Monday, October 20, 2014

Spiegel: Review Finds Rebels Shot Down MH17 In Ukraine

BERLIN, Germany -- A review by Germany's foreign intelligence agency has found that MH17 was brought down by a missile fired by separatists.


Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the plane's downing.

A detailed analysis conducted by Germany's federal intelligence service (BND) concluded that separatists near Donetsk were responsible for bringing down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the news magazine Spiegel reported on Sunday.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 crashed in eastern Ukraine on July 17 while on route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

All 298 passengers on board were killed, most of them Dutch nationals.

BND President Gerhard Schindler presented the agency's findings, including satellite images and diverse photo evidence, to members of the parliamentary control committee responsible for monitoring the work of German intelligence on October 8.

According to Spiegel, the BND has intelligence suggesting that pro-Russian separatists captured a BUK air-defense missile system at a Ukrainian military base, and fired a missile on July 17 that exploded in the vicinity of the Malaysian aircraft.

International leaders and Ukraine's government have accused the separatists of firing at the commercial airliner with weapons supplied by Russia.

Moscow has blamed Ukraine's military.

"It was pro-Russian separatists," Spiegel quoted Schindler as saying.

According to the magazine, he also told the panel that the BND's review had come up with unambiguous findings - for example, that claims from Russia that the missile had been fired by Ukrainian soldiers and that a fighter jet had been flying close to the Malaysian airliner were false.

A spokesman for the German Federal Prosecutor's Office in Karlsruhe told Spiegel that an investigation has been opened into unknown perpetrators because of the possibility that the downing constituted a war crime.

In September, a preliminary report by a Dutch investigative commission analyzed satellite and radar information, as well as the flight's black boxes.

It concluded that the aircraft had likely been hit "by a large number of high-energy objects," but did not assign blame.

A full report is expected in mid-2015.

Source: Deutsche Welle

Soldiers' Rights Activist Jailed In Russia

MOSCOW, Russia -- A veteran activist who investigated the deaths and disappearances of Russian soldiers in Ukraine has been jailed, an advocacy group said Saturday.


The normally functioning Avdeyevsky chemical plant is seen behind the main terminal of Donetsk Sergey Prokofiev International Airport hit by shelling during artillery battles between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. 

Ten Russian troops were captured in August in eastern Ukraine amid fighting between pro-Moscow separatists and Ukrainian troops after weeks of Moscow denying involvement in the Ukrainian conflict.

Authorities insisted the captured soldiers got lost while patrolling the border, and the deaths were accidental and happened in Russia.

The Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg, a highly respected non-governmental organization with a long history of working to defend the rights of soldiers, said Saturday that its colleague in southern Russia who was investigating the deaths and disappearances was detained on Friday.

The group said Lyudmila Bogatenkova, 73, was charged with fraud and ordered to be jailed.

"Human rights activists consider the detention and jailing of Lyudmila Bogatenkova as an act of reprisal connected to her activities," the group said in a statement.

Law enforcement officials in the Stavropol region weren't immediately available for comment on Saturday.

Bogatenkova and other activists have collected data about dozens of Russian servicemen who were killed in recent months and sent it to investigators, pushing for an inquiry.

In August, the presidential human rights commission published an open letter demanding an investigation into the deaths of nine members of a motorized infantry brigade also sent to the southern Rostov region for military exercises.

Similar questions were raised by families of other Russian servicemen about unexplained deaths and missing or captured soldiers who were said to be on military exercises.

Lev Shlosberg, an opposition activist from the western region of Pskov, was attacked by unknown assailants and sustained brain damage in August shortly after he published an investigation about the death of the Pskov paratroopers.

Source: AP

Russia Won’t Accept Terms To End Sanctions Over Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russia’s foreign minister said his country will refuse to accept conditions to end sanctions after talks in Italy failed to produce a breakthrough over the truce in Ukraine’s conflict-ridden east.


A Ukrainian serviceman loads a mortar in the village of Peski, near town of Donetsk, on Oct. 18, 2014.

Russia has been told to comply with various criteria before the U.S. and its allies revoke the limitations, Sergei Lavrov said in the transcript of an NTV interview posted yesterday on the ministry’s website.

Ukrainian troops killed 14 pro-Russian fighters overnight and were shelled in six towns in the nation’s easternmost regions, the military said today on Facebook.

The U.S. and the European Union imposed restrictions on Russian officials and companies after the March annexation of Crimea and July’s downing of a Malaysian passenger plane over eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s partners, including overseas politicians and businessmen, understand that a policy designed to punish the country is doomed to failure, Lavrov said.

Russia denies stoking its neighbor’s conflict, which the United Nations estimates has cost more than 3,700 lives.

“We respond very simply: we shall not agree to any criteria or conditions,” Lavrov said.

“Russia is doing more than anyone else to resolve the crisis in Ukraine.”

Speaking in Moscow today, Lavrov told reporters that a political solution is possible to end Ukraine’s crisis. 

Moody’s Downgrade 

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian leader Vladimir Putin sought during Milan talks last week to shore up a six-week truce amid continuing skirmishes between government troops and pro-Russian separatists.

Soldiers opened targeted fire after coming under mortar and missile attack near a village in the Luhansk region, Vladyslav Seleznyov, a spokesman for the country’s Defense Ministry, said on Facebook late yesterday.

The EU and the U.S., which have limited technology exports to Russia and curbed the ability of state-run banks to raise funds abroad, have accused Putin’s government of providing pro-Russian rebels with cash, weapons and fighters.

The Kremlin, as always, denies any involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The impact of the crisis and sanctions on Russia’s economic growth led Moody’s Investors Service to cut Russia’s credit rating to the second-lowest investment grade at the end of last week.

Moody’s downgraded the government one level to Baa2 and kept a negative outlook.

Ruble Weakness 

The ruble fell after the downgrade, retreating 0.5 percent to 45.08804 against the central bank’s target basket of dollars and euros by 11:20 a.m. in Moscow.

Putin, whose nation pipes about 15 percent of the EU’s natural gas needs through Ukraine, said last week that supplies to Europe would be reduced if the Ukrainian government siphoned off fuel for its own use.

Ukraine has said it won’t take any gas bound for Europe and that it’s a reliable transit country.

Ukraine will have gas for the winter after agreeing to pay $385 per thousand cubic meters of fuel from Russia until March 31, President Poroshenko said.

The government may use loans from the International Monetary Fund or other financial organizations to pay for the purchases, he said.

“I can say that Ukraine will have gas, Ukraine will have heating,” Poroshenko said in televised remarks Oct. 18.

The EU has been seeking to broker an interim deal between Putin and Poroshenko to avoid a repeat of supply cuts in 2006 and 2009.

The next round of talks is scheduled to take place tomorrow.

Source: Bloomberg

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ground Zero In The Battle For Ukraine: Donetsk Airport

DONETSK, Ukraine -- The airport here in this battle-scarred region of eastern Ukraine seems oblivious to the cease-fire brokered six weeks ago.


Pro-Russian rebel commander Cmdr. Mikhael "Givi" Sergeyevich Tolstikh smokes while coordinating rebels from inside an apartment building.

The battles between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces rage on at a place that has taken on greater significance in Ukraine with each passing day.

It's strategically important, to be sure, but interviews with the rebels and Ukrainian forces waging this war make it clear that Donetsk is about much more.

Cmdr. Mikhael "Givi" Sergeyevich Tolstikh, a rebel commander leading the fight around the Donetsk airport, says his forces will "hold the line" against Ukrainian forces whom he claimed were preparing an assault to retake the facility.

"My main aim is to hold the defense of the airport, not to attack, just hold the line," Tolstikh said in an interview with USA TODAY on Friday at the pockmarked apartment building his forces are using as a command post.

It's about a mile from the airport's main terminal.

The building sits in a residential neighborhood known as Kievski, surrounded by single-family homes and a playground now strewn with shards of glass, rubble, spent artillery shell casings and boxes of ammunition.

Pro-Russian rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces here since May 26, when Ukrainian commandos retook control of the airport with support from fighter jets and helicopter gunships.

Those forces have since gained legendary status in the rest of Ukraine, where they're known as "Cyborgs."

The moniker comes from an intercepted rebel radio transmission in which a fighter spoke of their perseverance despite repeated attacks. 

The rebel leadership signed a cease-fire agreement with Ukraine on Sept. 5 in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, but the sound of shells landing near the rebel command post and the boom of outgoing artillery made clear that no cease-fire was being observed at this location.

Ukrainian officials extol their fighters at the airport as besieged heroes preventing a staging point for future attacks that would threaten the rest of the country.

Tolstikh says the airport has gained symbolic importance to Ukraine because fighting there has lasted so long.

The rebels have retaken the airport, he said, but Ukrainian forces continue to fire howitzer cannons, mortars and tanks from constantly changing positions in a thicket nearby.

He also said Ukraine has been positioning hundreds of troops in surrounding cities — 857 to Peskil and 460 to Avdeevka — in preparation for an assault to retake the facility.

AN AIRPORT OF STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE 

The Ukrainian government says its forces continue to hold the airport, or part of it.

Tostikh's claims about a pending government assault could not be verified.

Despite Ukrainian reports of multiple rebel attempts to take the airport, Tostikh said that since the cease-fire deal, his forces have only responded to government shelling in kind.

"We're defending this place not because of the importance of the airport but because people here want to live in peace, without shelling," he said.

Olexander Motsyk, Ukraine's ambassador to Washington, said the airport is of strategic importance to the rebels, whom he said would bring combat aircraft to Donetsk if they could.

"They (rebels) hope Russia will give them aircraft so they can have an air force there," Motsyk said.

"We observe the cease-fire and do not shell positions of rebel forces except when they fire on our positions."

Yuriy Lutsenko, the president of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's parliamentary bloc, said rebels could use the airport and the railway hub in nearby Debaltseve "to secure complete control of the region," according to a report by Kiev media outlet Ukraine Today.

Debaltseve is a railway hub connecting the rebel strongholds of Luhansk and Donetsk, and the airport could serve as a base for future offensive operations and an air bridge to Russia, Lutsenko said.

Asked about a potential rebel air force and future plans, Tolstikh laughed.

"Russian planes and aircraft can land here and they will, for sure," he said.

Right now, the control tower is in ruins and there's no ground support, but the railroad has already started bringing non-military goods to Donetsk, he said.

So "the worries of the Ukrainian government are right," he said.

"Our task for now is to fight back for territory that used to be under our control."

Despite the shelling, which can be heard as distant booms most afternoons in downtown Donetsk, and the destruction all around them, Tolstikh and his men appeared in good morale as they smoked cigarettes and joked.

"Everything is under control, so we're not worried," he said.

As he spoke, a small blue van traveled from the outpost to the airport with food and supplies for rebel troops there.

Outside, a group of rebels sat around a small campfire heating pots of water for tea.

Many wore ballistic vests and most carried assault rifles.

Two burned trucks sat near the command post building.

Nearly every house was damaged by shrapnel or bullets, and power lines, tree limbs and shards of glass lay strewn about on every road and yard in sight.

Stacks of ammunition cases, food and other supplies made it seem as if the fighters are prepared for a prolonged stay.

A commander called "Serge," wearing a helmet and an armored vest loaded with multiple rifle magazines, exchanged hugs with some comrades and told them of "really heavy" shelling at the airport Thursday.

One shell went through three thick walls and killed a rebel soldier, he said.

'WHO ARE YOU PROTECTING?' 

Nadezda Panasyk, 75, the only civilian seen who was not a member of the press, was not happy with the fighters' presence.

She'd been living in the building they now use as a command post since the airport fighting began because, she said, she had no relatives and no place to go.

Panasyk prayed quietly as sporadic shelling started hitting the neighborhood.

In one hand she carried cut flowers and in the other a bag of apples from her neighbors' trees, which she'd been using for sustenance.

She walked past a group of fighters, sat near a swing set, and cried. 

"All the houses are almost destroyed, what for?" she said.

Panasyk said her father fought in three wars and died in World War II.

To the fighters around her, she said:

"You're also destroying. You're also killing. Who are you protecting?" 

One replied: "We're protecting our Motherland."

Sergey "Knas" Knazhyev, a gray-haired fighter with a Kalashnikov rifle and a friendly smile, said he joined the fight after his home in Maryanka was destroyed by Ukrainian artillery fire.

Knazhyev said he joined the fight not for money, but for an idea: "to have peace here without shelling."

When asked why the rebel forces don't lay down their arms and accept amnesty and Ukrainian rule, according to the terms of the cease-fire, his smile became a menacing glare.

"It's not right when the Ukrainian government tells people where to live and where not," he said.

"I don't go to Kiev and tell them where to live." 

Then he walked off.

Source: USA Today

Opinion: Ukraine-Russia Diplomacy Is At An Impasse

MILAN, Italy -- Talks in the Ukraine crisis have deadlocked. Russia is refusing to be swayed by the persistent negotiations, and it is difficult to see a way out of the conflict, says DW’s Bernd Riegert.


We all know that talking is better than fighting.

The fact that the difficult talks between Ukraine and Russia, in the presence of European leaders, are even still going on is an achievement in itself.

The crisis negotiations on the sidelines of the ASEM summit have not resulted in a breakthrough, or any serious progress.

Both sides are refusing to budge from their positions in the Ukraine conflict.

Ukraine and the EU feel threatened by an aggressive Russia.

The Russian president feels he's being blackmailed by the EU's sanctions.

The other side is always to blame.

And there's no sign of any willingness to compromise.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is feeling strong.

His behavior has clearly demonstrated this to the others at the table in Milan.

He arrived late for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he partied at night with his friend Silvio Berlusconi, and was careful to look indifferent in front of the cameras.

Putin again threatened to restrict gas supplies to Europe.

The EU responded by saying it doesn't need Russia's gas.

Putin is not likely to back away from a showdown.

Then the Europeans would have to prove how long they can stomach rising gas prices.

In Milan, Ukraine and Russia once again committed to the peace plan from Minsk, which calls for a permanent truce in eastern Ukraine.

But, especially coming from Putin, the words rang hollow, as the Kremlin has not exactly been acting quickly to implement the plan.

So far, there has merely been an announcement that Russia would withdraw its troops from the border to Ukraine, but no actual movement.

That's why there cannot be any loosening of European sanctions against Russia.

There were small steps of progress in Milan on certain points, but they do not constitute any significant improvement.

Russia at least appears ready to agree to an OSCE mission to monitor the borders of two regions in eastern Ukraine with drones.

But the details remain more than unclear.

Unfortunately, it looks as though Russia and Ukraine are heading for a second "frozen conflict."

The instability in eastern Ukraine, which is ruled by pro-Russian forces, could become a permanent situation.

People in Crimea have gotten used to the annexation and occupation, and it's not something that can so quickly be changed.

There's a system behind it.

Russia has deliberately plunged all those states in its sphere of influence that lean toward the West or aim to join NATO into "unsolvable" conflicts.

Transnistria in Moldova.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia.

And now Crimea and eastern parts of Ukraine.

This rules out NATO membership for these states, because new members cannot be embroiled in territorial conflicts with neighboring countries.

There is no way out of this situation at the moment.

Since there is no military option, the EU only has economic sanctions at its disposal.

Russia, however, controls the flow of oil and gas.

Painful decisions likely await the Europeans.

But a positive result of the Ukraine meeting at ASEM in Milan is the nod to further talks and negotiations.

The actual summit - a meeting of Asian and European leaders - was overshadowed.

European media and politicians focused almost exclusively on the urgent Ukraine conflict.

Many Asian representatives didn't understand this.

An opportunity for dialogue with them was missed, or at least largely neglected, here.

Source: Deutsche Welle

Ukraine Says It Agrees On Interim Gas Price With Russia

MILAN, Italy -- Ukraine's and Russia's leaders have reached a preliminary agreement on a price for gas supplies this winter but Kiev may need international help to pay, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Saturday.


Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko as he arrives for a meeting on the sidelines of a Europe-Asia summit (ASEM) in Milan October 17, 2014.

Poroshenko met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Milan on Friday to discuss the conflict in Ukraine's eastern regions, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting Kiev government forces.

Russia cut off gas supply to Ukraine in mid-June following more than two years of dispute on the price.

Russia said Ukraine had to pay off large debts for previously-supplied gas before it would resume supply.

"(We) reached an agreement," Poroshenko said in an interview with Ukrainian TV channels.

"Until March 31 we will fix the price at $385."

An agreement signed in 2009 by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called on Ukraine to pay $485 per 1,000 cubic meters for Russian gas.

Kiev is contesting the contract in a Stockholm arbitration court. 

Poroshenko said that state-run energy company Naftogaz was short of funds to pay for Russian gas partly because of debts created by consumers in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

"We must solve the question of how we cover the deficit of funds for Naftogaz for gas purchases," Poroshenko said.

"We have several different options (including) the International Monetary Fund."

He said a mission of the IMF is due to arrive in Kiev in mid-November to discuss amendments to the current loan program for Ukraine.

Poroshenko said the next round of gas talks was likely to take place on Oct. 21 in Brussels.

Source: Google News