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#Russia’s Igor #Strelkov: I Am Responsible for War in Eastern #Ukraine

Igor Strelkov, a former separatist commander in eastern Ukraine.Igor Strelkov, a former separatist commander in eastern Ukraine. Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters.

Anna Dolgov, The Moscow Times.

Russian national Igor Strelkov, a former commander of pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine, has claimed “personal responsibility” for unleashing the conflict across the border, in which 4,300 people have been killed since April.

“I was the one who pulled the firing trigger of this war,” Strelkov said in an interview published Thursday with Russia’s Zavtra newspaper, which espouses imperialist views.

“If our unit hadn’t crossed the border, in the end everything would have fizzled out, like in [the Ukrainian city of] Kharkiv, like in Odessa,” Strelkov, also known as Girkin, was quoted as saying.

“There would have been several dozen killed, burned, detained. And that would have been the end of it. But the flywheel of the war, which is continuing to this day, was spun by our unit. We mixed up all the cards on the table,” he said.

Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea this spring, clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Moscow activists broke out in the cities of Kharkiv and Odessa, with more than 40 people killed in a fire in Odessa in early May.

Since then, the two cities have remained largely peaceful, and most of the fighting between rebels and government forces has been limited to the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Strelkov’s interview was published the same day the UN released a report highlighting the involvement of Russian fighters in the eastern Ukraine conflict, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 4,300 people since mid-April.

“The continuing presence of a large amount of sophisticated weaponry, as well as foreign fighters that include servicemen from the Russian Federation, directly affects the human rights situation in the east of Ukraine,” the report said.


Strelkov also told Zavtra that at the beginning of the conflict, Ukrainian separatists and government forces were reluctant to start fighting one another and that the main opposition to the rebels came from Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist militants such as the Right Sector.

“At first, nobody wanted to fight,” he was quoted as saying. “The first two weeks went on under the auspices of the sides trying to convince each other to engage.”

But Strelkov claimed Kiev became emboldened after seeing that Russia was refraining from openly interfering in eastern Ukraine, as it did in Crimea, or from sending in large-scale forces.

He added that the lack of large-scale support from Russia was a major disappointment for the separatists, which lacked the manpower or weapons to combat government forces.

“Initially I assumed that the Crimea scenario would be repeated: Russia would enter,” he told Zavtra. “That was the best scenario. And the population wanted that. Nobody intended to fight for the Luhansk and Donetsk republics. Initially everybody was for Russia.”

Russian Involvement

Strelkov also gave an account of the degree of Russia’s involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

At the start of this summer, 90 percent of rebel forces were made up of local residents, Strelkov was quoted as saying. However, by early August, Russian servicemen supposedly on “vacation” from the army had begun to arrive, he said.

According to Strelkov, the assault on the Black Sea town of Mariupol in September, which prompted concerns in Ukraine and the West that Russia has entered the conflict on a large scale, was conducted mostly by the Russian military “vacationers.”

The rebel forces advancing on Mariupol at that time met with little resistance from government troops and “could have been taken without a fight, “but there was an order not to take it,” he was quoted as saying.

While Moscow has repeatedly denied supplying the rebels with weaponry and manpower, Strelkov said the assistance offered to rebels remains significant: “I can’t say that we fully provide for them. But we are really helping them,” he said, noting that half of the rebel army was kitted out with winter clothes sent from Russia.

Shock Decision

After Donetsk and Luhansk held “referendums” on their independence from Ukraine in May, separatist leaders appealed to Moscow to accept the territories as Russian regions but Moscow responded with vague statements calling for “dialog” between rebels and Kiev.

Separatist had not contemplated building functional states and had pinned their hopes on being absorbed by Russia, Strelkov said, reasoning that Moscow needed a land connection to Crimea, which it had annexed in March.

“And then, when I understood that Russia was not going to take us in — I associated myself with the resistance — for us that decision was a shock,” Strelkov was quoted as saying.

Strelkov has been living in Russia since early this fall, when he said he was moving to Moscow to protect President Vladimir Putin from enemies and traitors.

While he seems to have fallen out of favor with Russia’s state-run media, having disappeared from their newscasts, he has taken to YouTube and fringe publication to issue an occasional appeal for increased Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine.

“From the very beginning we started to fight for real — destroying raiding parties of the Right Sector,” Strelkov told Zavtra. “And I take personal responsibility for what is happening there.”

According to a UN report released Thursday, at least 4,317 people had been killed in eastern Ukraine by mid-November, and 9,921 have been wounded. The casualties include nearly 1,000 who have perished since “a tenuous cease-fire” was established earlier this fall.

The Moscow Times.

#Ukraine’s Slow Collapse

Pro-Russian militant ride on a tank taken from Ukrainian forces during fighting in August, on their way to test fire in open fields, in the eastern Ukrainian town of Ilovaisk, some 40 kms east of Donetsk, on Nov. 18.Pro-Russian militant ride on a tank taken from Ukrainian forces during fighting in August, on their way to test fire in open fields, in the eastern Ukrainian town of Ilovaisk, some 40 kms east of Donetsk, on Nov. 18. © AFP

The Editorial Board, The New York Times.

The crisis in Ukraine has reached an impasse. The cease-fire signed in Minsk, Belarus, in September never really took hold, but at least it provided a cover for efforts to reduce the level of fighting and focus on stabilizing and reforming the Ukrainian economy as a prelude to a serious, long-term search for a resolution of the crisis. Now even the fig leaf of cease-fire is gone. Russian armored vehicles are rolling into eastern Ukraine — disowned, of course, by Moscow.

Gunfire is exchanged constantly in and around Donetsk, and Kiev has basically disowned residents of territories claimed by separatists by cutting most government services, benefits and pensions. And though elections to the Ukrainian Parliament on Oct. 26 brought in a new, pro-Western legislature, Kiev is still far from forming a government or producing a viable program of reforms.

The United States and the European Union have made clear, and correctly so, that they hold President Vladimir Putin of Russia largely responsible for this state of affairs. He was snubbed at the Group of 20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia. Then Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, once the European leader deemed most cautious in relations with Moscow, assailed him for reviving a Cold War atmosphere 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell.

There is no question that by annexing Crimea and arming separatists in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Putin has done great damage to East-West relations — and to his country, which finds itself isolated and in economic trouble. The decision on Monday by the European Union to add more separatist leaders to the list of Mr. Putin’s allies barred from Europe may be largely symbolic, but along with the cold reception in Brisbane, it does let the Russian leader know that the West is not about to let him off the hook.

That said, it is important to acknowledge that officials in Kiev, and more specifically President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, have responsibilities they must live up to. Ukraine has been plagued by corruption since it became independent, and the current crisis has made it even more imperative for the leaders to form a government and come up with a credible economic and political strategy.

The Ukrainian economy is in terrible shape — the currency has lost almost half its value against the dollar in 2014, the industrial centers of Donetsk and Luhansk are in separatist hands, coal mines have shut down. The International Monetary Fund has provided emergency aid, but the hard fact is that the European Union and the United States cannot be expected to make substantial commitments until Ukraine provides a clear reform plan and priorities for outside investment. Johannes Hahn, the new European Union commissioner for enlargement, is right to insist that the union will not hold a donors’ conference without this.

In addition to an economic strategy, Kiev needs to prepare a plan for loosening central control in a way that might satisfy residents of the eastern provinces. The decision by President Poroshenko to cut government benefits and pensions to residents of areas under the control of Kremlin-backed separatists, though understandable in the circumstances, has left those unable to flee feeling betrayed by Kiev, creating a vacuum for Moscow to fill.

There is no question that ordering painful reforms when a country is already on its knees is asking a lot. That is why it is imperative that Western leaders make clear that they will give Kiev substantial assistance only after it embarks on a serious program of economic and political reform. After all, that was what the Ukrainians who took to the streets in December 2013 fought for.

The New York Times.

#Ukraine: Weak and meek

Kyiv Post
Even as Russia shores up its illegitimate proxies in eastern Ukraine with weapons and troops, the West continues to behave spinelessly.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel discounted the possibility of further economic sanctions against Russia, opting instead to float the lame likelihood of individual visa bans and asset freezes against separatist leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. As the foremost leader of the 28-nation European Union bloc, Merkel’s unwillingness to more strongly confront Russia is disappointing. But abhorrent is the active opposition to more sanctions of such politicians as Hungary’s prime minister and the Czech Republic president. The United States, whose Congress is now in Republican hands, remains the best hope for Ukraine getting military aid and additional economic assistance.

The Russian assault on Ukraine is an assault on the international rule of law and the post-World War II order. It’s time to stop Vladimir Putin now. He is emboldened by the West’s weak response to his theft of Crimea and his attempts to dismember Ukraine.

The separatists destroying the infrastructure in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas have no lofty principles to uphold and don’t offer residents in Ukraine’s two most populous oblasts a better way of living. Rather, the violence and destruction is designed to bring Ukraine’s government in Kyiv to knuckle under to Putin’s imperial ambitions. Putin doesn’t want to absorb these territories, home to more than six million Ukrainian citizens before the war, into the Russian Federation. He just wants to wreak havoc and stoke fear.

The fact that Russia’s economy is tanking is testament to the fall in world oil and gas prices. To the extent the West is coordinating and assisting the drop in prices, its leaders are to be commended. But the drop looks to be more driven by the global economic slowdown and Saudi Arabia’s desire to undercut American competition.

The goal of Western sanctions has been to change Putin’s behavior. He remains undeterred. So further sanctions are essential, including a steep tax on Russian energy imports. Putin’s Russia should not be the venue for any international events. Crushing Putin’s economy is the fastest way to stop Putinism, bringing Russians closer to peace and prosperity.

Kyiv Post.

#OSCE denies allegations of pro-Russian bias in #Ukraine’s east

A Ukrainian serviceman (R) and OSCE observers wait on a road near Donetsk on September 20, 2014 before an exchange of captives, which are being freed under the terms of a ceasefire deal between Kyiv and the separatist forces. OSCE, which is a signatory to the deal, has faced allegations of pro-Russian bias for their work in Ukraine increasingly frequently.A Ukrainian serviceman (R) and OSCE observers wait on a road near Donetsk on September 20, 2014 before an exchange of captives, which are being freed under the terms of a ceasefire deal between Kyiv and the separatist forces. OSCE, which is a signatory to the deal, has faced allegations of pro-Russian bias for their work in Ukraine increasingly frequently. © ANATOLII STEPANOV / AFP

Kyiv Post+.

A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) refuted allegations of bias within its observation mission in eastern Ukraine voiced by an adviser to the defense minister earlier.

He said there is only one Russian1 working in the monitoring mission in Mariupol, and that was “definitely less than 80 percent,” which is what a defense ministry official implied.

Vasyl Budik, an adviser to the Defense Ministry, told Ukrainska Pravda website earlier on Tuesday that he has been told by mission representatives in Mariupol that 80 percent of the mission is composed of Russian nationals.

“What are Russia’s representatives doing in our positions? It’s not a secret that there is a war going on, and Russia is taking an active part in it. I am against Russians being a part of the mission. Do replace them with anyone else because they’re not doing the job they’re supposed to,” said Budik, according to the website.

He also said that most of those Russians come from secret services, and use derogatory forms of address when they describe Ukrainian soldiers. But Bociurkiw insisted that the main principles of work of the OSCE is neutrality and objectivity.

OSCE has been running an observation mission in eastern Ukraine and producing daily reports about its work in the region. It has also been a party in negotiations between Ukraine, Russia and separatists that have taken place in Minsk, and signatories of the cease-fire deal on Sept. 5.

This is not the first time the mission comes under fire for its work in Ukraine, however.

Dmytro Tymchuk, leader of Information Resistance, a civic initiative with a mission to inform the public about the war, had previously said in his public blog that he refused to meet with OSCE representatives because of their alleged bias towards Russia after it released a report about the shelling of school #63 in Donetsk last week, which killed two teenagers.

In the report, the mission said the shelling came from northwest of Donetsk, which many Russian and foreign media interpreted as coming from the Ukrainian positions. But OSCE denied it assigned blame, saying it only identified the direction from which the attack came.

Tymchuk said that his group has also recorded at least four cases when OSCE vehicles were used by Russia-backed separatists, and said OSCE recognized one such facts and issued an apology, stopping short of explaining how it could happen in the first place.

Tymchuk also said that his group has recorded cases when separatists knew beforehand of OSCE’s movements, and were able to remove heavy weaponry in time for the observation mission’s arrival.

Kyiv Post.

  1. There should not be any Russian observers on Ukrainian soil because Russia itself is involved in the current crisis. 

Commemorating the #MH17 victims: mistrust and disbelief in the Netherlands

Journalists look at parts of the Malaysia Airlines plane Flight MH17 as Dutch investigators (unseen) arrive at the crash site near the Grabove village in eastern Ukraine on Nov. 11, hoping to recover debris from the Malaysia Airlines plane which crashed in July, killing 298 peopleJournalists look at parts of the Malaysia Airlines plane Flight MH17 as Dutch investigators (unseen) arrive at the crash site near the Grabove village in eastern Ukraine on Nov. 11, hoping to recover debris from the Malaysia Airlines plane which crashed in July, killing all 298 people. © AFP

Stefan Huijboom, for Kyiv Post.

ROZSYPNE/DONETSK, Ukraine – The stifling heat of last July has made place for a breezing cold. The bright red and yellow leafs of the trees are waving on the gulfs of the cold wind. Autumn has made its way to eastern Ukraine. However, near the village of Rozsypne – some 80 kilometres east of Donetsk – not a lot has changed since Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down from the sky, killing all 298 people aboard.

Almost four months later, the wreckage of the Boeing 777 cockpit still lies scattered and untouched on a field of dried and withered sunflowers. The area is deserted, and the only sound is the echo of exchanging artillery fire in the far distance. It comes with pauses, but it remains constant as some plumes of smoke arise on the horizon.

Further north in the direction of Debaltseve lies the front where intense fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists still takes place, despite an agreed ceasefire as of Sept. 5. These clashes have been the main argument of the Dutch government to withheld sending its investigation team to the crash site. “It’s too dangerous,” according to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Nov. 10 marked the national commemoration ceremony in the Netherlands of the fallen MH17 passengers, yet until to date there has not been a lot of satisfying progress leaving those left behind solely in anger and despair.

Earlier, former Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans claimed on a popular Dutch talk show that one victim was found wearing an oxygen mask, frightening relatives as his statement suggested that the passengers might in fact have been conscious before the plane had hit the ground. Later, he apologized but Dutch forensics did confirm one victim was found with an oxygen mask though it was highly unlikely this passenger was conscious after the aircraft was hit.

Also, the Dutch government has been accused of being too passive as they refused to directly negotiate with the self-proclaimed separatist government, stating that Ukraine did not want Dutch officials to negotiate with rebels, resulting in a delay gaining access to the crash site. “In my perception, there was no delay due to the fact that we have not worked through separatists,” PM Rutte stated.

Recently, however, Ukrainian officials offered a statement that the Dutch authorities could actually – if they wanted to – directly negotiate with rebel officials regarding access to the crash site leaving the Dutch nation in disbelief.

“The Netherlands had the legal obligation towards the relatives of the victims to act out the firm language it used at the United Nations Security Council instead of coming up now with a lot of excuses that should not matter,” Geert-Jan Knoops said, a lawyer who specializes in international criminal law. “Almost 200 compatriots were killed. The Dutch government had the legal, moral and international right to use military force if our MPs wanted to.”

Harry Van Bommel, a member of the Dutch Socialist Party, silently referred to a possible future political crisis.

“At first we were satisfied with the government being restrained. They promised to make it its first priority to take back the victims – our people – and their belongings. However, now this satisfaction has turned into anger and disappointment,” Van Bommel said.

The German intelligence agency has publicly pointed to the Russian-backed separatists as responsible for downing the MH17, claiming to have gathered enough evidence to support this allegation. Dutch officials, though, choose not to already accuse one party as the Netherlands have the leading role in the criminal investigation. To many this is a thorn on their side, making it hard for the Dutch government to gain trust from its citizens.

“We have to be cautious, whereas harsh judgements may have been given previously, some were later already withdrawn. Given our role in the mission we can’t afford to do the same,” Han Ten Broeke explained, member of the liberal right-wing party VVD. The VVD has been part of the coalition government and has a majority of seats in the Dutch parliament. It has actively supported the government in its actions involving MH17.

Due to the amount of criticism the Dutch government received, it has been quite a surprise that last week a Dutch team of investigators were given access to the crash site where it collected human remains of five victims, transporting it back with the expected dignity to the Netherlands. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Ukraine is helping to assist visits to the crash site for the Dutch investigators.

Removing parts of the aircraft wreckage was supposed to start in cooperation with the self-proclaimed Ministry of Transport of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’.

On Nov. 11 Dutch officials of the investigation mission, however, arrived at the crash site, making only photographs of the wreckage in preparation of possibly removing it in the upcoming weeks. Later, it became clear that the OSCE – assisting the visits to the area – was unable to reach an agreement with Russia-backed rebels controlling the area, failing to start the removal.

Some praised this quick action following the massive criticism, others found it quite hypocritical. “If they can do it now, why couldn’t they have done it two or three months earlier?” is the question many are raising.

Although the final investigation could take up to a year to complete, Bellingcat, a private team of online investigative journalists, has released already its own conclusion based on a thorough analysis of videos and photos on different social media. It believes that evidence points to a Russian Buk missile launcher in the area on the date of the crash.

Meanwhile, winter is approaching in eastern Ukraine, making it more difficult to resume the investigation, and thus it will soon be “on hold” again, although it is argued that the cold winter might destroy more evidence, resulting in what some say a failed investigation.

A local Rozsypne resident Tatiana, who only wanted to give the Kyiv Post her first name, wants those responsible for the downing of MH17 to be brought to justice. Shyly she put her head down as she explained: “So many children were killed. So much injustice has been done.” She speaks of the village where she grew up as a current place of fear. “I have nightmares ever since the crash happened. Dead bodies fell onto the roof of my neighbor,” she desolately said, adding: “I too will remember the victims, but not just for one day, but my whole life.”

Stefan Huijboom is a Dutch journalist based in Kyiv. He can be reached at stefanhuijboom@gmail.com.

Kyiv Post.


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