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Russia demands that OSCE observers remain in Ukraine

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement on May 31 said that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) should maintain a presence in Ukraine's restive east.A Russian Foreign Ministry statement on May 31 said that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) should maintain a presence in Ukraine’s restive east, given Kyiv’s crackdown on separatists in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Moscow has baulked at a call to withdraw observers from eastern Ukraine, saying the “punitive operation” against separatists must be monitored. Ukraine has called on Russia to officially recognize its new president.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement on Saturday said that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) should maintain a presence in Ukraine’s restive east, given Kyiv’s crackdown on separatists in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

“Amid Kyiv’s intentionally intensified punitive operation in the east of the country, it is essential to step up the work of international observers,” read part of the statement, published in response to comments by Wolfgang Ischinger, the OSCE coordinator on national dialogue in Ukraine.

Ischinger told the German broadcaster ZDF that the the monitor mission might have to withdraw if the organization fears for its employees’ lives.

Four monitors remained in detention on Saturday, with pro-Russian separatist leader Vladimir Rogov confirming the men were suspected of espionage.”We are in constant contact with the OSCE mission,” said Rogov. “They know that their boys are okay.”

Russian mediators are in negotiations on behalf of the detained men, who include a Dane, an Estonian, a Swiss and a Turk. The group was stopped by a group of armed men at a roadblock near to Donetsk on Monday. A second group of five people is also being held, although it remained unclear on Saturday if they had been accused of any offence.

There was more fighting on Saturday between government troops and the rebels, with a government-controlled checkpoint in the city of Slovyansk, coming under fire. Rebels have made daily attempts in recent weeks to break the army’s grip around the city.

Call for Russian ‘recognition’

Ukraine’s acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsa on Saturday said Russia had no grounds not to recognize chocolate maker Petro Poroshenko, who won 54.7 percent of votes in a May 25 presidential poll, as Ukraine’s new president.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to respect the will of Ukrainian voters, he is yet to congratulate Poroshenko on his win.

“Five days since elections, there has been no official recognition yet,” Deshchytsa wrote in an opinion piece for the Saturday edition of the English-language Kyiv Post newspaper. “Obviously, the Russian Federation doesn’t have legal grounds to question [the election’s] legitimacy,” he said.

Deshchytsa also accused Russia of mounting a propaganda campaign against its operations against the rebels, blaming it for creating “an avalanche of doubletalk and fake news.”

The Kyiv Post on Saturday said six pro-Russian soldiers had died in fighting while trying to collect the bodies of fallen comrades who died in a battle earlier this week that saw Ukrainian forces broadly retake control of Donetsk airport.

(AP, DPA, Reuters) DW.DE

The Kremlin’s Propaganda Coup in Donetsk

The Kremlin’s Propaganda Coup in Donetsk

Russian President Vladimir Putin must be feeling very pleased with himself.  The EU has all but retreated behind calls for ‘frank and open dialogue’ while US expressions of concern about Chechen and other foreign fighters entering Ukraine from Russia for the moment remain just that, and no more.  In the meantime, the authoritative Levada Centre has reported that Putin’s confidence rating among Russians in April stood at 82%, 18% higher than in January 2014, and on May 29 the ‘Vostok’ [East] battalion pulled off the perfect propaganda coup in the centre of Donetsk.

The interpretations for what happened in Donetsk differ radically, but first the events. At around 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon men in military gear from the Vostok Battalion which Kyiv Post calls “a well-organized unit of mercenaries comprised mostly of Russian citizens” arrived in Kamaz trucks and armed personnel carriers. They proceeded to ‘arrest’ several dozen Donetsk People’s Republic militants and told the others to vacate the building. This was all presented as designed to purge the militants’ ranks of looters and ‘traitors’.  Towards evening they used other equipment to clear the barricades.  This was supposedly because of the fire hazard and risk of a disaster such as that in Odessa on May 2.

According to a Daily Telegraph correspondent’s rather curious terminology, the battalion “includes fighters from mainland Russia as well as Ukrainian-born volunteers” who allegedly acted out of disgust at the looting of a supermarket”.  The author writes that the events on Thursday have “plunged the rebel movement in the east into crisis”.

They may – or may not – have dealt a blow to the militants’ confidence that they could loot and plunder with impunity, but a crisis seems seriously unlikely.  This is not merely because the head of the self-proclaimed republic, Denis Pushilin backed the action.  The very term ‘rebel’ seems a misnomer, with Pushilin, Pavel Gubarev and other leading pro-Russian militants having consistently followed Moscow’s lead.  The Vostok battalion may possibly have some Ukrainian volunteers in it, but most are mercenaries and / or professionals from the Russian Federation who get paid for obeying orders.  Quite possibly orders issued by  Alexander Borodai, the Donetsk People’s Republic’s ‘prime minister’ – a Russian PR manager.

The public relations element was certainly well-planned, as was the timing of the operation which coincided nicely with the difficulties the Kyiv authorities are now experiencing in clearing Maidan Nezalezhnosti.  Russian television presented it in glowing terms with the main propaganda coup being in the apparent establishment of order and cleansing of ranks through the removal of criminal elements.   If Valentin Krasnopyorov is correct in his assessment that “Putin is taking Donetsk under his control”, then the ploy could not have been better devised.  The militants’ lawlessness in many east-Ukrainian cities have been a powerful antidote to the zombifying propaganda pouring forth from Russian television channels which have in many cities taken over all or most frequencies which previously broadcast Ukrainian channels. News that Russia would be willing to provide ‘humanitarian aid’ to the Donetsk People’s Republic could seem like yet another step to provide respite for the region’s beleaguered population.

Ukrainska Pravda journalist Ekaterina Sergatskova shows how careful the presentation was. “Those armed guys from the Vostok battalion come up to young women, give them roses and behave extremely nicely (they gave me one, for example.).  I’ve seen such polite green people somewhere else.”

That ‘somewhere else’ was, of course, the Crimea before the blitzkrieg ‘referendum’ on March 16 and annexation by Russia two days later.

Sergatskova suggests only that Moscow will now control the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ militants better.  Krasnopyorov sees the DPR as largely having served their purpose.  Russia, he says, has now consolidated its resources and can dispense with them.  He suggests that the situation has entered a new phase, similar to that of the Crimea, although with its own specific features. The Vostok Battalion answers to Moscow alone.  Under their control, people close to Moscow, or to ‘the Family’ [i.e. former President Viktor Yanukovych], can re-emerge.

Krasnopyorov believes that this new phase needed to be achieved now before Petro Poroshenko’s inauguration as president in order to give Putin negotiating power.  His demands would be recognition of the Crimea in order to reduce international pressure; a broad coalition in order to retain control over Ukrainian political life; resolution of gas issues and a controlled political elite in Donbas.

Krasnopyorov does not believe the situation to be lost, but does stress the need for consolidated effort, and for western support.

If the west continues to watch as well-armed and trained fighters are brought in from the Russian Federation to fight an undeclared war against Ukraine, then what happens next will be largely decided in the Kremlin.  As will be any limits to Moscow’s territorial appetite.


Ukraine Crisis: Russia’s Conflict of Narratives

Pavel Gubarev with the swastika-like emblem of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity party.Pro-Russian militant, Pavel Gubarev with his Russian National Unity party’s neo-Nazi symbol . Russian media reports cannot show the photo which has been used to bring charges against a Russian opposition activist, but it is likely to be this one, or that below, both genuine

A Russian opposition activist, Dmitry Semenov is facing charges for posting on VKontakte a photo of pro-Russian separatist and unquestioned hero of the Russian media, Pavel Gubarev.  This should not be interpreted as a shift in Russian support for the militants currently engaged in bloody battles in the Donetsk region. Semenov has been charged because the offending photo showed self-proclaimed ‘people’s governor’ of Donetsk, Gubarev with the swastika-like emblem of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity party.

Semenov is not charged with defamation but over ‘public demonstration of Nazi symbols or those of extremist organizations’ (Article 20.3 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences).  There is indeed no defamation since the photo is genuine and 31-year-old Gubarev was once a member of this neo-Nazi party.  now banned in Russia.  He later joined Natalya Vitrenko’s far-right and somewhat misnamed Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine.  Vitrenko has close ties to Alexander Dlugin,  whose Eurasian supremacy ideology and wish to restore the Russian empire by, among other things, partitioning off Ukraine, has many fans in the Kremlin and Russian military.  Dlugin is reported to have instructed the militants in Donbas.

Gubarev is now one of the main spokesmen for ‘Novorossiya’, the self-proclaimed state formed from the union of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.  The Russian Foreign Ministry and media treated him as Ukraine’s ‘political prisoner No. 1’ after he was detained for leading a crowd which violently stormed the Donetsk regional administration.  After declaring himself ‘people’s governor’, Gubarev proceeded to demand a referendum on the region’s secession and call for Russia to intervene militarily.  Russia’s foreign ministry demanded his release, and his exchange on May 8 for Ukrainian Security Service [SBU] officers captured, badly beaten and publicly humiliated was apparently welcomed by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Gubarev and his cronies have now declared total ‘independence’, and are effectively waging war against Ukraine as a ‘foreign state’.  As threats of sanctions against Russia mounted prior to the elections, the Kremlin began making marginally more conciliatory noises, and the militants in eastern Ukraine in turn obliged by concentrating on ‘independence’ rhetoric.  They have, however, stated openly on a number of occasions that they want to join Russia, and the ‘address’ given by Gubarev on May 27 next to a photo of Putin and under the ‘flag’ of the self-proclaimed Novorossiya.  (more…)

Ukraine to push on with army offensive, row grows over Russian fighters reports

A Ukrainian soldiers stands guard next to an armored personnel vehicle at a checkpoint near the embattled city of Sloviansk.A Ukrainian soldiers stands guard next to an armored personnel vehicle at a checkpoint near the embattled city of Sloviansk.

(Reuters) – Ukraine’s government vowed on Friday to press ahead with a military offensive against separatists, despite a deadly attack on an army helicopter, amid increasing reports that fighters from Russia have been involved in rebellions in the east.

President-elect Petro Poroshenko, who scored an overwhelming first-round victory in a poll on May 25, swore to punish those responsible for the shooting down on Thursday of the helicopter near Slaviansk, which killed 14 servicemen including a general.

Acting Defence Minister Mykhilo Koval, repeating charges that Russia was carrying out “special operations” in the east of Ukraine, said on Friday that Ukrainian forces would continue with military operations in border areas “until these regions begin to live normally, until there is peace”.

A Ukrainian helicopter Mi-24 gunship fires its cannons against rebels at the main terminal building of Donetsk international airport, May 26, 2014.A Ukrainian helicopter Mi-24 gunship fires its cannons against rebels at the main terminal building of Donetsk international airport, May 26, 2014.

Elsewhere in Ukraine’s troubled eastern regions, a separatist group detained a second four-person team of monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Vienna-based OSCE said. Last Monday separatists in another area detained a four-man OSCE team and have not yet released them.

Ukrainian authorities have long alleged that the rebellions have been fomented by Moscow among the largely Russian-speaking population, which is especially vulnerable to cross-border propaganda hostile to Kiev’s “Euro-Maidan” revolution that overthrew Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich in February.

Reports by Ukrainian border authorities and journalists on the ground now appear to show increasing evidence of direct involvement by fighters from Russia in the rebellions that erupted two months ago in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  (more…)

Separatist leader says six insurgents killed in attempt to ‘collect bodies’ at Donetsk airport.

Pro-Russian fighters take position behind trees during clashes against Ukrainian forces near the airport in Donetsk on May 26, 2014Pro-Russian fighters take position behind trees during clashes against Ukrainian forces near the airport in Donetsk on May 26, 2014. The battle at the airport in the main eastern rebel-held city of Donetsk resulted in dozens of rebel fighters being killed.

DONETSK, Ukraine – Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, claims that six separatist fighters were killed in the early morning hours on May 31 in an attempt to evacuate the bodies of comrades shot dead in a battle for the Donetsk airport on May 26.

“We tried to collect the bodies from the airport territory, but the Ukrainian army fired at the militiamen and an ambulance, killing six. The bodies of those killed are still there,” Interfax-Ukraine reported Borodai as saying.

His remarks contradict those of the Ukrainian military, which said that armed separatists had launched two fresh assaults on servicemen guarding the airport territory.

“There were two attempts to storm the Donetsk airport, at 5a.m. and 7a.m. this morning. Illegal paramilitary forces attempted to seize the airport, but both attempts were repelled by paratroopers who are part of the counterterrorist forces,” military press officer Oleksiy Dmytrashkovsky told Interfax-Ukraine.

No Ukrainian servicemen sustained injuries during the attacks at the airport, Dmytrashkovsky said.

Borodai, however, insisted that his militiamen were simply trying to recover the bodies of their deceased comrades and not launching new assaults. Now the Donetsk People’s Republic leadership will ask the International Committee of the Red Cross to help retrieve the bodies from the airport territory, he said.

At least 50 armed separatists, including many rebels from the pro-Russian Vostok Battalion, were killed in the gun battle at Donetsk airport on May 26, Borodai told the Kyiv Post earlier in the week, adding that the number could be higher and that the Ukrainian side suffered “as many” casualties, “probably more.” However, Ukrainian authorities said that none of their servicemen were killed or wounded in the fight.

Borodai told the Kyiv Post on May 29 that 33 rebels killed were Russians. Their bodies, riddled with bullets and mangled from mortar and rocket blasts, were kept overnight in a Donetsk ice cream factory that was seized by the Vostok Battalion on May 28 before being placed in red coffins, loaded into a truck, driven across the Russian border and repatriated on May 29.

Kyiv Post


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