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Separatists from the Chechen “Death” battalion stand in a line during a training exercise in the territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, on Dec. 8, 2014. Maxim Shemetov / Reuters.
Chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great), dozens of armed men in camouflage uniforms from Russia’s republic of Chechnya train in snow in a camp in the rebel-held east Ukraine.
They say their “Death” unit fighting Ukrainian forces has 300 people, mostly former state security troops in the mainly Muslim region where Moscow waged two wars against Islamic insurgents and which is now run by a Kremlin-backed strongman.
Seasoned Chechen fighters, whose combat experience often dates back to the 1994-96 and 1999-2000 wars, fight on both sides in east Ukraine, adding to the complexity of a conflict in which the West says Russian troops are involved.
“This is volunteer battalion Death,” a deputy commander of the group who only gave his nickname “Stinger” said at a former tourist camp the unit turned into their base outside of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in east Ukraine.
“There are about three hundred of us in the Donetsk region. We have battlefield experience ranging from 10 to 20 years starting from 1995,” said the man in his 40s, a pistol fixed to his thigh.
He had a little Chechen flag in green, white and red stitched to his cap and spoke Russian with a strong Caucasus accent. Several cars with Chechen registration plates were parked in the camp.
Russia sides with the rebels in east Ukraine but denies sending serving troops to reinforce them. Some fighters on the ground admit to being former Russian servicemen, or “on leave.” Moscow has said any Russians fighting there are volunteers.
In Chechnya, two brutal wars quashed the separatist insurgents but unrest is still simmering.
Gunmen attacked a police post and captured a building in the regional capital of Grozny last week and at least 20 people, including 10 police and 10 suspected militants, were killed in gunbattles that ensued.
Violence erupted just hours before President Vladimir Putin was due to give a major speech in Moscow, a symbolic challenge to the man credited for the Russian army victory in the second Chechen war.
Reestablishing Moscow’s control over Chechnya and then introducing an uneasy peace under Ramzan Kadyrov, whom critics and rights campaigners accuse of heavy-handed tactics and massive rights violations, is seen by Putin’s supporters as a key achievement.
In Ukraine, Stinger’s men are sworn enemies with another group of Chechens who fight on the opposite side of the conflict and support the Kiev government troops.
Some of them have Western passports after fleeing Russia following the two wars. They say Moscow is theirs and Kiev’s joint enemy and that Chechnya is occupied by Russia.
Stinger, however, said Chechnya was being destroyed in the wars of the 1990s and became peaceful again only when some local leaders allied with the Kremlin.
Some of those in the Death unit said they had initially fought against Russia in Chechnya but later switched sides and were amnestied by a former Kremlin-allied head of the region, Ramzan’s father, Akhmed Kadyrov.
“Now we are [former] soldiers and officers of the Russian army, of Russian special forces, mostly veterans of war campaigns,” Stinger said.
- Crimea, Chechnya and Putin’s Double Standards.
- Chechnya’s Kadyrov ‘Blacklists’ Obama, EU Officials Over Ukraine.
The European security watchdog, the OSCE, says Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels have agreed ‘in principle’ on a ceasefire in the Luhansk region. A months-old ceasefire has been frequently broken.
epa04481972 Ukrainian servicemen take up positions near Luhansk, Ukraine, 08 November 2014. A new wave of violence was reported although there is a cease-fire declared in the main separatist city. Ukraine on 06 November accused Russia of continuing the latest military build-up along the border of the two countries. Some 60 armoured vehicles, including 50 T-64 tanks, were moved by train to a town close to the border in Russia’s southern Rostov region, the Security Council in Kiev said. Latest reports on 07 November state that Ukrainian claims that a column of Russian military vehicles, including tanks, had crossed into eastern Ukraine. EPA/DMITRIY LIPAVSKIY
The government in Kyiv and pro-Russian separatists agreed to a ceasefire in the eastern war-torn region of Luhansk in Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement released late on Monday.
“All agreed in principle to a total ceasefire along the entire line of contact between Ukrainian Armed Forces and those under control of the (Luhansk People’s Republic), to be effective from 5 December,” the OSCE said.
“They also agreed that the withdrawal of heavy weapons would start on 6 December.”
A fragile truce signed between Ukraine and the separatist rebels in Minsk in September helped reduce some of the bloodiest fighting but fighting has continued since then. The UN said in late November that almost 1,000 people had died since that truce was signed, and more than 4,300 since fighting began in April.
Heavy battles now rage around the devastated airport in the main rebel-held city of Donetsk. Ukraine’s military said on Monday that a temporary truce had been declared, but it is unclear whether it is holding up.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Monday accused Russia of violating the Minsk ceasefire, by sending large deliveries of weapons to the pro-Moscow separatists – charges the Kremlin has always denied.
jr/ksb (AFP, dpa, AP)
#OSCE releases the 12-point protocol agreements reached between #Ukraine, #Russia and #separatists in #Minsk
(From left to right) representatives of self proclaimed “People’s Republic of Donetsk”, Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko (L), Donetsk rebel leader Andrei Purgin (2nd L) and “People Republic of Luhansk” Igor Plotnitsky (2nd R) attend talks in Minsk. © AFP
Editor’s note: This is the Kyiv Post’s unofficial translation of the Protocol on ceasefire and other agreements reached by the Trilateral negotiation group in Minsk on Sept. 5. The original in Russian can be found here.
Based on the results of consultations of the Trilateral contact group regarding joint steps towards implementation of the Peace Plan of President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and initiatives of President of Russia Vladimir Putin.
As a result of consideration and discussion of the proposals from members of consultations in Minsk on Sept. 1. 2014, the Trilateral contact group composed of representatives from Ukraine, Russian Federation and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an understanding was reached regarding the need to take the following steps:
- Provide for immediate and two-sided ceasefire.
- Provide monitoring and verification from the side of OSCE of the ceasefire.
- Conduct decentralization of power, including through approval of the Law of Ukraine “On temporary order of local self-government in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions” (Law on special status)
- Provide permanent monitoring at the Ukrainian-Russian state border, and verification by OSCE, with creation of a safety zone in the areas adjacent to the border in Ukraine and Russian Federation.
- Immediately free all hostages and illegally held persons.
- Approve a law to prevent persecution and punishment of persons in relation to events that took place in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.
- Continue an inclusive national dialogue.
- Take measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Donbas.
- Conduct early local elections in accordance with the Law of Ukraine “On temporary order of local self-government in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions” (Law on special status).
- Remove illegal military formations, military equipment and militants and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine.
- Approve a program for economic development of Donbas and renew the vital functions of the region.
- Give guarantees of personal security for participants of consultations.
Members of the Trilateral contact group:
Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini (Signed)
Second President of Ukraine L.D. Kuchma (Signed)
Ambassador of Russian Federation to Ukraine M.Yu.Zurabov (Signed)
A.V. Zakharchenko (Signed)
I.V. Plotnitskiy (Signed)
“The country that denied invading Crimea now says it had nothing to do with the downing of the Malaysian jet” – Michael Weiss
Evidence that Kremlin-backed separatists in east Ukraine downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 is now so overwhelming as to rule out any other culprit, at least outside the imaginations of conspiracy theorists or professional Kremlin propagandists.
For months, Russian President Vladimir Putin has waged maskirovka warfare in east Ukraine – an old, Soviet-perfected model of destabilizing foreign countries which is characterized by dissimulation, misdirection and plausible deniability, all done with the use of arms-length proxies.
Putin, a former KGB lieutenant colonel, continues to maintain that he has nothing to do with the separatists even as their political leadership has lately visited Moscow begging for more materiel and even opened a satellite office there to coordinate their activities more closely with their master and patron. It also pays to remember that Putin denied invading and annexing Crimea – until he didn’t.
U.S. officials, including one from the Defense Department, have confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that the separatists – many of whom are in fact Russian nationals – downed the commercial airliner over the skies of the separatist-controlled region of Donetsk on July 17 using the Buk anti-aircraft missile system. This is a Soviet-era, vehicle-mounted munition with a range of 46,000 feet. The MH17 was blown apart at an altitude of 33,000 feet.
The separatists, who have previously claimed credit for shooting down Ukrainian military planes and helicopters, said they haven’t got the capability to hit an aircraft at the MH17’s altitude. Except that they admitted, albeit privately and inadvertently, that they’d done just that.
The Ukrainian Security Service, or SBU, has leaked a series of what it alleges are intercepted phone conversations from the separatist camp. In one, recorded in the aftermath of the tragedy, a separatist commander named Igor Bezler (or “Bes,” meaning “Demon”) tells Colonel Vasyl Geranin, a man whom the SBU says is an officer of Russia’s military intelligence agency, or GRU: “Just now a plane was hit and destroyed by the Minera Group,” referring to a rebel unit.
A week ago, Bezler admitted in a recorded “press conference” held in Donetsk that separatists had received tanks and armored vehicles from Russia for the purpose of defending Slavyansk, a city that recently was retaken by Ukraine’s military.
Western intelligence officials have told the Financial Times that they have judged the SBU intercepts to be genuine.
Defense experts say that there is no way ragtag insurgents could operate a surface-to-air missile as sophisticated as the Buk. But the rebels are not quite ragtag insurgents.
Their self-proclaimed military commander is a man named Col. Igor Strelkov (also known as Girkin). According to the European Union, which sanctioned him in April, Strelkov is also an officer of the GRU. This means that the entire anti-Kiev insurgency is not just pro-Russian in orientation but overseen and led by an outed Russian spy.
This is a crucial fact that has been obscured in much of the recent media coverage of the war for east Ukraine and just who’s involved in waging it. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said yesterday: “Russia can end this war.” What she meant was, the separatists are a wholly owned, if not quite wholly operated, subsidiary of the Russian government. (more…)
The UN Security Council earlier issued a joint statement calling for an ‘independent, international investigation’ of the crash
The United States told an emergency session of the UN Security Council today that it had early indications that the missile that destroyed Malaysian Airlines 17 on Thursday originated from inside territory controlled by separatists in eastern Ukraine and that it couldn’t rule out that Russian personnel had assisted in its firing.
The US envoy to the UN, Samantha Power, ended a sometimes emotional intervention on the floor of the Security Council declaring: “This war can be ended, Russia can end this war, Russia must end this war.”
Earlier the Council stood in silence in tribute to the victims and issued a joint statement calling for an “independent, international investigation” of the crash and stressing the need for “immediate access by investigators to the crash site”.
At the White House, a still cautious President Barack Obama said some of the details of what happened were still to be determined and he did not want to “get out ahead of the facts”.
But he added that the “eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine; we’re going to make sure that truth gets out”. While he did not explicitly assign blame to Russia, he said President Vladimir Putin had the power to stop the violence. “So far at least he has not exercised it,” he said.
Pointing to the terrible toll suffered by “our great ally the Netherlands,” Mr Obama said the incident should be a wake-up call for Europe and the world that there are consequences to an escalated conflict in eastern Ukraine.”
The President, who had ordered a new layer of sanctions on Russia on Wednesday, suggested the loss of MH 17 “sadly brings home the degree to which the stakes are high for Europe and not simply the Ukraine people”.
The call by the UN for an immediate investigation came amid concern that evidence at the crash site could be removed or deliberately compromised by those responsible.
“If indeed Russian-backed separatists were behind this attack on a civilian airliner, they and their backers would have good reason to cover up evidence of their crime,” Ms Power told the Council. “Thus it is extremely important than an investigation be commenced immediately.”
One after another, members of the Council accused Russia of dishonesty regarding its role in stoking the uprising in eastern Ukraine that led to the tragedy.
“Russian officials have claimed that armed separatists in Eastern Ukraine represent a spontaneous local insurgency. We know that this is not the case,” remarked British ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant. “The United Kingdom urges Russia to reflect carefully on the situation they have created.”
In her intervention, Ms Power said that US intelligence had concluded that the jetliner was probably shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air system.
She added: “Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11 it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel, thus we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the system.”
Shuffling papers and apparently barely listening to the repeated criticisms of his colleagues, Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador, sought to deflect the gathering global opprobrium.
“Pressure should not be brought on this investigation, trying to prejudge its outcome with broad statements and insinuations that are unjustified in such a difficult situation,” he pleaded.
He suggested that air traffic authorities in Kiev were at fault for allowing a passenger jet to fly over a war zone. The incident happened in the broader context of Kiev inflaming the situation, with support, he said, from western nations. He cited the United Sates in particular. “We place all blame on the Kiev powers or government,” he said.