Tag Archives: #UnitedForUkraine

Russian TV helps prosecution in Nadya Savchenko case in a Russian kangaroo court


By Halya Coynash
Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, 31, fought in eastern Ukraine in the ranks of the Aidar volunteer battalion and in June was taken prisoner by militia forces near the town of Shchastya in Luhansk Oblast. © CourtesyUkrainian pilot Nadya Savchenko, 31, fought in eastern Ukraine in the ranks of the Aidar volunteer battalion and in June was taken prisoner by militia forces near the town of Shchastya in Luhansk Oblast. © Courtesy

When a criminal trial involves a pilot taken captive by insurgents in one country and found imprisoned and facing serious criminal charges in another, questions are inevitable. Russia has thus far proven unable to credibly explain how Nadya Savchenko came to be in Russian detention and to be charged with involvement in the deaths of a Russian journalist and cameraman.  It is instead applying dubious tactics to ensure that the questions are either not asked, or not heard.  Not for the first time, Russian TV has been assigned a key role.

A Voronezh court on July 25 rejected Savchenko’s appeal against the court ruling remanding her in custody until August 31.  She is likely to soon be transferred to the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow.  The judge was unmoved by the fact that the original court’s detention order, as well as the investigators documents, refer to the Donbas region of Ukraine as “the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics”.  The latter are the Kremlin-backed militants’ self-proclaimed ‘republics’ which even Russia has not officially recognized.

It is likely that the fault for such a telling mistake lies with the Investigative Committee of Russia which has been initiating ‘criminal investigations’ with a distinctly political slant for many months now.  The documents in question refer to a number of cases opened from May 30, including occasions where Russian journalists were, according to Ukraine detained for unacceptable activities and deported or, according to Russia ‘abducted’.

The defence had insisted that Savchenko be brought to the court and that the hearing be open.  The latter application was allowed, however there was only video contact with Savchenko from her cell.  Her lawyers’ application for a change of interpreter was also rejected, although there are clear grounds for concern that Savchenko’s words are being distorted.  Savchenko, for example, said that she was abducted from Ukraine with this being translated as that she was caught in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian consul was only allowed to see Savchenko after numerous attempts, and is now being stopped from visiting her again.  This could well be because he passed on her account of how she was abducted into Russia with a bag over her head and in handcuffs.  The pretext, however, is that Savchenko has already had the second visit she is allowed each month.

The supposed ‘visit’ was from a LifeNews journalist who was permitted by the investigator to interview her.

The edited transcript remains on the channel’s website under the title: “The insurgents did not shoot down the Malaysian BoeingLIfeNews took an exclusive interview of a woman who took part in a punitive operation in Ukraine and is now in the Voronezh SIZO”.

As during her interrogation by the militants who captured her around June 18, Savchenko is not cowered and denies all claims that she could have been involved in any way in the killing of unarmed journalists. There is no point in analysing particular parts of the interview since it seems likely that the tape has been carefully edited.  There is a suspiciously short amount of time given to her abduction and how she ended up in Russia. Even Savchenko’s doubts about whether the militants could have shot down the plane should be treated with caution. They come after a month held captive first by the militants then in Russia. Any access to the news over recent weeks has therefore been via Russian TV channels whose distortion of information about the shooting-down of  MH17  has itself made world headlines.

Even with manipulative editing, Savchenko creates a very good impression. Perhaps for that reason, LifeNews  took another ‘exclusive’ interview, this time of Vladimir Markin from the Investigative Committee.  This is entitled “Savchenko lived in Russia for two weeks before being detained” and begins with the presenter claiming that Savchenko when detained, “beat her breast, admitting “yes, I killed them, I killed them” and has now changed her tune.  The interviewer’s very tone makes it clear that the audience should view all denials of guilt as an attempt now to wriggle out of trouble.  Markin joins in claiming that ‘as one can see’, Savchenko contradicts herself at each point.  In fact, one cannot see anything of the sort, and there is no evidence that Savchenko ever ‘confessed”

Markin first states that Savchenko did much more than simply point out the journalists’ whereabouts.  When asked for more detail, however, he backtracks saying that other charges ‘are still being confirmed’.  He asserts that Savchenko was in Russia for two weeks and doesn’t know ‘how she escaped’ from her militant captors.  She was then, he claims, detained after she took a taxi dressed in camouflage gear.  He can’t remember why the police patrol stopped the car, perhaps she didn’t have her seatbelt on, he suggests. He alleges she said that she was a refugee and had run away from Ukraine as she didn’t agree with the new authorities’ politics.  The story is almost comically implausible, with the details clearly seen as less important than the overall task of discrediting Savchenko and casting doubt on her words.

Nadya Savchenko

LifeNews is focused on here since it provided ‘exclusive’ interviews, however the  line taken is that presented by the Russian authorities and will be identical on all mainstream Russian media.  Russians, and Ukrainians in those parts of eastern Ukraine still under militant control, have little chance of understanding how grossly they are being misled.

None of this, unfortunately, is new. Two left-wing activists Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzaev were convicted by a Moscow court last week of ‘organizing mass riots’ on May 6 2012. In October that year the Russian authorities abducted Razvozzhaev from Kyiv where he was in the process of applying for asylum and took him to Moscow. The charges laid against both men stem from allegations made, without corroboration or identification of the person supposed to have ‘exposed them’ in a scandalous ‘documentary’ entitled “Anatomy of Protest” on NTV.

The abduction in 2012 took place under the former president Viktor Yanukovych and almost certainly with the connivance of the Ukrainian authorities. Those days have gone. Savchenko is Ukrainian, was captured by the militants and handed over to the Russians against her will and is now facing charges that bear no scrutiny. The questions Russia’s investigators cannot answer urgently need to be asked – publicly and loudly. They should not stop until Nadya Savchenko is released and back in Ukraine.

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG).

Editors Note: Nadiya Savchenko trial is a farce with trumped up charges and the russians have already decided that she is guilty. This is nothing short of a medieval witch hunt with no chance of defense!

#MH17: Troops Move on Crash Site in Ukraine, Foiling Deal


Dutch police officers on Sunday in Donetsk, Ukraine. Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated PressDutch police officers on Sunday in Donetsk, Ukraine. Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

ZUHRES, Ukraine — Just hours after the Malaysian government reached an agreement with Ukrainian separatists on Sunday over access to the crash site of a Malaysian airliner shot down in rebel territory, the Ukrainian military launched an operation to recapture the debris fields, again stalling international efforts to secure the site.

The heavy fighting threatened to torpedo hopes of a breakthrough and cause yet more delays in collecting evidence and retrieving the remaining bodies from the crash. Ukrainian security officials said they needed control over the site to prevent the pro-Russia separatists from destroying clues to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

By Sunday evening, the Ukrainian advance had blocked a road leading from the provincial capital, Donetsk, to the airplane debris northeast of Shakhtyorsk, but it remained unclear whether government troops were in control of all or part of the approximately 14 square miles of debris fields.

Videos posted online appeared to show Ukrainian armored vehicles near the site, and reporters who visited earlier Sunday said insurgents were nowhere to be seen.

The combat spread out along the road in a fluid and chaotic scene, leaving it wholly unclear who controlled what. Fragments of rockets lay on the sunbaked macadam, and columns of black smoke rose along the horizon.

One separatist commander at a checkpoint outside Shakhtyorsk, about 10 miles from the crash site, said the Ukrainians had retaken the area, and a rebel leader, Alexander Borodai, confirmed that government troops were advancing.

“The attempts to clear militia from the crash site irrefutably show Kiev is trying to destroy evidence,” he told reporters in Donetsk. His claim was apparently intended to counter earlier allegations that the rebels had been tampering with evidence to hide their own role in the downing of the plane.

Separatists seemed to be in a state of alarm, driving in convoys of buses and armored vehicles out of Donetsk toward the fighting. They controlled the road as far as the town of Zuhres.


Area of rebel activity


The Malaysian jetliner, a Boeing 777-200, was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killing all 298 people aboard. Ukrainian and American officials say the plane was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by the rebels. Russia and the rebels have denied any involvement and blame Ukraine.

Ukraine and the United States have said repeatedly that Russia is providing military equipment to the separatists and claim to have evidence that Russia is firing artillery and rockets on Ukrainian military positions.

On Sunday, the Obama administration stepped up its public pressure on Moscow, as the State Department released intelligence images presented as evidence that Russian forces had fired across the border.

The images were said to show charred ground on the Russian side of the border, described as evidence of rocket launches into Ukraine. Another showed artillery pieces of a type found only in the Russian military, pointed toward Ukraine. Other images showed crater impacts inside Ukraine.

It was not possible to independently verify the images. They are from DigitalGlobe, which provides high-resolution satellite images and aerial photos; they were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft. Small groups of foreign police officers and forensic experts have managed to reach the crash site, but efforts to secure it with larger contingents have repeatedly fallen through.

Part of a document released by the State Department on Sunday purporting to show evidence of rocket launches from Russia into Ukraine. The images in the document, which were provided by DigitalGlobe, were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft and could not be independently verified. Credit Digital Globe, via U.S. State DepartmentPart of a document released by the State Department on Sunday purporting to show evidence of rocket launches from Russia into Ukraine. The images in the document, which were provided by DigitalGlobe, were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft and could not be independently verified. CreditDigital Globe, via U.S. State Department.

Earlier Sunday, the prospects of a more robust foreign presence at the crash site seemed to have improved when the office of Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia announced in an email that he had reached an agreement with Mr. Borodai “to allow a deployment of international police personnel” to enter.

After the announcement, about 30 unarmed Dutch police officers left the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv intending to reach the debris fields. But fighting stopped the officers after they reached Donetsk, said a spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Dutch police deployment on Sunday, ordered overnight by the Ministry of Security and Justice in The Hague, reversed an earlier decision by the head of a Dutch police mission in Kharkiv. He had intended to delay movement toward the crash site until a vote on Thursday by the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev that he said would provide a “legal basis” for the deployment of foreign police officers.

The Netherlands, whose citizens accounted for around two-thirds of the crash victims, is leading an international effort to get to the bottom of what happened to Flight 17.

Retrieving the Remains of Flight MH17: Russian Roulette

The area is tactically important for the Ukrainian military, which is trying to close access to Donetsk from the east, lest separatists in the city be resupplied and reinforced from the direction of the Russian border.

Clashes flared in half a dozen towns east of Donetsk on Sunday. There was also fighting to the north, with an artillery strike in the town of Horlivka reportedly killing at least 13 civilians.

The longer the crash site remains unguarded, the smaller the chances of recovering evidence. Responding to growing reports that the wreckage and passenger items had been tampered with, Australia said Sunday that it was sending unarmed police officers to the site to prevent any further meddling. Australia lost dozens of citizens on Flight 17.

“Our objective is to get in, to get cracking and to get out,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia said at a news conference in Canberra, the capital. Australia had considered allowing some of its officers to carry weapons, but Mr. Abbott said he had decided against that.

“This is a risky mission, no doubt about that,” he said, “but all the professional advice I have is that the safest way to conduct it is unarmed as part of a police-led humanitarian mission.”

Foreign access to the site has been hampered by problems from the start, with heavily armed rebels initially restricting the movements of foreign experts. In Kiev, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said the Ukrainian troops intended to “liberate” the crash site to secure evidence.

The Ukrainian government has been loath to see foreign governments negotiate with the separatist leaders based in Donetsk, the capital of a self-declared republic that no foreign state, including Russia, has recognized. Malaysia has been particularly active in reaching out to the rebel leadership. It brokered a deal last week under which the rebels handed over the plane’s data and voice recorders, which they had seized at the crash site.

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Zuhres, and Andrew Higgins from Kharkiv, Ukraine. Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Michelle Innis from Sydney, Australia.


The New York Times.

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.

#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.