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By Olivia Crellin.
A German company is offering a $30 million bounty for the identities of the individuals responsible for downing Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine this summer.
Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine are suspected of firing surface-to-air missiles at the civilian aircraft, which crashed July 17 while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board. A preliminary report carried out by Dutch investigators said that the crash was the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that struck the Boeing plane from the outside.
Wifka, an independent German fraud investigation company, said that the money — provided by an anonymous client — will not be given away lightly. The reward will only be delivered to someone able to give detailed information on who shot down MH17, who gave the order to shoot down the plane, and who is covering up their tracks, according to Wifka.
“After the terrible assassination or ‘accident,’ all political parties, at home and abroad, said they owed it to the victims, their families and the public to clarify the circumstances of the crash and present evidence for what happened,” the company said in a statement. “None of this has yet been done.”
The list of requirements for the reward also includes information on whether the plane was shot by accident or out of political, economic, or military motivation. The company is also seeking details of the circumstances that led to the incident, the weapon used, and what happened to the people involved.
“The money is securely deposited in Zurich, Switzerland,” Wifka said. “It will be paid there or in a different neutral place of the whistle-blower’s choice.”
The company added that their client has also offered to give the tipster a new identity if necessary.
Concessions to Rebels
Two months exactly from the day of the MH17 crash, Ukraine is still in turmoil. Despite the announcement of a ceasefire 12 days ago, Ukrainian troops have been pushed back on multiple fronts in the last two weeks.
Amnesty offers from President Petro Poroshenko to those who had not committed serious crimes in the east have been largely rejected, and Ukraine’s parliament approved laws Tuesday that give rebels de facto control of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a move that has infuriated many protesters and activists.
Vitaly Zhuravsky, an MP who belongs to a party described as pro-Russian, was thrown by angry crowds into a dumpster.
Ukrainian lawmakers did manage to ratify an agreement Tuesday that brings the country closer to joining the European Union. The pact is the same one that former president Viktor Yanukovych backed out of signing last year, leading to the protests that sparked the revolution and ongoing conflict that has so far killed more than 3,000 and displaced 310,000.
“No nation has ever paid such a high price to become Europeans,” Poroshenko said, referring to soldiers killed in the fighting and the early deaths of anti-government protesters.
The agreement would make Ukraine compliant with EU standards in the areas of human rights, security, and arms control. It would also have removed trade barriers, but negotiations with Russia last week led to the postponement of the free-trade aspect of the agreement until 2016.
Poroshenko, a candy magnate-turned-politician who won 54 percent of the vote in the election following Yanukovych’s removal, told an audience of political experts, journalists, and senior European officials gathered in Kiev on September 13 that there could be “no military solution to this conflict.”
Despite the ceasefire, NATO officials said this week that about 1,000 Russian troops remain on Ukrainian soil. Six people were killed by crossfire when rebels attacked Donetsk airport on Sunday.
Seeking More US Aid
A diplomatic solution to the conflict will be undoubtedly be on Poroshenko’s agenda when he arrives Thursday in Washington to address Congress and speak with President Barack Obama. The country’s parliamentary elections are due to be held October 26.
More economic and military aid from the US will also be a topic of discussion, although concerns about corruption, as well as fears about escalating the military conflict with Russia, mean that Poroshenko could leave Washington empty handed.
Paving the way for more government accountability, Ukraine passed a law Tuesday that allows the removal of corrupt officials from their positions. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk has said that Ukraine will screen roughly 1 million civil servants to root out lingering corruption from the previous regime. The law targets individuals who worked under Yanukovych, as well as former senior members of the Communist Party and KGB.
The US and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have already pledged a total of $60 million in non-lethal aid, which includes food rations, body armor, and communications equipment, plus $17 billion in bailout money. Ukraine’s Central Bank says that the country’s economy may shrink up to 10 percent this year.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko during multilateral talks in Minsk on Aug. 26. © Mykola Lazarenko/POOL
It’s been more than three months since the May 25 election in Ukraine, which propelled Petro Poroshenko to presidency in an unprecedented first-round victory.
Poroshenko made many promises during his extensive campaign trips, but has failed to keep many of them. It has not eroded his support so far, however. Some 57 percent of Ukrainians still support their president, according to the latest findings of the pollster Research&Branding Group published on Aug. 15.
Kyiv Post has revisited some of the election promises ahead of President Poroshenko’s three months in power since the day of inauguration, which took place on June 7.
Promise: “I will nominate my team the day after inauguration”
On his campaign trail, Poroshenko was very secretive about the team he planned to work with, but never stopped repeating that he will nominate his team “the day after inauguration, possibly on the land of Donbas.”
But the first major appointments did not start till June 10, when Borys Lozhkin, Poroshenko’s former business partner, was named chief of the president’s administration.
Oleksiy Haran, a political expert and professor at Kyiv Mohyla Academy, says it’s ok because the president “should spend some time trying to find out who will work out for him.” But the president has been taking his time filling key vacancies in the Cabinet, presidential administration and the National Security and Defense Council.
So far, he has failed to fill some key vacancies, the most prominent of which is the job of the National Security and Defense Council Secretary.
Poroshenko did make a number of appointments at the president’s administration and appointed some members of the Cabinet that fall under his competence. Most prominently, he nominated Pavlo Klimkin as foreign minister and Valeriy Heletei as defense minister.
He also appointed Valeriya Gontareva, former Investment Capital Ukraine board chairperson, as Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU). Gontareva became the first woman in Ukraine’s independent history to become a chief banker. One of EuroMaidan Revolution activists and volunteers, Yuriy Biryukov, also made it to presidential pool. He was appointed president’s advisor on Aug. 13.
Haran says that this time the president’s administration “keeps a low profile, which is good – because it’s only a support service of the president.”Kyiv Post+ provides special coverage of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the aftermath of the EuroMaidan Revolution.
Promise: “Anti-terrorist operation cannot and will not last two or three months. It has to, and will, last hours.”
During his first press conference after the election vote on May 25, Poroshenko said that the anti-terrorist operation will last hours. It has been three months, and a new front just opened in the east of Ukraine as Russian soldiers crossed the border in the south of Donetsk Oblast and took over the town of Novoazovsk just days ago. Large chunks of Donetsk and Luhansk regions still remain under separatist control, while the death toll of Ukraine’s army is running over 700. The United Nations said 2,200 civilians died in clashes.
The country’s anti-terrorist operation was initially announced in mid-April. During the five months of Russia’s aggression.
Haran, the professor at Kyiv Mohyla Academy, believes that the situation may have been different had Russia not decided to openly invade Ukraine. “Nobody expected then Russian government would send its (humanitarian) convoy to Ukraine and then keep sending its forces in Ukraine,” Haran explained.
Two weeks after the inauguration Poroshenko announced a unilateral ceasefire by the government forces as a part of a peace plan. The president was calling on Russia-backed insurgents to put down the arms. But during the 10-day ceasefire the casualties in Ukraine’s army actually went up as militants opened fire at Ukrainian forces more than 108 times, killing at least 28 servicemen, according to official figures. They also shot down a Ukrainian military plane, and all 49 passengers of that plane died.
As of Aug. 28 armed insurgents backed by Russian regular troops keep the number of strategic cities, including Ilovaisk, Amvrosiivka, Starobesheve and Novoazovsk in Donetsk Oblast.
Promise: Full reboot of power
Status: partially fulfilled
The promise of a full reboot of power was one of the key points of Poroshenko’s presidential program.
“I will provide a power reboot and make every effort within the constitutional powers and announce parliamentary elections by the end of 2014, based on the proportional representation of the political parties,” reads Poroshenko’s program.
After the Independence Day celebrations, Poroshenko announced that he set an early parliamentary election for Oct. 26. In his speech Poroshenko stressed he was issuing his decree “taking into account the expectations of the majority of Ukrainians and trying to keep my own word, which I gave while running for president.”
But the original promise was to conduct parliamentary elections based on new rules and a proportional system, where parties would create election lists of their candidates in a open and transparent manner.
However, the Oct. 26 vote will be based on the existing parallel system, where each resident gets two ballots to vote. One of the ballots will offer a list of parties, who will have created their lists of candidates behind closed doors. The other ballot will offer a list of candidates specific for each of the 226 majority constituencies in Ukraine. It’s still unclear what will happen in the annexed Crimea and in the war zone in the east.
Promise: To sell business (except for Channel 5) in case of presidency
Poroshenko, the country’s 18th richest man, whose wealth Forbes estimates at $1.3 billion, this month has picked an agent to sell off his significant business assets. His interests will be represented by Rothschild & Cie Investment Company, according to Giovanni Salvetti, co-chairperson of the company, who spoke to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“We’re very delighted to be selected for this important mission (selling Poroshenko’s assets),” Salvetti said in a televised interview. He said that the company will team up with their Ukrainian counterparts, Investment Capital Ukraine and promised on Aug. 21 that “the effective work on selling (Poroshenko’s) business will start the next week.”
Investment Capital Ukraine is the company that used to be co-owned by Gontareva, the National Bank governor, before her appointment by Poroshenko on June 19. She had to sell her business assets after the appointment.
Apart from an international candy empire Roshen with a turnover of $1.021 billion last year, according to Candyindustry.com, a specialized website, Poroshenko owns assets in automobile, shipbuilding, real estate and agriculture. He also owns Channel 5, which he refuses to tell for sentimental reasons.
Promise: “All the soldiers will be paid Hr 1,000 per day starting May 26“
“The soldier of Ukraine will no longer be naked, barefoot and hungry. He has to be well paid, his life has to be insured,” Poroshenko said in his speech on election day.
He promised to make improvements of the Ukrainian army his top priority. He said he would raise what servicemen make from $50 a month to $83 a day, and that each volunteer would get a life insurance worth $83,000.
However, the soldiers who take part in the country’s unfolding anti-terrorist operation, still earn Hr 5,700 ($424) per month, according to the deputy Defense Minister Petro Mekhed.
(Kyiv Post staff writer Olena Goncharova can be reached at email@example.com).
On August 18-19, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko had phone consultations with President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso.
Petro Poroshenko informed José Manuel Barroso on the development of the situation in the Donbas and continuing provocations of the Russian Federation aimed at escalation of the security situation in the region. He informed that terrorists had shelled the convoy of civilians leaving Luhansk under white flags.
The President of the European Commission condemned that terrible crime and called for immediate objective investigation into the tragedy. He emphasized the necessity of ensuring the protection of civilians. The Ukrainian President assured of the beginning of the investigation and bringing the perpetrators to liability.
The President of the European Commission supported the initiative of the Ukrainian President on inviting the EU to take part in the high level meeting. On August 26, in Minsk, meeting in the format Ukraine – EU – “Eurasian trio” (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia) will take place. The participants will discuss the issues related to the implementation of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, energy security and stabilization of the situation in the Donbas. Petro Poroshenko expressed gratitude to Jose Manuel Barroso for the readiness to send three members of the European Commission simultaneously (High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, Vice President of the European Commission – European Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger and European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht). Such an unprecedented step proves solidarity and support of the European Union to Ukraine, the President noted.
The parties also discussed the issue of providing the third wave of macro-financial assistance to Ukraine by the EU.
President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko accepted the invitation of President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso to make a working visit to Brussels on August 30.
Belarus is to host talks between Ukraine, Russia and OSCE representatives on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, President Alexander Lukashenko’s office has said.
It did not say when the meetings would take place but the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, asked Lukashenko to host the talks on Thursday, and to focus on securing access to the site where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was brought down in east Ukraine this month.
Fierce fighting has prevented officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reaching the crash site for several days.
There was no indication pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukraine’s army would attend the talks, although Lukashenko’s office said “all interested sides” were invited.
The talks were expected to involve Russia’s ambassador to Kiev, Mikhail Zurabov, and former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, who have met several times since the crisis began but have failed to secure a breakthrough.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine prevented OSCE representatives from reaching the crash site on Tuesday for the third successive day.
“Decisions are being made on a political level on ensuring safety on the site,” Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the OSCE in Ukraine said on Wednesday. “Today, as far as we know, we won’t be going there.”
An OSCE convoy had earlier on Wednesday been stopped by rebels about six miles outside the city of Donetsk because of fighting further along the route, but OSCE officials later denied the team had been trying to reach the crash site.
Poroshenko wants the talks in Minsk to also discuss the release of hostages Kiev claims are being held by the rebels in east Ukraine, the Ukrainian president said in a statement on Facebook.
He appears to have turned to Belarus for help because the former Soviet republic is a Moscow ally but also has a solid relationship with Ukraine.
The regional authorities in Donetsk, one of the regions worst hit by the fighting, said on Wednesday morning that 19 people had been killed in the past 24 hours.
Kiev’s military offensive has forced the rebels out of some areas they held, apart from their strongholds in and around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, and fighting has intensified since the airliner was brought down on 17 July killing all 298 people on board.
The west believes the separatists probably shot the plane down by mistake and has accused Russia of arming them. Moscow denies this.
A local citizen speaks to a Ukrainian government soldier guarding a checkpoint outside the city of Siversk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, July 12, 2014. Pro-Russian insurgents last week retreated from the strategic city of Slovyansk and holed up in Donetsk, a city of one million, and potentially the final frontier for the rebels. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s foreign ministry said Sunday that a Ukrainian shell hit a Russian border town, killing one person and seriously injuring two others. Ukraine denied firing a shell into Russian territory.
President Vladimir Putin expressed “grave concern” over the incident, Russian news agencies quoted his spokesman as saying. A statement from Russia’s foreign ministry labeled the event a “provocation,” and warned of the possibility of “irreversible consequences, the responsibility for which lies on the Ukrainian side.”
Russia said the shell hit the courtyard of a residential building in the Russian town of Donetsk — near the Ukrainian city of the same name that has become a rebel stronghold — early on Sunday. Ukraine’s restless east has been mired in a pro-Russian separatist insurgency against the Kiev government.
Ukrainian officials denied that any Ukrainian shells had fallen on Russian territory. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, was quoted by Interfax Ukraine as saying that Ukrainian forces “do not fire on the territory of a neighboring country. They do not fire on residential areas.” He placed blame for the attack on the rebels themselves.
Russia has made repeated claims that settlements along its porous border with Ukraine — which the West and Kiev say is a key supply route for the rebels — have been hit by Ukrainian fire, but no deaths have been previously reported.
The claims come as Putin, whose nation will host the 2018 World Cup, is attending Sunday’s final in Rio de Janeiro to take part in a handover ceremony with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
Brazilian officials said Saturday that both Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, would attend the match. But Poroshenko announced Sunday that he wouldn’t be going. Talks between Russia and Ukraine over a cease-fire between the rebels and Kiev’s troops have stalled in recent weeks, as Ukrainian troops have succeeded in pushing insurgents out of key towns in the east.
Putin met Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also in Rio for the World Cup final, to discuss eastern Ukraine. Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement that the two leaders “agreed that as soon as possible direct talks should take place between the Ukrainian government and separatists in form of a video conference.” Selecting a location for talks has been a key sticking point for both sides.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that Putin and Merkel believed the situation in east Ukraine was “deteriorating.”
“Putin expressed grave concern with the ongoing attacks from the Ukrainian armed forces, and emphasized that it is unacceptable when such attacks result in the shelling of Russian territory,” Peskov said.
Ukraine’s Donetsk, where rebels have gathered to regroup after a major Ukrainian offensive last week, was quiet on Sunday. But some 150 people from the settlement of Marynka, on the outskirts of the city, were moving into dormitories at a local university on Sunday, after their homes were bombarded during the night.
“We were brought here this morning,” said Svetlana Panteleyeva, who was with her grandson. “We were bombed so terribly…. They blew up our houses.”
Artillery fire in Marynka late on Friday left at least four people dead, but the number of casualties in the latest bombing was unclear.
Ukrainian defense officials said Sunday that the air force had performed 16 sorties and carried out five airstrikes on rebel positions over the previous day.
Interfax-Ukraine cited Lysenko on Sunday as saying that several dozen rebels had been killed and rocket launchers and armored vehicles destroyed in the attacks. He also said that 7 servicemen had been killed and 30 wounded in the past day.
Following the loss of at least 19 soldiers in a rocket attack Friday morning by the pro-Russian militia, Ukrainian officials have claimed to have killed large numbers of rebel combatants, although there has been no independent verification. Late on Friday, Defense Ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznev said on his Facebook account that 1,000 rebels had been killed in two separate airstrikes.
Poroshenko vowed last week to respond with firmness to attacks by the pro-Russian insurgency.
“For every life of our soldiers, the militants will pay with tens and hundreds of their own,” Poroshenko warned Friday. “Not one terrorist will evade responsibility. Everybody will get what is coming to them.”
Peter Leonard in Kiev, Ukraine and Balint Szlanko in Donetsk, Ukraine contributed reporting.