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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 247

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.
Georgian Leader Confirms Sikorski's Claims That Putin Wanted Poland to Divide Ukraine

Radek Sikorski, the Polish Foreign Minister between 2007 and this past September, made headlines this week thanks to a controversial and important interview given to Politico's Ben Judah. In the interview Sikorski broke a lot of news. He insinuated that the Kremlin was behind 1999 apartment bombings, he said that the Kremlin has sent "death squads abroad," and of course he criticized Moscow's dealings in Ukraine.

But the biggest bombshell -- Sikorski said that not only had Putin tried to blackmail ousted Ukrainian president Yanukovych by saying that Russia would annex Crimea if Ukraine joined the European Union, but he went further -- saying that Putin tried to get Poland to divide up Ukraine:

“He wanted us to become participants in this partition of Ukraine,” says Sikorski. “Putin wants Poland to commit troops to Ukraine. These were the signals they sent us. … We have known how they think for years. We have known this is what they think for years. This was one of the first things that Putin said to my prime minister, Donald Tusk, [soon to be President of the European Council] when he visited Moscow. He went on to say Ukraine is an artificial country and that Lwow is a Polish city and why don’t we just sort it out together. Luckily Tusk didn’t answer. He knew he was being recorded.”

Then the story became even more controversial when Sikorski claimed that the quotes in Judah's article were not authorized and aspects of the interview were "over-interpreted." Sikorski appears to have been under the impression that Judah would send him a copy of the interview in order for him to approve it, a practice nearly unheard of in American journalism but a practice typical in Poland.

However, Judah has stuck by his quotes, and now it seems that Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian leader, has verified that Putin really did try to divide up Ukraine back in 2008. EU Observer reports:

He told Poland’s TVN24 broadcaster on Tuesday that Putin really did make the offer to Tusk and that he made similar comments to Hungarian and Romanian leaders.

“Tusk repeated it to me. He thought Putin was joking. But he [Putin] said the same thing to Hungary and to Romania”, Saakashvili noted.

“He [Putin] also told me that something has to be done about Moldova … and that Nato cannot defend the Baltic states".

But this is not the first time Saakashvili has mentioned this:

Pro-Kremlin propagandists, especially those working for state-operated outlets like RT, have made a big deal about the controversy surrounding Sikorski's quotes in Ben Judah's article, going as far as to say "[Judah's] fictional piece attempts to argue that Vladimir Putin would, somehow, trust a Eurocentric leader like Donald Tusk with such a cunning plan... You don’t rise from being a minor KGB agent in East Germany to head of the FSB by being dopey."

Actually, RT, according to two European leaders, that's exactly what happened.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Responding To Russia's Threats In The Baltics Is Like Playing 'Whack-a-Mole'

The Interpreter's Andrew Bowen takes a look at a growing problem: Russian incursion into the territories belonging to the Baltic states:

The Baltic Fleet’s weakness aside, the Kremlin is increasingly comfortable relying on displays of its improving military might to impress upon the Baltic states that Russia is the dominant power in the region and that NATO’s help may not be as reassuring as previously thought (one possible motive for the abduction of the Estonian intel officer several days after a visit by President Obama is that Russia may have wanted to reinforce exactly this notion). Sweden is not the only nation to face air incursions. Scrambles by NATO’s Baltic Air Mission for violations of Latvian airspace have gone from five in 2010 to more than 180 in the last year, while Lithuania has seen the incursions rise from four to 132, and even Finland has registered five incursions this year.

These aggressive actions, resembling the game of “whack-a-mole” due to the sudden appearance and disappearance of the Russia aircraft with little or no comment from the Kremlin, have not gone unnoticed by the countries in the region. Sweden has already committed to increasing its defense posture after years of decline, and the Baltic States are at the forefront of trying to establish a NATO rapid reaction force for fear of “little green men” showing up uninvited.

Bowen goes on to examine not only the motivations for Russia's actions in the Baltics (hint -- politics) but also how these incidents will impact the Russian economy. As a result, those policies may actually change if economic trends do not improve:

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Blocks Expanded International Monitoring Of Ukraine
The OSCE is the international organization tasked with the investigation and monitoring of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but Russia has blocked the expansion of the mission.

DPA International reports:

The 57 OSCE countries, including Russia, decided Wednesday to extend the mandate of the OSCE mission by one month until November 23, while keeping its size at the current level.

"We once again have to accept a limited-scope mission, covering just two border checkpoints - which account for approximately one kilometre of the 2,300-kilometre border," said Jennifer Bosworth, a diplomat at the US mission to the OSCE.

This would make it hard to monitor possible flow of arms and personnel from Russia to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, she added.

A look at the full statement by Jennifer Bosworth reveals that Russia's decision to block the expansion of the OSCE mission was opposed by more than just the United States:

The U.S. finds it deeply regrettable that the Russian Federation would not consider expanding the geographic scope of the observer mission, despite requests from other participating States. We further regret that Russia refused to agree to even a modest increase to the number of observers, as requested by the Chief Observer, to reduce the excessive workload faced by the observer mission’s small working teams...

We note that Step 4 of the September 5 Minsk Protocol delineates a clear role for the OSCE in monitoring and verification on both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian international border, and the creation of a security zone in the border areas of Russia and Ukraine. There are strong linkages between ceasefire monitoring and border monitoring—and the OSCE approach to both of these activities must not be restricted by one participating State. The Russian Federation has prevented the expansion of this mandate to include other border checkpoints and monitoring between checkpoints, and, in so doing, Russia raises serious questions about its resolve to implement this critical element of the Minsk Protocol.

The international community negotiated the use of the OSCE to monitor the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and Russia, which stands accused of breaking its agreements with Ukraine and the international community, has the ability to block expansion of the monitors who are supposed to see whether those agreements are being met.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Shelling Reported In Donetsk

The office of the mayor of Donetsk, Oleksandr Lukyanchenko, reported at 18:00 (15:00 GMT), that salvoes of heavy-calibre weapons fire have been heard in the Petrovsky and Kirovsky districts, to the south-west of the city centre.

 "At the moment, there are no recorded incidents of damaged or burning residential buildings caused by falling shells."

Earlier, Ukrainska Pravda reported that the ATO Press Centre had announced that two attempted assaults on the government-held airport, to the north of the city, had been repelled during the night.

Writing on his Facebook page, Dmytro Tymchuk of Information Resistance claimed that the separatist Oplot and Vostok battalions had suffered "serious losses" during the fighting around the airport.

Tymchuk also claimed that Russian paratroopers from the 331st airborne regiment in Kostroma and GRU spetsnaz forces from Omsk had arrived in the city.

Meanwhile, Russian Igor Girkin, also known as Strelkov, the former separatist military leader, appeared in a YouTube broadcast by the pro-separatist Neyromir TV.

A version with English sub-titles has been uploaded by YouTube user Kazzura:

In the video, Girkin claims that he has received numerous reports of a large build-up of Ukrainian forces, who he believes are about mount a major assault on Donetsk.

He also repeats claims that Ukraine is using Tochka-U short range ballistic missiles in the Donbass.

He states that, in the event of a coordinated Ukrainian assault on three fronts, moving on Donetsk, Makeyevka and south from Debaltsevo towards the Russian border, the separatist forces will not be able to survive "without direct Russian assistance."

This does not, of course, take into account the presence of Russian forces already in eastern Ukraine.

Girkin appears to be calling for more open and decisive intervention from Russia, claiming that:

"If this plan is successful, it will become the biggest political and military defeat for the Russian Federation since 1991, and will lead to serious internal political upheaval."

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Assessing The Human Rights Watch Report On Cluster Munitions In Donetsk

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published a report this week, "Widespread Use of Cluster Munitions," which was widely covered by The New York Times and other media, summarizing the findings of a week-long investigation outside of Donetsk into allegations of cluster bomb use. The report, which says both sides have been implicated in the use of cluster munitions in civilian areas, focuses on their alleged use by Ukrainian armed forces, a violation of international human rights law.

While not conclusive, circumstances indicate that anti-government forces might also have been responsible for the use of cluster munitions, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch also called on Russia to make an immediate commitment to not use cluster munitions and to accede to the cluster munitions treaty.

The Human Rights Watch investigation relies heavily on an investigation of a series of fields between positions which they say have been controlled by the Ukrainian military in Novomykhailivka, southwest of Donetsk (map). They say that in these fields they have discovered unexploded cluster rockets which must have misfired, falling far short of their target:

There is particularly strong evidence that Ukrainian government forces were responsible for several cluster munition attacks on central Donetsk in early October, Human Rights Watch said. In addition to evidence at the impact site indicating that the cluster munitions came from the direction of government-controlled areas southwest of Donetsk, witnesses in that area said that they observed rockets being launched toward Donetsk on the times and days when cluster munitions struck the city. A New York Times journalist tracked down several rockets in that area, which appeared to have malfunctioned and fallen to the ground shortly after they were launched, clearly establishing the flight path of the rockets.

The Ukrainian government, which was given a week to reply but did not answer in time for the report's publication, denied yesterday that they used such weapons and said that the Russian government and the militants they support were engaged in disinformation and set-up firing positions to mimic the government's. On Wednesday the Ukrainian government also published evidence that Russian-supplied cluster munitions have been used in the conflict.

Evidence of unexploded rockets near Ukrainian positions is fairly compelling evidence that the Ukrainian military has used the cluster munitions in question, and the HRW report does say that Russian-backed separatists also may have used cluster munitions.

The OSCE reports that they have not seen evidence of cluster bomb use in eastern Ukraine: 

Lack of Blame For Most Specific Attacks

The report also indicates that there is evidence that the Russian-backed militants may have also used cluster munitions, though the focus of the report is on allegations that the Ukrainian government used cluster munitions. The report admits that it is often difficult to assign blame for any single incident to a particular party.

There is almost no raw data, video, pictures, or information in the report which could be independently verified. As a result, for the most part we cannot speak to specific incidents in the Human Rights Watch report directly without seeing more videos, pictures and maps, and studying how they came to their conclusions; it's important in these cases to show the work.

The report, however, is being criticized by some for its lack of context and its undue focus on actions of the Ukrainian government. The report pays a great deal of attention to claims that the Ukrainian military used cluster munitions, it makes little to no effort to address the regular shelling from the Russian-backed separatists which provides the backdrop for Ukraine's military response in Donetsk and which also kills civilians.

Available evidence may suggest that the Ukrainian government's positions in the southwest of Donetsk are not responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths in the city, and incidents not included in this report provide important insight into the fighting in Donetsk.

For instance, on October 1st rockets hit a school and a bus stop in Donetsk.  The Russian government blamed the attack that killed at least 10 people on Ukrainian troops who were stationed at the airport to the north. But both a western reporter concluded that the rockets came from the southwest and the OSCE reported that the attack came from the south. Below, this first picture shows that the rocket likely came from the south-southwest:


On this map we have drawn a blue cone of fire from the approximate landing position of the shell to the Ukrainian military position which was somewhere near Novomykhailivka (again, HRW did not include a detailed map with their report or we could have a more exact cone of fire). As you can see, the base in question is indeed west-southwest from this position, not south-southwest. This is not definitive proof that the rocket was not fired from Novomykhailivka, but the rocket looks like it came from a position further to the south, and it needs to be remembered that the separatists and the Kremlin claimed that the shell came from the north, which it clearly did not.


Unfortunately, Human Rights Watch did not include this incident in their report. The remains of the rocket have never been identified, to our knowledge, so it is possible that this incident did not include cluster munitions. Either way, it shows that identifying who shot a particular rocket is highly complicated, and a few degrees of miscalculation can change the results.

Another incident not included in the HRW report took place on October 7th. In a post on October 8, we analyzed the shelling of a shopping center called Amstor and apartment buildings on Kuibysheva in Donetsk in an attack in which 9 were injured at 2 killed.

A number of videos were posted to YouTube by news services sympathetic to the Russian-backed separatists, and both reporters and civilians were convinced that they had been shelled by Ukrainian forces from the airport.

Three impact craters were documented, but two of them tell opposing stories. For instance, the impact of one of the shells shows that it likely came from a Ukrainian military position -- not to the southwest but to the northwest, from, the surrounded Ukrainian soldiers at Donetsk International Airport:

mapping-crater-yandex.jpgAs we reported, however, another shell hit an apartment high-rise on the northeast corner of the building. This shell could only have come from separatist territory. Again, we have drawn a field, this time in purple, between the impact sites and the Ukrainian military position to the southwest mentioned in the Human Rights Watch report. The red angle, however, shows where the rocket must have been fired from.


As you can see, there is no way for either of these shells to come from the Ukrainian position at Novomykhailivka to the southwest. 

Also, this is another example of how eyewitnesses can be unreliable. In a video by the pro-Russian news service ANNA, a woman whose apartment building was shelled tells the cameraman that the missiles came from Peski, i.e. from the northwest, a position where Ukrainian forces are located. As is demonstrated above, that does not appear to be physically possible. 

This incident was also not in the Human Rights Watch report. Perhaps the weapons used were not cluster munitions and so it was not included. 

This particular incident underscores three important points about the Human Rights Watch report: The first is that cluster munitions are not the primary weapon being used by either side, and so to focus on cluster munitions is perhaps problematic since it puts undue emphasis on one aspect of danger facing civilians.

The second point is that the fact that shells are coming from both directions reveals that there is a military context for this shelling. As many of the incidents in discussion take place in Donetsk, there is a very important military context that is missing. Both sides are firing at each other here, but only one of those sides has soldiers which are not completely surrounded. Not only are the Ukrainian soldiers at Donetsk International Airport surrounded, they have no drones to better target their weapons (the Russian-backed separatists have plenty of drones, and have even released videos of their attacks on the airport filmed with the drones). This does not excuse the Ukrainian military from it's actions, but it does explain them, since the only way to defend their surrounded troops is through artillery support.

There is almost no mention of this fighting in the HRW report, except a single paragraph in which Human Rights Watch says they were not allowed near the separatist headquarters near the shelling.

The third point is that just because there is evidence, generally, that both sides are conducting this kind of shelling does not mean that a specific instance is one side or the other's fault. The HRW report, for instance, has this to say about the shelling which left one dead at the headquarters for the Red Cross in Donetsk:

Thirty-eight-year-old Laurent DuPasquier, a Swiss employee with the International Committee of the Red Cross who was standing outside the organization’s office in the same building complex as the supermarket, was killed during the attack in which cluster munition rockets were used. An investigation has reached no final determination as to the exact causes of his death. Human Rights Watch documented the presence of two craters, about three meters apart, in front of the ICRC office, which appeared consistent with cluster submunition explosions. DuPasquier’s body was found between the two craters. Human Rights Watch also found pre-formed fragments of a 9N210 submunition and a piece of the ring that attaches the stabilization fins to the submunition about 20 meters from the ICRC office.

No blame was assigned for this specific attack.

Russian-Backed Militants Helped Human Rights Watch Crews When Convenient 

As we noted above, the report by Human Rights Watch does say at one point that Russian-backed militants did not allow the HRW crews access to certain areas in Donetsk. However, in the video released by HRW with the report, men who appear to be rebel fighters can be seen possibly working with the HRW team. Here are some screenshots:



This, and some of the other issues raised above, have caused some to criticize the Human Rights Watch report. Critics are saying that the conclusion is not necessarily the problem -- civilians have been killed by cluster munitions, and both sides have been implicated in the use of the weapons, and that is both alarming and problematic. Our problem is that the report puts too much emphasis on violations by the Ukrainian government while downplaying the context -- that the Russian-backed separatists are guilty of the same crime, that Russia is militarily and economically supporting the insurgents, that the Russian-backed insurgents are the ones who broke the ceasefire and are attacking Donetsk International Airport, and that it is highly likely that none of this fighting would be happening at all if it were not Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government, however, needs to take a serious look at these and other allegations through a credible, independent, and transparent investigation of attacks which have killed civilians.