Tomorrow is Victory Day, the Soviet holiday commemorating the defeat of the Nazis. Pro-Russian rallies are planned across the region. Sunday is May 11, the proposed date for the separatists’ referendum on greater autonomy for eastern Ukraine. Will these events increase tensions and further divide Ukraine?
Please help The Interpreter to continue providing this valuable information service by making a donation towards our costs.
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.
A number of experts are noting that Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev was not present at tonight’s emergency meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Moscow, nor did he send representatives to the massive display of Russian armed forces, including the simulation of an ICBM launch on the eve of 9 May Victory Day celebrations.
Instead, he met with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, the second-highest ranking American diplomat and the Obama Administrator’s top expert on Russia.
Thus the CSTO has 5 out of 6 of its members in Moscow including Russia.
Conventional wisdom about the CSTO has said that in order for peace-keeping forces to deploy, which number anywhere from 4,000 to 20,000 in various configurations, a member would have to invite them into their country. Ukraine is not a member.
But there is some speculation that Russia — as Belarus has already done this evening — could invoke a version of the international mandate of “responsibility to protect” to rescue people they believe under attack, as they perceive them as “their own” as ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers. Moscow has paved the way for such a notion by characterizing the Kiev authorities as “illegitimate” and the government as “non-existent.” Furthermore, the Russian-backed separatists in towns in the south and east of Ukraine have appealed for help.
The meeting evokes memories of how the Soviet-era Warsaw Pact was used to invade Czechoslovakia to come to the aid of a “fraternal government.”
Lenta.ru was formerly an independent website, but recently its editor-in-chief was fired and an editor more compliant with the Kremlin line was installed. Some 39 journalists and editors quit in protest, but the site has remained open and is publishing mainly pro-government news, mixed with some neutral stories on topics like opposition demonstrations. We will continue to monitor the situation.
The Interpreter has translated the article below:
The visit of the presidents of Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan was not planned in advance. Vladimir Putin summoned Aleksandr Lukashenka, Serzh Sargsyan, Almazbek Atambayev and Emomali Rakhmon to Moscow for emergency talks, the main topic of which was the situation in Ukraine. The invitation had a military sub-text from the outset. The heads of state visited a training about management of the armed forces of Russia. The practice for deflecting and delivering a nuclear strike, in the words of the Russian Commander-in-Chief, went successfully. The Ukrainian question will be discussed today by Putin and in bilateral meetings with his colleagues.
The emergency invitation of the heads of state not accidentally virtually coincided with talks by the Russian president and the OSCE chairman Didier Burkhalter, during which the Ukrainian authorities in Kiev were proposed again to take the path of a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Moscow demanded from Kiev that it “cease the punitive operation,” withdraw troops and sit down at the negotiation table with representatives of the south-east regions of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin essentially agreed to holding the presidential elections in the republic on 25 May, the legitimacy of which is being placed under doubt by Moscow. Simultaneously, Putin asked the militias of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s Republics” to postpone the conducting of a referendum. Putin’s proposals were supported by the OSCE head.
Kiev did not wait long to respond. On the night of 8 May, preparation for a military operation in the east of the country was completed. All the cities of Slavyansk, Krasny Liman, and Mariupol were closed by checkpoints and military vehicles. Tubeless artillery, armored vehicles and infantry withdrew to their original positions. A practically total blockade of Odessa and Nikolayev was established, around which checkpoints were constructed and guarded by fighters in black uniforms without distinguishing insignia. In the cities of the south of Ukraine, a rotation of the law-enforcement organizations was made. According to Ukrainian sources, several thousand fighters have been brought in from Dnepropetrovsk and other regions of the country.
On the morning of 8 May, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called the proposals by Vladimir Putin “the usual farce,” and Andrei Parubiy, secretary of the Ukrainian Council of National Security and Defense (SNBO) announced at a briefing that the “anti-terrorist operation” would be held regardless of the decisions of any saboteur or terrorist groups regarding the referendum.” Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov rejected the possibility of dialogue.
In confirmation of its position, Ukrainian military, presumably the storming of the Mariupol City Council has begun from the National Guard. The reaction of representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s Republics” was quick. The councils of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic refused to move the referendum and announced that it will take place at the scheduled date of 11 May.
In the opinion of experts, escalation of the violence in Ukraine could lead to the necessity of a Russian peace-keeping intervention. Moreover, the preparation of such an operation, essentially, is already underway. Thus, militia have managed to “open” the border in Lugansk Region between Russia and Ukraine for free movement of people and vehicles. Simultaneously, for the last week a group of 20 militiamen managed to destroy several Ukrainian radar stations, thus depriving the Ukrainian army of the possibility of controlling part of its air space. Lt. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, president of the Russian Academy of Geopolitical Problems believes that it is necessary to introduce a peace-keeping contingent under the aegis of the CSTO in Ukraine. Aleksandr Sobyanin, director of the strategic planning service of the Association for Border Cooperation is convinced that there is no need to deploy the CSTO for a “peace-keeping operation in Ukraine.”
“Russia can announce its decision to introduce a peace-keeping contingent for the protection of civilians in Ukraine from rioting Nazis and appeal with a request to Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and a number of other states to support the anti-Nazi position of Russia through participation in the peace-keeping operation in Ukraine,” Sobyanin told Lenta.ru.
It is quite possible Vladimir Putin discussed precisely this topic with his colleagues in Moscow today. And, from all appearances, Russia’s position received support.
“Events have occurred in Ukraine which do not permit us to quietly sit by the side and watch what is happening there,” Aleksandr Lukashenka stated after his meeting with Putin. In the opinion of the Belarusian head of state, above all this concerns the events in Odessa. “This in general leads us to bad parallels. And I see: these parallels have already appeared on the televisions screens. We remember Khatyn, when several hundreds of villages on the territory of Belarus were burned down by the fascists on that very same principle,” he said. “Such actions are unacceptable in other countries, and it will be all the more unacceptable if we quietly watch what is going on there. This above all concerns the Russian Federation and Belarus. Naturally, we cannot look at this because those are our people there and they are calling for help and demanding reactions to such things,” said Lukashenka, adding that the situation was developing very rapidly.
The Globe and Mail add these details:
[The Ukrainian government] said two minivans arrived at the border as if about to leave Ukraine at the Izvarino crossing point in the eastern region of Luhansk, a hotbed of pro-Russian insurgency. The men jumped out of the vehicles, surrounded the post, pointed their rifles and demanded guards lay down their weapons.
The border guards refused and opened fire, the assailants replying with gas bombs. The attack ended with the men fleeing. The Border Guard office said steps were being taken to reinforce the post.
ITAR-TASS uses a slightly different translation:
In a telephone conversation with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius on Thursday, May 8, Lavrov also called for “fostering a national dialogue aimed at carrying out fair constitutional reform that would take into account the interests of all political forces and regions” in Ukraine.
“Otherwise, the presidential elections in Ukraine scheduled for May 25 will be senseless,” Lavrov said.
Just yesterday Putin called the May 25th elections a step in the right direction. He also said Russian troops had already withdrawn from the border. He almost certainly lied on that last point. So is Putin changing his position on Ukrainian elections now too?
The Kremlin changing its rhetoric again–every time Russia agrees with the rest of the world lately, they then change the definitions of the nouns. By the time the world figures out that Putin is disingenuous, a whole week or more is wasted.
Earlier we reported that, according to the Interior Ministry, one person was killed in a gunfight at a checkpoint in Slavyansk. That town has been held by Russian-backed separatists for weeks and has been surrounded by Ukrainian forces for days. Over the weekend and earlier in the week, several battles were held as Ukraine attempted to retake the town.
Details in the report were slim, however, and it was unclear who was killed.
Below is an article from Hryla.org on the incident. The details in the report have not been independently corroborated, but we have translated their report below:
Last night in Slavyansk there was a battle between forces deployed in an anti-terrorist operation and terrorists. The terrorists were warned that in the future, forces will open fire on them without warning, said the Ukrainian Interior Ministry press service.
According to information from the Interior Ministry, last night [there were attacks] on positions of the siloviki [security services] in the region of the operation in Slavyansk, as a result of which two automobiles of the attackers were destroyed in the retaliatory gunfre.
“Last night the 6th checkpoint of the anti-terrorist operation divisions located directly near the Slavyansk city limit was attacked and strafed. As a result of retaliatory fire, two automobiles of the attackers, from which had come shooting, were destroyed with a direct shot of an RPG,” said a statement on the Ukrainain Interior Ministry web site.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has announced the intention to open fire without warning in the event of attacks on the positions of Ukrainian law-enforcers.
RIA Novosti, one of the newly reorganized Kremlin-operated news agencies, carries a report that Russia could position short-range nuclear weapons in Russia’s westernmost region, Kaliningrad, a small region sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.
Russia could deploy short-range Iskander missiles in the country’s westernmost Kaliningrad region if NATO decides to strengthen its military presence in Eastern Europe, Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Buzhinsky told RIA Novosti.
“Russia is a nuclear power,” he said. “If NATO becomes more active, we will deploy a division of Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad Region,” added Buzhinsky, who previously headed the department of international agreements in the Russian Defense Ministry.
US Air Force General Philip Breedlove said Tuesday that NATO will consider permanently stationing troops in parts of Eastern Europe following the increased tensions over Ukraine, Reuters reported.
“I think this is something we have to consider and we will tee this up for discussion through the leaderships of our nations to see where that leads,” he was quoted as saying.
The RIA report goes on to quote Franz Klintsevich, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Defense, who essentially says that one nuclear weapon could wipe Lithuania off of the map.
RIA Novosti used to be one of the most widely cited and respected state-owned agencies. Though it was state-owned, it was seen as having a high degree of editorial independence. Just like ITAR-TASS, if these agencies had a bias it was usually well hidden, which meant that they both had the sources within the Russian government to have inside information but had the independence to properly report the news. ITAR-TASS has become increasingly suspect since Russia’s invasion of Crimea and RIA was recently merged with Voice of Russia to create a new agency, confusingly called Russia Today (RT no longer stands for Russia Today, though this fact appears to have escaped most in the media, and many prominent Western politicians). In charge of that news agency is Dmitry Kiselev, a well known propagandist with a career of working to further the Kremlin’s goals.
Interestingly, RIA Novosti had gone days without posting any English-language news stories to its front page. In fact, we’re not exactly sure when they started again, but their top two stories today are different articles about Russia’s military might – one saying that the drill Putin personally led today “Showcases Russian Military Preparedness to Neighbors.” The other headline: “Russia to Quadruple Precision Strategic Weapon Platforms by 2021.”
In other words, RIA’s articles since their relaunch in English read suspiciously like Russian Defence Ministry press releases, messages that are meant to intimidate RIA’s English-speaking audiences. In fact, the military commander RIA quoted for the nuclear weapons story was Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Buzhinsky, who the Defence Ministry’s head of international cooperation department. The announcement, then, was not about informing the public about new weapons deployments, but was more about influencing “international cooperation.”
Vladimir Putin oversaw a large-scale military drill from Moscow today. The purpose of the drill — to repel a nuclear strike. RT reports:
“We are carrying out tests of the readiness of the Russian armed forces. It was announced last November. The exercises will involve all branches of the armed forces across the country,” Putin told reporters at the Defense Ministry…
During the drills, it was demonstrated how the missile corps, artillery, aviation and anti-aircraft defenses can be used – for instance, to destroy troops on the ground or to counter massive missile, aviation or nuclear strikes by an enemy.
Plus, it was shown how to inflict a launch-through-attack strike with nuclear missiles.
The training exercises, which are due to include ground troops and artillery as well as the air force, were held during a summit of heads of state of a security bloc made up of former Soviet states.
During the drills, Russian aerospace defense troops have reportedly “successfully overridden a massive nuclear missile strike.”
Russia also released this video showing the various weapons systems involved in the drills. As is obvious, the drills were extremely extensive in nature.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry is reporting that one person was killed in a shootout in Lugansk last night. According to Kyiv Post, “one person, who was in a car which pursued two other vehicles (one of the cars was stolen), has died and two other people have been injured.”
Is this related to the crisis? It’s not clear, and it’s less clear who all the players are if it is related to the standoff between Russian-backed gunmen and Ukrainian forces.
Tomorrow, May 9th, is Victory Day, commemorating the Soviet defeat of the Germans in World War II. Pro-Russian elements are expected to hold rallies, and there are fears that there could be more clashes.
Right Sector, the ultra-nationalist group that is Russia’s favorite scapegoat for everything they don’t like in Ukraine, has released a statement saying that they will not hold any events tomorrow. Below is an annotated computer translation of the official statement:
- Right Sector [has] no plans and will not perform any action on May 9,
except for veterans health meetings in the cities, where we received
official requests from veterans organizations or organizers of these
- The “Right Sector” [has] no enemies among Ukrainian citizens of all
ages, social status or religion, especially among veterans of the Second
- We believe [in] May 9 – A Day of commemoration of blessed memory of all those killed by the war and ask all units [of] Right Sector to honor the victims with a minute of silence.
- Any violence against citizens of Ukraine who wish… to celebrate this day in a peaceful manner is unacceptable.
- Information on criminal plans, which we learned to use symbols or May 9 named “Right Sector” during the planned provocation will be transferred to the security forces.
- We demand from the law enforcement agencies take immediate steps to neutralize criminal groups.
- Emphasize the inadmissibility of the use of symbols named “the right sector” in the illegal actions on the part of pro-groups.
In other words, Right Sector says that other groups will use the name and symbolism of Right Sector to conduct provocations.
Despite a suggestion made yesterday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk and Lugansk will proceed with Sunday’s referendum vote as planned. BBC reports:
The decision to press ahead was announced by separatist leaders in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The leader in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said it had been unanimous.
The suggestion to postpone the vote may have come “from a person who indeed cares for the people of the south-east,” he said, “but we are the bullhorn of the people”.
The separatists say that they have printed one million ballots, but without full control over most of the territory where Russian-backed separatists plan on holding this vote, it’s not clear how such a vote will be conducted.
Ukraine, the United states, and many European nations have already said that the referendum is not constitutional and its results will not be recognized.
While some European leaders have welcomed what’s being described as Putin’s “change in tone,” others, including the government in Kiev, have dismissed the statements Putin made yesterday as just more lies. AFP reports:
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed the “constructive tone” of Putin’s comments, but Yatsenyuk said the Kremlin strongman was “talking through his hat.”
The Ukrainian foreign ministry issued a statement saying Putin’s call to push back the referendums was “just a mockery and by no means a sign of goodwill” because the plebiscites were illegal to begin with.
While the government wants to have a “full-scale national dialogue… a dialogue with terrorists is impermissible and inconceivable,” the ministry said.
The head of the elections commission of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, centre, speaks at a press conference on the referendum at the occupied administration building in Donetsk. Photo: AP