UD. 29 October 2016.  

By Iryna Terlecky.

Yet more talk of a roadmap to peace, while shooting continues.

“Just stop shooting!”

Or at least that was what President Petro Poroshenko was said to have shouted at President Putin last week during a heated exchange during talks in Berlin. The Normandy Four meeting took place in Berlin on 19 October, with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande. 

There was controversy from the start since President Putin was accompanied by his special advisor, Vladislav Surkov, who is under EU sanctions and banned entry to the EU, but who was given a special dispensation to attend. 

In an interview on Ukrainian television President Poroshenko denied shouting at his Russian counterpart, “I never raise my voice during negotiations. But I did ask Putin to stop artillery fire from Russian troops.”

The Kremlin has backed up Poroshenko’s version of events, with Russian presidential spokesman Dimitry Peskov telling state-backed news agency RIA Novosti that Putin and Poroshenko had a “difficult” conversation, but that no voices were raised.

The meeting in Berlin was the latest round of negotiations between the four leaders, which again discussed ways to implement the stalled Minsk II peace agreements to bring about an end to fighting in Donbas. Following the latest round of talks, the sides agreed to draw up a roadmap for implementing the peace plan. The draft, Poroshenko has said, should be ready by the end of November.

President Poroshenko stated after the meeting that the fact of Russian aggression had been acknowledged by everyone and that Ukraine needs an OSCE police mission which would permanently monitor disengagement of forces and storage of heavy weapons as well as patrolling the border. He said that there could be no elections in Donetsk and Luhansk until control of the border is returned to Ukraine as envisaged by Minsk II. 

According to the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, it is important that the meeting took place, although it did not “produce miracles”. The parties agreed to work on the "road map" and the foreign ministers will discuss it in detail at a November meeting. Merkel specified that the purpose of the document is to give Ukraine access to its borders, but in an apparent reversal of the previous position, said that this may become possible only after elections have been held.

A statement from Russia said that all participants in the meeting confirmed that the Minsk agreements should be the basis of the settlement in Donetsk and Luhansk. President Putin is also reported to have confirmed readiness to extend the OSCE mission in the area. 

Fulfilling obligations

The Normandy format meeting was followed up this week with a further meeting of the trilateral contact group, which includes Ukraine, Russia (which includes separatist representatives in its delegation) and is chaired by representatives of the OSCE.

The Ukrainian representatives appeared to use this meeting to reiterate that the Minsk agreements must be implemented in their entirety – primarily to underline still further that Ukraine would not be prepared to countenance elections in Donbas and Luhansk together with further devolution of powers until there is clear evidence of movement by Russia and its proxies on key issues, including border control.  

No end to violence

The situation in the combat zone in eastern Ukraine shows no signs of improvement with Russian-backed separatists continuing to violate the ceasefire and using large-caliber weapons banned under the Minsk agreements. The area of greatest tension has moved to the area around Mariupol, where separatists fired over 260 times on the positions of Ukrainian troops over the last week, using a range of heavy artillery and mortars. One Ukrainian serviceman was killed in action and 20 more were wounded.  

Separatists fired from Grad multiple launch rocket systems and large-caliber machine guns in the Luhansk region while tanks, grenade launchers and machine guns were also used in attacks in the Donetsk area.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak said that the situation on the ground does not provide the necessary preconditions for disengagement of troops stipulated by the Minsk agreements and will not do so until Russia is ready to fulfill its obligations on disengagement.

Alexander Hug, Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, confirmed intense militant attacks in the Mariupol sector: “Mission monitors recorded a nine times increase in the number of ceasefire violations in areas east and northeast of Mariupol. According to Alexander Hug, the SMM heard over 500 explosions in that area. On the same day, our monitors in the “DPR”-controlled village of Zayichenko heard numerous explosions and fire from various weapons, including multiple rocket launchers,” reported Mr. Hug.

Who killed Motorola?

Separaatists in eastern Ukraine are no nearer finding out who assassinated one of their commanders, Russian-born Arsen Pavlov, nicknamed "Motorola", who was killed by a bomb blast in the lift of his apartment block in the city of Donetsk two weeks ago. 

Hours after Pavlov's death was reported, an unverified video showing four masked, armed men taking credit for the killing was shared online by Russian media and separatist supporters. Standing in front of a Ukrainian flag as well as one representing a neo-Nazi group with roots in Ukraine and Russia, one man vows to come after Zakharchenko and Luhansk separatist leader Ihor Plotnitsky next, before the four men make a Nazi salute. The authenticity of the video could not be confirmed, and Russian media have used faked footage in the past during the conflict.

Pavlov is one of several separatist military leaders to have been killed in apparent assassinations. Several in Luhansk  have been killed or found dead under mysterious circumstances. Others in Donetsk, including Zakharchenko, have been the target of assassination attempts. While the separatists have blamed Kyiv in all cases, many analysts believe Moscow could be behind such killings.

"Moscow may want to give the [separatist groups] more acceptable civilian faces not directly implicated in MH17 or war crimes," Alex Kokcharov, a Ukraine and Russia risk analyst at the London-based defense and security consultancy IHS Markit, told RFE/RL.

Pavlov was born in Russia, previously served in the Russian military in Chechnya, and rose to prominence in the DNR militia during key battles in eastern Ukraine. I Pavlov also led the Sparta battalion in the protracted battle for Donetsk airport, which left a once-gleaming new terminal completely destroyed, and boasted about having killed 15 Ukrainian combatants captured by his men there. Amnesty International has accused Pavlov of war crimes and the European Union imposed sanctions on him for his alleged actions in Ukraine.

Artem Shevchenko, director of communications for Ukraine's Interior Ministry, said Pavlov got what he deserved.

"It is a sad but fair end of such bastards on our Ukrainian land," Shevchenko wrote in a post on Facebook – a remark which seemed to resonate with many Ukrainians.

And no progress on human rights

Ukraine is still trying to negotiate the exchange of Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko who were sentenced to long prison terms in Russia on fabricated charges of terrorism and subjected to torture. Although three Ukrainians (Nadiya Savchenko, Yuriy Afanasyev and Gennadiy Soloshenko) have been pardoned by the President Putin this year and returned home with reciprocal pardons and return of Russians held in Ukraine, Russia continues to refuse to release Sentsov and Kolchenko, allegedly because of their status as citizens of the Russian Federation – a status automatically bestowed on all Ukrainians in Crimea after the illegal annexation.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Supreme Court today dismissed an appeal on behalf of Stanyslav Klykh and Mykola Karpiuk, who were sentenced to 20 and 22 years of prison for allegedly fighting against Russian forces in the First Chechen War in the 1990s. Both deny the charges.

While the verdict to uphold the sentences may have come as no surprise, the biggest shock of the day was Nadiya Savchenko’s appearance at the court hearing, after entering Russia on a flight via Minsk. Many were astonished that Savchenko risked going back to Russia after her release from prison on a pardon of President Putin. She says she did it to support the Ukrainian prisoners.

“Even if I don’t return from Russia alive, I have to go there and support our fellow Ukrainians at the trial,” Savchenko said in a video address uploaded to her social media pages.

While many on social media have expressed both dismay and disbelief that Savchenko would willingly go to Russia, her sister Vira said that she is simply being “humane and brave” and went to the hearing to attract the world’s attention to the prosecution of Ukrainians by Russian authorities.

Whatever the motive, this will no doubt add to the questions that many already have about Savchenko’s motivations and the role that she intends to play in Ukrainian society and politics.


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