Those Alleged Three Russian Tanks

15 Jun

The media is abuzz with claims that Russia has sent three T-64 tanks over the border in Ukraine. Reports the Wall Street Journal:

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization provided satellite imagery Saturday that appeared to reinforce Ukrainian and U.S. claims that Russian tanks had crossed into Ukraine in recent days.

On Thursday, senior Ukrainian officials, including President Petro Poroshenko,accused Russia of allowing tanks and heavy artillery to cross into Ukraine in what could be a significant escalation of the conflict.

. . .

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Thursday that a “column” of armored vehicles had crossed from Russia through border-control points controlled by separatists near the village of Dyakove in eastern Ukraine. He said three tanks went to the town of Snizhne, about 25 miles from Dyakove, one vehicle stayed at the border and two headed toward Horlivka.

The newly released images, which come from open sources including commercial satellite contractor DigitalGlobe Inc  and from videos posted on YouTube, were provided by a NATO military official. Most of the images are grainy and it is difficult to independently verify the details provided by the official.

Did Russia really send three tanks? Mark Galeotti has a good post questioning the whole incident, but concludes with uncertainty. I’m with him on that. But to further cast doubt on the appearance of Russian tanks, here’s a news item from Svobodnaya pressa from June 10 that claims that separatists in Lugansk seized three T-64s from the Ukrainian military:

In Lugansk three T-64 tanks were seized from Ukrainian forces. One of them successfully crossed the border at the crossing “Dolzhansk” on the border with Russia . . . The permission to cross the border into the Lugansk People’s Republic was given by representatives of the local police, who surrendered to the separatists.”

Another report from June 9 states:

According to Russian and Ukrainian media, citing reports from representatives from the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, three T-64 Ukrainian tanks have fallen under their control.

It was reported that as a result of a drawn out battle in Lugansk, which lasted a day, Ukrainian forces were forced to retreat and abandon some heavy equipment and weapons, including three T-64 tanks.

Could these be the tanks everyone is talking about? Could be.

“This is Not My War” – A Voice From Slavyansk

10 Jun

self-defense squad member In Slavyansk

Translation and introduction by William Risch.

A friend of the Facebook group, Euromaidan News in English, sent this report from Sloviansk, Ukraine, the scene of fierce fighting between pro-Ukrainian and pro-separatist forces. As with this person’s previous report, posted in May, I have withheld the names of the author and translator.  I have changed transliterations of place names from Russian to Ukrainian. 

“This is Not My War”

We had to get out of Sloviansk. It’s too dangerous. We were spending the nights in the basement of our apartment building, it was too damp. It’s just terrible. War is war, what can I say? We fled the city to save our lives. As for our possessions—we left them behind and what will be will be. At least our family is together. When people flee Sloviansk, their apartments are occupied by the so-called separatists/“home guard,” and then probably the National Guard will come in, and…who knows what will happen. Now both sides—the separatists and the National Guard—are just grabbing men, giving them guns, and telling them, “Go, fight!” Who are they supposed to shoot—their own people? The home guard (separatists) are our people, and the National Guardsmen are our people. It’s a civil war, and it is awful.

The Ukrainian National Guard isn’t “storming” Sloviansk, they are bombing it—from airplanes, helicopters. They say they are targeting checkpoints and the like, but in actuality they are bombing the entire city. The terrorists take shelter, and the ones who suffer in the bombings are the elderly, women, and children. There have been a rash of premature births.

The Ukrainian National Guard is firing on the city with high caliber cannons, as well as from helicopters. A shell landed in a 9-story apartment building in the city last week. Four people died and many were injured, and every single window in the building was shattered. Lots of buildings in the city have been damaged like this from the bombings. For example, another 14-story residential building was damaged. Shells hit the 7th, 11th and 12th floors. A shell also fell on the roof of the central polyclinic, but didn’t explode. Shells landed in the pedagogical university and the dormitory, causing deaths and injuries. A janitor was killed and one student had her arm ripped off from shrapnel. Shells also landed in the children’s hospital but thank God no one was injured. It seems like they are just bombing indiscriminately.

Yesterday Krasnyi Liman was bombed. A guy I know had a shell land right in his living room, and his apartment was obliterated. In a residential apartment building. Krasnyi Liman has a really important railway station—the hospital at the railway station was bombed and a machinist was killed, a bunch of bystanders, the head doctor, and others. The National Guard tried to blame the separatists for it, but there have never been any separatist-terrorists in Krasnyi Liman—they are all in Sloviansk. I know a guy who works at the hospital—he said the Guard came into the hospital, searched for patients who had battle wounds, and shot them. Without any arrests, investigations, or anything. The National Guard did that. In Sviatohirsk there are cannons—those kind that can fire 15-20 kilometers—positioned on top of a hill pointing in the direction of Krasnyi Liman. They’ve been firing on Krasnyi Liman, and everybody there is living in basements, just like everyone in Sloviansk has been. Why did they do this to Krasnyi Liman? It’s a tourist town of 50,000 people where no terrorists have been stationed.

If they can do this to Krasnyi Liman, God only knows what they will do to Sloviansk. They aren’t storming the city. Battles are carried out on the outskirts of the city. Otherwise, it is bombing, bombing, bombing. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. The government announced that the “active phase” of anti-terrorist operations was starting, and then they just started bombing. They haven’t stormed the city yet. Maybe a peaceful solution will be found. But think about it—if the military enters the city, and captures it, a lot of innocent civilians are going to be killed in the process. Snipers have been killing civilians already. A little girl was shot. There are a lot of guys from Pravyi Sektor in the National Guard. They caught one sniper and asked him why he was shooting at children in the city. He answered, “You all only have five days left anyway.” People have decided they have nothing more to lose, so their attitude to the war is changing accordingly. Like the father of that little girl who was shot by a sniper—if earlier this wasn’t his war, now he has something to fight for. He won’t fight for the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR)—who is that? What is that? Dear DNR, what are your programs, what are your political views? These are just some armed guys who took power, there is no loyalty to them among the populace. And the other side is throwing bombs at us.

We are worried that they will impose the draft. It would be okay if the National Guard was reliable. But there are a lot of new recruits who joined up just recently after there was a big amnesty of 26,000 prison inmates—a bunch of those former inmates have joined the Guard. Including those who were imprisoned for hard crimes—they’ve been given guns and enlisted in the Guard. We are worried there will be more looting in the city—there’s already looting and it might get worse.

It is really a shame that our own military is doing this. Of course they don’t want to admit it, and they blame the separatists. The separatists say it is the National Guard, and the National Guard says it is the separatists. How do you know what’s true? But as for those bombings I described, I saw them with my own eyes, across the street. I could see who was bombing, and it was the National Guard. Sloviansk is surrounded by 15,000 national troops. Things have reached the boiling point. I see that both sides are lying. Both sides are lying about the number of casualties. The morgue in Sloviansk is overflowing. They are burying bodies in swamps, wrapping them up and throwing them in the lake—it’s awful.

Sloviansk is now without running water. The waterlines were damaged in the bombing. Where we are staying now, in a nearby town, the water was also cut off. We’re getting water from another house’s well. I guess we’ll bathe in the river, at least its summertime. And there is no food left in the stores. There’s been no bread for a long time, and now the stores are out of almost everything else. There are no shipments in, because the Donetsk Region has been completely cut off and isolated from the Kharkiv Region and all others.

Right now Sloviansk is totally closed—you can’t get in or out. Those who stayed there are stuck now. It is the same in nearby towns—you are stuck wherever you are now. People can’t get in or out of Donetsk, either. (By the way, the other day the burned bodies of two Arab university students were found in Donetsk—we don’t know who did that or why.) They say the Ukrainian borders are closed now, too—women and children can cross the border but men are turned back. Maybe it’s because they are getting ready to impose the draft, I don’t know. Who are we supposed to fight? Who? This is not my war. I’m for a united Ukraine. My children were born in Ukraine. Sure, I was born in the USSR, but my children were born here, in Ukraine. Everything I have is here, in Ukraine.

The kids are suffering, of course. There were no graduation ceremonies or parties this year, nothing like that. Final exams were suspended.

There are some programs helping evacuees, and helping people evacuate from Sloviansk—the International Renaissance Foundation, for example. A few weeks ago, when the first attempts to evacuate people were made, women and children boarded the busses to evacuate, and they were attacked by gunfire. People have become cannon fodder. It doesn’t benefit the home guard for people to evacuate. And the only ones who can evacuate are those who have money. The trains from Sloviansk aren’t running. Because of the war the prices have risen 1.5 times. The banks are working, but only informally—if you know somebody you can call them up and get service through the back door of the bank. We’ll see how long we can afford to rent this little house we are staying in now. People’s pensions and salaries have been frozen, and all social payments. We got our April paychecks but nothing after that. We’re just living on what we had put away.

I thought I would go back to the city—I wanted to relocate my family here and go back. But the checkpoints were under fire; the outer ring is controlled by the National Guard, and the inner ring is controlled by the “terrorists-separatists-home guard,” however you want to call them. The National Guard let me through fine, but the separatists started shooting warning shots in the air and turned me back. I’m a local! It is really too dangerous to travel anywhere.

It’s hard to get to sleep at night, not knowing what the next day holds in store. I never could have imagined these horrors could happen here.

 

 

Israelis in the Donetsk People’s Republic?

4 Jun

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“For weeks,” a recent New York Times article begins, “rumors have flown about the foreign fighters involved in the deepening conflict in Ukraine’s troubled east, each one stranger than the last: mercenaries from an American company, Blackwater; Russian special forces; and even Chechen soldiers of fortune.” You might be able to add Israelis to that list according to reports.

Korrespondent.net writes that the so-called Aliya battalion of Russian-Israelis has arrived in the Donetsk People’s Republic. “Today a group from Israel joined with our militia. It’s called the Alyia battalion which was formed in 2002 from immigrants to Israel from veterans from the Red Army and CIS countries,” says Donetsk’s deputy people’s governor Pavel Gubarev.  “They protect settlements in the occupied territories and promptly sent 20 highly trained fighters to Slavyansk with experience in the Soviet and Israeli armies, and in two weeks are ready to bring 200 soldiers to fight the Nazis.”

News that Aliya was going to Donetsk emerged in early May when Izvestia ran an interview with its commander, Roman Ratner. “I want to state outright that this is a private initiative. We have no relations with the Israeli government, and it doesn’t support us in any way. This is a personal affair for each fighter—as their concern for fascism. Members of our battalion are concerned about the events in Ukraine, especially after the tragedy in Odessa.”

According to Ratner, Aliya includes former paratroopers, special forces, snipers, canine handlers, medics and other specialists. They promise to serve as peacekeepers—in the name of the Donetsk Republic—to “force [both sides] to peace.” Or in the words of Avigdor Eskin, a right-wing Russian-Israeli, who has often spoken about the “fascist junta” in Kyiv in Russian and Israeli media and initiated the plan to send Aliya to Ukraine, “The battalion will be present so the Banderovtsy can’t burn people alive.”

Donetsk Republic Executes Its Own

27 May

While the battle between Kyiv and separatists intensifies, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) is helping stack the bodies via revolutionary justice.

The DNR may be adopting Russian laws, but one practice it’s exercising not found in the Russia codex is the death penalty. Several Russian news outlets reported that an order given by Igor Stelkov, the commander of the DNR’s militias, sentenced two men to death by shooting for “marauding, armed robbery, abduction, abandoning their military position, and hiding their crimes.” The two weren’t just regular grunts but commanders: Dmitri Slavlov, the commander of the Bulgar company, and Nikolai Lukyanov, the commander of Luka company.

Life News published a copy of Stelkov’s order.

decree

Alexandr Mozhaev, a commander of a checkpoint neighboring Kramatorsk, told Kommersant that the men “broke into houses, robbed the families, and abused people. . . Such instances aren’t unique, but before someone just stopped a car, took the passengers jewelry and stole their money. Now, a decision was made to take harsh measures against these people so as to teach others a lesson.”

More evidence that things are spiraling out of control in eastern Ukraine.

Acts like this have to scare Putin. This is perhaps why Moscow is backing off its support for the DNR and has mostly been mute on the continued violence against separatists. All we get are repeated empty statements calling for an end to Kyiv’s “anti-terrorist” operation. Perhaps Moscow is now realizing that the separatists have gone off the reservation and are taking their revolution too seriously.

This is what Aleksandr Baunov argues in a recent article in Slon. With Poroshenko’s election, Kyiv is no longer a revolutionary threat. He’s calling for order and for the Maidan to be dismantled. This makes the president elect someone Moscow can work with. But the Donetsk People’s Republic? It might be becoming a liability. Baunov writes:

“The main danger for Putin now is the Donbass because it remains revolutionary. And therefore Putin will not increasingly meddle in it and will back off and stand aside. Although traffic in Kyiv still winds between the leftovers of barricades, the Maidan is not there, but in Lugansk and Donetsk, and that means you have to be on guard.”

. . .

“And Putin will become estranged from the Donetsk Republic. In all of his appearances at the Petersburg Forum there wasn’t a word about fascists, Banderovtsy or junta. There wasn’t even anything about Novorossiia or a unified Russian people. In the news, the Balkan floods, the train accident, the Nigerian abductions, and European and Ukrainian elections have all the more attenuated the topic of the junta and Right Sector. Even the chief ideologist [Dmitry Kiselev] has calmed down.”

I wonder if we can expect Putin to speed up his extrication from eastern Ukraine now that the DNR is decreeing revolutionary justice.

Ukraine’s Presidential Election Won’t Mend Fences

26 May

Ukrainians have elected Petro Poroshenko as their next president with 56% of the vote according to exit polls. The West quickly recognized his victory, but Moscow remains cautious. Today Russian Duma members were hesitant to recognize the vote opting to wait for the official results. Nevertheless, Russian Foreign Minister told reporters that Moscow is “open to dialogue” with the Poroshenko but reiterated that military action against separatists in the east must cease.

Which way Ukraine? It’s hard to say. Poroshenko promises to step up the “anti-terrorist operation” and vows to have results “in hours.” “I am not going to hold any dialogues with the criminals. You don’t talk to terrorists,” he said during a victory press conference. “The anti-terrorist operation will not and cannot last for months, it will last just for hours.”

This, of course, is wishful thinking. If anyone thinks the deep divisions that split Ukraine will be solved with Poroshenko’s election or with the violent crushing of separatism is naive. According to a survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, released just before the presidential election, Ukraine remains deeply divided. The polls results paint a picture of a Ukrainian east that is drifting father and father away from the rest of the country.

The survey predicted support for Poroshenko and voter turnout waning as you moved east.

Pre-election forecast of support for Petr Poroshenko

Pre-election forecast of support for Petr Poroshenko

 

Turnout forecast for presidential election

Turnout forecast for presidential election

 

KIIS prediction was quite close. Here’s the results of voter turnout:

 

Turnout for Ukrainian presidential election.

Turnout for Ukrainian presidential election.

 

On this issue of joining the EU or the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, a slim majority (52.3%) favors joining the EU.

 

EU

On the status of the Russian language, the majority (65.5%) favors Ukrainian as the official language with Russian allowed as a kitchen language or given some official status in certain regions. However, the people in the east (74.4%) strongly support Russia having official status on par with Ukrainian.

 

language

On the question of Ukraine being an unitary or a federal state, the vast majority of those polled (73.4%) favor a unitary state. It’s only in the east were a sizable number (43.8%) want a federal state.

 

State

Finally, perception of the situation in the east is divided between east and west. About 42.9% think that the separatists are merely Russian tools, while 22.9% are clearly swayed by Ukrainian state propaganda and think they are terrorists. The belief that Russia is behind it all is highest in the west (69.8%) and northwest (67.7%) In the east, a majority (55.8%) and 37% in Kharkiv view the seizing of government buildings and police stations as a “popular uprising.”

 

EUkraine

Given these numbers, it’s clear that regardless of the Poroshenko’s victory, it will be hard to mend the divisions in Ukraine. There’s a lot of fences to mend.