MOSCOW – The Moscow City Court on February 25 rejected hunger-striking Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko’s challenge against an extension of her pre-trial detention period, upholding a ruling that she should remain in custody until May 13. Lt. Savchenko was captured by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in June 2014 and taken to Russia in July. Russia has charged her with involvement in a mortar attack that killed two Russian journalists in the conflict between government forces and Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine. In January, she was additionally charged with illegal border crossing. Lt. Savchenko denies the charges, saying that she was kidnapped on Ukrainian territory and illegally transferred to Russia; she has been on a hunger strike to protest her illegal imprisonment since December 13, 2014.
KYIV – Commemorations were held in Kyiv on February 20 to honor the victims of deadly clashes between protesters of the Euro-Maidan movement and the security forces of the Yanukovych administration one year ago. The violence killed more than 100 people, including 17 security officers, between February 18 and 21, 2014. The revolt led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, who ultimately fled to Russia. His elected successor, President Petro Poroshenko, designated February 20, the day most of the victims lost their lives, as an official day of remembrance. Church bells rang across the country and a minute of silence was held.
Senator speaks in Chicago at Ukraine solidarity rally WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on February 24 urged Secretary of State John Kerry to send increased military aid to Ukraine at a State and Foreign Operations Appropriations hearing on the Fiscal Year 2016 Department of State budget. Sen. Durbin argued that increasing military aid is necessary for Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression and protect territorial sovereignty. During his remarks, he spoke of attending a rally in Chicago over the weekend to demonstrate solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine. “One can’t be effective in your job without a sense of history,” Sen. Durbin said to Secretary Kerry. “It was Sunday in Chicago and I attended a rally outside the Catholic church in the Ukrainian village.
The following press statement, titled “One Year Anniversary of the Maidan Protests in Ukraine,” by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was released on February 21. For three months ending last year, Ukrainians braved long nights, bitter cold and violent crackdowns by a government that refused to hear its own people. Snipers shot at them from rooftops, cutting down more than 100 people – protesters and police alike. We will never forget those who lost their lives and raised their voices for freedom and dignity. Ukrainians celebrate this weekend the first anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity, when the Euro-Maidan protesters stood up against injustice and sparked the birth of a new Ukraine.
It is entirely correct to say that the Minsk 2 agreement, reached on February 12 after painstakingly long talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany, was broken inside the first week of implementation. Yet, as the battle for Debaltseve drew to its predictable end, the opposing parties may find it opportune to take a break from the trenches (RBC.ru, February 18). Ukraine has suffered another humiliating defeat, and President Petro Poroshenko needs time to deal with its consequences, though he would perhaps do better by not denying the scale of this tactical disaster (Kommersant, February 21). The rebels also need a few weeks to replenish supplies, and they depend entirely upon the arrival of new echelons of heavy arms and truckloads of “volunteers” from Russia (Kommersant, February 19). Most importantly, President Vladimir Putin needs to prove that his signature on the peace-of-sorts document is worth something and that he is in control of the oscillating crisis.
The ceasefire agreement signed in Minsk last week (February 12) did not stop the fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine (the Donbas encompasses the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces). The Moscow-backed Donbas rebels concentrated their efforts on an offensive northeast of Donetsk in the so-called Debaltseve bulge – an important rail and road junction semi-surrounded by the rebels since last September. The rebels claimed they had the Ukrainian forces fully surrounded in Debaltseve, and this area was not covered by the Minsk 2 ceasefire agreement. The rebels demanded that thousands of Ukrainian military personnel in Debaltseve must surrender or be slaughtered. The separatist forces refused to allow observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) into Debaltseve in apparent violation of the Minsk 2 accords (Interfax, February 17).
“…Russia has engaged in an absolutely brazen and cynical process over these last days. There is no secret to any of us, not in this age of all kinds of visibility and technical means and satellites and the ability to watch what people are doing – we know to a certainty what Russia has been providing to the separatists, how Russia is involved with the separatists, and the ways in which Russia has cynically been willing to go to – even lead an effort at the UN, even simultaneously as it is continuing to do land grabbing in Ukraine. And what is happening with respect to Mariupol even now is just simply unacceptable. “So we are talking about additional sanctions, additional efforts. I’m confident that over the course of the next days, people are determined to make it clear we’re not going to play this game.
The capture of Debaltseve in Ukraine on February 18 (Interfax, February 18) by Russian and proxy troops, following prolonged bombardment by their heavy missile systems, is not simply a prima facie breach of the February 12 Minsk 2 armistice, which mandated a ceasefire as of midnight, February 15. This assault also breaches the September 2014 Minsk 1 agreements, which had left the Debaltseve area to the Ukrainian side of the demarcation line. Now, Russia’s proxies have seized the biggest railroad and highway junction in all Ukraine. They can henceforth impose their terms on the transportation of goods between this coal-mining and industrial basin and the rest of Ukraine. The Minsk 2 armistice (Kremlin.ru, Osce.org, February 12) purports to aim at implementing Minsk 1, which Russia had torn apart since then.
Training teams to help Ukraine’s armed forces LONDON – Prime Minister David Cameron announced on February 24 that the United Kingdom will provide further non-lethal support to Ukraine by sending advisory and short-term training teams to build the capacity and resilience of its armed forces. According to a news release posted by the Minister of Defense, as part of wider efforts to support Ukraine and ensure a robust international response to Russia’s aggression, the teams will provide medical, logistics, infantry and intelligence capacity building training from mid March. The U.K. service personnel will be based in Ukraine delivering support and training to their counterparts. The majority of this advisory and training support will take place in Ukraine, well away from the areas affected by the conflict in the East of the country, the release noted. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said:
“In light of continued Russian-backed aggression, the U.K. is committed to providing additional non-lethal support to Ukraine to help them deal with the pressures they are facing.
NEW YORK – Cooperation between the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations, the situation in and around Ukraine, and the OSCE role in dealing with the crisis were discussed during a February 24 meeting between OSCE chairperson-in-office, Serbia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ivica Dačić, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The meeting, also attended by OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier, was held on the eve of Mr. Dačić’s briefing to the U.N. Security Council on U.N.-OSCE cooperation. Secretary General Ban and Chairperson Dačić underlined the need for a peaceful solution to the crisis in Ukraine, emphasizing the opportunity created by the agreement reached in Minsk on February 12. They also stressed that the OSCE and U.N. presences in Ukraine should explore ways to strengthen cooperation, especially on humanitarian and human rights issues. Chairperson Dačić commended diplomatic efforts by the Trilateral Contact Group, adding that concrete steps for implementing the package of measures adopted on February 12 have been designed, but should only be implemented once a verifiable ceasefire has been established.