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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Ukraine Live Day 467

Publication: Ukraine Liveblogs
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
OSCE Monitors Barred Access to Heavy Weapons Holding Areas by 'Donetsk People's Republic'

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission report from yesterday May 29 complains about the failure of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" to provide access to monitors so they can check compliance with the Minsk ceasefire agreement.

They also found previously-observed heavy weapons missing at 3 Ukrainian sites and all Grad systems missing from the sites of the 'Lugansk People's Republic.

The following is the report:

The SMM monitored the implementation of the “Package of measures for the Implementation of the Minsk agreements”. Its monitoring was restricted by third parties and security considerations.* The SMM observed a continuing increase in the number of ceasefire violations in and around Donetsk airport. The SMM remained unable to travel to Shyrokyne due to security considerations. The SMM observed discrepancies of recorded heavy weapons at a number of Ukrainian Armed Forces, “DPR” and “LPR” holding areas.

*Please see the section at the end of this report entitled “Restrictions on SMM access and freedom of movement” for further information.

The number of ceasefire violations observed by the SMM in and around “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled Donetsk airport (10km north-west of Donetsk city centre) remained at the same level as the previous day, following a brief two-day decrease in observed ceasefire violations earlier in the week. Over a seven-hour period from an observation point at the city’s central railway station (8km north-west of Donetsk city centre), the SMM heard a total of 179 explosions on 29 May (compared to 150 on 28 May, 13 on 27 May, and 73 on 26 May and 170 on 25 May).

While at the railway observation point, operated by the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC), the SMM was informed that 12 JCCC representatives – six from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and six from the Russian Federation Armed Forces – who had been monitoring ceasefire violations in the airport area for the previous three days, had since returned to JCCC Headquarters in Soledar (government-controlled, 77km north-north-east of Donetsk). The SMM had previously been told by the Ukrainian Armed Forces representative at the JCCC observation point that the presence of the JCCC monitors on the ground was expected to result in a temporary decrease in ceasefire violations (see SMM Daily Report 27 May).

The 179 explosions1 that the SMM heard during the reporting period were consistent with munitions including mortar (82mm and 120mm) and automatic grenade launcher fire. The explosions were heard mainly in the direction of government-controlled areas to the west and north-west of the SMM’s position, including Pisky and Vodyane, and in the direction of “DPR”-controlled areas to the north-east, south and south-west of the SMM’s position, including Spartak and the Kyivskyi district of Donetsk city.

The SMM observed that the overall security situation in Luhansk region remained calm. The SMM heard one explosion in the morning around Kapitanove (government-controlled, 50km north-west of Luhansk) and heard several bursts of small-arms and light-weapons fire in the late afternoon around Shchastia (government-controlled, 20km north-west of Luhansk). The SMM also heard reports by civilians about fighting, including by staff at a power plant in Shchastia who said heavy-machine gun fire on 28 May had damaged equipment and caused a temporary blackout in the area.

The SMM visited a total of 14 heavy weapons holding areas. These included five “DPR” sites – three where the SMM observed weapons to be missing and two where the SMM was denied access. The 14 holding areas also included seven Ukrainian Armed Forces sites, where the SMM also observed some weapons to be missing at three sites. The 14 holding areas also included two “LPR” sites – including one where the SMM observed all the weapons to be missing.

The SMM experienced a variety of challenges trying to monitor the five “DPR” heavy weapons holding areas. At one revisited “DPR” site, the SMM observed four self-propelled howitzers (2S1 Gvozdika, 122mm), as had previously been recorded – but because their serial numbers were in poor condition and unreadable, the SMM was not able to conclude if they were the same weapons previously recorded. The SMM found another revisited “DPR” area, unguarded. There, the SMM observed that while two previously recorded anti-tank guns (Rapira, 100mm) were in situ, six previously recorded self-propelled howitzers (2S1 Gvozdika, 122mm) were missing. The SMM found yet another revisited “DPR” area also unguarded and observed that two previously recorded D-30 towed howitzers (122mm) were missing. “DPR” members nearby told the SMM that the weapons had temporarily been moved to a training area south of Ternove (“DPR”-controlled, 54km east of Donetsk), which does not comply with the Minsk withdrawal lines. The SMM was denied entry to another “DPR” holding area – and the SMM was denied close-up access and was thus unable to record details at another “DPR” holding area.*

The SMM visited seven Ukrainian Armed Forces heavy weapons holding areas – revisiting five sites and visiting two others for the first time. Of the five revisited sites, the SMM observed previously recorded weapons to be missing at three sites – specifically, seven 2A65 towed howitzers (MSTA-B, 152mm) from one site, five multiple launch rocket systems MLRS (BM-21 Grad, 122mm) from another site, and one MLRS (BM 21-1 Grad, 122mm) from another site. Of the two sites the SMM visited for the first time, the SMM observed and recorded six towed artillery (2A36 Giatsint-B, 152mm) at one site and eight MLRS (BM21-1 Grad) at the other site. The SMM concluded that the distances of the site locations comply with the respective withdrawal lines.

The SMM visited two “LPR” heavy weapons holding areas. At one site, the SMM observed that all nine previously recorded MLRS (BM-21 Grad, 122mm) were missing. “LPR” members present at the site said the weapons had all been redeployed to a training area, close to the contact line, near Debaltseve (“DPR”-controlled, 71km south-west of Luhansk and 57km north-east of Donetsk). The SMM visited the other “LPR” heavy weapons holding area for the first time – observing six MLRS (BM-21 Grad, 122mm) and concluding they were the same weapons the SMM had observed being withdrawn from the contact line in March. The SMM concluded that the distances of the site locations comply with the respective withdrawal lines.

Despite the claims that the withdrawal of heavy weapons was completed, the SMM observed the following movement or presence of weapons in areas that are non-compliant with the Minsk withdrawal lines. In “DPR”-controlled areas, the SMM observed approximately 20 main battle tanks (MBTs, mainly T-72 and several T-64) at a known “DPR”-training base near Ternove (“DPR”-controlled, 54km east of Donetsk) and one MBT (T-64) being transported on a flatbed truck heading east on highway H-21 between Zuhres and Shakhtarsk (“DPR”-controlled, 33km and 50km east of Donetsk, respectively). In terms of other military movements, in “DPR”-controlled areas the SMM observed one infantry fighting vehicle (BMP-2) near Donetsk airport and eight military-type trucks near Makiivka (10km east of Donetsk). Two infantry fighting vehicles (a BMP-1 and a BMP-2) were also stationary in the same area. In government-controlled Donetsk region, the SMM observed two self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (ZSU-23-4 Shilka) moving south-south-east.

The SMM in Kyiv attended the Second All-Ukrainian Congress of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Crimea, organised by the Coordination Council of Organizations of IDPs from Crimea. The Congress was attended by approximately 100 people, including public servants, representatives of non-governmental organizations and activists, as well as IDPs from Crimea, both men and women between approximately 25 and 60 years old. Issues discussed included restrictions on the transport of goods from mainland Ukraine to Crimea, and restrictions on civilians’ freedom of movement to and from Crimea. Some participants welcomed the recent establishment of the Ukraine State Service on Crimean Issues, which started work 18 May.

The SMM continued to monitor the situation in Kharkiv, Kherson, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv.

* Restrictions on SMM access and freedom of movement:

The SMM is restrained in fulfilling its monitoring functions by restrictions imposed by third parties and security considerations including the lack of information on whereabouts of landmines.

The security situation in Donbas is fluid and unpredictable and the cease-fire does not hold everywhere.

  • A local “DPR” military commander in the Kirovskyi district of “DPR”-controlled Donetsk city (10km south-west of Donetsk city centre) said the SMM had no authorization to be in the area or to speak to residents, and he requested that the SMM leave the area immediately. The SMM left the area.

  • The SMM was denied entry to a “DPR” heavy weapons holding area by a “DPR” member who said the site commander was not present and the SMM had not been expected.

  • The SMM was denied access at another “DPR” heavy weapons holding area. The SMM observed six D-30 howitzers (122mm) and two MT-12 anti-tank guns (100mm), but was not able to record details, including serial numbers.

  • At three Ukrainian Armed Forces checkpoints in the government-controlled towns of Krasne (47km west of Donetsk), Kramatorsk (80km north-north-west of Donetsk) and Volnovakha (50km south-south-west of Donetsk), personnel requested to check SMM monitors’ IDs and nationalities. The SMM was allowed to proceed after 15-20 minutes.

The annex with the table of ceasefire violations referenced is viewable here.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
President Poroshenko Grants Citizenship to Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Appoints Him Governor

As we reported yesterday, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was nominated as governor of Odessa.

Today President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree that gave Ukrainian citizenship to Saakashvili and made him governor of Odessa Region.

Police placed a cordon around the Region State Administration (OGA) building during President Petroshenko's visit.

In another decree, Poroshenko relieved the current governor Ihor Palitsa of his duties.

Palitsa had been appointed May 6, 2014 right after the Odessa clashes by then-acting president Oleksandr Turchynov. Palitsa is said to be close to oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, who was removed from his post as governor of Dnepropetrovsk Region.

Translation: we are united by our love for Odessa and Ukraine.
With my whole heart I wish success to the new head of the Regional Head of Administration [governor] Mikheil Saakasvile. Good luck!

The movie clip he links to is a famous Soviet-era song about Odessa, Shalandy Polny Kefali, which uses terms from the Odessa dialect, shalanda, a type of fishing boat, and kefali, a type of fish.

The appointment of Saakashvili is sure to be seen as controversial and draw the ire of the Kremlin. But Poroshenko is not only bringing in an outsider to address the issues of corruption and divisions between pro-Russian and pro-Kiev forces, he is showing Moscow that the "Russophobes" as they are dubbed by Russian propagandists will disregard Russia's claims and threats and instead band together. The appointment is made in recognition of Saakashvili's enthusiastic support for the Maidan movement.

Already Russia's lead propaganda arm for foreigners is fuming, highlighting the claimed criminal charges against Saakashvili for "exceeding the powers of office". According to Wikipedia, these include suppression of an opposition rally in 2007 and "seizure" of Imedi TV and other assets owned by the late tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili in what he characterized as a anti-corruption crackdown. Saakashvili left Georgia in 2012 and has not returned, prompting always to call him "fugitive."

For his part, Saakashvili has called the prosecution an "appeasement of Russia" and "police settling scores." Both the US and the EU have expressed concern about the legality of the prosecution; the US stated that "the legal system should not be used as a tool of political retribution."

Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian human rights commissioner complained on Twitter:

Translation: Saakashvili, accused of numerous crimes against the Georgian people, has been appointed governor of Odessa, where neo-Nazis burned people with impunity.

This is a reference to the exaggerated claims made by the Kremlin regarding clashes during a pro-Kiev march and a fire in the Trade Unions Building in Odessa in which 46 people lost their lives. Russian disinformation never acknowledges that first pro-Russian forces shot dead Ukrainian demonstrators, and then when they were chased by Ukrainian ultrarightists, took refuge in the Trade Unions Building where they had already previously stockpiled food, medical supplies and fuel, expecting a fight.

The Ukrainians didn't "burn them alive" but they did throw Molotov cocktails and did beat some of those who fled the building. But other Ukrainian activists helped their enemies to escape, using the very Anti-Maidan scaffolding of their protest camp to reach the windows. The pro-Russian activists barricaded the door with desks and scrap wood which hindered their escape.

Odessa authorities opened an investigation and made some arrests but to this day they have not completed the investigation or brought any perpetrators to trial, nor released important information about the case. This hasn't inspired any confidence in the government, as police were widely seen as doing nothing to stop the violence. Among the issues the international community will be watching is whether Saakashvili is able to use this position to complete the investigation and find justice for the victims. Yet he may not even consider this part of his job duties as technically the prosecutor's office and courts must handle the case.

Another issue to be watched will be whether terrorist bombings of Odessa will increase or be stopped -- and how, in terms of due process.

While a recent announcement by a Russian-backed separatist leader indicating that claims on Odessa were being suspended, in fact the ongoing bombings and provocations there have indicated continued determination to destabilize the region.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick