Tag Archives: the Guardian

#MH17: Dutch and Australian teams get greater access to crash site


Dutch-led group of 49 investigators that will attempt to recover bodies and examine site in eastern Ukraine will be unarmed.

Paul Farrell in Canberra
A woman takes a photograph of wreckage at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/ReutersA Woman takes a photograph of wreckage at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

Dutch and Australian investigators will get greater access to the site of the MH17 crash in eastern Ukraine under the terms of a new deal, the Australian prime minister has said.

The unarmed Dutch-led group would have 49 personnel on site on Sunday, 11 of which would be Australian, Tony Abbott said. The team would be allowed to enter the site during the day to recover remains and examine the site, but would not be permitted to stay overnight. Abbott anticipated the numbers would grow substantially in the coming days.

Speaking to reporters in Canberra on Sunday, Abbott said the agreement followed discussions in Donetsk overnight led by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Abbott said: “Today I announce that the Australian federal police will be deployed to the site as part of an unarmed, Dutch-led international humanitarian mission.

“Our objective is principally to recover the bodies. That is what the Australian people expect of us, that is what grieving families around the world deserve. Our intention, under the auspices of local people, is to take over the site to ensure that the recovery of remains can go ahead as swiftly and effectively as possible.”

The decision to send in only unarmed officers has removed a substantial hurdle for Dutch and Australian authorities, as it will no longer need ratification from the Ukrainian parliament, according to Abbott.

The Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, had earlier negotiated with the Ukrainian government to allow unarmed Australian officers to access the site. But the proposal for them to be accompanied by armed officers threatened to keep them off the site for days while they waited for Ukrainian parliamentary approval.

Abbott said the objective of the mission was “to get in, to get cracking, to get out”, and stressed it was a humanitarian, police-led operation. Some Australian defence force personnel have also been sent to Europe to back up the police, but would not be sent to the site.

“This is a risky mission … but all the professional advice that I have is that the safest way to conduct it is unarmed, as part of a police-led humanitarian mission,” he said.

“What needs to happen on the site is plainly that a professional team needs to be deployed to recover remains, assisting where possible with investigation and as far as possible to remove wreckage.”

There are 170 Australian police officers standing by in Ukraine, with 20 more in the Netherlands.

The Australian federal police commissioner, Tony Negus, said the mission would allow Dutch and Australian forces to undertake forensic tests at the site.

“The first priority is to locate the remains of any victims still on the site. We will also conduct a forensic examination of the site, and as you well know and as has been well publicised, the site has been contaminated and raked over many times – so we are realistic about what the forensic utility of actually doing that would be,” he said.

Australian and Dutch officials have been negotiating for days to allow officers from both countries to gain access to the site of the crash in Ukraine.

The Guardian.

Nick Clegg says Russia should not host World Cup 2018


Fifa has ruled out calls for boycott after the shooting down of MH17, insisting the tournament could be ‘a force for good’.

Nick Clegg believes it would be 'unthinkable' for the World Cup 2018 tournament to go ahead in Russia. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty ImagesNick Clegg believes it would be ‘unthinkable’ for the World Cup 2018 tournament to go ahead in Russia. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images.

Nick Clegg has joined calls for Russia to face the axe as hosts of the 2018 World Cup as part of tougher sanctions over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.

The deputy prime minister said it was “unthinkable” at present that the tournament could go ahead in the country blamed by the west for supplying arms to the separatist rebels accused of causing the deaths of all 298 on board.

Football’s world governing body Fifa this week ruled out calls from some German politicians for Russia to be boycotted, insisting the tournament could be “a force for good“.

But Clegg told the Sunday Times that allowing it to go ahead without a change of course by president Vladimir Putin would make the world look “so weak and so insincere” in its condemnation of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for the rebels.

The EU has added another 15 individuals and 18 entities to the list of those subject to asset freezes and ambassadors in Brussels are expected to extend the punitive actions to state-owned banks’ access to capital markets and to the arms and energy sectors.

Clegg said however that sporting events should also be part of the package of measures – including the cancellation of Russia’s first F1 Grand Prix, which is due to take place in Sochi in October.

“Vladimir Putin himself has to understand that he can’t have his cake and eat it,” he said.

“He can’t constantly, you know, push the patience of the international community beyond breaking point, destabilise a neighbouring country, protect these armed separatists in the east of Ukraine and still have the privilege and honour of receiving all the accolades in 2018 for being the host nation of the World Cup.

“That’s why I’ve come to the view that if he doesn’t change course it’s just not on, the idea that Russia will host the World Cup in 2018.

“You can’t have this – the beautiful game marred by the ugly aggression of Russia on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

“Not only would Vladimir Putin exploit it, I think it would make the rest of the world look so weak and so insincere about our protestations about Vladimir Putin’s behaviour if we’re not prepared to pull the plug.

He said that despite F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone’s insistence that there was no case for abandoning the Grand Prix, “the question marks I’m raising will only increase over the next coming weeks and months, over the summer and up to the Grand Prix, about Russia’s entitlement to host these major events.

“Vladimir Putin is a past master at attending these sporting events and, sort of, pretending almost as if everything’s utterly normal and nothing untoward is happening around him.

“And if anyone needed any reminding of how dangerous this conflict is in the heart of Europe, just ask any of the family and relatives of those loved ones they lost in that plane incident last week.”

Clegg said the threat of withdrawing the World Cup would be “a very potent political and symbolic sanction”.

“If there’s one thing that Vladimir Putin cares about, as far as I can see, it’s his sense of status.

“Maybe reminding him that you can’t retain the same status in the world if you ignore the rest of the world, maybe that will have some effect on his thinking.”

He did not rule out the UK as an alternative host given its recent history of putting on successful global sporting events.

“We’ve got the stadiums, we’ve got the infrastructure, and we’ve got the public backing and enthusiasm to host it,” he said.

“That’s a decision for other people. But I’m not saying this just as a, sort of, British land grab to snatch the World Cup from under Vladimir Putin’s nose.”

He joined David Cameron’s criticism of the French deal to supply warships to Russia, saying it would be “wholly inappropriate” for it to proceed in the present circumstances.

“Whilst I can entirely understand that the French may have entered into that contract with the Russians in entirely different circumstances, it is wholly inappropriate to go ahead with that now,” he said.

“And as you know, the Prime Minister has reviewed the outstanding licenses that we have got to make sure that we deliver what we unilaterally announced back in March, which was that there would be no exports from Britain of arms products which could in any way fuel or fan the flames of the conflict in Ukraine.”

He said he had been assured by business secretary Vince Cable that “great care” was taken to check the remaining licences.

Clegg predicted that any adverse effects on EU member states of tougher economic sanctions against Russia would be “probably not very significant” and urged all countries to consider the wider benefit.

“We are now moving, I think, towards a situation – and both the prime minister and I would be united in this – in saying to other European Union leaders, look, even if this incurs short-term political damage to this economy or that economy, this sector or that sector, there is something bigger at stake here and it is the stability of the European continent.”

Clegg said the furore over the £160,000 paid in a Tory fundraising auction by the wife of a Russian oligarch who was a minister in Putin’s first government for a game of tennis with Cameron and Boris Johnson mostly demonstrated the need for reform of political party funding.

“They need to make their own judgments,” he said, when asked if his coalition partners should meet Labour demands to repay the money.

“But all parties … continue to be damaged because of the haphazard way which we have to go around fund raising,” he added – calling on both main parties to stop blocking reform.

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.

Pro-Russian separatists intimidate journalists covering Ukraine crisis


Reporters Without Borders - logo

Journalists working in Ukraine are being intimidated by pro-Russian separatists on a daily basis, and not only in the country’s eastern region. It’s also tough for Ukrainian journalists who try to work inside Russia.

Here is a catalogue of incidents so far this month involving the media, courtesy of a summary compiled by the Paris-based press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, and reports on the website of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

On 20 July, pro-Russian separatists detained 10 journalists outside the morgue in Donetsk while reporting on the aftermath of the MH17 tragedy.

They included Kevin Bishop, a BBC reporter, Anna Nemtsova, a Russian reporter for the Daily Beast, Simon Shuster, a US reporter for Time magazine, Italian journalist Lucia Sgueglia, and two reporters for the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, Paul Hansen and Jan Lewenhagen.

They were released after questioning by the security service of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk. A Russian TV crew with Russia Today, who arrested the day before, were held overnight before their release. (See also CPJ report)

On 18 July, Ukrainian reporter Yevgeny Agarkov, who works for channel 2+2, was convicted of “working illegally as a journalist” in Voronezh, in southwestern Russia. He was sentenced to spend 10 days in solitary confinement and ordered to pay a small fine (£30). He will then be expelled from Russia and banned from the entering country for five years.

Immigration officials told the administrative court that Agarkov was not accredited by the Russian foreign ministry.

He went to Voronezh to cover the case of Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot who is being held for alleged complicity in the deaths of Russian journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, who were killed by mortar fire in eastern Ukraine on 17 June.

On 17 July, police in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, received anonymous hoax messages about bombs having been planted in the offices of two national TV stations.

Searches of Inter and 5 Kanal, which is owned by President Petro Poroshenko, proved fruitless. It was the third false bomb alert at 5 Kanal in July.

On 11 July, the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a Ukrainian organisation partnered with Reporters Without Borders, released figures for media freedom violations during the first half of 2014.

According to its tally, six journalists were killed in connection with their work; 249 were injured or attacked; and at least 55 were taken hostage or detained.

IMI’s director, Oksana Romanyuk, said: “Physical attacks against journalists and other media workers currently pose one of the main challenges for the media profession… Ending impunity and defending the public’s right to information should be one of the main items on the new president’s agenda.”

On 10 July, pro-Russian rebels seized all the computer equipment and video cameras from the offices of the Luhansk-based news website Politika 2.0.

Its editor, Serhiy Sakadynski, said the raid took place after a Politika 2.0 reporter was accused by separatists of spying because she took photos of Luhansk railway station.

Sakadynski was beaten up during the raid and detained by the gang. They released him the following day after “influential persons” intervened. The equipment was not returned.

On 10 July, a Luhansk-based TV station, Luhansk Cable Television (LKT), announced that it had suspended broadcasting because it could no longer guarantee the safety of employees.

The station’s owner told employees he was placing them all on leave until further notice. The wife of LKT’s legal adviser, Igor Zazimnik, was killed by a stray bullet on the balcony of her apartment the same day. Two other local TV broadcasters, IRTA and LOT, have also had to suspend operations.

On 8 July, a TV crew working for the Ukrainian national TV channel, Inter, came under mortar fire in a village near Luhansk.

Reporter Roman Bochkala was taken to hospital after breaking his arm while scrambling for shelter. His cameraman, Vasyl Menovshchikov, was unhurt.

They were covering operations by the Ukrainian army’s 30th regiment in which two soldiers were killed.

On 5 July, about 50 masked men attacked the Kiev headquarters of the Russian-language newspaper Vesti. They pelted it with stones and set off teargas.

Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Oles Vakhni, an ultra-nationalist who served a six-year jail term on charges of armed robbery and violence.

Vesti’s owner, Igor Guzhva, linked the incident to a demonstration staged outside the newspaper the week before with the aim of “ending the dissemination of anti-Ukrainian propaganda.”

On 4 July, armed separatists in combat fatigues representing the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Luhansk stormed the headquarters of the Luhansk region’s state radio and TV broadcaster.

After they had taken control of the premises, one of the rebels said the broadcaster’s various channels were now “closed” and would remain so until they resumed “under a different format.”

The previous week, local cable TV operators, LKT and Triolan, replaced most of their Ukrainian TV news channels with Russian alternatives.

On 2 July, two TV journalists working for Ukraine’s citizen channel, Hromadske, were released after being held for two days by separatists.

Reporter Anastasia Stanko and her cameraman, Ilya Beskorovayny, had paid money to a “security unit”, which promised to protect them. But they were detained by another unit. They were accused of spying and threatened with decapitation.

Their release was negotiated after the heads of Russia’s three leading pro-government broadcasters – Pervy Kanal, VGTRK and NTV – intervened. (see also CPJ report)

On 1 July, Denis Kulaga, a staff reporter with Russia’s REN-TV, and his cameraman, Vadim Yudin, were treated for shock in hospital after a mortar shell exploded close to them while they were reporting near the Russian border.

Sources: Reporters Without Borders / Committee to Protect Journalists

The Guardian.

#MH17: Dutch experts arrive at crash scene as heavy fighting breaks out


Investigators say train being loaded with bodies will soon be moved as Ukraine launches offensive near Donetsk station.

OSCE inspectors, part of the monitoring mission to Ukraine, document bodybags from MH17 in a refrigerated wagon at Torez train station, near the crash site, on Sunday. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPAOSCE inspectors, part of the monitoring mission to Ukraine, document bodybags from MH17 in a refrigerated wagon at Torez train station, near the crash site, on Sunday. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

As Dutch forensic experts arrived at the scene of the Malaysia Airlines crash on Monday and promised that the train being loaded with the victims’ bodies would be moved before the end of the day, heavy fighting broke out between the Ukrainian army and rebels on the outskirts of Donetsk, the main regional city and the hub of the insurgency.

There has been widespread international anger that the rebels have failed to allow proper access to the crash site to investigators, and suspicions that they have seized the black boxes and are attempting to destroy evidence.

But it was the Ukrainian army that seemed intent on disrupting expert work on Monday, as they apparently launched an offensive against rebel positions close to Donetsk railway station1, as well as in other towns across the region.

“There is work on clearing approaches to the city, on destroying checkpoints of the terrorists. If there are explosions in the middle of the city, then it is not Ukrainian soldiers,” said Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s national security council, in Kiev.

Adding to the chaos, Lysenko denied that the Ukrainian army was responsible for explosions in central Donetsk but said a “self-organised group” of partisans could be engaging the rebels.

We have strict orders not to use air strikes and artillery in the city. If there is fighting in the city, we have information that there is a small self-organised group who are fighting with the terrorists,” he said.

Vladislav Seleznev, spokesman for Ukraine’s anti-terror operation, said the action was “a planned offensive” to push rebels away from Donetsk airport, and insisted that aviation and artillery were not being used against civilian residences.

However, there were reports of civilian casualties. The Guardian saw one 18-storey building where a shell had hit the courtyard, smashing all the windows on the first nine floors and destroying parked cars.

Trucks of rebels could be seen travelling past the station as reinforcements. Gunfire and artillery rounds were audible. One rebel fighter claimed the Ukrainians had tried to take the area around the train station with tanks but the rebels were fighting back.

The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, ordered a ceasefire across a 40km (24-mile) radius from the crash site, but this does not include Donetsk, which is further out.

Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have arrived at the crash site, where they appear to be observing the situation under the watch of the rebels. So far the observers are still being confined to the main path into the fields where most of the debris is. They do not appear to have been allowed to move from the main path. The rebels have cordoned off the press into a separate section to allow the observers to do their work.

In the town of Torez, where bodies of the crash victims are being loaded on to refrigerated train carriages, OSCE monitors and the small team of Dutch forensic experts viewed the body bags in the three train carriages and said the train should be moved on Monday. Peter Van Vliet, one of the experts, said the storage of the bodies was acceptable.

“I just want the train to move as soon as possible to a place where we can do our technical work,” he said, adding that it was not possible to do in this location. He was unable to confirm the number of bodies because they would have to walk on them and, he said, that would show no respect.

In a conversation between the investigator Alexander Hug and one of the rebels escorting the officials, Hug said: “We need to get the train out of here today. To wait any longer than today will not be good for anything – for the experts, or for the families.”

Ukrainian authorities say they have prepared for the bodies to be brought to Kharkiv, a major city in the east of the country. However, the fighting at Donetsk railway station could complicate any transfer of the bodies by rail.

There has been a flurry of international criticism of Vladimir Putin over Russian support for the rebels and claims that MH17 was shot down using a missile system provided by Russia.

In an unusual video address, Putin said on Monday that “nobody should – and no one has the right to – use this tragedy to achieve selfish political ends. Such events should not divide people but unite them.”

The Guardian.


  1. Is the train with the bodies in Donetsk train station? or Torez train station?, the news networks have yet to make this clear,  or are they deliberately worrying the relatives of victims unnecessary to sell more papers.