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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Ukraine Liveblog Day 170

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.
Separatists Reportedly Detain Three Members of the Red Cross
Andriy Lysenko, spokesperson for the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, has announced that separatists have captured three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The Council for National Security and Defense (CNSD) released a reported intercept of three conversations among three different separatist fighters with the nick-names "Valdis," "Box," "Dikiy" ("Wild"), with reference to a fourth "Khmury" ("Grumpy"), said to be under Colonel Igor Strelkov's command. The Interpreter has provided a translation:

Valdis: Hello, how are you!
Box: Yes.
Valds: Listen, do we have the International Committee for the Red Cross in general in the city?
Box: What's going on there, something urgent?
Valdis: Not really, just a car is parked with the Red Cross.
Box: And what else...
Valdis: Well, let's find out just what this "firm" is all about.
Valdis Hello?
Dikiy: Hello? Vladlen.
Valdis: Yes, yes.
Dikiy: This is Dikiy. Your people the Red Cross have f**king come in.
Valdis: Yes, yes, I heard.
Dikiy: They can move around. This is a normal Red Cross.
Valdis: A normal one, really? But in general...they don't have any permission in written form, nothing...
Dikiy: It doesn't matter. This is the Red Cross -- this is the OSCE people. But the kind that are normal. The rest we kicked the f**k out of here.
Vladis: I see. But in general..
Dikiy: Well, the security [inaudible]...
Vladis: ...we had an order for their detention.
Dikiy: Who gave the order?
Vladis: Well, in general, the commander of the Box group. The third department, from Khmury [Grumpy] [advisor of Igor Strelkov].
Dikiy: Well, let me dial up Khmury.

Valdis: And what to do with the Red Cross?
Box: They've figured it out over there. Put them in the lock-up.
Valdis: Well, we have three people in there now: the driver, the translator and one more worker from that firm. Where should we take them? Perhaps lock them up down cellar or? We have gotten explanations from them, they've written them.
Box: The Commander [Strelkov] said they should stay there. Let them sit there.
Valdis: So we'll take them down. Let them sit there.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Passes Its Own Sanctions and Shoots Itself In The Foot

Russia has fired back at countries which have passed sanctions against it. But the measures could come back to haunt Russia. Reuters reports:

Russia has extended food import bans to Romania, stepping up its response to more biting Western sanctions for its support for separatist rebels in Ukraine, though Moscow's measures could be rebounding on its own economy.

Russian veterinary watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor said on Wednesday it was suspending beef and cattle imports from Romania, citing an outbreak of mad cow disease.

Moscow has already imposed bans on Ukrainian juice and dairy produce, Polish vegetables and Australian beef and has said it might target Greek fruits and U.S. poultry.

However, the Russian central bank warned on Tuesday that the ban on importing such cheap products could make it harder to control inflation.

That's not the only action of Russia's that could do more damage to itself than to the countries it is angry with. As we have noted, sanctions have already hit Russian airlines, (and grounded some of its oligarchs). But the Kremlin's new response to sanctions drove the MICEX stock index to its lowest point in three months yesterday, with airlines leading the way to the bottom. Bloomberg reports:

Russia may limit or ban flights over Siberia by European carriers bound for Asia in retaliation for sanctions imposed on the country, Vedomosti said today, citing people familiar with the situation. Aeroflot was forced to ground its low-cost Dobrolet unit, which was targeted by European Union sanctions last week in response to the Ukraine crisis. Ukraine today expressed concern Russian forces were massing on its eastern border as it continued an offensive against separatists.

“Banning overflights in response to sanctions would be negative for Aeroflot,” Andrey Vashevnik, who manages $25 million as chief investment officer at R&B Investment Fund Ltd. in Moscow, said by phone. “The Ukraine conflict is far from being over.”

Russia is discussing retaliation for the penalties imposed on airlines, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in a meeting with Aeroflot Deputy Chief Executive Officer Vadim Zingman and Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov, according to a statement on the government’s website.

Today the MICEX lost an additional 1.68% as the freefall since the downing of flight MH17 continues. Aeroflot again led the way, losing an additional 5% in value today.

The MICEX since July 17th:


The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
OSCE: Shells Fall In Russia, Fighters Cross Into Ukraine

The OSCE's latest report has two interesting details about two major border crossings, one of which, the Gukovo crossing, is near where Grad rockets have been launched from Russia into Ukraine:

Observation at the Gukovo border checkpoint

The Gukovo border checkpoint has been closed for several weeks and therefore activities on site have been very limited. Fighting between Ukrainian troops and separatists has been going on very close to the Gukovo border checkpoint in the past week. The OM observed several shells falling in the territory of the Russian Federation (two on Saturday,2 August, and two on Monday, 4 August, early morning), two of which fell directly on the Gukovo border checkpoint, causing minor damage (see Spot Report of 3 August 2014). The Observer Mission was not able to confirm who was responsible for the shelling.

Observation at the Donetsk border checkpoint

According to Russian authorities, the Donetsk border checkpoint is the busiest in the Rostov region. It operates 24/7 and accounts for approximately 50 to 60 percent of all the cross-border movement in the Rostov region. This is due to the fact that several border checkpoints are currently closed (including Gukovo) and ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine has forced many Ukrainians to seek refuge in the Russian Federation.

The OM observed a high flow of pedestrians and cars, and according to civilians entering the Russian Federation, there are hundreds of cars and at times up to a kilometre of pedestrians waiting to cross despite the border checkpoint working at full capacity.

On the two first days of its observation (31 July and 1 August), the OM observed several groups of ten to twelve young men in military-style dress with backpacks going to Ukraine from the Russian Federation and coming from Ukraine. In some instances, some of the young men coming back from Ukraine were visibly lightly wounded and on two occasions the OM observed a flag of the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” on some young men’s clothes. The OM did not observe any weapons. After 1 August the OM has not seen such groups.

The OM also witnessed regular evacuations in ambulances of wounded civilians, Ukrainian servicemen and separatists to hospitals in the region through both Gukovo and Donetsk border checkpoints.

Read the whole report.

Interestingly, the report also covers the Ukrainian soldiers who fled fighting and crossed into Russia near Gukovo.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Videos Show Russian Vehicles Marked With 'Peacekeeping' Insignias On Ukraine's Border

As we've been reporting, NATO is warning that Russia could invade Ukraine with "peacekeeping" forces, and vehicles marked with "peacekeeping" insignias have been seen on the border for the first time. John Schindler provides additional analysis and context:

Ukraine has been making slow yet steady progress in its “anti-terrorist operation” (ATO) against Moscow’s proxies in eastern Ukraine and it’s now clear that, if the Kremlin does not directly intervene in the conflict — beyond the artillery support from across the border that the Russian military has been providing its paramilitaries for weeks — it’s likely that the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) and the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LNR) will soon unravel altogether. NATO has warned that Moscow may send troops across the border under the guise of a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission (observers have spotted Russian military vehicles near the border pre-painted with “peacekeeping” insignia), in a Putinesque version of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine that the Obama administration cited in its 2011 Libya intervention...

From the outset in any clash, Moscow’s forces will enjoy considerable fire superiority in artillery — long a Russian forte — and airpower; high losses to date among Ukrainian air force units in close air support missions indicate inexperience and it is to be expected that the Russian air force will sweep Ukrainian opponents from the skies, at least around Donetsk and Luhansk, with relative ease. One wonders how well mostly green Ukrainian ground units will withstand hard pummeling by artillery and air strikes.

Schindler goes on to note that while Russia already has the firepower on the border to deal Ukraine a defeat, not far behind there is a much larger force which could reach Ukraine in a matter of hours or days.

The consensus is that if Russian vehicles really are marked with "peacekeeper" emblems, then the Russian government may really be preparing to invade. The Interpreter has found several videos and pictures which do reportedly show Russian vehicles, staging near the Ukrainian border, marked with the peacekeeper emblems.

This video, uploaded on July 30th, reportedly shows a "Column of RF armored vehicles near Ukrainian border 30.07.2014 on Belgorod-Shebekino Highway." One sign clearly says that this is Belgorad, and another says "to center." At the 0:43 mark there is a sign which we think says "To Ukraine," though we're working to specifically geolocate the video: 

Look at the bottom right on some of those vehicles. There appear to be "MC" or "Mirotvorcheskiye Sily" emblems -- the emblems used by Russian peacekeeping troops in places like Transnistria, like this:


Or this, which is actually a file-photo of Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria:


Journalist Saviik Shuster tweets:

Translation: 30 July 2014 a few hours ago. Belgorod #war #Ukraine there is an "MS" sticker on the BTR (Russian initials for mirotrorcheskiye sily or peace-keepers).

Translation: ATO outside of Belgorod, f**king peace-keepers (26 km to the border)

That picture is a screencapture from a video, found here. The video is too short to easily geolocate, but here is a clear screengrab -- the vehicle is marked "MC":


On August 1st we posted several videos which showed Russian troops building on the border with Ukraine. The third video in our update showed a convoy of Russian armor on the move in the Rostov region. In that video there is a clear shot of the insignia.

As we reported earlier, Russia has already put its "peacekeepers" on combat-ready status. But a video of those peacekeepers, staging in the Samar region, posted by Russian state TV, confirms two things:

1) The peacekeeping emblems are the same on the vehicles near the Ukrainian border as the ones in the Samar region.

2) Just as Schindler wrote, while the Russian forces directly on the border are growing, a large number of Russian forces are mobilizing not far behind.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Videos Show Separatists Conducting GRAD Attacks Near Lugansk
Several videos, dated August 3rd, reportedly show GRAD rocket launches conducted by separatists against Ukrainian military positions. The videos have titles like "militia work over mercenaries of Kiev Junta" and "militia forces junta's mercenaries to peace." Here is one of the videos below, but there are several others (1, 2). At one point someone says something about a weather report in Lugansk, and there is a reference to the "last minutes of the lives of the Ukes."

The author of the Ukraine at War blog found the videos and even geolocated one for The Interpreter.  Below is an image from the 12:40 mark in the video above:


There is a gas station visible in the video, this gas station, and that places the Grad rockets somewhere just south of Lugansk, as the fighter who speaks to the camera several times can be seen both near the gas station and near the rockets.