimea entirely), but eventually an OSCE observer mission was sent to Ukraine. TodayUS Ambassador Daniel Baer published a statement delivered to the OSCE, wherein he states that Russia’s actions are clearly an attempt to either intimidate or invade Ukraine. Here’s an excerpt – all emphasis is ours:

Based on the number, types of units, and deployed locations of the Russian forces in the southern and western military districts, which border eastern and northern Ukraine, this deployed force has a character that appears designed to intimidate and/or conduct short-notice, sustained, offensive military operations into Ukraine. More broadly, Russia’s occupation of the Crimean region undermines the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. We urge Russia to reduce its troops to pre-crisis numbers and positions.

The buildup in Russia’s Rostov and Belgorod regions opposite the Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv, as well as the deployment of forces near Klimovo, barely 20 kilometers from the border with Ukraine, is substantial. The scope of the forces includes not only ground forces, but also forward-deployed air power, providing quick-strike capability and air support to potential ground operations.

Colleagues, maintaining a large concentration of troops in the field at a time when conscripts are normally scheduled to leave service further suggests that this is not an exercise. NATO military authorities have noted that the Russia force is “sized and outfitted and provisioned with everything that it needs to have an incursion into Ukraine.” We have consistently urged the Russian Federation to take steps to de-escalate. The number of Russian troops massed in this area close to the border with Ukraine is clearly aimed at threatening and intimidating, and is therefore an ongoing escalation.

The statement goes on to say that Russia’s military buildup is in violation of international treaties, despite Moscow’s claims to the contrary:

We also took note of Russia’s comment that the military activities of its forces do not require the provision of information or notification under the Vienna Document. It is clear to us that enough of the forces and major weapons systems involved are accountable to trip the Vienna Document reporting ceilings. Of course, more broadly, the unusual military activity provision of the Vienna Document is not restricted to raising concerns about specific types of military activities or the number of troops involved in such activities. Clarification of the purpose and duration of this unusual military activity is important to reassure OSCE partners, especially when the activity occurs so close to the border of another participating State.

The statement also states that Russia has been largely uncooperative, but has still maintained that the international community has not cooperated with Moscow:

First, I saw the notification sent around by the Russian Federation on Friday when they refused to participate in the consultations provided for under the Vienna Document, in which they claimed that our desire for consultations was somehow “anti-Russia” – it is nothing of the sort. The Vienna Document is one of the tools that we have built together to address the situation where we have concerns. It was adopted by consensus, it took enormous hard work, this is one of the tools in our toolbox, and there is nothing prejudicial towards anyone, in any one of our States’ seeking to use it.

The second point I’d like to make: there have been some questions raised about whether thresholds have been met under the Vienna Document. It is clear to us that thresholds have been met. However, for those who have not been persuaded that thresholds have been met, I reiterate the provisions in the Vienna Document for unusual military activity still give us reason to request further information from Russia, and put the burden on the Russian Federation to take steps to address the concerns raised by other participating States.

1437 GMT: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed Russia’s expected economic growth today:

The IMF predicts that the Russian economy will only grow by 1.3% this year. That’s around a third less than the 2% prediction that it made before the Ukraine crisis. Russia’s annexation of Crimea led the United States and the European Union to impose economic sanctions on Moscow, amid widespread unease over the possibility of a military conflict.

“The balance of risks for Russia and her neighbours remains to the downside, considering rising political uncertainties following the takeover of Crimea by Russia, tightening financial conditions, and volatile capital flows,” the fund said in a report.

The IMF also warned, however, that the crisis in Ukraine was taking a serious toll on that country’s economy:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says Ukraine’s economy is facing a severe contraction due to the country’s political turmoil and tension with Russia.

The Washington-based international lender offered no estimate for Ukraine’s economy. But it said in its World Economic Outlook released on April 8 that “output will likely drop significantly as the acute economic and political shocks take their toll on investment and consumption.”

1428 GMT: Though this is a Ukraine liveblog, monitoring Russia’s economy may be more important than monitoring Ukraine’s, at least in the short-term. The primary weapon that the world has at its disposal that can stop further Russian intervention in eastern Europe is the power of the purse. By leveling sanctions and pulling investment, the damage done to the Russian economy by any potential Russian aggression may act as a deterrent against further action. At least, this is the theory being pursued by many Western governments.

The Wall Street Journal has more signs today that indicate that, after a few weeks of very slow recovery, the Russian economy is once again slipping:

After a brief return to the domestic debt market last week, Russia will skip its usual weekly bond sale on Wednesday citing unfavorable market conditions, the Finance Ministry said in a statement Tuesday, as demand for the country’s debt was falling due to a new wave of unrest in Ukraine.

Russia issued bonds last Wednesday amid lower than usual demand and higher yields, after a five-week hiatus, as political turmoil in Ukraine, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and subsequent Western sanctions weighed on investors’ appetite for local securities.

After an economic downturn yesterday, Russia’s stock indexes remained nearly stable, with the MICEX losing .05% today:

INDEXCF Quote   MICEX Index   Bloomberg april 8

1410 GMT: The Russian Foreign Minister’s statements this morning condemning the Ukrainian government for militarizing the conflict should seem familiar. Soon after the Yanukovych government fell, pro-Russian militants seized government buildings in Crimea, the Russian government blamed Kiev for the chaos, and eventually Russia sent troops to “protect” and ultimately annex the peninsula.

Foreign governments are also seeing the same pattern:


Yesterday afternoon, the spokesperson for the US State Department, Jen Psaki, said that events in east Ukraine had all the hallmarks of a Russian operation. She also added that there was evidence that some of these groups that took over government buildings were paid to do so:

[US Secretary of State John Kerry] conveyed to [Russian] Foreign Minister Lavrov that the United States is watching events over the last 24 hours in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Mariupol with great concern, and noted that these do not appear to be a spontaneous set of events. Rather, the Secretary noted the Ukrainian Government’s assertion that this appeared to be a carefully orchestrated campaign with Russian support. He noted in particular the recent arrests of Russian intelligence operatives working in Ukraine [one of which was reported yesterday by The Interpreter]. He noted that Ukrainian Government leaders are en route to all these cities today to try to negotiate evacuation of government buildings and a de-escalation of tensions. He called on Russia to publicly disavow the activities of separatists, saboteurs, and provocateurs, calling for de-escalation and dialogue, and called on all parties to refrain from agitation in Ukraine.

He made clear that any further Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine will incur further costs for Russia, and the ministers all discussed convening direct talks within the next 10 days between Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the EU to try to de-escalate the tensions. Discussion about the right timing and agenda for that meeting will, of course, continue.

1353 GMT: A fight broke out in the halls of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, as a communist MP accused the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party of causing this current crisis. The Guardian reports:

Two deputies from the Svoboda far-right nationalist party took exception to the charges by communist Petro Symonenko and seized him while he was talking from the rostrum. His supporters rallied to his defence and a brawl broke out with deputies from other parties joining in and trading punches…

Against the backdrop of the deepening crisis in the south-east, Symonenko stirred nationalist anger in parliament when, referring to the pro-Russian protesters who had seized buildings in eastern Ukraine, he suggested that nationalists had set a precedent earlier this year by seizing public buildings in protest at the rule of the ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Now, he said, armed groups were attacking people who wanted to defend their rights by peaceful means. “You are today doing everything to intimidate people. You arrest people, start fighting people who have a different point of view,” he said, before being pulled away from the rostrum by the Svoboda deputies.

Symonenko did not appear to have been hurt in the brawl involving other deputies. But one deputy later resumed his seat in the chamber with scratches clearly visible on his face.

The communists backed Yanukovych and his Regions party through the three months leading up to him fleeing the country on 21 February after more than 100 people were shot dead by police snipers in Kiev.

1343 GMT: In a sweeping “anti-terror” operation, Ukrainian police have recaptured the regional administration building in Kharkiv from pro-Russian separatists. Ukrainian authorities say that they wish to retake buildings in Lugansk and Donetsk very soon. BBC reports:

Ukraine Deputy Foreign Minister Danylo Lubkivsky has told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the situation in eastern Ukraine was “under control but remains dangerous”.

Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov says several Ukrainian policemen have been injured in the operation to free the Kharkiv regional state administration.

Some 70 people were held without shots being fired, Ukraine’s interior ministry said in a statement.

Mr Turchynov said those who seized the buildings would be treated as “terrorists and criminals” who would be prosecuted with the full force of the law.

Interior ministry troops block a group of pro-Russia protesters in Kharkiv | Reuters

Interior ministry troops block a group of pro-Russia protesters in Kharkiv | Reuters

1340 GMT: Yesterday Ukrainian police entered government buildings that had been captured in several eastern cities and arrested separatists that had seized them. There were no casualties. Today, Russia has accused Ukraine of militarizing the conflict which it says could spark a civil war. Voice of America reports:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the southeastern parts of Ukraine should be included in talks about the country’s future.

He told reporters Tuesday in Moscow that Russia wants to see those regions, which are largely Russian-speaking, represented in multilateral talks.

In Paris, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that further Russian intervention in Ukraine would be a “historic mistake” that would further isolate Russia from the world.

Also Tuesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry called on Ukraine to halt what it called “military preparations” in the southeast that could lead to civil war.