January 29, 2015



Rada labels Russia as “aggressor state”

KYIV – Ukraine’s Parliament on January 27 adopted a statement branding Russia an “aggressor state,” a move that deputies hope will pave the way for punishment under international law. The Verkhovna Rada also voted that day to define separatist self-styled “people’s republics” in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as “terrorist organizations,” and to appeal to the international community for additional nonlethal military aid and stronger sanctions against Russia. Russian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Grigory Karasin called the Ukrainian statement “thoughtless and irresponsible,” and said it was aimed at blocking efforts to end the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian rebels that has killed more than 5,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. (RFE/RL)

Poroshenko to Putin: Free Savchenko 

OSWIECIM, Poland – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called on his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to release the jailed Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko. Mr. Poroshenko told Polish media on January 27 that he had sent a letter to Mr. Putin with the appeal. (Mr. Poroshenko and his wife, Dr. Maryna Poroshenko, were taking part in commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Traveling with the president and the first lady to the ceremony were a former prisoner of the concentration camp, Anastasia Huley, 90, and a participant of the battle for the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mykola Karpenko, also 90.) Lt. Savchenko was captured by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine last June and taken to Russia, where she is imprisoned, awaiting trial on charges of complicity in the killing of two Russian journalists during the conflict in eastern Ukraine – charges she denies. To protest her detention, Lt. Savchenko has gone on a hunger strike, now in its second month. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Reuters)

Russian deputy on Savchenko case

STRASBOURG, France – A senior Russian lawmaker says immunity granted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is no grounds for the release of Lt. Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot who is in the seventh week of a hunger strike in a Russian jail. Aleksei Pushkov told journalists on January 26 that PACE’s demands for the release of Lt. Savchenko “have no legal grounds” because she is accused of a crime committed before she was elected to Ukraine’s Parliament. He spoke after PACE granted Lt. Savchenko immunity and PACE members said that status obligates Russia to release her immediately. Lt. Savchenko won a seat in the Verkhovna Rada in October 2014 and was named as a member of its PACE delegation. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

EU mulling “terrorist” designation 

BRUSSELS – According to January 28 news reports, European Union officials are considering designating pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine “terrorists” as they prepare potential fresh sanctions against Moscow over its role in the Ukraine crisis, diplomatic sources in Brussels say. The addition of Ukraine’s self-styled breakaway “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk to the EU’s list of designated terrorist organizations is “under serious consideration,” according to two EU diplomats. While the move is mainly symbolic, it would subject the rebel group to asset freezes and prohibit them from accessing financial services – such as bank accounts – in the bloc’s member states. The asset freezes have in a sense already occurred, however, since the self-proclaimed leaders of the two separatist regions are already on the EU’s asset freeze/visa ban list. The two rebel groups, which Western governments say are supported by Russia, could be slapped with the designation as part of a new round of sanctions targeting Moscow and that are likely to be adopted by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels next month. But securing consensus among the EU’s 28 member states on a new round of broad economic sanctions will be difficult given a new Russia-friendly government in Greece and other EU countries wary of imposing harsher measures on Moscow, diplomatic sources in Brussels say. (Rikard Jozwiak and Carl Schreck of RFE/RL, with reporting by RFE/RL’s Luke Johnson in Washington, as well as the Associated Press)

U.N. condemns Donetsk bus attack 

UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations Security Council on January 23 condemned “in the strongest terms” a deadly attack in Donetsk, a rebel-controlled city in eastern Ukraine. Thirteen people were killed and some 20 wounded in the shelling of a bus stop on January 22. Witnesses said the bus blast was caused by a mortar or artillery shell. Kyiv and the pro-Russian separatists blamed each other for the attack. The Security Council called for an independent probe and for those found responsible to be brought to justice. In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the incident was being investigated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Jen Psaki also said it showed the need to implement an agreement on establishing security zones between pro-Russian fighters and Kyiv’s forces reached in talks involving Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany in Berlin on January 21. Ms. Psaki said Ukraine had the right to defend its own territory and that Russia and Russian-backed separatists were responsible for the vast majority of violations. (RFE/RL, with reporting by the Associated Press and Reuters)

Day of mourning for Mariupol victims 

KYIV – Ukraine held a day of national mourning on January 25, following a series of rocket attacks in the southeastern city of Mariupol that killed 30 people and injured more than 90 others. Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko condemned the attack as “a crime against humanity,” but he said Ukraine stands by a September 2014 peace deal signed in Minsk. National flags were flown at half-mast and a minute of silence was observed at midday local time in memory of the victims. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said the city had been targeted on January 24 with three separate strikes by Grad rockets fired from separatist-held areas. The rockets hit a market and a residential district. The rebels claimed Ukrainian forces were behind the attacks. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that the rockets came from rebel-held areas. (RFE/RL)

Russia blocks U.N. statement on Mariupol 

UNITED NATIONS – Russia has blocked a United Nations Security Council statement that would have criticized a pro-Russian Ukrainian separatist leader and condemned a recent increase in violence in eastern Ukraine. The office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on January 24 strongly condemning a rocket attack on the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol earlier that day that left at least 30 people dead and nearly 100 wounded. Mr. Ban’s statement also denounced the January 23 “unilateral withdrawal from the ceasefire by rebel leadership, and particularly their provocative statements about claiming further territory.” Britain proposed a Security Council statement that echoed Mr. Ban’s condemnation and called for an investigation into the attacks on Mariupol but Russia rejected it. The statement specifically named Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine. Since January 23, Mr. Zakharchenko has announced his group would no longer negotiate a truce, was instead launching an offensive and later praised the attack on Mariupol as the “best possible monument to all our dead.” (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

MFA on the attack on Mariupol

KYIV – The following statement about the attack on Mariupol was released by Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on January 24. “On January 24, Russian-backed terrorists committed another heinous crime against humanity. … Ukraine mourns the completely innocent civilian victims and expresses the whole country’s sincere condolences to their families and relatives. …This crime will be thoroughly and objectively investigated. Those guilty will be brought to justice.” The MFA also noted: “The shelling took place after statements by one of the terrorist leaders about imminent attacks on Ukrainian cities, as well as a significant intensification of inflows of Russian armed forces and weapons into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Russia, which continues to materially support terrorist activities and whose troops are directly involved in hostilities against Ukraine, is solely responsible for the murders of innocent civilians in Volnovakha, Debaltseve, Donetsk, Mariupol and many other towns and villages in Ukraine in recent weeks. We seek international support that Russia will finally be compelled to keep its promises, rein in its proxies and stop sending troops and weaponry into Ukraine. …We call on the international community to condemn this and other crimes committed by terrorists.” (Ukraine Crisis Media Center)

Poroshenko comments on Mariupol attack

KYIV – President Petro Poroshenko spoke on January 24 about the attack on Mariupol. “The bloody murder of dozens of civilians and wounding of nearly 100 people by pro-Russian terrorists in Mariupol is not a terrorist attack. It is a crime against humanity that should be submitted to the Hague Tribunal. Having opened fire on the residential areas of Mariupol, militants continued a series of terrorist attacks, among which are the shelling of the civilian bus near Volnovakha, the murder of people at a bus stop and in a trolleybus in Donetsk, the shelling of residential areas of many cities and villages.” He went on to say, “The international coalition must strictly respond to the crimes of terrorists, increase all forms of pressure on those who sponsor and support them. This is what I was talking about in Riyadh and in the course of today’s phone conversations with the world leaders. Now, I am urgently coming back to Ukraine to hold an NSDC [National Security and Defense Council] meeting and coordinate actions in response to this terrible crime. Civilized countries must further unite efforts and stop the spread of terrorist threat. The so-called DPR and LPR must be recognized as terrorist organizations.” (Ukraine Crisis Media Center)

Evidence of Russian involvement is cited

KYIV – Ukraine has undeniable evidence of Russia’s support of terrorists in the Donbas and its involvement in yesterday’s events in Mariupol, President Petro Poroshenko said at a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council. “Interception of radio and phone conversations by the Security Service of Ukraine irrefutably indicates that the given attack was organized by terrorists supported by Russia,” he said. He added that more evidence is seen in Russia’s blocking of the U.N. Security Council’s statement and its silence on assessments of the terrorists’ actions in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Specialists of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe examined the site of the tragedy in Mariupol and found that Grad and Uragan missiles were launched from territory occupied by the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic,” Col. Andriy Lysenko said during a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center on January 25. The next day, it was reported that Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin; the deputy head of the Presidential Administration, Valeriy Chaly; and the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, conducted a meeting with foreign ambassadors accredited in Ukraine. During a special briefing, the SBU shared the results of its special investigation with the ambassadors, showing photo and video evidence which confirms that Russian-supported terrorists attacked the peaceful population of Mariupol. (Ukraine Crisis Media Center)

Gazprom: Ukraine to pay full price

MOSCOW – The chief of Russian gas giant Gazprom says Ukraine’s discount “winter price” for natural gas will end on April 1. Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller said in a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on January 20 that the gas price on April 1 for Kyiv would be set in accordance with a longstanding contract. He did not specify a price, but Gazprom previously charged Ukraine $485 per 1,000 cubic meters under a 2009 contract that Kyiv long sought to change. Russia lowered the price from that level late in 2013 as part of a reward to Kyiv for scrapping a landmark pact with the European Union, then raised again after he ouster of Viktor Yanukovych as president last February. On October 30, 2014, Russia and Ukraine agreed to a an EU-brokered deal under which Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Kyiv would pay Gazprom $378 per 1,000 cubic meters until the end of 2014 and $365 per 1,000 cubic meters in the first quarter of 2015. Mr. Miller also said that Ukraine’s debt to Russia for previous gas shipments is $2.44 billion. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Interfax and Bloomberg)

Russia cites EU’s ‘unfriendly course’

MOSCOW – Russia says a European Union decision to keep sanctions against Russia in place shows the EU is not ready to change an “unfriendly course” toward Moscow. The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry made the comment on January 20, a day after the EU said sanctions against Russia could only be eased if there were improvements on the ground in eastern Ukraine, where government forces are fighting rebels Kyiv and NATO say have direct military support from Moscow. The EU’s decision “only confirms the fact that the EU is still not ready to alter its unfriendly course or to give an objective assessment of the Kyiv authorities’ actions,” the ministry said in a statement. EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said after EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on January 19 the situation in eastern Ukraine was “much worse than last week.” She ruled out relaxing sanctions against Russia before Moscow implements measures agreed in a ceasefire deal signed in Minsk on September 5. (RFE/RL)