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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Ukraine Live Day 344

Publication: Ukraine Liveblogs
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Military Contingent Missing from JCCC Headquarters for 5 Days

The latest report is out from the OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission (SMM), and among the grim reports of battles on the front line and demonstrations for Nadiya Savchenko in Kharkiv is an interesting note: the much-discussed and controversial Russian military contingent has been "missing" from the JCCC (Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination) headquarters in Debaltsevo (Debaltseve) for five days:

The Russian Major-General, representative of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to the JCCC, and his staff, and members of the “Lugansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) and the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”), had been absent from the JCCC headquarters for the fifth consecutive day, staying instead in government-controlled Soledar (77km north of Donetsk). 

Russian Maj.Gen. Vyaznikov of the JCCC has been intensely watched by Twitter bloggers who believe there's an essential conflict of interest in having Russian military involved in monitoring missions when Russia is a party to the conflict. This particularly grates when the Russian military are involved in fact-finding on atrocities such as the Volnovakha bus shelling, when the Russian government and state media put out disinformation regarding the tragedy that was widely reported by OSCE's other monitors and independent analysts as likely the responsibility of the Russian-backed separatists.

Earlier, OSCE SMM had reported that Gen. Vyaznikov had relocated to the JCCC's field office in Soledar, "citing security concerns."

That seems prudent, as the Russian-backed forces are now shelling Debaltsevo, as we reported earlier today.

Here's OSCE SMM's report on the front line today:

The SMM continued to monitor the implementation of the provisions of the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum and the work of the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC). Russian Federation military officers and “LPR” and “DPR” members are still absent from the JCCC headquarters in Debaltseve.

At the headquarters of the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) in government-controlled Debaltseve (55km north-east of Donetsk), the Ukrainian Major-General, head of the Ukrainian side to the JCCC, told the SMM over the telephone that the JCCC headquarters remained staffed only by Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel. He said that the Russian Major-General, representative of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to the JCCC, and his staff, and members of the “Lugansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) and the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”), had been absent from the JCCC headquarters for the fifth consecutive day, staying instead in government-controlled Soledar (77km north of Donetsk). The Ukrainian Major-General said that in the 24 hours preceding 08:00hrs, 26 January there had been 115 ceasefire violations registered by the JCCC. He added that six Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and 18 injured in the same period.

In Mariupol (113km south of Donetsk), the SMM spoke to the secretary of the Jewish Cultural Centre, which hosts the only synagogue in the city. She said she had no knowledge of there having been a Jew amongst the victims of the fatal shelling incident in the city on 24 January. She did, however, say that there was a name on the list of dead with clear Jewish roots. She said that 25 members of the city’s Jewish community – mostly children with their mothers – had moved to Mykolaiv (65km north-west of Kherson) on 26 January because of heightened security fears following the incident two days previously. She added that of the community’s 1,500 members, 150 had left the city since the start of the conflict because of security concerns.

According to information passed to the SMM by the JCCC Sector-A and Sector-S duty room located in “LPR”-controlled Luhansk city, there were 38 ceasefire violations in the 24 hours preceding 08:00hrs, 26 January. All but four of them involved the use of heavy weaponry.

While stationary immediately south of government-controlled Spivakivka (70km north-west of Luhansk), the SMM heard what it assessed to have been three outgoing rounds from a Smerch multiple rocket launch system (MRLS).

Fifty metres north of a Ukrainian military checkpoint in government-controlled Shchastya (19km north of Luhansk), the SMM observed three artillery rounds impacting 100m south of the checkpoint. The rounds were fired from a southern direction.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
OSCE PA President Says Russia Needs To Close Its Borders With Ukraine To Save Civilian Lives

The President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has posted a statement today which is surprisingly frank in its tone: Russia needs to close its border with Ukraine in order to save civilian lives:

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Ilkka Kanerva (MP, Finland) today called on Russia to close its international border with Ukraine to help counter the alarming increase in violence in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks.

"Russian leaders have spoken of their support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine. In keeping with that pledge, I call on Russia to close the border to halt the flow of any weapons or fighters - whether volunteers or not - which may be entering eastern Ukraine. The advanced weaponry that is being employed by the illegal separatists in Ukraine is not appearing out of thin air," Kanerva said.

That's a significant departure from the OSCE's mission which has been to ensure that the border between the two countries was monitored, not closed.

While the pro-Putin trolls immediately took to Twitter to denounce the humanitarian implications for closing the border (increasingly, many civilians in the Donbass are fleeing Ukraine to escape the violence) clearly Kanerva's critics didn't read the rest of his statement. Kanerva admitted that there would be an impact on civilians if the border was closed, but in what may be the most controversial part of the statement he argued that keeping the border open may be more harmful to civilians -- the inference here is that Russia is moving weapons across the border which are being used to kill civilians:

"Of course, in closing the border, there is also the need to consider the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilian populations affected by the fighting. However, I note the assessment by the UN that the appalling attack on Mariupol, which emanated from rebel-held territory, deliberately targeted civilian populations. Closing the border, then, may be a major form of humanitarian assistance in itself," the OSCE PA President added.

Kanerva also described the expansion of the conflict into the Mariupol area as a "grave escalation" and welcomed the recent Declaration by representatives of the OSCE's 57 participating States that calls for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.

The situation in and around Ukraine will be on the agenda at the OSCE PA's Winter Meeting next month in Vienna.

-- James Miller

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Police in Odessa Arrest Three Persons from Transnistria with Explosives

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian-Backed Forces Reportedly Shell Hospital

The Ukrainian military ATO press centre claims that Russian-backed forces have shelled a hospital in Ukrainian-held Svetlodarsk, north-west of Debaltsevo.

Censor.NET reports that Russian-backed forces fired Grad rockets at around 15:00 (13:00 GMT) today, striking the town hospital.

Casualties are reported amongst both patients and staff, though the figures are yet to be confirmed.

Ukrainian activist Konstantin Reutski wrote on his Facebook page that one female staff member had been killed after a shell exploded in the yard of the hospital.

The ATO press centre deemed the incident a "terrorist attack."

The Interpreter translates:

"It is well known that shelling Red Cross facilities is unwarrantable, but the Russian-managed mercenaries are not disposed to adhering to civilised rules."

-- Pierre Vaux

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Ukraine Trying To Hold Back Russian-Supported Forces On Three Fronts

In this morning's summary of the fighting across Ukraine we pointed out the intense pressure that the Ukrainian position at Debaltsevo (Debaltseve) is under. Today areas both north and south of the city were hit hard by artillery and mortars. Kyiv Post editor Maxim Tucker says that the shelling is now so intense that journalists cannot enter the area.

Debaltsevo should be considered part of the Donetsk front. While that city has been surrounded on three sides for months, now that Donetsk Airport has fallen to the Russian-backed fighters the distance between Debaltsevo and the rest of Ukraine's military positions continues to grow. Soon the city may be completely encircled, and once that happens it will both secure part of an important highway between Lugansk and Donetsk, while simultaneously freeing up a lot of Russian-backed fighters who can strike further north, and west of Donetsk.

Russian-supported forces are also pushing west and southwest of Donetsk and may be closer to complete control of Marinka than they have been since before the Minsk accords in September. The push southwest of Donetsk will continue to apply more pressure to Ukrainian forces further south, such as those in Mariupol, another area under heavy attack. 

Near Lugansk we reported fighting at  Stanitsa Luganskaya, separating Ukrainian-controlled territory to the north from separatist "LNR" territory to the south. All week we've also been reporting that Russian-supported fighters have been trying to push west of Lugansk to better connect the two separatist capitals.

The Interpreter's Michael Weiss and James Miller have published a summary of the fighting in The Daily Beast, where we also tried to determine Putin's wider strategy and the prospects for whether the Ukrainian government could stop Russian-supported forces from taking Mariupol. The assessment is grim:

We also discussed the importance of all three fronts, including the economic importance of Mariupol which might otherwise be overlooked as many are concentrating on the military aspects of the fighting:

A key port city, Mariupol lies south of Donetsk on the Azov Sea, uncomfortably close to the Russian border—and it would be a necessary gateway for any possible “land-bridge” to Crimea. Because the Ukrainian peninsula, which Russia invaded and “annexed” a year ago, relies on the mainland for its water and electricity, a popular theory as to Putin’s military end-game has it that he won’t stop until he can physically run pipes and power-lines from Russian Federation territory to Crimea. But Mariupol’s strategic importance also lies in its economic potential.  The city accounts for about a third of all industrial output in the Donetsk region, producing over 70 percent of its steel. About two thirds of that amount was sold in exports in 2013.  So Ukraine’s manufacturing economy would be severely debilitated if the city fell out of Kiev’s control...

Read the entire article here: Putin Is Winning the Ukraine War on Three Fronts: Russian-backed rebels are making gains near Donetsk, Lugansk, and Mariupol. Just how long can Kiev hold off their advances?

These themes are echoed in the reports from the Ukrainian military. Here is more from this morning's briefing of the ATO (Anti-Terror Operation):

-- James Miller
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