Friday 25 April 2014

Ukraine update: VICE journalist held (and freed)

Basically, it's all eyes on the Ukraine as it heads for civil war. There's nothing else that's more important - part of humanity's rush for the Abyss.

Civil war looms as fighting rages in eastern Ukraine LIVE UPDATES

Ukrainian security force officers walk past a checkpoint set on fire and left by pro-Russian separatists near Slavyansk April 24, 2014 (Reuters / Gleb Garanich)
Ukrainian security force officers walk past a checkpoint set on fire and left by pro-Russian separatists near Slavyansk April 24, 2014 (Reuters / Gleb Garanich)

Kiev’s troops remain in eastern Ukraine as the OSCE mission starts its work on “de-escalating” the situation on the ground. Anti-government protesters are unwilling to leave the seized buildings, demanding that the troops are pulled out first.

Thursday, April 24

21:39 GMT:
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said thatreports of military activity” near the Russian-Ukrainian border are worrisome. Earlier on Thursday Russia began extensive military exercises near the Ukrainian border following the escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine.

This is dangerously destabilizing and it's very provocative. It does not de-escalate. In fact these activities escalate. They make it more difficult to try to find a diplomatic, peaceful resolution to that issue,"Hagel said, adding that he was trying to arrange a phone call with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu.

20:36 GMT:
Washington should force the current Kiev leadership to immediately” stop military operations in the south-east of the country, the Russian Foreign Ministry says.

We hope the US will finally take urgent measures in the interests of de-escalation of the situation in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Declaration of April 17. Washington should force the current Ukrainian leadership to immediately stop military operations in the south-east, to ensure withdrawal of Ukraine’s armed force units and security forces to their permanent deployment locations.”

We hope that Washington understands the entire extent of their responsibility for the events,” noted the Russian Foreign Ministry.

19:12 GMT:

Ukrainian forces must respect international standards on use of force, Amnesty International said on its website responding to reports of fatal shootings of anti-government activists at several checkpoints in Slavyansk.International standards on the use of force and firearms are clear – law enforcement officials should resort to the use of firearms only in defence against an imminent threat of death or serious injury. They should apply other non-violent means before resorting to the use of force, and the use of firearms must always be the last resort. When the use of force and firearms is unavoidable they must exercise restraint and take steps to minimize damage and injury and preserve life,” Heather McGill, Ukraine Researcher at Amnesty International, has said.

Amnesty stressed that
 “an independent, impartial investigation should be launched into the events leading up to today’s reported loss of life at checkpoints around Slavyansk,” adding that if it is found the Ukrainian forces violated international standards and resorted to arbitrary or abusive use of force, they must be brought to justice.”

Blasting the seizure of public buildings and detaining of foreign journalists by the local
 “pro-Russian armed group” as human rights abuse,” the Amnesty added that “this must not be met with human rights violations by Ukrainian security forces.”

18:49 GMT:

Russian senators have drafted a proposal to send a peacekeeping contingent” to southeast Ukraine to avoid bloodshed in the region, Izvestiya reports, citing Federation Council member Valery Shnyakin.

Shnyakin, who is the deputy chair of the council’s international committee, said that all countries interested in the peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian crisis should take part in talks on the proposed peacekeeping force.

“We must urgently put Russia, the US, the EU and Ukraine at the negotiation table and negotiate deploying a peacekeeping contingent to the southeast [of Ukraine]. We are now drafting this proposal and it will be brought up for discussion at the Federation Council session on April 29, and in case the situation escalates even more, it could happen earlier,”
 Shnyakin was quoted as saying.

18:34 GMT:

The German government has frozen military exports to Russia in connection with the situation in Ukraine, Germany’s Economy Ministry reportedly said in response to a request of the opposition Greens party.

According to German media, 69 export requests worth 5.18 million euro ($7.16 million) have been blocked.
Because of the current political circumstances, no export licenses for defense goods for Russia are being granted. Furthermore, Germany has launched a study into what can be done about export licenses previously granted,” the ministry replied to the Greens’ request, Reuters reported.
17:56 GMT:

I'm out and safe. Thank you all for your support. Had no idea I had so many good friends.

17:51 GMT:
War in eastern Ukraine must be prevented at all costs,” Itar-Tass reported UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as saying.

Ban’s spokesman told journalists that all sides involved in the conflict in Ukraine must stick to the Geneva agreements of April 17, refrain from violence, repression and provocative actions.

Saying that he is
 “deeply concerned that the situation could quickly spin out of control with unpredictable consequences,” the UN secretary-general said that “military action must be avoided at all costs.”

17:42 GMT:

The actions of the Kiev authorities in eastern Ukraine make the legitimacy of the upcoming Ukrainian early elections questionable,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists Thursday.

“The way the situation is developing in Ukraine, such criminal actions ordered by those in Kiev, they a priori put the legitimacy of the elections set for May under a serious question mark,”
 Peskov said.

17:32 GMT:
National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (SNBO) officials say the military operation in eastern Ukraine will continue “in stages.”

The anti-terrorist operation will continue. It will be carried out in several stages. We cannot unveil these stages. Today one of those active stages took place. It fulfilled its objective,” deputy secretary of the SNBO, Victoria Syumar, told Hromadske TV on Thursday.

17:00 GMT:
American reporter Simon Ostrovsky, detained by anti-government activists in Slavyansk on Tuesday, has been freed, CBC journalist Jean-Francois Belanger has confirmed. According to Belanger, Ostrovsky is now with the CBC crew en route to Donetsk.

Breaking: hostage @SimonOstrovsky is free and safe. He is with us in CBC car en route to Donetsk @CBCNews @CBCAlerts

VICE News later confirmed Ostrovsky has been set free in a website statement:
"Vice News is delighted to confirm that our colleague and friend Simon Ostrovsky has been safely released and is in good health."

Western corporate media on this -

Simon Ostrovsky Questions "Mayor" of Sloviansk: Russian Roulette in Ukraine (Dispatch Twenty Nine

Russia 'forced' to launch military drills near border in response to Ukraine op

Russia has begun extensive military exercises near the Ukrainian border following the escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu (Reuters / Michael Klimentyev

23 April, 2014

The order to use force against civilians has already been given, and if this military machine is not stopped, the amount of casualties will only grow,” Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said during an official meeting in Moscow.

War games by NATO in Poland and the Baltic states are also not helping the normalization of the situation. We are forced to react to the situation.”
Shoigu said that the drills involve march and deployment maneuvers by forces in the southern and western military districts, and separate Air Force exercises.
Shoigu said that 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers, 160 tanks, 230 armored carriers and at least 150 artillery pieces are involved in the operation against anti-Kiev activists.
National guard units and Right Sector extremists are fighting against the peaceful population, as well as a volunteer Donbass ‘anti-terrorist’ unit. Also security and internal forces transferred to Lugansk and Donetsk from other areas of the country are suppressing dissent,” he said.

Shoigu added that Ukrainian sabotage units had been deployed near the Russian border.
RIA Novosti / Igor Zarembo
RIA Novosti / Igor Zarembo

In contrast, he said that the pro-Russian self-defense units number about 2,000 and have about 100 guns between them, which have mostly been taken from local police stations.

"It's not an evenly matched confrontation," Shoigu said.

The coup-imposed Ukrainian acting president, Aleksandr Turchinov, has demanded that Russia pull back its troops back from the Ukrainian border, calling the ongoing Russian military exercisesblackmail.”

In a brief address, Turchinov claimed that terrorists have crossed the border… taking hostages and killing the patriots of Ukraine.” He also called for the Russian government to stop interfering into the internal affairs of our country.”

The heaviest fighting on Thursday took place in Slavyansk, with the Ukrainian Interior Ministry reporting the deaths of at least five "terrorists."

NATO has estimated that Russia has massed at least 40,000 troops near its border with Ukraine. Moscow has not denied that it has moved troops to the region, but said that its internal troop movements are its own prerogative.
Soldiers from the first company-sized contingent of about 150 U.S. paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team based in Italy walk after unpacking as they arrive to participate in training exercises with the Polish army in Swidwin, northern west Poland April 23, 2014 (Reuters / Kacper Pempel)
Soldiers from the first company-sized contingent of about 150 U.S. paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team based in Italy walk after unpacking as they arrive to participate in training exercises with the Polish army in Swidwin, northern west Poland April 23, 2014 (Reuters / Kacper Pempel)

NATO began military exercises in Poland on Wednesday, with more scheduled to take place in the Baltic states next week. So far, 150 US paratroopers have arrived in the country from their stationary base in Italy, with 450 more set to join them.

Poland’s foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, has also asked NATO to deploy 10,000 troops in his country.
On Wednesday, the frigate USS Taylor became the latest US ship to enter the Black Sea on a rotating deployment. NATO has dispatched a separate rapid reaction force to the Baltic.

'Feed the troops, 

motherf*****!' Angry locals 

'bomb' RT report at 

Slavyansk barricade attack 


Slavyansk locals, enraged by the Ukrainian army's raid on a self-defence checkpoint, 'bomb' RT's Graham Phillips report to accuse the special ops troops of stealing food and call on acting-Ukrainian president to "feed the troops!'.

Russia calls on US to force Ukraine to stop offensive against protesters

Russia says the United States must force interim authorities in Ukraine to immediately stop a military operation against anti-Kiev protesters in the east and south.

24 April, 2014

Last week, acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk ordered a military offensive against the protesters, who seized government buildings in several towns and cities in eastern Ukraine.

He has claimed that Russian special forces are fueling the unrest in eastern Ukraine.  Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Yatsenyuk claims as "nonsense".

In statement issued on Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Washington must force Kiev to pull back forces to their permanent bases.

The Foreign Ministry also said phone conversations planned for Wednesday and Thursday between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his American counterpart John Kerry had not taken place.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday accused the US of being behind the Ukraine turmoil and said Moscow would respond if its interests came under attack.

 "There is no reason not to believe that the Americans are running the show," RT television quoted him as saying.

Earlier this year, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland disclosed that Washington has “invested” about $5 billion in “promoting democracy” in Ukraine over the past two decades.

In early February, Nuland visited Ukraine and held meetings with anti-Kremlin politicians who organized anti-government protests that led to the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych, the country’s democratically-elected president.

Disgusted Kerry And Lavrov Can't Even Hold A Phone Conversation Any More

24 April, 2014

With the "truce deal" laying torn asunder by un-de-escalation by each and every side in this dangerous game of chicken, it now seems even diplomacy is off the table. The Russian foreign ministry reports that the planned on April 23 and 24 telephone conversationsbetween, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry , unfortunately did not take place for reasons beyond Moscow's control, adding that
Ukraine's 48-hour red-line is getting closer and with the UN warning that "the situation could quickly spin out of control with unpredictable consequences," it is perhaps time to derisk a little.

The unpredictability of the situation in the south-eastern regions of Ukraine, where people are thrown against regular military units, special forces and paramilitary forces, ultranationalist, requires urgent action forced wards U.S. Kiev authorities to show restraint and not to use force.
The planned on April 23 and 24 telephone contacts, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, unfortunately, did not take place for reasons beyond Moscow reasons.In the run scheduled for April 25 conversation of foreign ministers of the two countries, the Russian side once again urges Washington to use all his influence on the interim government in Kiev to reason with him and convince refrain from hasty steps, Ukraine plunged deeper into crisis.
We hope that the U.S. finally take urgent measures for de-escalation of the situation in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Declaration on April 17. Washington should make the current Ukrainian leadership to immediately stop military operation in the South East, to ensure allocation of units of the armed forces of Ukraine and its security forces to their permanent deployment. While nothing has been done to address this urgent task. We hope that Washington understands the full measure of their responsibility for what happens.

And The UN warns,

War in eastern Ukraine must be prevented “at all costs,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said as quoted by Itar-Tass.
Ban’s spokesman told journalists that all sides involved in the conflict in Ukraine must stick to the Geneva agreements of April 17, refrain from violence, repression and provocative actions.
Saying that he is “deeply concerned that the situation could quickly spin out of control with unpredictable consequences,” UN chief stressed that “military action must be avoided at all costs.”

Ukraine crisis: Vladimir 

Putin warns of 

'consequences' after 

Slavyansk skirmish

Russian troops manoeuvre on the border after Kiev government attempts to wrest back control of city

25 April, 2014

Thousands of Russian troops launched exercises along the Ukrainian border on Thursday and President Vladimir Putin threatened "consequences" after the Kiev government attempted to wrest back control from pro-Moscow separatists in the east of the country.

An operation by Ukrainian troops near the rebel-held town of Slavyansk led to clashes on the outskirts of the city in which Kiev claimed five separatists had been killed. Local reports suggested only two casualties and the small Ukrainian force did not enter the city centre.

After the skirmish, the government soldiers retreated to a checkpoint six miles out of town after what appeared to be a more symbolic than strategic move.

Vladimir Putin at media forum in St Petersburg
Photograph: Mikhail Klimentie, Ria Novosti/EPA

Putin's response was immediate. "If the Kiev government is using the army against its own people this is clearly a grave crime," he declared as Russian units from among the 40,000 troops massed on Ukraine's eastern border went on manoeuvres.

Russia's defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said the drills would involve ground troops and warplanes. Referring to the Ukrainian operation around Slavyansk, he said: "If today this military machine is not stopped, it will lead to a large number of the dead and wounded ...We have to react to such developments."

On Thursday the US accused Russia of reneging on the Ukrainian peace deal, and said it had "actively stoked tensions in eastern Ukraine by engaging in inflammatory rhetoric".

Officials in Washington angrily rejected Moscow's characterisation of the clashes with Ukrainian soldiers. "The Russians are actively distorting the facts to suit their own narrative," said state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Ukrainian soldiers north of SlavyanskUkrainian soldiers carry out a raid on a pro-Russian roadblock in Karpivka, north of Slavyansk. Photograph: Pierre Crom/Sipa/Rex

Pictures from the border region showed Russian tanks and armoured cars on the move on trailers. Four people, including two civilians, were reported killed in collisions with armoured vehicles.

As the exercises began, Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, made a televised address to the nation in which he called on Moscow to pull back its troops from the border and "stop the constant threats and blackmail".

Ukraine's foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia, said the military exercises were much closer to the border than anticipated, telling the Associated Press the move "very much escalates the situation in the region."

In light of the experience of Crimea, in which Russian soldiers seized control of the peninsula before Ukraine could react, Deshchytsia said: "We will now fight with Russian troops if they invade Ukraine. Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian army are ready to do this."

His ministry called on Moscow to provide details of the military manoeuvres within 48 hours to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is monitoring the tense situation in the east.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, issued an urgent statement warning that the situation "could quickly spin out of control" and stressing that "military action must be avoided at all costs".

The operation in the leafy edge of Slavyansk, ordered by Kiev after two of its supporters were found dead there, appeared to be a limited probe of separatist lines. The troops destroyed several checkpoints and exchanged fire with pro-Russian militia. According to the separatists, one civilian waiting at a bus stop was killed and another injured.

But the column of Ukrainian armoured vehicles did not attempt to enter the city or to recapture Slavyansk's city hall, which the separatists have transformed into a sandbagged mini fortress.

The town's self-proclaimed "mayor" Vyacheslav Ponomarev said his forces had deflected the attack by "150 Ukrainian soldiers", with mines partly blocking their ingress across a field.

Vyacheslav PonomarevVyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-appointed pro-Russian mayor of Slavyansk. Photograph: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

One member of the "Donbass people's militia" claimed residents had confronted the Ukrainian column, offering themselves as a human shield. "They stood in front of the armoured vehicles. After that the soldiers stopped. Then they started to leave," Alexander Tezikov, 39, told the Guardian, citing sources inside the rebel militia.

Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the Slavyansk insurgents, said the pro-Russia militia later regained control of the disputed checkpoints. "We will defend ourselves to our last drop of blood. We are ready to repeat Stalingrad," she told Associated Press

There are signs that following weeks in which it has seemed powerless, Kiev's government is now pushing back against pro-Russian forces. Armed government militia were visible at several new checkpoints between Donetsk, the regional capital, and Slavyansk.

Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov, claimed Ukrainian special forces had retaken the town hall in the port city of Mariupol, but that could not be independently confirmed.

In a rare positive development amid relentlessly rising tensions on Thursday, a US journalist held by Ponomarev's insurgents for several days for alleged "one-sided reporting" was released. Simon Ostrovsky of Vice News confirmed to Associated Press he had been released and was heading for Donetsk but gave no details of his seizure or his release.

US journalist Simon Ostrovsky arrives in Ukraine.US journalist Simon Ostrovsky is heading for Donetsk after being held by insurgents for several days. Photograph: Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images

The sally against Slavyansk was the boldest element in Kiev's declared "anti-terrorist" operation against pro-Russian forces who have occupied a string of municipal buildings in 10 eastern towns and cities since 6 April. But by evening, after the Ukrainian soldiers had pulled back, pro-Russian militia had returned to checkpoints in the north-west of the city, flattened earlier in the day.

To the south, roadblocks flying the Russian tricolour and the flag of the "Donetsk People's Republic" were untouched. Schools, shops and kindergartens inside the city remained shut. Senior Ukrainian officials remain twitchy against a backdrop of menacing rhetoric from Putin, and the border manoeuvres. Unconfirmed rumours of helicopter incursions across the frontier caused temporary alarm.

The editor-in-chief of the Kremlin-backed broadcaster Russia Today, Margarita Simonyan, tweeted: "Ukraine: RIP."

The Ukrainian government complained bitterly about remarks made by the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, on Wednesday in which he compared the situation to the Georgian region of South Ossetia, which Russia invaded in 2008 following Georgian government shelling of separatists there.

"If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia, I do not see any other way but to respond in full accordance with international law," Lavrov said.

Meanwhile CNN cheers on Ukrainian forces from the side while the US government directs.

Video: US troops put boots on Polish ground as Ukraine crisis spirals

The first wave of US troops has arrived in Poland to begin military drills "promoting peace and stability" across Eastern Europe. Tensions continue to mount in the region, as Ukraine teeters on the brink of a civil war

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