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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 266

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.
Bezler Reported Alive, and to Get 'Hero of DPR' Award, But is Strelkov Slighted?

Since reports circulated that Igor Bezler, the notorious Russian army major-general who led the Russian-backed separatists in Gorlovka, was assassinated by Russian Federation agents, there has been massive speculation about what happened to him.

Immediately, his supporters said he was not dead but just in Moscow, although he had resigned from his command and would not return to the so-called "Donetsk People's Republic".

The Crimean Russian blogger Colonel Cassad (Boriz Rozhin, editor of Golos Sevastopolya) printed the stories that Bezler is still alive, but himself has said that a test will be whether "Bes" ("Demon") as he was nick-named will show up for an upcoming DPR awards ceremony.

The awards have generated a lot of scandal and in-fighting among the separatists. Letters went out recently to some commanders and even former commanders (Strelkov was dismissed in August), saying they were being issued medals with the title "Hero of the DPR" for their service in the cause of "Novorossiya," the notional realm for Russians abroad made up of the southeast of Ukraine and possibly other countries including Moldova and Belarus.

But then Strelkov said he never got the letter, and that he wouldn't accept an award from Aleksandr Zakharchenko, prime minister of the DPR, in any event.

"I would not accept any awards from a man who has publicly offended me," he wrote on his  "secret forum" (an Internet forum on historical war re-enacments which is hidden from view, but often re-tweeted).

Strelkov said that the title of "Hero of the DPR" would only be given to Bezler and Aleksandr Boroday, the first prime minister of the DPR, and not to him.

"Hero of the Soviet Union" was the USSR's highest award, and the tradition was continued by the Russian Federation.

Yet a copy of the letter over Zakharchenko's signature -- but without the DPR seal --  was published by Colonel Cassad earlier this week from the official DPR website among announcements of decrees.

It informed Strelkov and Boroday of "the state award of the Donetsk People's Republic" and the "Gold Star of the Hero" for "great contribution in the formation, establishment and defense of the Donetsk People's Republic and for courage and heroism displayed" 


The award letter was also covered by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti which added that former DPR vice premier Vladimir Antyufeyev would receive the title of "Honorary Citizen of DPR".

A pro-separatist news site says
that they published the news of the award after seeing it confirmed on the official DPR Today site and RIA Novosti.

But after contacting Strelkov themselves, they also heard from another participant in the "secret forum" named Plokhoi Soldat ("Bad Soldier") who said that the decree had attachments which he had seen, and the award citations in fact didn't include Strelkov among them.

Pravdoryb claimed that Strelkov's name was missing and others saw that it was gone, but now we see it back up again with today's date as of this writing:

This link has Strelkov's name in the notice and a further link to the "Documents" section of the site.


Colonel Cassad says that Zakharchenko seems to have disappeared after he was "elected" on 2 November, and wasn't currently present in Donetsk such as to have signed the letters. He commented, "It will be interesting to see if Bezler shows up for the awards."

The ceremony does not yet appear to have been announced but is expected soon.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Alarming List of Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014

The European Leadership Network has published an alarming list of close encounters between the Russian military and Western military powers in 2014. The report warns that not only did some of these incidents endanger civilian airliners, but many of them came dangerously close to triggering outright military confrontation and/or military casualties.

Here is the Executive Summary:

Since the Russian annexation of Crimea, the intensity and gravity of incidents involving Russian and Western militaries and security agencies has visibly increased. This ELN Policy Brief provides details of almost 40 specific incidents that have occurred over the last eight
months (an interactive map is available here). These events add up to a highly disturbing picture of violations of national airspace, emergency scrambles, narrowly avoided mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea, simulated attack runs and other dangerous actions happening on a regular basis over a very wide geographical area.

Apart from routine or near-routine encounters, the Brief identifies 11 serious incidents of a more aggressive or unusually provocative nature, bringing a higher level risk of escalation. These include harassment of reconnaissance planes, close overflights over warships, and Russian ‘mock bombing raid’ missions. It also singles out 3 high risk incidents which in our view carried a high probability of causing casualties or a direct military confrontation: a narrowly avoided collision between a civilian airliner and Russian surveillance plane, abduction of an Estonian intelligence officer, and a large-scale Swedish ‘submarine hunt’.

Even though direct military confrontation has been avoided so far, the mix of more aggressive Russian posturing and the readiness of Western forces to show resolve increases the risk of unintended escalation and the danger of losing control over events. This Brief therefore makes three main recommendations:

1. The Russian leadership should urgently re-evaluate the costs and risks of continuing its more assertive military posture, and Western diplomacy should be aimed at persuading Russia to move in this direction.

2. All sides should exercise military and political restraint.

3. All sides must improve military-to-military communication and transparency.

To perpetuate a volatile stand-off between a nuclear armed state and a nuclear armed alliance and its partners in the circumstances described in this paper is risky at best. It could prove catastrophic at worst.

A quick look at the interactive map shows that most, but not all, of the incidents occurred near the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, north of Belarus and Ukraine:


The entire report can be read here.

-- James Miller

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Shelling Reported Along Bakhmutka Highway And In Debaltsevo This Morning reports that separatist fighters shelled Ukrainian positions in Debaltsevo and along the Bakhmutka highway in the Lugansk region this morning.

Аccording to the report, at around 7 am (5:00 GMT), the first salvoes from mortars and D-30 howitzers were heard in Kirovsk. This barrage continued for about an hour.

Eyewitnesses told Informator that the militants were firing towards the Bakhmutka highway. According to reports from Debaltsevo residents, Ukrainian positions there came under fire at 8 am.


There are no reports yet on casualties. 

-- Pierre Vaux

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Pavel Gubarev Returns To Donetsk

Russia's state-owned TASS news agency reports that Pavel Gubarev, the self-styled 'people's governor' of the Donetsk region, has returned to Donetsk after receiving medical treatment in Russia.

On October 12 it was reported that Gubarev was unconscious in hospital in Rostov-on-Don after being wounded in an apparent assassination attempt.

Gubarev was travelling along the highway from Rostov-on-Don to Donetsk when his car was fired on by unknown assailants, causing it to crash into a pillar. 

TASS reports that a spokesman for Gubarev has told them (translated by The Interpreter):

"He's been discharged from hospital, arrived in Donetsk and feels fine. He will talk about his career plans in the near future."

Pierre Vaux
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Kiev -- Russian-Backed Rebels Attacking 'In All Directions'

As we have been reporting, there has been a significant amount of Russian tanks and equipment spotted mobilizing toward the front lines in eastern Ukraine. International monitors, local and Western journalists, and local residents are all reporting this movement.

Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council is warning that Ukrainian military positions across eastern Ukraine are under attack.

"In all directions" sounds ominous.

CORRECTION: This video was later determined to have been first uploaded in March 2014, and the NSDC has mistakenly included it here in their tweet. It is labeled as having been filmed in in Gorodnya in Chernihiv Region and is evidently the Ukrainians' own armored vehicles. As we reported, there are other convoys of unmarked armored vehicles filmed by AP, EuroNews, and local reporters which appear to have come from Russia in November.

But note that the word the Ukrainian military is using is "tensed." One does not get a sense from this briefing that there is a significant uptick in attacks. In fact, those watching live-streaming video from Donetsk, a typical hotspot, notice that it's perhaps unusually quiet today.

So what does it mean that there is a significant and alarming uptick in the movement of heavy equipment behind the lines, Ukraine says it is under attack from all directions, but there is no heavy fighting? Could the Russian-backed militants be staging for a new offensive and their attacks are testing Ukraine's military checkpoints?

A curious reader also asked a good question -- if the Ukrainian military sees these convoys as a threat, why aren't they attacking the convoys? There are several answers.

The first is that Ukraine may not have the ability to strike these convoys. These convoys are behind enemy lines, so In order to hit them with artillery Ukraine would need specific intelligence, and likely even drones. The Ukrainian military has perhaps only a handful of drones and they are new additions (by contrast, international observers have spotted significant amounts of drones used on the Russian side of the border, and the Ukrainian military, and the occasional video, suggests that the separatists have drones too). Such attacks would also bring high risk of civilian casualties.

To hit these convoys with airstrikes would be difficult since the Russian military has been supplying advanced anti-aircraft weapons to the separatists, including the Buk which likely shot down MH17, since June. Before the ceasefire it was not unusual to have Ukrainian aircraft shot down in eastern Ukraine.

But perhaps the ultimate reason Ukraine is not striking these aircraft -- Ukraine maintains that since they have signed a ceasefire with the Russian-backed separatists, they are only returning fire when they are attacked. A preemptive strike, even one that seems wise to some observers, would violate that ceasefire. Yet according to Kiev, they are the only side abiding by the ceasefire. This is one reason why the entire ceasefire and the Minsk accords are so controversial in Ukraine and may soon be abandoned.

Until then, it seems that Russian tanks and armor are free to move across eastern Ukraine at will. And the international community which is witnessing this phenomenon does not seem willing to prevent this, either.

-- James Miller