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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 197

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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
State Department on Russian Invasion of Ukraine; Invocation of 'Nuclear Option', New US Ambassador to Moscow

The State Department has published the transcript of the daily noon press briefing. Today there are a number of important topics covered, including Putin's threat against Kiev, his invocation of the "nuclear option," the Russian invasion of Ukraine, US-Russian relations, and the new US ambassador.

Some highlights:

On Putin's threats that he could be in Kiev "in two weeks":

QUESTION: Can I go back to President Putin and his comments?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: I don’t think that anyone in this government, in this Administration, has commented on these – this “I can be in Kyiv in two days” – those comments.

QUESTION: Two weeks.

QUESTION: Two weeks, sorry, not two days – although maybe two days is more accurate; who knows – in two weeks. So do you have any – do you regard these comments by the Russian president as provocative? How do you see these, especially given what’s going on right now with the Ukrainian allegations that the Russians have actually invaded?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is hardly the language of a statesman seeking peace and prosperity for people, for people in the region. I understand that there have been some explanations about language being taken out of context from the Kremlin. I’ll let them speak to that.

QUESTION: And which should sound familiar to denizens of this building who have seen remarks reported.

MS. PSAKI: Well, James, I think it would be more useful, of course, for – to hear President Putin say that in two weeks he will remove all Russian troops and pull back the assistance, financial and military, that he’s providing to the separatists. That certainly is --

QUESTION: So you’re giving him two weeks? Is that the deal?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think --

QUESTION: Wouldn’t you like to see it happen sooner rather than later?

MS. PSAKI: I referenced two weeks. Of course we’d want it to happen sooner, but the reference to two weeks was in the two weeks in the quote.

On the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Ukrainian statements that they are fighting the Russian army:

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to doubt any of the allegations being made by the Ukrainians that they’re actually now fighting? It’s not just – it’s not just pro – there’s a pro-Russian separatists they’re fighting, it is the Russian army itself. And do you have any comments – since you did have a comment on President Putin and his “two week” remark, do you have any comment on the Ukrainian defense minister talking about this conflict as a great patriotic war?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the first question, Matt – I think Russia has certainly continued to increase its intervention in eastern Ukraine and is responsible for the escalating violence. We know it’s encouraged by Russia. It’s funded by Russia. The separatists are trained by Russia. And obviously, we’ve seen over the course of the last several weeks an escalating level of aggression from the Russian-backed separatists, and obviously, Russia has been fully engaged in that effort.

In terms of the specific comments of the defense minister, I’m happy to take a look at them if you want to send them over.


QUESTION: So, okay, can you speak – so speaking to the confirmed reports, are there Russian troops in Ukraine right now fighting the Ukrainian army, as the Ukrainians claim?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Matt, I don’t have anything new to confirm for you independently from the United States. Obviously, we’ve seen an increasing level of aggression from the Russians. That includes the movement of troops across the border, which NATO and others have certainly spoken to and confirmed over the course of the last week. That includes continued – the continued effort to provide military assistance and the financing.

QUESTION: That means movement of troops across the – movement of Russian troops across the Ukrainian border into Ukraine. Is that what you’re talking about?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s been confirmed – I mean, last week.

QUESTION: Okay. So why is that not an invasion? Why do you shy away from this? I mean, the NATO commander said last week that if this was happening in a NATO member, it would invoke – Article 5 would be invoked, because it would be something that – it requires a military response. If one member is attacked, they’re all attacked. So why not call it the way you see it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think in our view it doesn’t matter what we call it. We’re calling it an illegal incursion. We’re saying they’re violating the sovereignty of Ukraine. We’ve obviously increased not only the number of sanctions and the kind of sanctions we’re putting in place, but we continue to consider a range of requests that the Ukrainians have issued. So our actions, in our view, and what we’re going to do about it is more important than what we call it.

On Russian lies about what they are really doing in Ukraine:

QUESTION: All right. I have two more very, very brief ones. One – well, what do you think then – since you’re convinced that the Ukrainians and NATO and everyone else is right, that there is an incursion, that the Russian troops are there – what do you make of the Russian denials that they’re not?

MS. PSAKI: I think that contradicts the facts on the ground and what we’ve all seen, not just the United States, but a range of countries, and certainly NATO as they’ve spoken to over the last week.

QUESTION: So President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Churkin, and Russian defense ministry people, they’re all lying when they say no, we don’t have anyone – we don’t have any troops --

MS. PSAKI: I’ll let you put labels on it, but I think the facts are the facts.

On the new US ambassador:

QUESTION: So the given the fact that you’ve essentially just accused the Russian leadership of not telling the truth and lying, what is Ambassador Tefft going to Moscow – well, one, do you know if he’s going to be welcomed in Moscow? And two – by the Russians – and two, what’s he going to go there to do, if you’ve -- if you think that the Russian Government as a whole, or at least the top echelons of it, are just lying?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think it’s important to remember here that there are a range of issues we work with Russia on. It’s not just Ukraine and our efforts to pursue a diplomatic path forward. Certainly, that’s one of the issues that the Secretary discusses with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and I expect the Ambassador will certainly as well. And obviously, having an ambassador-level diplomat in place is something we think is important in a place like Russia.

But we work with on them – we work with them on other issues, and that will continue, and that will be a part of the dialogue he has as ambassador to the country.

On Putin's invocation of the nuclear option:

QUESTION: Did you see where President Putin, in published remarks, said that he wanted to remind his listeners that Russia is a very powerful nuclear nation? You saw those reported comments?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’ve seen them, and they happened over the course of the weekend, James.


MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: And it was interpreted by many – including our colleagues at The Daily Beast, who put a large headline on it – as escalating the situation, and a kind of a veiled threat from Mr. Putin that he is prepared to take this localized conflict and inflate it to the level of a nuclear conflict. Is that something that concerns you?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there have been a series of escalatory remarks made by President Putin. I don’t want to judge or predict what his remark meant. I don’t have any assessment of that, so I would ask you to ask them that question.

QUESTION: Should we be concerned when the spokesperson for the State Department, three days or four days after the president of the Russian Federation invokes the nuclear threat, hasn’t heard about it?

MS. PSAKI: I think I would hardly ascribe it as exactly that, James. I think you are leading to a conclusion about what it meant, but I’m happy to give you a test of what happened over the weekend and see how you do on that test. (Laughter.)

For full transcript go here.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Large Russian Military Convoy Heading to Lugansk

A large Russian military convoy has been spotted on the highway near Krasnodon. A citizen's video has been uploaded to YouTube.

It is likely the largest Russian convoy we have ever seen in the southeast of Ukraine.

Ukraine@War has geolocated the convoy to the Krasnodon road (see Google maps), and notes that the convoy has 122 vehicles.

It could be heading toward Sukhodolsk (Sukhodilsk); it is not clear whether it is heading south or whether it will return to Russia as it is near a fork in the road. We have previously reported on a Russian convoy passing through Sukhodilsk on August 18.

A number of the soldiers are wearing white ties on their arms, which we have seen Russian soldiers wear before.

The vehicles are painted over green and do not appear to have any identifying marks or license plates, although the Russian letter "A" is painted on some.


Several vehicles had red crosses on them.



For further information, see Ukraine@War.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Rout of Ukrainian Military from Novokaterynikva

The Ukraine military was routed from Novokaterynivka (Novokaterinovka), AP reported.

The Ukrainian solders were an easy target as they launched a desperate run to safety. Pounded by a gauntlet of rocket shells, blown up in their vehicles, they died by the dozens.

In fields around the eastern Ukrainian village of Novokaterynivka, more than thirty army vehicles lay charred and pulverized into twisted piles of metal Tuesday - the result of a devastating weekend ambush by separatist forces.

The rout marked a major intensification in the separatists' offensive in eastern Ukraine - one that the government in Kiev, NATO and the United States say has been sustained by Russia's direct military support.

The Daily Mail also reported on the devastation:

The body of a Ukrainian soldier has been found hanging from a high-voltage power line after he was blasted clear of his armoured vehicle after it was hit with a shell.

The man was killed near the village of Novokaterynivka, in eastern Ukraine after pro-Russian separatists intercepted a column of Ukrainian army armour.


Earlier reports from Russian-backed fighters indicated they had claimed victory.

Translation: During a brutal battle at the town of Novokaterinovka by the militia fighters, 2 T-64 tanks, 9 BMPs, and up to 10 vehicles, 24 people were taken into captivity.

The pro-Russian separatist site Colonel Cassad published a number of pictures of the destroyed armor:



The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Putin Declares NATO 'A Major Threat'

President Vladimir Putin has been ratcheting up the rhetoric on the eve of the NATO summit in Wales this Thursday, AP reports:

Russia declared NATO a major "threat" on Tuesday after the Western military alliance announced plans to reinforce defences in eastern Europe because of the Kremlin's perceived stoking of war in Ukraine.

Moscow's surprise declaration of a shift in its military doctrine came just ahead of a NATO summit in Wales on Thursday at which beleaguered Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will lobby US President Barack Obama for military support.

Obama will deliver a message of firm NATO support for its newest members from the former Soviet empire when he visits the tiny Baltic state of Estonia on Wednesday.

Putin's remarks follow another veiled threat when he appeared to invoke "the nuclear option," AP reported:

Prospects for a political settlement looked dim just a few weeks ago while the Ukrainian troops were methodically tightening their noose around pro-Russia rebel strongholds in the east, but Kiev's hopes for a quick victory were short-lived. A rebel counter-offensive has quickly turned the tide against the Kiev government, inflicting huge losses and raising the threat of Ukraine losing access to the energy-rich Sea of Azov.

The West has accused Russia of sharply escalating the conflict by sending regular army units into Ukraine after months of covert assistance to the rebellion and has threatened more sanctions.

Putin's apparent response is: What you call a Russian invasion is nothing compared to what we could do and all options are on the table. The Kremlin's halfhearted denial of Putin's warning that Moscow could seize the Ukrainian capital in two weeks if it wished, which he reportedly made to European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso last week, only reinforced the signal that Russia will not back off.

Putin's comment last week emphasizing Russia's nuclear arsenal appeared to send the same tough message to the West: Don't mess with us.

 Meanwhile, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Obama opposed further militarization of the conflict.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Entire Pskov 'Company' Killed in Ukraine: Local Newspaper

An entire company of Pskov paratroopers has been killed fighting in Ukraine, reported, citing an article in the local newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya published today September 2.

(Note: the links in this article to the original sources may not work either due to overload of the pages as they are widely being accessed in Russia now, or possibly because of removal of the articles; the web cache for Pskovskaya Guberniya can be tried here).

Pskovskaya Guberniya say that after publishing the news of three paratroopers' funerals last week, they received at their editorial offices a tape claiming to be recorded interviews with paratroopers who requested anonymity. They believed the tape to be authentic. A copy of the transcript has been posted on the blog of Pskov legislator Lev Shlosberg.

Shlosberg is recovering from injuries sustained in an assault by unknown persons last week which he ties to his investigation of what happened to the paratroopers in his home region.

The sources claim on the tape that only 10 men have survived out of a regiment numbering 80; among them was Leonid Kichatkin, whose funeral was observed by Russian journalists August 25. Up to 140 paratroopers could have died, say the sources, since the division fighting in Ukraine was made up not only of regular army but specially-assigned troops.

Friends of Kichatkin said that he died in battle and that they would "punch out" the man who pretended to be him on the phone to fool reporters.

Shlosberg told Russian blogger Oleg Kashin that the families of the paratroopers were told to keep quiet, and were threatened with loss of state welfare support if they didn't.

He said that the causes of death were listed as variously "explosion of a gas tank," "heart attack" or "stroke" and the place of death was not indicated.

He said one mother of a paratrooper wrote on her social media page that "everything was made up" and that the "journalists are bastards," and that her son was "alive and well." But he was said to be in the hospital with an amputated leg. He thought it was possible that such social media accounts could be taken over by authorities.

The regiment left for Ukraine on the 20th at 10:00 am, and were told not to turn on phones

The Interpreter has translated an excerpt of the recorded interview. .

Voice 1: Yes...the telephones were intercepted. There is an American electronic warfare brigade there.

Voice 1: I'm telling you, how it was, I'll tell you. We were going along, shit, looking for those f**king Ukes, as they call them. We looked for them, shit. It turns out, we were detected, and wham, we were drawn in, lured into an ambush, you see? Whoosh. We were f**ked. Wham, shit, we jumped out on the road, thee was a field there, f**k, there were sunflowers and a checkpoint. They began to bomb it bang-bang-bang, they destroyed it. We then went further along the field. And the shooting is coming from there, you see, we were moving toward where the shooting was coming from.

Voice 2: In short, in an open place?

Voice 1: Yes...From there, from the other side, they were also shooting. Our artillery were firing on Georgievka. They knocked out whomever they saw, do you see? It was a battle, how could you know. Really...They were firing from that side, firing, firing ...You don't know where it's coming from, in general, where the shelling is coming from.

Voice 2: And where were you in general in Rostov, in the hospital?

Voice 1: Uh-huh.

Voice 2: Well, where are those people who were killed? Where are they now in general, what happened?

Voice 1: I don't know...

Voice 2: The [bodies] remained there? Are they picking them up?

Voice 1: I don't know...they sent them out...You see Lyonka [Kichatkin] was transferred here. Maybe they sent them here. T*** has a list, who is where. Who was killed, who wasn't, you see?

We will have more of the translation on our Russia This Week blog later today.