Tag Archives: eastern Ukraine

Now Russia and Ukraine are at war over the ownership of St Vladimir the Great

A millennium ago, grand prince Vladimir of Kiev cast a civilisational fault line across Eastern Europe – one that divided the states of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine from the rest of the continent.

Vladimir’s decision to ditch a pantheon of bloodthirsty pagan gods for eastern Christian Orthodoxy was meant to unite the peoples of Kievan Rus, a territory along the waterways between the Baltic and Black seas.

But on the 1,000th anniversary of the death of Vladimir the Great – later to become Saint Vladimir – two of Kievan Rus’ successor nations, Russia and Ukraine, appear to be tussling over his legacy.

Announcing a national programme of festivities around the 15 July anniversary, Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian President, called Vladimir the founder of the “European state of Rus-Ukraine”.

Many in Russia, whose government is also celebrating the jubilee, were incredulous:

“It’s hard to call that an opinion. It’s easy to call it a fantasy,” said Andrei Nazarov, director of the state-backed Russian Military-Historical Society.

Mr Nazarov and many Russian politicians claim Vladimir as a symbol of Russia.

“Thanks to him, Russia became what she is – a mighty state with a strong, Orthodox Christian base,” Mr Nazarov said.

The tug-of-war over Vladimir mirrors a struggle between Moscow and Kiev that heightened last year with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent separatist war in eastern Ukraine.

The conflict highlighted Ukrainian efforts to carve out a historical identity separate from Russia’s, and Moscow’s efforts to stop it flying the Russian coop.

Historians and church figures have stressed that Vladimir is common property and defies nationalisation by any one country.

But according to some, the past is being weaponised:

“We are seeing that archives can also shoot,” said historian Oleg Ulyanov.

A planned 24m statue in Moscow of Vladimir bearing a sword and holding aloft a cross has become a symbol of Russia’s anniversary celebrations. Standing atop one of the city’s few hills, the monument would dominate Moscow’s skyline.

Not everyone thinks the statue is innocuous. Its purpose is to enthrone Moscow as “the mother of Russian cities,” author and poet Dmitry Bykov wrote in a blog post for radio station Ekho Moskvy.

That status has long belonged to Kiev. It was Kiev that Vladimir, then still a full-blooded pagan with a well-stocked harem, reconquered from his brother, Yaropolk, after fighting his way back from exile around 980, according to the histories.

Vladimir in Kiev drove his people into the Dnieper river for a mass baptism. A monument to the prince has overlooked the river since 1853.

Though Kievan Rus controlled the territory around Moscow during Vladimir’s reign, the city had not yet appeared on the historical record.

Vladimir’s association with Russia is doubly helpful for Vladimir Putin – the prince accepted Christianity in the Crimean city of Khersones, adding sheen to Mr Putin’s already popular seizure of the peninsula last year.

Yet ultimately Vladimir, and the common Christian cultural heritage to which he laid the foundation, is a uniting force for Russia and Ukraine that will outlast the current political crisis, says Andrei Zubov, a historian and philosophy professor at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations.

“We’re talking about two very close peoples that want to be culturally – not politically, but culturally – together,” he said.

But stressing unity may not be risk-free.

“The thesis that we are all one people and brother folk may sound peace-loving but it is one of the key reasons for the current war,” said Vladimir Vyatrovich, head of the Ukrainian National Memory Institute.

“The idea that we are one nation with the Russians provides a basis for lots of Russian politicians to sound off about Ukraine’s past and future. Relations between our countries will only normalise when we will respect one another’s desire to be independent and independently assess our own past and future.”

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Ukraine crisis: Rebel ‘status’ row threatens truce deal

Rebel tanks in Luhansk, file pic

Ukraine’s MPs have approved changes to the “special status” law for parts of rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine.

The law will now come into force only after local elections monitored by international observers are held in the areas according to Ukrainian law.

The amendments also envisage the pullout of “all illegal armed groups” from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Pro-Russian rebels and Moscow accuse Ukraine of introducing new terms that threaten last month’s ceasefire deal.

Following the agreement in Minsk, Belarus, the ceasefire took effect on 15 February and has largely held despite sporadic shelling.

Both Ukraine and the rebels claim to have withdrawn heavy weapons from the line of contact.

‘Temporarily occupied territories’

The changes to the “special order of self-government” in parts of the two eastern regions were adopted after heated discussion in parliament in Kiev on Tuesday.

The law itself was approved last year.

Self-government for the pro-Russian rebel areas is a key part of the Minsk deal, and Mr Poroshenko’s new legislative proposals are aimed at furthering that agreement.

Map

But a Russian Foreign Ministry statement (in Russian) said the proposals put before Ukrainian MPs included “additional terms never previously discussed”.

The ministry said President Poroshenko had “totally ignored” Minsk provisionscalling for dialogue with the pro-Russian rebels on arrangements for local elections and the regions’ future status.

A statement from a Donetsk rebel leader, Denis Pushilin, also castigated Mr Poroshenko over the “non-agreed amendments”, which he said “breach the spirit and letter of the Minsk accords”.

Mr Pushilin said “the Minsk process is in fact interrupted” because Mr Poroshenko “does not respect the Donbas [Donetsk and Luhansk] people, he does not want peace”.

Mr Poroshenko’s bill says special status would have to follow local elections held in accordance with Ukrainian law and under international observation.

In addition, he says the elections would have to take place without any presence of “mercenaries” and with open access for Ukrainian media.

Separately, Ukrainian MPs adopted a resolution describing as “temporarily occupied territories” parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The Kiev government, Western leaders and Nato say there is clear evidence that Russia has helped the rebels with troops and heavy weapons. Russia denies that, insisting that any Russians on the rebel side are “volunteers”.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in clashes since the rebels seized large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions last April – a month after Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula.

Blast rocks Donetsk in east Ukraine, no deaths reported

A powerful explosion near a munitions factory rocked the rebel-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Monday, breaking windows several kilometers (miles) away, but there was no word of any casualties.

The blast around noon (4.00 a.m. EDT) showed fire and a column of gray smoke rising high into the sky to the northeast of the city, which is a stronghold for pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces.

A Ukrainian military spokesman denied the explosion was caused by a missile fired by government troops, saying Kiev’s forces had nothing to do with the incident.

Ukraine crisis: Russia could hit EU with flight ban

Russia has warned that it could block international flights through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.

The EU is expected to announce shortly whether further sanctions will take effect now or be put on hold.

Donetsk airport, 2 Sept

The EU has said this will depend on how the situation develops on the ground.

Pro-Russian separatists have recently made big gains, but a fragile ceasefire in eastern Ukraine appears to be holding despite some sporadic shooting.

Fighting in the east has killed some 2,600 people since April. The truce and roadmap to peace were agreed on Friday.

A building in Mariupol witnesses said was hit overnight, 7 Sept

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations by Ukraine and the West that it has been sending troops into Donetsk and Luhansk regions to help the rebels, who want to establish an independent state.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that Moscow would respond “asymmetrically” to further sanctions.

A Russian airspace ban “could drive many struggling airlines into bankruptcy”, he told a Russian daily.

“If there are sanctions related to the energy sector, or further restrictions on Russia’s financial sector, we will have to respond asymmetrically… For example, restrictions in the transport sector.

“We work on the basis of friendly relations with our partners, and that’s why Russia’s skies are open to flights. But if we are restricted then we’ll have to respond,” he told Vedomosti (in Russian).

Airlines would have to pay far more for fuel if Russia blocked their routes to Asian destinations, and flight times would be longer in many cases.

Last week an EU official told the BBC that further sanctions would deepen the existing measures, affecting Russia’s access to capital markets, dual-use goods which can be used for military purposes, defence equipment and some other sensitive technologies.

Richard Galpin in Donetsk: “We’ve heard the sound of quite a number of mortars being fired”

They would also expand the visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials and entities, including separatist leaders in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian authorities in Donetsk region say President Petro Poroshenko is expected to visit Mariupol on Monday.

It is the last city in Donetsk region still held by the Ukrainian government and some shelling was reported there at the weekend. It is a strategic port on the route to Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in March.

There was also some fresh shelling near Donetsk airport. The rebels are still holding the city, and have pushed back Ukrainian forces on the outskirts.

On Sunday, Ukrainian security official Volodymyr Poliovyi said 864 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the conflict began.

So far there have been no big prisoner exchanges since the ceasefire took effect.


 

12-point peace roadmap – key elements

  • Ensure an immediate bilateral ceasefire
  • Carry out decentralisation of power, allowing temporary local self-government in areas of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine under a “special status” law
  • Immediately free all hostages and illegally detained persons
  • Ensure monitoring on the Ukrainian-Russian border and a security zone
  • Ensure the holding of snap local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk
  • Remove illegal armed groups, military hardware, and all fighters and mercenaries from Ukrainian territory
  • Pass a law against the prosecution and punishment of people over certain events in Donetsk and Luhansk region

Posted by the OSCE on its website (in Russian).line

Map of rebel forces in Ukraine, 4 September 2014

France Suspends Delivery Of Warships To Russia

France has announced a U-turn on its controversial decision to press ahead with the sale of two warships to Russia amid the crisis in eastern Ukraine ahead of the Nato summit.

President Francois Hollande said Paris was suspending the delivery of the first of the two hi-tech Mistral helicopter carrier ships to Moscow because of the “serious” situation in Ukraine.

“The President of the Republic has assessed that, despite the prospect of a ceasefire, which has still to be confirmed and enforced, the conditions for France to deliver the first BPC [mistral class ship] are not currently satisfied,” the Elysee palace said in a statement.

Vladivostok warship

“The actions carried out by Russia in eastern Ukraine contravene the foundations of security in Europe.”

The decision was announced after Hollande convened a special defence panel meeting a day before the start of the Nato summit in Wales.

Paris had previously maintained it was to go ahead with the sale despite criticism and pressure by numerous other Nato members.

The first of the two 200m (656ft) vessels, the Vladivostok, was to be delivered to Russia by late October.

putin hollande

The second ship, somewhat ironically named Sevastopol after the Crimean port city, was instead due to arrive in St Petersburg in 2015.

The mistral deal was signed in 2011 by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who hailed it as evidence the Cold War was over and has been credited with the creation of some 1,000 jobs in France.

Hollande’s announcement came while the president is struggling to improve his approval ratings and fight off critics saying he has betrayed socialist campaign pledges to pursue a pro-business agenda.

france warship

Last week, Prime Minister Manuel Valls resigned and was reappointed and formed a new cabinet to silence three left-wing dissenting ministers who had accused the president of implementing “unjust” austerity policies.

The president was also accused of elitism by his former partner, Valérie Trierweiler, who in her memoirs claimed Hollande hates the poor.

France is struggling to get out of the economic crisis and has recorded no economic growth this year.

Since the election in 2012, Hollande’s approval ratings have collapsed to below 20%, making him the most unpopular president in recent French history.

Lithuanian diplomat ‘murdered in eastern Ukraine’

Black smoke billows following a mortar attack during fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian fighters in Luhansk, Ukraine, Monday, July 14, 2014. The Defense Ministry said Monday that government troops had retaken several villages around Luhansk, including Metalist, Oleksandrivsk, Bile and Rozkishne, and had reopened a corridor to its civilian airport. Those areas are north, west and south of the city, suggesting the government's plan to form a security cordon around Luhansk is yielding results. (AP Photo, Yuri Snegirev, Rossiyiskaya Gazeta)

Lithiuania’s honorary consul in eastern Ukraine has been murdered by rebels, according to the country’s foreign minister. The diplomat was said to have been kidnapped and “brutally killed” by pro-Russian terrorists.

 

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said Friday that Mykola Zelenec, the country’s honorary consul in eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, has been kidnapped and killed by the pro-Russian rebels there.

mykola zelene cxidinfo nuotr 65633388 Lithuanian consul murdered by Russian backed terrorists

Linkevicius, who is on a visit to Kyiv, posted the news on his Twitter account.

The announcement came after local officials in Ukraine said 20 trucks had entered the pro-Russian stronghold of Luhansk on Friday, despite objections from Kiev. Lithuania had requested a meeting of the Security Council for late on Friday, describing the convoy as an “invasion.”

Lithuania flag

In a phone call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin said after Kyiv’s “clear procrastination,” further delays would have been “unacceptable” considering the disaster in the conflict zone.

Ukraine’s state security chief Valentin Nalivaychenko on Friday said Moscow’s decision to start sending the trucks across the border constituted a “direct invasion” and a “well-planned dangerous provocation,” according to the Interfax Ukraine news agency. He added that Ukraine would not attack the convoy and wanted to avoid any confrontations.

Alarming buildup of Russian forces

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Friday there was an “alarming buildup” of Russian air and ground forces around Ukraine.

“We have also seen transfers of large quantities of advanced weapons, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery to separatist groups in eastern Ukraine,” Rasmussen said in a statement.

He sharply criticized Moscow’s decision to send the convoy forcefully over the border, saying it was a “blatant breech of Russia’s international commitments” and that it “only deepens the crisis.”

“The disregard of international humanitarian principles raises further questions about whether the true purpose of the aid convoy is to support civilians or to resupply armed separatists,” he added.

Humanitarian crisis

A humanitarian disaster has been unfolding in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks. According to the United Nations, more than 415,000 people have been displaced since fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists began four months ago.

 

More than 2,000 have been killed. Parts of the country have been without running water or electricity for weeks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Saturday.

Ukrainian Artist Still Missing After Lampooning Separatists

The most famous installation by Donetsk artist Serhiy Zakharov doesn't leave the viewer in much doubt as to his feelings about the separatists' onetime military leader.
The most famous installation by Donetsk artist Serhiy Zakharov doesn’t leave the viewer in much doubt as to his feelings about the separatists’ onetime military leader.

A Ukrainian artist who displayed antiseparatist installations in the streets of Donetsk has been missing for over a week. Serhiy Zakharov’s friends say he is being held by the insurgents and fear for his life.

Astring of street artworks mocking separatists in eastern Ukraine has landed their author in hot water with the insurgents.

Donetsk artist Serhiy Zakharov has been missing for more than a week after adorning the streets of his hometown with pictures ridiculing local rebel leaders.

He is believed to be held by insurgents in the basement of the former Ukrainian Security Service building in Donetsk.

According to information obtained by his friends and relatives, the rebels have placed him “under investigation,” fuelling fears for his life.

“It’s totally unclear what he is being accused of,” says his friend, Serhiy Marzurkevych, a Ukrainian writer who helped circulate photos of his work online. “All he did was display his work in the streets of Donetsk’s city center, which can be considered an administrative offense at best. There is no basis for holding him in a de facto prison.”

Separatist commader “Motorola” and his zombie bride

Zakharov’s brother Andriy says the artist was abducted by a group of armed men during a raid of his home late on August 6. Neighbors describe the men as wearing insignias of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). His computer and artwork were also seized.

Zakharov’s installations, painted figures cut out of plywood, first appeared in the streets of Donetsk on July 11.

One of them represented Sharikov, the foolish hero of Mikhail Bulgakov’s cult novel “Heart of a Dog,” wearing a uniform of the DNR. The others featured separatist fighters wearing various ominous masks.

A caricature of separatist commander Arsen Pavlov, known as “Motorola,” then appeared outside the registry office in Donetsk where he had gotten married several days before. Pavlov was depicted as a horned devil flanked by a zombie-like bride.

“These installations were his form of protest,” Marzurkevych says. “Many people in the city have similar sentiments but not all can speak up. With his installations, he sought to show that these feelings existed.”

Perhaps Zakharov’s best-known installation targeted the DNR’s then “defense minister,” Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov. The picture, which showed Strelkov holding a gun to his head with the caption “just do it,” quickly went viral on the Internet.

Sharikov, the foolish hero of Mikhail Bulgakov’s cult novel “Heart of a Dog,” wearing a uniform of the DNR

Although Zakharov worked alone, he cast himself as a member of the art group “Murzilki.” He initially chose “Murzilka” as his artist name. But on Marzurkevych’s advice, he later began using the word’s plural form to give the illusion more people were involved in the project.

Today, Marzurkevych wishes he had never suggested that change. “These men are now trying to find out from him who the other group members are,” he says. “They don’t believe that a person can do what he did of his own free will, they think he is acting on orders from headquarters.”

Zakharov’s reaction to the crash of the Malaysian airliner near Donetsk on July 17
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