Tag Archives: Luhansk

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

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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

Russia’s Medvedev: Ukraine Could Face Yugoslavia-Style Break Up

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev looks at documents in his office in the Gorki state residence outside Moscow, Russia, July 1, 2015.Dmitry Astakhov/RIA Novosti/Pool/Reuters

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has warned that Ukraine could disappear from the map of Europe as Yugoslavia did, if Kiev does not “show some flexibility” and grant more autonomy to the territories in the east held by pro-Russian separatists.

Six countries currently on the map of Europe were once members of the Serb-led communist Yugoslav Federation before the Yugoslav wars in 1992, while Kosovo declared its independence from the territory of Serbia in 2008.

Ironically Russia has backed Serbia in not recognizing Kosovo’s independence and blocking a U.N. resolution recognizing the organised killing of ethnic Bosniaks by Bosnian Serb forces as “a crime of genocide”.

Speaking to Slovenian broadcaster RTV Slovenija ahead of his visit to the country, a former Yugoslav republic, Medvedev compared the conflict between pro-Russian forces in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions to Yugoslavia. The interview transcript was published on the Russian government’s website.

“Let us ask, for example, the Russian youth if they remember a country such as Yugoslavia? I think most young people would already be struggling to recall that this country was ever on the map of Europe,” Medvedev said. “It was a very difficult, harsh, painful and, unfortunately, unpeaceful process. Why am I reminding you of this? Because, when we are told that it is necessary to respect international obligations, it is something we completely agree with… but this approach must be applied to all states, in all situations.”

The early 1990s saw the Yugoslav conflict reach the height of its violence, specifically in Bosnia and Croatia where around 110,000 and 20,000 respectively have been reported killed.

Other states seceded more peacefully, most notably Montenegro which parted from Serbia in 2006 after a referendum agreed by both sides. Slovenia’s own war of independence lasted 10 days, during which around 100 people were killed.

“I am reminiscing about Yugoslavia, only because I hope that at some point in the future we will not have to remember the country which used to be called Ukraine in the same way,” Medvedev added. “The existence of Ukraine at the present moment depends on the wisdom, patience, tact, willingness to compromise and the desire to speak to everyone who makes decisions on the territory of Ukraine.”

​Poroshenko: Ukraine will retake Crimea, strengthen its border with Russia

Ukrainian Prsident Petro Poroshenko gastures as he speaks during the press-conference for domestic and foreign media in Kiev on June 5, 2015. 

Unlike the June 4 state of the nation address, Petro Poroshenko put Crimea front and center at his third news conference as president today on June 5.

Speaking to reporters in Kyiv outdoors during a breezy, sunny afternoon – ex-President Viktor Yushchenko was last president to venture outside to speak to journalists in 2009 – he said Ukraine will maintain diplomatic pressure to keep sanctions imposed on Russia.

Crimea is a “key priority” and making it a part of Ukraine is an “unbelievably difficult task,” he said, explaining its importance and why he didn’t want to “briefly” mention the peninsula during the state of the nation speech.

“We will do everything to return Crimea to Ukraine,” Poroshenko said.

He stressed that the country will continue working with international allies to maintain sanctions on Russia for taking over the peninsula in March 2014. “It is important not to give Russia a chance to break the world’s pro-Ukrainian coalition,” Poroshenko said.

Repeating what he told parliament the previous day, Poroshenko outlined his goal of distributing administrative powers and functions to regional and local governments, the priority of removing prosecutorial immunity from judges and lawmakers, and having open party lists during elections.

Scheduled for Oct. 25, the local elections would be another test for Ukraine’s democracy. They should stabilize the situation in occupied Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, he added. The easternmost region, known as Donbas, will remain a part of Ukraine, he said.

Poroshenko also warned that the number Russian troops positioned in Ukraine and near the country’s border is the highest since August 2014, when one of the bloodiest battles for the strategic city of Ilovaisk took place.

Ukraine’s army was defeated while advancing on the Donetsk Oblast city last summer when thousands of Russian troops, backed by advanced armor and artillery, joined the battle, leading to the first peace agreement in September. Although the Defense Ministry said 108 Ukrainian soldiers were killed, a Newsweek report on the battle stated “hundreds” had died.

Russia started another military offensive two days ago with an assault on the western Donetsk suburb of Maryinka.

At least four Ukrainian servicemen were killed in the battle. Poroshenko cited the attack –complete with Russians using banned tanks, artillery and multiple-rocket launch systems, as additional evidence that Russia is violating the second peace deal brokered in February.

The president said he would do everything possible to accelerate the process of deploying peacekeepers to Donbas.

“A United Nations support office will be opened in Ukraine and their first task will be to study the possibility of deploying peacekeepers,” Poroshenko said.

He also addressed his critics.

He continues to own the Roshen confectionary factory, his largest asset, and a number of other companies in violation of Ukraine’s constitution. Poroshenko said he will transfer his share in Roshen to a trust with Rothschild, a private financial advisory group.

He hired Rothschild to search for potential buyers as well, and the group conducting legal and financial due diligence on his assets. There are obstacles to selling his assets in Russia as the country seized the property of his confectionary factory in Lipetsk.

Poroshenko brushed off the accusations on existing agreements with businessman Dmytro Firtash after he met him and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko in Vienna before the presidential election in 2014.

As reported, Firtash said during a court hearing in Vienna on April 30 on his extradition to the U.S. that he met with Poroshenko and Vitali Klitschko on the eve of the 2014 presidential election, and that the meeting was his idea and was aimed at preventing the presidency of Batkivschyna Party Leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

“I never denied a brief meeting with Firtash during the presidential election campaign,” Poroshenko says. “But I absolutely deny that there are any confidential agreements disclosed by Firtash. They does not exist,” he said.

Poroshenko also promised to monitor an ambitious construction project started in early September that aims to tighten security along the Russian border, which stretches along 2,295 kilometers.

Dmitry Firtash

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has said defensive structures will include ditches, test-track lanes, vehicle-barrier trenches and optical surveillance towers to detect troop and vehicle movement from the Russian side.

The results so far of the construction weren’t “satisfactory,” according to Poroshenko. However, he said that the project was revised and the problems have been taken into account.

Kyiv Post staff writer Olena Goncharova can be reached at goncharova@kyivpost.com.

Out of Kiev’s Hands

Out of Kiev’s Hands

Why Ukraine’s failing Donbass region is becoming a big headache for Russia.

The Russian-occupied Donbass enclave in eastern Ukraine is on the verge of economic and social collapse. That grave fact casts the Russo-Ukrainian war in a different light. Normally, wars are fought over prize territory: winners gain it, losers lose it.

In this case, the implosion of the Donbass means that whoever controls the enclave is, in fact, the loser.

In this case, the implosion of the Donbass means that whoever controls the enclave is, in fact, the loser. As the man who owns the enclave and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future, Vladimir Putin is thus the loser. And both Russia and Ukraine know it.

According to United Nations data, of the 5 million people who formerly populated the enclave, nearly 2 million have left since March 2014. Since many of these refugees are educated, middle-class professionals who are unlikely ever to return to a war zone, the enclave has suffered an irreparable loss of its intellectual and human capital.

Of the 3 million who are left, about 2 million are children and pensioners — leaving 1 million working-age adults to support them, service the crumbling economy, and do the fighting.

According to the National Bank of Ukraine, GDP in the Donbass has collapsed, with industrial production falling by over a third in 2014, and construction by over a half. Many bridges and rail tracks remain destroyed. Only one third of residents receive a steady wage.

Large swathes of the territory suffer from gas, water, and electricity shortages. And Kiev stopped paying pensions to enclave residents in late 2014. Unsurprisingly, the decline of the Donbass has continued apace in 2015.

Although refugee streams appear to have abated — those most able to flee have already left — economic decline and flight will continue as long as the war does. In time, the enclave’s population will consist of senior citizens barely surviving off their private plots, children forced to fend for themselves on the street, overworked women, and desperate men who opt either for alcoholism or for the material compensations of fighting — and dying — within the separatist ranks. (In the photo, a resident of the Donbass village of Nikishino talks to neighbors outside her destroyed home.)

The longer the fighting continues, the less will the Donbass be able to sustain itself and its war-fighting capacity and the less will the separatists be able to create a functioning political entity.

Worse for Putin, the enclave’s only source of economic sustenance is the country that has done most to destroy it — Russia. Putin would prefer that Kiev assume the cost of feeding the region and paying to rebuild it (infrastructural damage is estimated by the Ukrainian government to be about 5 billion hryvnia, or a bit over $2 billion).

But Ukraine will never do that as long as the enclave is controlled by the separatists, who insist they will never abandon their aspirations to independence.

Given the enclave’s economic decline and dearth of able-bodied men, it’s no wonder that the separatist armies rely so heavily on volunteers from Russia and on Russian regular forces.

We have no way of estimating how many physically fit working-age adult Donbass males still support Putin and his proxies, but there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that some of them are having second thoughts about the prospects of a cause that has depopulated their region and devastated their economy.

Some must also sense that their losses have been high, both in absolute and relative terms. If, as there is good reason to believe, separatist losses exceed those suffered by Ukraine’s armed forces (about 3,000 dead: 1,750 confirmed and an estimated 1,250 missing in action and presumed dead), some separatists must be wondering about the enclave’s ability to continue fighting.

The problems with relying on Russian volunteers and Russian regulars are obvious. They put the lie to the separatist claim that they are fighting a civil war against the “fascist junta” in Kiev.

They are expensive — and the Kremlin has to pick up the bill. They do nothing to boost the local economy. And they run the risk of alienating what’s left of the local population, which may have felt some solidarity with its own “boys,” but which is less likely to identify with Russian adventurers from Tomsk.

The current stand-off is thus unsustainable for the separatists and their patron, Putin.

The current stand-off is thus unsustainable for the separatists and their patron, Putin. The longer they hold on to a territory that Kiev cannot liberate, the higher the economic price and the greater the risks of the occupation.

There is, however, no easy way out of this jam for Russia. Renewing the fighting would kill more Ukrainians and harm Ukraine’s reform plans, but, like having the self-styled Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics declare independence, it would do nothing to resolve the Kremlin’s difficulties in the enclave.

Indeed, expanding the size of the enclave would only compound Putin’s problems, as expansion would inevitably destroy more territory and promote greater population flight. If Russia could inflict a decisive defeat on Ukraine, it could force it to retake the Donbass on Russia’s terms.

But this would require a massive attack which would likely intensify Western sanctions, compel the Obama administration to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, encounter determined Ukrainian resistance, and end up embroiling Russia in a bloody long-term war.

The logical solution to this conundrum would be to declare victory over the “fascist junta” in Kiev, pull out Russian forces, and dump the enclave on Ukraine, which, having insisted that the Donbass is Ukrainian, would have no choice but to try to cope with the mess.

For that to happen, however, Putin would have to abandon all the ideological grandstanding he’s employed over the last few years. Besides jeopardizing his legitimacy and power, such a conciliatory move would not come easily to the Kremlin’s self-styled macho man.

In contrast, the current stand-off is the best of all possible worlds for Kiev. Ukraine can benefit from the emotional appeal of insisting that it will never abandon the Donbass, while actually doing nothing to liberate it. Time is on Ukraine’s side, precisely because winning this “hybrid” war means losing territory. All Ukraine needs do is keep the separatists boxed in.

Sooner or later, a rational or semi-rational Putin disinclined to start World War III over a piece of crummy real estate will have to accept “frozen conflict” status or pull another Crimea and annex the territory. Either way, Russia will be stuck with a no-future region that will be a drag on its economy for decades to come.

Ukraine crisis: Four dead as passenger bus hits landmine

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At least four people have been killed and 19 injured after a passenger bus hit a landmine in eastern Ukraine, local officials say.

They say the accident happened as the vehicle tried to bypass a checkpoint near Artemivsk, the government-held town in the Donetsk region.

The bus was travelling from Artemivsk to the city of Horlivka, which is being held by pro-Russian rebels.

The rebels seized large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in April.

“Initial reports say the driver took the decision to bypass the checkpoint and move on a dirt road,” said Vyacheslav Abroskin, the regional head of Ukraine’s interior ministry.

“As he was driving through the field, the rear wheel ran over a mine,” he added.

Horlivka lies north of Donetsk, the main rebel stronghold.

The regions is littered with landmines, following months of fierce fighting between Ukrainian government troops and the separatist that left more than 6,000 people dead.

A ceasefire agreed in February is largely holding, although both sides accuse each other of sporadic shelling.

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”.

Last March, Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula – a move widely condemned around the world.

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.

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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.