Tag Archives: Ukraine crisis

6 killed, 15 wounded in east Ukraine city #Russia #Ukraine #Ceasefire


By LAURA MILLS.
Black smoke ascends around the Donetsk's International Airport as shelling continues between pro-Russian forces and the Ukrainian army on September 14, 2014.Black smoke ascends around the Donetsk’s International Airport as shelling continues between pro-Russian forces and the Ukrainian army on September 14, 2014. © AFP

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Shelling killed six people and wounded 15 others in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, the city council said Monday — the worst reported violence since a cease-fire between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian troops took effect on Sept. 5.

Nonetheless, the cease-fire deal has brought some normalcy to parts of eastern Ukraine and allowed prisoners on both sides to go home.

Another 73 Ukrainian soldiers were freed Sunday night in an exchange with the rebels, Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, said Monday. Donetsk rebel leader Andrei Purgin was quoted by Interfax news agency as confirming that 73 rebels had been released in return. It was the largest reported prisoner exchange amid the fighting that began in mid-April.

Fighting around Donetsk’s government-held airport has left many northern neighborhoods in the crossfire. Over the weekend, Ukraine said its troops repelled an attack of 200 rebel fighters, but suffered no military casualties.

A Pro-Russian rebels bike arranged with a communist flag, left and Russian motorcycle club A Pro-Russian rebels bike arranged with a communist flag, left and Russian motorcycle club “Night Wolves” flag is driven in a parade in the town of Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014. Some semblance of normality is returning to parts of eastern Ukraine after a cease-fire agreement sealed between Ukrainian government forces and separatist rebels earlier this month, although exchanges of rocket fire remain a constant in some areas. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Two northern neighborhoods in Donetsk were shelled heavily Sunday, leading to the casualties and damaging both homes and offices, the city council said.

While the neighborhoods hit by shelling are under the control of the rebels, the Ukrainian government blamed the militants for the civilian casualties.

“Neither today nor yesterday nor in the previous days did Ukrainian forces shell any residential areas and settlements,” Lysenko said in Kiev on Monday.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, who are overseeing the implementation of the cease-fire, said Sunday they were 200 meters (650 feet) away as four shells burst in Donetsk. The team saw one woman lying on the ground.

A Pro-Russian rebels truck with an anti-aircraft weapon is driven in a parade in the town of Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014. Some semblance of normality is returning to parts of eastern Ukraine after a cease-fire agreement sealed between Ukrainian government forces and separatist rebels earlier this month, although exchanges of rocket fire remain a constant in some areas. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)A Pro-Russian rebels truck with an anti-aircraft weapon is driven in a parade in the town of Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014. Some semblance of normality is returning to parts of eastern Ukraine after a cease-fire agreement sealed between Ukrainian government forces and separatist rebels earlier this month, although exchanges of rocket fire remain a constant in some areas. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

The first civilian casualties in Donetsk underscore how fragile the peace may be. Both sides have made it clear that they are rearming in case the fighting starts anew.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey told Channel Five that the delivery of weapons from NATO countries, agreed upon earlier this month, was “underway.” Those comments were also made by another senior official but later denied by four of the five NATO countries he had mentioned.

On Monday, Poland’s Defense Minister Tomasz Siemonia said while Poland is not currently selling arms to Ukraine, an arms deal will be the theme of talks when Heletey visits Warsaw this month. He offered no date for the visit.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine began a month after Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March. It has claimed at least 3,000 civilian lives and forced hundreds of thousands to flee, according to the U.N.

A Pro-Russian rebels truck arranged with a communists flag, left and a flag with an Orthodox style icon depicting Jesus Christ is driven in a parade in the town of Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014. Some semblance of normality is returning to parts of eastern Ukraine after a cease-fire agreement sealed between Ukrainian government forces and separatist rebels earlier this month, although exchanges of rocket fire remain a constant in some areas. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)A Pro-Russian rebels truck arranged with a communists flag, left and a flag with an Orthodox style icon depicting Jesus Christ is driven in a parade in the town of Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014. Some semblance of normality is returning to parts of eastern Ukraine after a cease-fire agreement sealed between Ukrainian government forces and separatist rebels earlier this month, although exchanges of rocket fire remain a constant in some areas. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Associated Press.

#Putin wants to destroy #Ukraine and restore Soviet Union, says #Yatseniuk #SovietUnion


Ukrainian PM tells a conference of European politicians that his country is in a ‘state of war’ and Russia is the aggressor.

A Ukrainian soldier stands next to a tank near the eastern Ukrainian town of Pervomaysk on Friday. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/ReutersA Ukrainian soldier stands next to a tank near the eastern Ukrainian town of Pervomaysk on Friday. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, wants to destroy Ukraine as an independent country and to restore the Soviet Union, Ukrainian prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk said on Saturday.

Speaking at a conference in Kiev attended by European and Ukrainian politicians and business leaders, Yatseniuk also praised a new wave of economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union and the United States and said they posed a major threat to the Russian economy.

“We are still in a stage of war and the key aggressor is the Russian Federation … Putin wants another frozen conflict (in eastern Ukraine),” Yatseniuk said.

“His aim is not just to take Donetsk and Lugansk,” Yatsenyuk said. “His goal is to take the entire Ukraine … Russia is a threat to the global order and to the security of Europe.”

He described the truce signed on 5 September in Minsk between Kiev, pro-Russian rebels and Moscow and the European security body the OSCE after five months of conflict in eastern Ukraine as just a “first step” to “stop a massacre”.

He said that having a bilateral accord with Russia was “not the best” idea and called on the United States and the European Union to play a direct role in peace talks and to guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.

“They (the Russians) will outplay us,” he said. “Putin wants to get his hands on our belly fat.”


The Guardian.

Shaun Walker: Armoured Russian vehicle seen inside #Ukraine


Personnel carrier bearing blue circle and yellow writing of peacekeepers was seen after Ukrainian convoy was destroyed last week.

Shaun Walker in Lutuhyne.
A pro-Russia soldier seen near an APC with the mark of peacekeeping troops in Lutuhyne, near Luhansk. Photograph: Maria Turchenkova/GuardianA pro-Russia soldier seen near an APC with the mark of peacekeeping troops in Lutuhyne, near Luhansk. Photograph: Maria Turchenkova/Guardian

The Guardian has found more evidence of Russian military hardware operating inside Ukraine, spotting an armoured vehicle marked with the symbol of the Russian army’s “peacekeeping forces”.

The armoured personnel carrier was well inside Ukraine, in Lutuhyne, a town near Luhansk, where a Ukrainian military convoy was destroyed by artillery and Grad missiles last week.

Amid the remains of the destroyed Ukrainian column, three soldiers stood by an intact armoured personnel carrier on Tuesday afternoon. The men, who refused to be photographed, said they were from Russia and were not regular soldiers, saying they were paid mercenaries. They did not say who was paying them.

Their vehicle was marked in three places with a blue circle and the yellow Cyrillic letters MC – the Russian abbreviation for “peacekeeping forces”. Many of these have been seen moving on the other side of the border in recent weeks, and the vehicle’s presence was yet more evidence of what Moscow has continually denied – that its soldiers are active in east Ukraine.

In many cases, separatists have claimed that columns are not Russian military vehicles but trophies stolen from the Ukrainian army. However, the distinctive MC peacekeeping signs are only featured on Russian vehicles, used on peacekeeping missions in the Caucasus and Transnistria.

“Ukraine’s only peacekeeping missions are with the UN, and those vehicles are painted white. If it has the blue and yellow symbol, it has to be Russian,” said Oleksiy Melnyk, a Ukrainian military analyst at Kiev’s Razumkov Centre.

Half an hour after the APC was first spotted, one of the soldiers could be seen painting over the MC signs with black paint. When the Guardian returned to the scene on Wednesday, the vehicle was gone.

Earlier this week, the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, said 70% of Russian forces had already left Ukraine after taking part in a surge against the Ukrainian army that pushed Kiev into signing a ceasefire agreement.

Driving on the road from Donetsk to Luhansk, several small convoys of trucks and armoured vehicles were visible that looked very different to the irregular rebel forces, and appeared to be manned by regular Russian troops. The men by the armoured vehicle in Lutuhyne did not look as well equipped as other Russians seen in Ukraine in recent weeks; one of them was even wearing trainers, but it appeared clear that at least the vehicle came from official Russian military stock.

Last month, the Guardian witnessed a Russian armoured column cross the border near the Izvaryne border post. Russia denied it had happened, claiming the convoy was a border patrol that stayed on the border. Later, when Russian paratroopers were captured inside Ukraine, Moscow also said it was a border patrol, claiming they had got lost and crossed the border “by accident”.


The Guardian.

Ian Bateson: Can #Ukraine win the #war in the east?


by Ian Bateson.
Ukrainian forces take their position not far from Luhansk on Aug. 20, 2014.Ukrainian forces take their position not far from Luhansk on Aug. 20, 2014. © AFP

When tanks and artillery entered the southern Donetsk Oblast from Russia on Aug. 27 it caught Ukrainian forces off guard, sending shockwaves through Ukraine’s leadership.  Resistance quickly crumbled as the advancing forces took Novoazovsk and surrounding villages.

With reports that Russian regulars led the offensive not Russian-supported Ukrainian separatists or volunteers, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk appeared in front of television cameras visibly shaken.  “Russian terrorists we can handle, but not the Russian army,” he said before trailing off.

With the new offensive the optimism that existed in July, when Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey said Ukraine would hold a victory march in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, has evaporated. Doubt is growing among both the Ukrainian officials and military experts as to whether Ukraine could win this war.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced intentions to reshuffle the military leadership, but any reshuffle will add to an already confusing situation where civilian and military bodies attempt to coordinate a war effort still referred to as an “Anti-Terrorist Operation” (ATO).

For now an uneasy ceasefire is in place, giving both sides an opportunity to regroup. But if and when massive fire restarts, whoever ends up heading the military effort after the reshuffle will not only have to deal with a situation where Ukrainian forces are on the defensive, but will be under pressure to retake lost territory, and demonstrate a clear strategy that has previously been absent from Ukrainian military operations.

The situation now

“I don’t see any tactics from the Ukrainian side.  No tactics to fight the Russian invasion,” said Archil Tsintsadze, a retired Georgian colonel who fought in Abkhazia and former military advisor to the Georgian embassy in Kyiv.

As the armed conflict in Ukraine’s east has continued, Ukraine has come under increasing criticism for not having a clear strategy, and instead simply reacting to events as they happen.

After ending a unilateral ceasefire this summer, Ukrainian forces made rapid advances, taking territory back from Russian-supported separatists, but failed to deliver a coup de grace that could have defeated the separatists.  Instead Ukrainian advances pushed separatists into the  heavily populated regional centers of Donetsk and Luhansk, complicating fighting that has already seen a high number of civilian casualties.

Before the latest escalation of events on Aug. 27, Ukrainian authorities claimed several times to have successfully encircled separatist forces in Donetsk and Luhansk, only for it later to become clear that men and equipment were still freely able to get in and out of those areas. But the effort to contain separatists came to an end when a new front was opened in the southern Donetsk Oblast.

“Now it is more or less clear that after the maneuver by separatists or Russians near Mariupol the Ukrainian army doesn’t have the forces to encircle Donetsk and Luhansk anymore,” said independent Russian military expert Alexander Golts.

A map released by the Ukrainian Security Council on Sep. 11 seemed to confirm the new status quo, showing Luhansk, Donetsk, and Novoazovsk, along with a large chunk of surrounding territories, to be solidly connected by territory controlled by Russian-backed forces.

This change means that supply routes to both Donetsk and Luhansk remain open, allowing the separatists to continue receiving reinforcements in manpower and heavy weaponry.

This shift has put Ukraine on the defensive as it not only struggles to hold Mariupol, the second largest city in the southern Donetsk Region, but prepares for further escalations instigated by Russia that could bring fighting to other previously unaffected parts of Ukraine.

“We need to prepare Ukraine’s territory militarily just like Mariupol, creating fortifications and new units.  That should be the norm not just for Mariupol, but also for other important cities either bordering Russia or near Crimea Kherson or Donbas.  That includes Zaporizhia and Dnipropetrovsk,” said Ukrainian military expert Viacheslav Tseluikov.

Experts, however, point out that if it comes to a full on clash between Russian and Ukrainian forces, despite the superior size of Russia’s army if prepared Ukraine would still have certain advantages.

“Russia is a big country.  Their problems don’t stop with Ukraine.  They can’t take soldiers away from the Caucasus or the far east.  Ukraine can use all of its forces against Russia and Russia can’t use all of its forces against Ukraine,” said Tseluikov.

So far, however, Ukrainian leaders have fallen short of describing hostilities in its east as an outright war and taking the precautions preparing for a war would normally entail.

The organization of the military campaign in the east also shows a failure to make that shift. Military operations in the east are currently coordinated by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Ukraine’s successor to the KGB, rather than the Ministry of Defense.

“When fighting involves Russia regulars that isn’t an anti-terrorist operation but a war, and a war should be led by Ministry of Defense,” said Tseluikov.

It is a sentiment echoed by many in Ukraine’s military circles with a statement released in early September by former military officials and experts calling for a transfer of leadership from the SBU to the Ukrainian armed forces.

What it would take to reclaim Donetsk and Luhansk

If full hostilities resume Ukraine would predominantly be focused on holding the ground, but long term it would be a priority to retake the separatist strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Reasserting control over those cities would not only mean a moral boost for Ukrainian fighters and a boost in the polls for Ukraine’s leaders, but give Ukraine a stronger hand at the negotiating table.

“During negotiations the government can point to that and say despite your rhetoric and propaganda we remained in control of these areas,” said John Gordan a counter-insurgency expert at the US Rand Corporation adding that “allows them to deal from a position of strength.”

When it comes to taking the two cities, however, sufficient and qualified manpower is required if the Ukrainian military do not want to bombard them first. They have previously pledged not to.

“They need to have enough forces to cow the insurgents and intimidate them, but at the same time they don’t want to shoot up an urban area or cause a lot of civilian casualties. And part of that is to have enough force available that the separatists are so awed by that they aren’t going to want to take the risk of taking that on,” said Gordan.

Such tactics spare civilian lives, but are more costly for soldiers and that is a commitment Gordan says officials have to be ready for. Previously when Ukrainian forces were in a stronger position outside of Donetsk and Luhansk there was no evidence to a commitment to that kind of an engagement.

Making peace

In the end experts generally agree that for any lasting solution Ukraine will have to reach an agreement with Russia. The current ceasefire is a potential basis for a wider peace, but with reported violations of the ceasefire from both sides it is on very shaky footing.

The attack on Novoazovsk made it clear that if Ukraine comes anywhere close to a decisive victory against the separatists, Russia will increase the flow of people and equipment, including opening new fronts, to rebalance the scales.

The most recent change in military balance put pressure on President Poroshenko to conclude a ceasefire, and showed that any negotiations will be on Russia’s terms and guided by Russia – but only unofficially. It is the separatists, not the Kremlin, who will put their signatures on any paper.

But a likelier development for Donbas at the moment is becoming another frozen post-Soviet conflict.

The Kremlin’s goal is to freeze the conflict and have Donetsk and Luhansk as unrecognized or self-declared territories like Transnistria, South Ossetia, or Abkhazia,” said Golts.


Kyiv Post.

Timothy Ash: #Massacre at #Ilovaisk proves turning point in #Russia’s war against #Ukraine


by Timothy Ash.
An elderly woman gestures as she walks on the road past a WWII monument in Ilovaisk, 50 Kilometers southeast of Donetsk, on September 4, 2014An elderly woman gestures as she walks on the road past a WWII monument in Ilovaisk, 50 Kilometers southeast of Donetsk, on September 4, 2014. © AFP

Many history books are going to be written about the crisis in Ukraine and the Battle for Donbas, but undeniably the battle for Ilovaisk on Sept. 5 will go down as a key turning point.

Hundreds of Ukrainian troops were killed in a period of 24 hours and many more wounded and captured.

What is clear is that the mass barrage from rebel forces was in no way the actions of an informal military operation, but it was a large scale, pinpoint and professionally organised offensive.

This was firing by mass ranks of heavy artillery, rocket launches, with high tech guidance/recon which only a professional military force could have undertaken. It is probably now beyond the realm of any doubt that this represented direct Russian military intervention in Ukraine – simply put the rebels had hitherto not had the capability to undertake such a large scale and so devastating an operation.

Perhaps the real turning point though in the military operation in Donbas was a week or so before, during the time of the media frenzy around the Russian humanitarian aid convoy. This appeared to mask what at the time had been fairly clear already I.e. that mass Russian troop formations were already crossing the border. Remember the Telegraph report which captured the point at which Russian tanks were going across the border – with camera shots. The fact that the West did nothing at that point in response to then undeniable evidence of Russian troop flows across the border was perhaps the strategic turning point, as at that time Putin called the West’s bluff. The fact that the US failed to respond – in the face of a key test by Russia – showed that the West and NATO would not ride to Ukraine’s defence almost whatever Russia decided to do in Ukraine.

The devastating defeat for Ukrainian forces at Illovaisk made it clear to President Petro Poroshenko that a speedy military victory in Donbas was beyond reach as Russia had made it clear that it was willing “to go all the way” in Ukraine, and that the West had shown it was unwilling to do very much – not even any sanctions response yet to the now conclusive evidence of formal Russian military intervention in Ukraine.

Perhaps Poroshenko will view Ilovaysk as his Dunkirk, and his opportunity to regroup, and rebuild Ukrainian military forces ready for a longer struggle with Russia. And like the United Kingdom in World War II, he may be assuming that Ukraine will have to pretty much stand alone.

His only hope is that the Ukrainian population rally around the cause, rather as the British people did in the early 1940s.

And therein, Poroshenko’s most immediate target presumably will be to try to get to the end of October, and to hold parliamentary elections, which are likely to see strong showings for Poroshenko’s own party, and more generally for statehood parties.

These could prove to be a huge political defeat for Russia and Putin – so there will presumably be an incentive therein to prevent them taking place, by whatever means.

Let’s see what Russia’s next step is. But therein Russia has already had plenty of opportunities for a full blown invasion – after Crimea, and more recently after the battle for Ilovaisk, and surrounding the drive to Mariupol.

Putin has held back, presumably as such a scenario involves huge risks – Ukrainians have proven that they will fight, and hard. While the frozen conflict he has already achieved on the ground, probably gives him sufficient leverage to allow him to bide his time for the time being to see if he can get delivery on his broader objectives of no NATO, no European Union and no Maidan for Ukraine.

(Timothy Ash is the head of emerging market research for Standard Bank in London).


Kyiv Post.