Tag Archives: Donetsk

Poroshenko, Volker Hold Talks On Ukraine Conflict

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has met with U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, in Kyiv to discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

According to a statement posted on Poroshenko’s website, the two men expressed “serious concern” about Russia’s lack of progress in implementing the Minsk agreements during the January 23 meeting.

In a post on Twitter, Volker said he “had a good conversation” with Poroshenko, adding that he will travel to Dubai later this week to meet with Russian diplomats.

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Ukraine Says Five Soldiers Killed, Four Wounded In East

Ukraine’s military says that five of its soldiers have been killed and four wounded in clashes with Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country.

The military said in a November 24 statement that four of the soldiers were killed in a gunfight the previous day near the village of Krymske that lasted around eight hours.

Krymske lies around 30 kilometers west of Luhansk, where tensions have escalated this week between separatist factions that control the city.

Continue reading Ukraine Says Five Soldiers Killed, Four Wounded In East

Putin Speaks Directly To Separatist Leaders, Presses Prisoner Swap

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told leaders of Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk that he favors a plan for a prisoner swap with Kyiv, in a rare acknowledgement of direct contact with the separatist forces.

Russian state-run news agency TASS on November 15 quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying Putin spoke by phone with separatist leaders Aleksandr Zakharchenko of the Donetsk region and Igor Plotnitsky of Luhansk.

Continue reading Putin Speaks Directly To Separatist Leaders, Presses Prisoner Swap

NATO military convoy in Hungary is heading to Ukraine – Ukrainian soldiers battling Russian tanks at Lugansk

katonai konvoj
Hungarian military convoy is heading to Ukraine as NATO continues support for Kiev

NATO continues to support Ukraine with military equipment against pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk. 

Ukrainian troops on Monday were battling a Russian tank contingent in the eastern city of Lugansk, Kiev said, accusing Moscow’s army units of moving into large cities in the region.

Continue reading NATO military convoy in Hungary is heading to Ukraine – Ukrainian soldiers battling Russian tanks at Lugansk

The Mafia Ruling Ukraine’s Mobs

Organized crime helped Putin grab Crimea, and may open the way for him to take more of Russian-speaking Ukraine.

DONETSK, Ukraine—I was talking to some young black-clad pro-Russian agitators at a checkpoint they’d set up on the outskirts of this city in eastern Ukraine when a shiny black Mercedes pulled up a few yards away. Some of the men from the group walked over and stuck their heads into the car. I couldn’t see who the capo was, couldn’t hear what orders he was giving, but the scene was like something from a movie about the mob. Nobody wanted to say who that was in the car. Nobody wanted to repeat what he’d said.Such scenes are increasingly common in this contested part of Ukraine near the Russian frontier. “Bosses are starting to appear on the fringes of the protests, they are middle-aged, older and better dressed than the younger men who are in the vanguard of the protests,” says Diana Berg, a 34-year-old graphic designer. The grassroots agitation in favor of Russia has become less spontaneous and more focused in recent days.Before and since Russia’s move to annex the Crimea, many who favor the pro-European government in Kiev have argued that these “bosses” might be provocateurs from Russia’s FSB intelligence service or Spetsnaz special forces infiltrated into Ukraine to orchestrate pro-Russian sentiment. But Berg, an organizer of the pro-Ukrainian rally last week where pro-Russian thugs stabbed a student to death, says there’s a different and in some ways more frightening explanation: the ominous hand of organized crime.A public prosecutor, who declined to be named in this article for reasons of personal safety, says local hoodlums are operating among the pro-Russian protests in the restive eastern Ukraine, helping to direct them on the instructions of Kremlin-linked organized crime groups. He points the finger specifically at the notorious Seilem mob, which has been closely tied over the years to ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, a onetime governor of Donetsk, who is now in exile in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

“We have already seen organized crime working hand-in-hand with the Russians in Crimea,” says the prosecutor. In that breakaway Black Sea peninsula, Moscow helped install former gangland lieutenant Sergei Aksyonov as prime minister, and his background is well known. Aksyonov and his Russian separatist associates share sordid pasts that mix politics, graft and extortion in equal measure and together they helped steer Crimea into the Russian Federation. Police investigations leaked to the Ukrainian press accuse Aksyonov of past involvement in contract killings. Back in January 1996, Aksyonov was himself injured after his car overturned on the Simferopol-Moscow road during a shootout.

“Why should it surprise you,” the prosecutor in Donetsk asks, “if the same dynamic [as in Crimea] is playing out here? … Maybe there are Russian intelligence agents on the ground, but Moscow through crime networks has an army of hoodlums it can use, too.”

The international media were late to pick up on Crimea’s toxic nexus of organized crime, political corruption and politics. But across post-Soviet Ukraine the three have long been regarded as interchangeable and inseparable. And the eastern and southern parts of the country are the worst of all. “Political corruption is ingrained in eastern Ukrainian political culture,” the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, noted in a 2012 study.

The three regions most notorious for the closest relationships between gangsters, oligarchs and politicians—Crimea, Donetsk and Odessa—were the most resistant to the Euro-Maidan revolution that led last month to the ouster of Yanukovych. And now all three regions are at the forefront of the pro-Russian fight-back against the new national leaders in Kiev.

Taras Kuzio, a research associate at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta, who wrote the Jamestown report, says the internal political turmoil in Ukraine should be viewed through the lens of the hand-in-glove relationships between politicians, mobsters and the so-called “red directors,” managers-turned-businessmen who are steeped in the ways of Soviet-style public sector corruption and deal-making.

The red directors also have their protégés: men such as billionaire Dmytro Firtash, the gas-trading mogul who was arrested by Austrian police on suspicion of mob activity earlier this month following Yanukovych ‘s ouster. Nor are the ties limited to the Ukraine. Their tentacles embrace Moscow: Firtash has joint business ventures with Russian billionaire Arkady Rotenburg and his brother, Boris, close friends and judo sparring partners of President Vladimir Putin. The Rotenburg brothers, not coincidentally, are prominent on a U.S. sanctions list announced Thursday by President Barack Obama to target  Putin cronies.

The symbiosis of politics, organized crime and unscrupulousbiznesmeni developed quickly in Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union in much the same way as it did in Russia. The ambitious, the greedy and the powerful lunged for the huge profits that could be made. The state was disintegrating. The big industries – energy, mining and metals – were being privatized, and may the most ruthless man win. “Individuals such as Yanukovych, Aksyonov and their Donetsk and Crimean allies literally fought their way to the top,” says Kuzio. In Donetsk, Yanukovych as governor “integrated former and existing organized criminal leaders into his Party of Regions,” says Kuzio.

In Crimea, “every level of government was criminalized,” according to Viktor Shemchuk, who served for many years as the chief public prosecutor in the region. “It was far from unusual that a parliamentary session in Crimea would start with a minute of silence honoring one of their murdered ‘brothers,’” Shemchuk recalled in a December interview with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a consortium of investigators and journalists tracking developments throughout Eastern Europe.

Donetsk was no different. A March 2006 cable from the US embassy to the National Security Council – one of several on Ukraine released by WikiLeaks—noted that Yukanovych’s Party of Regions was a “haven for Donetsk-based mobsters and oligarchs” and had commenced an “extreme makeover” with the help and advice of U.S. political consultants, including “veteran K Street political tacticians” from Washington D.C. and a onetime Ronald Reagan operative, “hired to do the nipping and tucking.”

According to the cable, Yanukovych was “tapping the deep pockets of Donetsk clan godfather Rinat Akhmetov.” Now supposedly Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarch, Akhmetov has been keeping a low profile in these early post-Yanukovych days, staying out of the limelight and issuing inoffensive statements on how important it is for everybody to get along.

Another US embassy cable from then-Ambassador William Taylor in September 2007 drilled down on how Yanukovych was centralizing Donetsk crime and political and business corruption in his party – something he would go on to do on an even larger national scale when he was subsequently elected as President in 2010. After Yanukovych became president, according to Ukrainian officials, more than $20 billion of gold reserves may have been embezzled and $37 billion in loans disappeared. In the past three years, they claim, more than $70 billion was moved to offshore accounts from Ukraine’s financial system.

The Americans have sent teams of experts to Kiev to help Ukraine’s interim leaders follow the money. “We are very interested in working with the government to support its investigations of those financial crimes,” U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt told reporters last week, “and we have already, on the ground here in Ukraine, experts from the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury who are working with their Ukrainian counterparts to support the Ukrainian investigation.”

Many of the financial crimes are likely to trail back to Moscow. Yanukovych confidant Firtash (the gas mogul picked up in Austria) admitted during a December 2008 meeting with then-US Ambassador Taylor that he had entered the energy business with the assistance of the notorious Russian crime boss Semyon Mogilevich, who, he said, worked with Kremlin leaders.

“Many Westerners do not understand what Ukraine was like after the break up of the Soviet Union,” Firtash told the ambassador. When a government cannot rule effectively, the country is ruled by “the laws of the streets,” he said.

That’s still the rule. The old order has much to fear from reform and change and will do all it can to preserve its wealth and power—and its best bet for that to happen is to look to Russia.

For precisely that reason, rights campaigners and reformers in Ukraine’s interim government are racing against time to uncover as much of the mob story as possible. An anti-corruption panel headed by Tetyana Chornovol, an investigative journalist who was nearly beaten to death in December for her reporting, is starting in earnest to recover billions of dollars of stolen money and piece together the financial crimes of the Yanukovych regime.

The Daily Beast learned something about these operations first hand when a team from the organized crime police raided a discreet boutique hotel in downtown Kiev where this correspondent was staying.  According to the police the hotel is owned by Eduard Stavitsky, Ukraine’s former energy minister. He is now believed to be in hiding in Russia. The police searched all the rooms looking for any Stavitsky documents and combing through financial records. As one of the investigating officers told me, “We need to move fast before the cover-ups start.”

Another suspected Russian soldier was caught with a truck full of ammunition in Ukraine

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Weapons found inside a suspected Russian military truck crossing the Ukrainian border.

Ukrainian border guards detained a soldier suspected of being a Russian army officer who was picked up while riding in a military truck packed with ammunition at the Berezove checkpoint, about 28 miles southwest of the militant-held city of Donetsk.

Guards found nearly 200 cases containing grenades and ammunition, including rocket-propelled shells, inside the military truck.

“He (the Russian officer) had no documents. But he admitted that he was a chief of an RAO (rocket-artillery weapons unit). He is responsible for ammunition supply.

He said that while delivering the ammunition they had got lost,” Oleksandr Tomchyshyn, a border-guards spokesman said. Another man who was detained identified himself as a pro-Russian separatist fighter.

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National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine

If he is confirmed as a Russian soldier, Ukraine is likely to use the case to bolster its charges that Russia is continuing direct involvement in the 15-month-long conflict and failing to honor a peace agreement worked out in Minsk, Belarus, in February.

 Meanwhile, Ukraine and Western countries contend that Russia is providing troops and weaponry to pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Since April 2014, at least 6,400 people have been killed in the region while Russia continues to deny such allegations, the Associated Press reports.

A spokesman said the two men may have taken a wrong direction and driven toward Ukrainian forces manning a checkpoint southwest of the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk by mistake.

“We can assume that they took a wrong direction while driving, got lost, and came on our checkpoint,” military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanuk told a briefing.

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Screen grab/Ukraine TodayMore weapons found crossing into the Berezove checkpoint.

The two men wore military uniforms without insignia and carried no identity documents, he said.

In the face of what Kiev and Western governments say is undeniable proof, Moscow denies its regular forces are engaged actively in the conflict on behalf of the separatists.

Though a fragile ceasefire seems to be holding, thousands of people have been killed in the conflict in Ukraine’s industrialized Russian-speaking east.

Ukraine is still holding two Russian soldiers who were captured in May and have been charged with terrorism. Russia says the two men had quit their special-forces unit to go to Ukraine on their own.

Here is a video of the truck found at the Berezove checkpoint:

Ukraine’s Dnipro Battalion Combines Drone Footage with Open Source Intelligence

Early this week Ukraine’s Dnipro Battalion produced a rather unusual video on their YouTube channel.

The battalion has released a number of videos containing drone footage of Russian-backed separatists positions in the past, but this new video contained something unusual:

The video opens with the question “Where does the terrorist Givi celebrate his birthday?”, “Givi” being Mikhail Sergeyevich Tolstykh, commander of the pro-Russian “Somalia Battalion”.

The video then shows a Google Maps satellite image of Donetsk, showing the distance of the area filmed in the drone footage that follows from the frontline down of Avdeevka, 7.29km away.

The video then highlights a location in the drone footage where a number of T-72 tanks are parked, as well as provided the address and co-ordinates of the location featured (Donetsk, street Zlitna 11A, 48.062107, 37.759581)

Drone 1

The video then cuts to footage filmed by a pro-Russian blogger showing separatists troops celebrating Givi’s birthday party on July 19th, and uses Google Street View to confirm the location the video was filmed by comparing buildings in the footage filmed by the blogger to buildings visible in the Google Street View imagery:

Drone 2

The video then goes on to describe the rest of the area, criticises the separatists for flautning the “Minsk protocol”, and various other statements.

What’s interesting about this video is it combines drone footage with open source material from tools such as Google Maps and Google Street View, and video filmed by a blogger.

They also include the co-ordinates of the sites they are showing that makes it easy for anyone interested to check what they are showing is correct.

This is a very unusual combination of open source material in a video produced from a military unit, but shows that groups in Ukraine might be coming around to the idea that by combining non-classified material with open source material it’s possible to present a much more stronger case that the information being presented is reliable.