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Russia Steps Up Help for Rebels in Ukraine War


Experts exhumed four unidentified bodies from a mass grave in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk on Friday. Credit Marion Thibaut/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesExperts exhumed four unidentified bodies from a mass grave in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk on Friday. Marion Thibaut/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

KIEV, Ukraine — Rather than backing down after last week’s downing of a civilian passenger jet, Russia appears to be intervening more aggressively in the war in eastern Ukraine in what American and Ukrainian officials call a dangerous escalation that will almost certainly force more robust retaliation from the United States and Europe.

Russia has increased its direct involvement in fighting between the Ukrainian military and separatist insurgents, moving more of its own troops to the border and preparing to arm the rebels with ever more potent weapons, including high-powered Tornado rocket launchers, American and Ukrainian officials said on Friday.

The officials, citing satellite images and other military intelligence, said that Russia had positioned heavy weapons, including tanks and other combat vehicles, at several points along the border where there has been intense fighting. On Thursday, Russia unleashed artillery attacks on eastern Ukraine from Russian territory, officials in Washington and Kiev said. While Russia flatly denied accelerating its intervention on Friday, American and Ukrainian officials said Moscow appeared anxious to stem gains by government forces that have succeeded in retaking some rebel-held territory.

The reported Russian moves raised the prospect of a new and more perilous chapter opening in a conflict that has already inflamed the region and, with the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 with 298 aboard, stunned the world. American officials blamed a Russian-provided surface-to-air missile for the explosion and hoped the shock of the episode would prompt the Kremlin to rethink its approach, but they are increasingly convinced it has not.

Obama administration officials said Russia’s rising involvement had stiffened the resolve of European leaders who have been reluctant to confront Moscow for fear of damaging their own economies. But there was no appetite for a direct military response, and it remained unclear whether the West could or would take action that may change the calculus of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as Moscow seems to devote more firepower to the fight.

American and Ukrainian officials said Russia has moved beyond simply helping separatists and is now engaging directly in the war. Multiple Ukrainian military planes have been brought down in recent days by missiles fired from Russian territory, and now artillery batteries are firing from across the border into Ukraine, the officials said.

“We have detected that firing and that does represent an escalation in this conflict,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “It only underscores the concerns that the United States and the international community has about Russian behavior and the need for the Putin regime to change their strategy.”

American officials said Russia has moved 15,000 troops near the border. Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that Russia had made “imminent” plans to deliver heavier rockets to the separatists. Instead of Mr. Putin de-escalating the conflict after the Malaysia Airlines tragedy, “he’s actually taken a decision to escalate,” Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a security forum in Aspen, Colo.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine to express solidarity and pledge to coordinate with allies “about imposing further costs on Russia for its deeply destabilizing and irresponsible actions in Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement.

While the United States has been hesitant to make its intelligence public, Ukrainian officials have provided a daily, running list of Russian incursions, including flights into Russian air space by fighter jets and unmanned surveillance drones, as well as mortar and rocket attacks.

“We have facts of shelling of Ukrainian positions from the territory of Russian Federation,” Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said at a briefing in Kiev on Friday. “We have facts on the violation of air border between Ukraine and Russia.”

The New York Times.

The European Union’s wake-up call seems to be falling on deaf ears


Time to wake up Europe...
Russia’s military Feb. 27 military invasion and subsequent annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula was supposed to be the European Union’s wake-up call to answer Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

So was Russia’s war against Ukraine in the eastern oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk. But not only has the EU failed to formulate a strong response, many of its members want to continue selling arms and doing business as usual with Russia. Now after Russian separatist leaders armed, trained and financed by the Kremlin are believed to have shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17, killing 298 people, the EU appears to still be sleeping in response to Russia’s threat to global peace.

Can cyclists be fined for speeding?


What does the law say about speeding on a bike? Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/ReutersWhat does the law say about speeding on a bike? Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters.

Several years ago, on holiday in Dorset, I picked up speed cycling on a quiet, wide road, and continued with unbridled freedom on a long downhill stretch. It was glorious. Then, making me jump out of my saddle, came the sudden wail of a siren. Pulling out quickly from a side road, a police car flashed its lights and flagged me down. “Do you know how fast you were going, sir?” I shrugged, sweatily. “Well sir, 44mph.”

This actually became a good-natured, even jokey exchange with the local constabulary, who let me off with a warning. I was a bit surprised at the speed. I didn’t have a speedometer, and I don’t know how they measured it with a Lidar speed gun, or any other means. But were they in fact “letting me off” at all? Can cyclists break the speed limit, or does the law only apply to cars?

While it is not unheard of to be shouted at by a taxi driver, for all that they might object to about cyclists, the one thing you wouldn’t expect is to be asked to slow down. But a colleague told me he experienced that very thing this week when cycling quickly to work through Southwark. Coincidence? Southwark council is planning to crack down on fast cyclists by issuing a 20mph speed limit for any traffic on certain areas of the south London borough. There has been resistance to this from various parties, including the Metropolitan police. While this is a more realistic, if nippy speed barrier for the commuting cyclist, can they be bracketed on this issue with motor vehicles?

The law of the road

The Highway Code rule 124 is clear on keeping within speed limits, but does not mention cyclists. Archive notes on the Department of Transport code of conduct for cyclists gives general advice on using cycle paths, particularly those shared with pedestrians, suggesting “if you want to cycle quickly, say in excess of 18 mph/30 kph, then you should be riding on the road”. So – going fast? Then the road is the place to be.

Melissa Henry, communications director at Sustrans, the UK charity of cyclists and pedestrians, gave me a staunch defence for us self-propelled wheelers: “For most cyclists getting up to, let alone breaking the speed limit, is unlikely. The majority of people apply common sense to situations they face on the road. People should follow the Highway Code.” That’s indeed true, and it’s hard to break the limit, but can cyclists still be sanctioned if they do? So I turned to the Metropolitan police, where communications manager Mark Ottowell confirmed the answer: “The legislation regarding speeding covers motor (or mechanically propelled) vehicles only.”

Parklife penalties

So there you have it, we’re exempt. Or are we? Unfortunately not. There’s a caveat. Cyclists can be fined not merely for transgressing paths or pavements, which is another subject entirely, but for speeding on roads in royal parks where other laws can be applied. In 2013 a teenager was reported to have been fined for cycling at 37 mph in Richmond Park. Nippy indeed. Ottwell gives the current police position on riding in that location:

  • Police activity in Richmond Park continues to address poor road user behaviour by riders and drivers. Sections 28 & 29 Road Traffic Act 1988 may be used to report dangerous and careless cycling respectively. These offences closely mirror the provisions (sections 2 & 3) for motor vehicles. Regular ‘Exchanging Places’ events have been held in the park to promote safer cycling. Enforcement of offences committed by cyclists is carried out every day by officers who stop the offender at the time.

Cycling in Richmond Park, south-west London. Photograph: Toby Melville/ReutersCycling in Richmond Park, south-west London. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

So rules apply to roads within royal parks for both cars and bikes, in what is popular destination for recreational cyclists. But what constitutes “dangerous and careless cycling”? Can you go fast and be careful? Perhaps a rule of ride is that may depend on who else is on the road. And where does the actual speed limit apply? Section 28 of the Road Traffic Act defines danger, but what about speed? A 2004 amendment to Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces Regulations limited Richmond park speeds to 20mph and other royal parks to 30mph. These speed limits apply to vehicles, they are still not bicycles. Royal park regulations of 1997 separately defines cyclists from vehicles, and even a 2010 amendment defines vehicles as “mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on a road”. So it seems, penalties seem to be less about speed, more about the issue of dangerous cycling created by high speed.

The ‘furious’ issue

So has a cyclist ever been fined specifically for speed? That’s hard to find. But in September 1997, the Cambridge Evening News and the Guardian reported that a cyclist was fined £120 for travelling through the city centre at 25mph in a 30mph zone. Quite extraordinarily, police used a law that was more than 150 years old for “riding furiously”. The Town Police Clauses Act of 1847, section 28, F18, states that penalties will be given to “every person who rides or drives furiously any horse or carriage, or drives furiously any cattle”. Furiously? Seriously? The Guardian story named the rider as one Tony Adams, a postal worker, 24, who was also in training to try and break Chris Boardman’s pursuit record. Adams said: “I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t even pedalling furiously.”

So, fellow cyclists, be careful out there. Don’t be dangerous. It’s difficult to break speed limits, especially when there’s traffic or traffic lights, but even if you do, on normal roads such penalties only apply to motor vehicles. But beware how your cycling is perceived in the royal parks, and let us know your thoughts and experiences.

The Guardian.

#MH17: Australia and Netherlands join renewed push to secure crash site


A piece of debris at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. Photograph: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty ImagesA piece of debris at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. Photograph: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

The Netherlands and Australia are standing by to send police and troops to the site of the Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine, in an attempt to finally secure the scene of the disaster, more than a week after the plane came down killing all 298 people on board.

Pro-Russia separatists in the area, who are accused of bringing down the plane using a surface-to-air missile, have said they would welcome international investigators but the presence of foreign forces in the volatile region presents challenges, with military confrontation between Ukraine’s forces and rebels rumbling on in the immediate vicinity.

Of the dead, 193 were Dutch citizens and 28 were Australians. Many of the bodies were removed from the site by local emergency workers and transferred by train to Kharkiv, from where they are being flown in batches to the Netherlands. But observers say there are still human remains at the site and part of the task of the 40 Dutch police who are due to arrive will be to ensure that all the bodies and body parts are found.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said on Friday that the contingent would be unarmed. “If we go with a big military presence, the situation could become more unstable than stable,” he said.

The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, said his country was also ready to send police and had officers standing by in Europe, ready to travel to the site if agreement is achieved.

“This will be a police-led humanitarian mission,” the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said in Kharkiv, where she has been overseeing the arrival and onward flights to the Netherlands for the remains. “And there will be body identification and forensic experts. And of course we will ensure they are safe, that they will have protection.”

In the week since MH17 came crashing to the ground the site has remained unsecured, with open access to media and locals. So far, the only international monitors at the site have been observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), joined by a handful of international investigators. There has been anger at allegations of looting as well as suggestions that some of the rebels could be attempting to cover up potential evidence. Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the OSCE, said observers had found identity cards and credit cards at the site on Friday and added that people were seen moving parts of the fuselage.

A rebel fighter who arrived at the scene soon after the crash told the Guardian on Friday that he and his men had found locals looting items from the site and taking pieces of fuselage to sell as scrap metal.

The question of looting was again raised on Friday after a local woman apparently posted photographs on Instagram of herself wearing makeup apparently taken from the site. The photograph was geolocated to the town of Torez, near the crash site, and the caption was: “Mascara from Amsterdam, well, from the field if you know what I mean.”

The Instagram account was later deleted after the woman received hundreds of angry messages. One user who initially “liked” the Instagram photograph confirmed to the Guardian that the account was real, but claimed the mascara was not stolen from the wreckage of MH17.

The most problematic element of the Dutch and Australian missions will be security. Although both Ukrainian forces and the rebels have promised to observe a ceasefire in the immediate area around the crash site, fighting close to the regional capital, Donetsk, has intensified in recent days, with heavy shelling audible even in the centre of Donetsk in the early hours of Friday morning. The president, Petro Poroshenko, is keen to end the insurgency in the east of the country before Ukraine’s independence day on 24 August, but serious fighting will be required to dislodge the rebels from Donetsk, with inevitable civilian casualties.

Human Rights Watch said Grad rocket attacks had killed 16 people in Donetsk in recent days, in what “may constitute war crimes”. The organisation said the evidence pointed to Ukrainian forces being responsible, despite denials in Kiev.

Both Russia and Ukraine are accusing the other of shelling across the border. Ukraine says Russia has carried out nightly shelling into its territory in recent days, and also accuses the Russians of shooting down Ukrainian planes from inside Russia.

In turn, Russia claimed the Ukrainians fired mortar rounds into Russia on Friday.

A statement from Russia’s investigative committee said: “Those who shot from Ukraine carried out the shooting purposefully with an intent to kill Russian law enforcement officials.

“It was only the poor preparation of the Ukrainian military and the timely evacuation of law enforcement officers under the cover of armoured transport vehicles that did not allow the shooters to realise their intention.”

Also on Friday, the Pentagon said it believed Russia was planning to supply multiple launch rocket systems to the rebels in east Ukraine, indicating that satellite pictures showed the systems approaching the border and a transfer was expected “in the very near future … potentially today”.

The Guardian.

Movement of Russian heavy caliber artillery systems into Ukraine “imminent”


Ukraine Crisis

WASHINGTON (AP) — The movement of Russian heavy caliber artillery systems across the border into Ukraine is “imminent”, the Pentagon said Friday, saying Russia is escalating the military action there.1

Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. has seen the powerful rocket systems moving closer to the Ukraine border and they could be put into the hands of Russian-backed separatists as soon as Friday. He says he doesn’t have an exact timeline.

U.S. officials warned this week that they had new evidence that Russia intended to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine. Warren told reporters Friday that the delivery could happen at any time, adding “it’s that close” to the border.

Warren also said that Russia continues to fire artillery across the border into Ukraine.

“For the last several days Russian forces using Russian artillery from Russian soil have conducted attacks against Ukrainian military positions in Ukraine,” said Warren. “This is unquestionably an escalation from a military perspective.”2

He declined to say what impact the attacks have had on Ukraine’s military, but said the attacks are coming from the southern border area, near Rostov-on-Don.

Warren said the U.S. has seen no indications of Ukraine firing back into Russia and there have been no reports of civilian casualties. He said the number of Russian troops along the border continues to slowly but steadily increase. Close to 12,000 are there now.

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the escalation had prompted the U.S. to discuss additional costs that might be imposed on Russia, referring to potential economic sanctions.

“It only underscores the concerns that the U.S. and the international community has about Russian behavior and the need for the Putin regime to change their strategy,” Earnest said.

The Ukrainian army on Friday said soldiers had come under artillery fire from the Russian side of the border overnight and were attacked by rebels in several other places in the restive east.

Associated Press.


  1. I sure hope this is based on fact because if its not then Russia will probably do just that! When one is told that they are doing something enough times even when they’re not, one tends to say “to hell with it, if I’m being blamed for something I may as well do it” 
  2. It seems like the Ukraine conflict is escalating which is worrying.