Ukraine Liveblog Day 67: Will Russia Change Course?

April 25, 2014
Explosion at Kramatorsk today. Photo: Demian Van Osten

Last night, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, threatened further sanctions on Russia, apportioning full blame to them for the ongoing deterioration of the Ukrainian crisis. Warning of the economic damage that could be wrought by a Western response to Russia’s actions, Kerry said that:

The window to change course is closing. If Russia does not, the world will make sure that the costs for Russia will only grow. We are ready to act.

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 the situation:

View Ukraine: April, 2014 in a larger map

For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

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

The Abducted And The Missing In East Ukraine

RFE/RL, working with Kyiv Post and the Committee to Protect Journalists, has compiled a list of 15 people who are either missing or are being held hostage by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. That list has now been updated since Simon Ostrovsky has been set free, but 14 remain missing or abducted.

According to Ostrovsky,  he met three of the people on this list while he was being held in the Slavyansk SBU building: Serhiy Lefter, a Ukrainian journalist missing since April 15th; Artem Deynega (or Artyom Deyneha), a citizen journalist reportedly kidnapped on April 13th while filming from his balcony;  and Vadym Sukhonos (or Vadim Sukhonos), a member of the Slavyansk city council who was abducted on April 23.

Ostrovsky says that there are others held by the separatists, including Vitaly Kovalchuk whom Ostrovsky describes as “a former member of the Euromaidan self-defense corps, who by his own admission came to Sloviansk with a group of Right Sector radicals who tried and failed to capture guns from pro-Russia militants.”

The full list can be read here.

Self-Declared Mayor of Slavyansk Accuses Observers of Being Spies
In a new video (which we may try to translate later) the self-appointed mayor of Slavyansk shows the badges of the international observers, pointing out that they are from various countries.
The “mayor” seems to forget that the “NATO” nations he points out are also signatories of the Vienna Document, a key part of the OSCE.
Russia Warns Ukraine to Cease Military Action in East

The Russian Foreign Ministry has promoted a new statement through the state-media outlet ITAR-TASS:

Russia urges to immediately stop any combat operations and violence in Ukraine, to pull troops back and to begin the implementation of the Geneva agreements, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

“Bearing in mind the genesis of the current crisis, we think it right to begin with measures stipulated in the agreements of February 21, 2014 that was signed by the leaders of the Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian parliament] coalition and reaffirmed by foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France,” the ministry said. “It would make it possible to start practical de-escalation in line with the Geneva statement.”

“Russia consistently supports its full realization, including the activities of the mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE),” the ministry said.

Recall that the February 21st agreement, which was signed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych and several opposition leaders and was witnessed by Germany, Poland, and France, would have the opposition leave Maidan Square in exchange for a series of reforms, including early elections. The protesters in Maidan Square reacted negatively to the deal, with some vowing to march on the President’s office the next day, though before the deadline to comply with the deal had passed Yanukovych had fled the country to Russia.

In other words, Russia is still maintaining that Yanukovych is the legitimate President, and therefore the use of Ukrainian troops to counter Russian-backed separatists is illegal.

Russian Jets Cross Into Ukrainian Airspace

U.S. officials are reporting that Russian jets have crossed into Ukrainian airspace multiple times over the last 24 hours. AP reports:

The officials say it’s not clear what the intent was, but the aircraft could have been testing Ukrainian radar or making a show of force. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the issue.

OSCE Releases Statement on Abducted Monitoring Team
The OSCE says that the team that has gone missing is not an OSCE team but one sent by “States under Vienna Doc on military transparency.”
But the monitoring team, which is a multinational effort conducting observations according to the Vienna Document, is still detained by Russian-backed separatists in Slavyansk.

The BBC is also reporting this distinction:

On Friday, Ukraine’s interior ministry said armed separatists had seized seven representatives from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as five Ukrainian army personnel and a bus driver.

Pro-Russian leaders in Sloviansk confirmed that the bus had been stopped and said they were checking the identities of the people on board.

Correspondents say the seized observers are not part of the main OSCE monitoring mission, which had been agreed after long negotiations by Russia, Ukraine and the United States.

Instead, they appear to be unarmed military observers from individual OSCE states. The German defence ministry, which is in charge of that mission, earlier confirmed that it had lost contact with the group.

Negotiations to free the team are ongoing,

Separatists Enter Donetsk News Site Office And Make Extensive Demands

Separatists claiming to represent the self-declared ‘People’s Republic of Donetsk’ reportedly entered the offices of a Donetsk-based news site. The men, armed with baseball bats and wearing balaclavas handed over several letters making a number of demands on media, and an appeal for help and support. reports:

Today, April 25, the editorial offices of the website were attacked by henchmen from the ‘People’s Republic of Donetsk’

At around 16:00 [13:00 GMT] eight people in balaclavas with baseball bats came to the editorial office and issued an ultimatum in the name of Dmitry Sivakov, who represents the council of the Donetsk People’s Republic. They demanded that we publicise their appeal. In it, they ask the public to provide medicines, humanitarian aid of any kind, personal protection gear and uniforms.

In addition to their appeal for financial and material help, they handed over three other letters, two of which are translated below:


Statement of the Council’s decision
Donetsk People’s Republic 

From 25.04.2014

All media on the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic are obliged to convey to the public only verified information about the activities of the Council of the Donetsk People’s Republic and other organs and representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

It is not permitted to adopt an accusatory tone when addressing anyone, or to use specific terms associated with violence and confrontation, except in the texts of court decisions. We propose that we come to an agreement on a timetable of programmes which will involve representatives from all the committees of the other bodies of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

For clarification, contact the central body of the Donetsk People’s Republic at the address: 34 Pushkin Boulevard, Donetsk.

The most interesting letter handed over by the intruders is the following one, providing specific guidelines for journalists:


Clarification of the decision of the Council on media relations

* Do not use the term “separatists”. Use the terms: “protesters”, “activists of the Donetsk People’s Republic”, “Council of the Donetsk People’s Republic”, “Praesidium of the Council of the Donetsk People’s Republic”;

* Do not disseminate gossip, rumours and other unverified information without official comment from the press office of the Donetsk People’s Republic, or official video commentary by a member of the Praesidium of the Council of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

* Invite members of the Praesidium of the Council of the People’s Republic of Donetsk on air for political broadcasts.

* It is mandatory to provide information to the press office of the Donetsk People’s Republic on events or incidents that may, one way or another, affect the interests of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

The letters are signed the Speaker and Secretary of the Council of the DPR: V.N Makovich and N. Pshenichnaya, respectively.

The separatist intruders reportedly left following negotiations with the site’s editor, Roman Lazarenko. The news site reports that the intruders made no direct threats to any of the staff.

According to the report, while the police arrived swiftly when called by site staff, they did not detain anyone, saying that the law did not prohibit anyone from going around with baseball bats and balaclavas. Police are currently on-site, taking statements from the journalists.

Slavyansk Self-Appointed Mayor Says OSCE Travelled With A Spy

Reuters reports that, according to the self-appointed mayor and leader of the Russian-backed separatists in Slavyansk, the OSCE monitoring team was detained on suspicious that there was a spy in their ranks:

“It was reported to me that among them (the detained group) was an employee of the Kiev secret military staff,” said Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, de facto mayor of the city which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists opposed to the central government.

“People who come here as observers for the European community bringing with them a real spy – that is inappropriate,” Ponomaryov told reporters.

Keep in mind that Russia agreed to the presence of the OSCE team, and their expanded work in eastern Ukraine was a key provision of not only last week’s Geneva agreement but previous international agreements to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine.

International Backlash As OSCE Team Held By Separatists
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry has reported that the international team of OSCE monitors has been detained by Russian-backed separatists in Slavyansk.
And the international community is already buzzing with indignation. This tweet is from Carl Bildt, the Foreign Minister of Sweden:
If one wants to know what it’s like in the SBU building where these monitors have been moved, American journalist Simon Ostrovsky, who spent four nights in the basement there after he was beaten and threatened with death, has given his first interview since he was released.

Ukraine Interior Ministry Reports OSCE Team Abducted By Gunmen
Confirmation that the Interior Ministry is now saying that the OSCE team was abducted in Slavyansk:
“Unknown persons” reportedly stopped the bus and took the 13 passengers off. The Interior Ministry’s statement says “terrorists” took the bus, have captured others, and pro-Russian forces have refused to liberate hostages.
OSCE Monitors May Have Been Abducted
Some breaking news:
The source of the story is, according to ITV, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. We have yet to confirm this but will continue to track the story.
OSCE Team Missing – But Is It Too Early To Be Alarmed?

The Wall Street Journal reports that it may be too early to be concerned about a team of missing OSCE monitors:

The observers, working under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, were inspecting the area around the town of Slovyansk when they lost contact with German officials who are overseeing their mission.

“This is not necessarily unusual,” the spokesman said, explaining that the team had to rely on sometimes spotty cellphone networks to communicate. “We are trying to reestablish contact with the military observers.”

Many Captives Held In Slavyansk Despite Release of American Journalist

Simon Ostrovsky, an American journalist, who’s reporting for Vice News has become must-watch Internet television for anyone wanting to see what’s really happening in Ukraine, spent four nights sleeping on the floor of a dark cellar. During that period of time he was beaten, threatened, and otherwise abused by his Russian-backed captors.

But Ostrovsky has been released and has written about his experience. As he admits, he is the lucky one:

In the four nights that I was held captive, a dozen other nameless detainees were ferried in and out of the cellar of the Ukraine state security (SBU) building by the pro-Russia militants who had taken it over. Some were journalists, some were drunks, and others were Ukrainian activists stupid or brave enough to visit what’s become a stronghold for Russian nationalists within Ukraine…

Their names are Artyom Deyneha, a local computer programmer who was caught setting up a webcam opposite the building where we were being held; Serhiy Lefter, a freelance journalist who was abducted on the main square in Sloviansk in broad daylight; Vadim Sukhonos, a deputy in the Sloviansk city council; and Vitaly Kovalchuk, a former member of the Euromaidan self-defense corps, who by his own admission came to Sloviansk with a group of Right Sector radicals who tried and failed to capture guns from pro-Russia militants.

Interestingly, Serhiy Lefter has been missing for some time, and the separatists have repeatedly denied that they are holding him. Missing from Ostrovsky’s list, however, is Irma Krat, a journalist/activist who was detained on Easter Sunday. An RT contributor who has become an apologist for the Russian state-run propaganda network reports that she is being treated very differently from Ostrovsky.

International Community Warns of New Sanctions and Closing Windows

Many leaders of the international community are saying the same things: Russia is not constructively trying to stop this crisis from escalating (in fact, the opposite), Russia could face more sanctions if it continues down this path, and the chances of a successful implementation of the Geneva agreement are growing slimmer as a result. RFE/RL reports:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she told President Vladimir Putin that further sanctions against Russia may be necessary because Moscow has not done enough to implement the Geneva agreement on de-escalation of the Ukraine crisis.

Merkel, speaking in Berlin after talks with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, said Russia has “the power” to persuade pro-Russian separatists to leave government buildings they occupy in eastern Ukraine.

OSCE Military Monitors Missing In Eastern Ukraine?
Some disturbing news — we’ll follow up if we find more details.
Ukraine Election Update
Lost in the drama of recent events is the fact that one month from today there is a presidential election in Ukraine. The front runners appear to be business tycoon and former Trade and Economic Development Minister Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Russian TV sums it up thusly: 

Interestingly, despite her international recognition (and in some cases notoriety), Yulia Tymoshenko is behind in the polls, according to Kyiv Post, who have Poroshenko ahead 33% to Tymoshenko’s 9.5%.

Kyiv Post also reports that the Belarusian Central Elections Commission has officially been invited to monitor the election.

Russia’s Economy Taking a Beating

Russia’s MICEX index closed down for its fifth day in a row, losing
another 1.23% of its value. For the year, it is now down 14.62% and is
nearing its lowest point. Also note that volume of trading is down
significantly since this crisis escalated in February, a trend which is
only getting worse. In other words, very few investors are trading on
the MICEX, and when they trade they sell.


credit rating has now been downgraded by the S&P, and this is all
before new sanctions (which very well may be coming soon) and a
potential invasion of Ukraine (ditto). So far, Russia has appeared as
though it might be able to weather this storm, though it was clearly
going to take a bruising. Now, however, it looks like the bottom may
finally be falling out of the Russian economy.

Mark Adomanis writes that Russia’s problems, the true “price” of its actions, has not been through US or European sanctions but by the natural market reaction to Russia’s recent behavior. Adomanis cites many data points (capital flight of $70 billion being one of them), but he also points to the actions of Russia’s very own central bank.

Another indiction of just how seriously the Russian economy is deteriorating was provided by the Russian Central Bank. At a previously scheduled meeting, it raised its key interest rate from 7 percent to 7.5 percent citing rouble weakness and high inflation risks. This follows on the heels of a two-point rate hike in March. The Russian Central Bank is actually a very well-run outfit, and it’s deeply disconcerting that it has been spooked enough to hike interest rates so dramatically. Despite the calm demeanor projected by Russian policy makers, their actions suggest something bordering on panic.

And as Adomanis points out, you can’t possibly accuse the Russian Central Bank of having an anti-Russian bias.

Read the whole article here.

Russia May Invade Ukraine For Reasons of Self Defense

It may get lost in today’s headlines, but last evening the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told the Russian media that Russia is considering citing article 51 of the UN charter, the article that applies to self defense, in order to justify the invasion of Ukraine. reports (translated by The Interpreter)

The Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin has announced that Russia has the international legal grounds for introducing peace-keepers into Ukraine in the event of necessity. Churkin told Interfax:

‘There are relevant norms in the UN Charter, Art. 51 of the Charter, which speaks of self-defense, and which we, by the way, activated during the conflict in the Caucasus in 2008,” he said on the air in the program ‘Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyev.’

‘So we have international legal grounds. There is the relevant decision of the Federation Council,’ noted Churkin.

At the same time, the ambassador emphasized that there was still a chance to settle the conflict in Ukraine through the Geneva accords.

‘The authorities in Kiev must show that they really mean what is written in the Geneva accords. I think that there is a chance to return to the Geneva agreement. In fact, there isn’t any other rational path,’ said Churkin.

Putin Claims Ukrainian Defence Industry at Risk

In a meeting today with the Commission for Military Technology Cooperation with Foreign States, President Putin made the following remarks on Russian-Ukrainian cooperation in the military industry:

Let me say a couple of words about cooperation with Ukraine, which has been a reliable military technology cooperation partner over many years now. The serious state crisis Ukraine is currently going through has left its defence industry with practically no state support at all. Two thirds of the companies producing related components for the industry are here in Russia. We all know very well that any potential disruption in these cooperation ties could be critical for Ukraine’s defence industry and for the people working in this sector and their families. This is obvious given the unclear prospects for getting wages paid and developing the companies themselves. And yet it is in the interests of both Russia and Ukraine to preserve this research and development potential that we have built together.

While President Putin claims here that Ukraine’s military will suffer as a result of hostilities with Russia, it appears more likely, in fact, that it will be the Russian military that stands to lose most. Ukraine exports a number of critical items of military hardware to Russia. The loss of these exports could affect Russia’s military on not only a tactical level, but also the strategic.

Ukrainian military exports to Russia include engines for the ubiquitous Mi-24 helicopters, R-27 air-to-air missiles and Antonov transport aircraft. Ukraine also provides essential servicing for Russia’s nuclear strategic mainstay, the R-36 (NATO reporting name: SS-18 Satan) intercontinental ballistic missile. An analysis of the issues this creates for Russia’s nuclear deterrent by Vladimir Mukhin in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, is discussed here by Paul Goble.

While Russia can, in the long run, replace Ukraine’s defence exports with locally produced hardware, the effect in the short term could be problematic. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s economy will likely take a hit from a cessation of Russian orders, as few complete systems, rather than parts for existing Russian equipment, are produced there. However, Mi-24 engine orders could be easily taken from the enormous list of countries using these helicopters, and Antonov transport aircraft are wholly designed and manufactured in Ukraine. Indeed, Western militaries could perhaps, one day, take orders from them. Both the RAF and the US Department of Defense have often leased An-124 aircraft for logistics work, particularly in support of operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq. For example see this report on their use to supply equipment for the RAF’s 31 Squadron. The RAF has also hired the one-off An-225, the longest and heaviest aircraft ever built, on a number of occasions.

Ukrainian Forces Will Blockade Slavyansk, But Will Not Storm

Interfax Ukraine reports that, as part of the second phase of Ukraine’s anti-terrorism operation in the Southeast, troops will blockade the town of Slavyansk, but will not storm it.

Serhiy Pashynsky, head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, announced:

“Twenty minutes ago, Ukrainian special units began the second stage [of the anti-terrorist operation], which consists in that we have made a decision to fully blockade the city of Sloviansk to prevent help from reaching it.

The operation will continue. Its purpose is the blockade of terrorists in Sloviansk and to prevent civilian casualties,”

Vasily Krutov, the head of the SBU anti-terrorism operation, said that government forces would not storm the town itself, so as to avoid casualties. Ukrainska Pravda reports him saying:

We’re not going to sacrifice lives storming the town… We understand that there could then be many casualties .

We not sacrifice lives for any victories, but the infiltrators and terrorists must answer for their actions.

Krutov also denied claims that members of Ukraine’s ‘Alpha’ special forces had refused to take part in anti-terrorism operations in Slavyansk. As Censor.Net reports:

If such claims have appeared, they are false, since this division has other tasks within the anti-terrorism operation.

Krutov assured journalists that there was no question of whether or not Alpha officers would carry out orders.

Meanwhile, journalist Alec Luhn reports that the blockade on Slavyansk is not yet complete:

Explosive Attack near Odessa Last Night

Reuters reports on an incident near Odessa last night in which, according to local police, seven people were injured by an explosive device thrown at a pro-Ukrainian checkpoint:

 “It was an explosive device. It happened at around 4 a.m. (9 p.m. EDT Thursday) at a checkpoint set up by a local self-defense organization,” a spokesman for the regional police told Reuters by telephone.

Interfax news agency quoted witnesses as saying a bomb was thrown at the checkpoint from a passing car, though this was not confirmed by police.

 So far, Odessa has escaped the tumult of the Donetsk and Luhansk areas. As Reuters notes:

Residents in the town have built several such checkpoints near the town aimed at stopping pro-Russian separatists entering from Moldova’s breakaway territory of Transdniestria.

Russian-Backed Militia Claims to Have Destroyed Helicopter in Kramatorsk

The Russian state-owned media agency RIA Novosti reports that ‘self-defence’ fighters from the self-declared ‘People’s Republic of Donetsk’ have claimed responsibility for the explosions earlier today at the Ukrainian airbase in Kramatorsk.

A representative of the militia reportedly informed RIA Novosti by telephone:

“Our fighters went up to the airfield and fired an RPG at a helicopter, which was on the field. There was an explosion. Soldiers opened fire on our fighters with automatic rifles; our forces retreated.”

This claim conflicts with the Ukrainian statement that the helicopter was shot in the fuel tank by a sniper. As reported earlier by Dmitry Tymchuk however, investigations are ongoing, more details will likely emerge soon.

Ukrainian Defence Minister says Russian Forces Came Within 1 km of Border

Reuters reports that Mykhailo Koval, the Ukrainian Defence Minister, has said that, during Russia’s manoeuvres this week, a column of Russian forces approached to within 1 kilometre of the border.

Koval stressed that “Ukraine’s armed forces are ready to repel any aggression.”

Yesterday, we saw footage of a large column of Russian armour not much more than 50km from the border near Taganrog, heading west, travelling at around 30-50km an hour. Another column was filmed near Novoshakhtinsk, even closer to the border.

Helicopter Explodes at Kramatorsk Airbase

There have been explosions at the Ukrainian airbase in Kramatorsk.

Ukrainska Pravda reports that:

In Kramatorsk, explosions rang out around the airbase. It is reported that a helicopter exploded.

This was reported by Vladimir Kuchar, who is on the scene, on his Facebook page.

According to him, two explosions were heard.

“Just heard an explosion on the other side of Kramatorsk near the second exit of the airbase, there’s smoke now”, he wrote at about 11:30.

A little later, he says, another explosion was heard.

Here is video of smoke rising from the fist explosion, followed by a fireball at around 58 seconds in:

Kuchar reported that a passer-by had suggested that both a
helicopter and some ammunition had exploded. Later, at 12:05, he
reported that the airbase had been rocked by three explosions and a
series of bursts of automatic gunfire.

“Heavily armed soldiers drove locals and journalists, who had
rushed to the entry checkpoint, a kilometre back. The officer confirmed
that he was with the Ukrainian military. He said that, due to a
malfunction, the helicopter had caught fire, and that both the
helicopter and ammunition had exploded. He said that this was a purely
technical issue”, he wrote.

Later, Dmitry Tymchuk, the head of the Centre for Military and
Political Research, said at a press conference that a Ukrainian Mi-8
helicopter had exploded at the Kramatorsk airbase, reports LIGABusinessInform

“Our first impression is that there was a shooting while the helicopter was warming up before take-off”, he said.

According to Tymchuk, no one was injured in the explosion, the pilot managed to jump out of the helicopter. Details of the incident are under investigation.

At 12:47 local time (9:47 GMT), Ukrainska Pravda provided an update from Anti-terrorism Chief, Vasily Krutov, in Kiev:

“A single sniper shot was fired from the at the helicopter on the apron at Kramatorsk airbase. The shot struck the fuel tank.”

member of staff from the airport came out and announced to reporters
that, in addition to the Mi-8 helicopter, an AN-2 aeroplane had been
destroyed and one person wounded as a result of the attack.