Ukraine: Weekly Bulletin
November 24-30, 2018
Image- Kyiv Post
1. Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence reported that during the week of November 23-29, one Ukrainian soldiers was killed and nine Ukrainian soldiers were wounded in action on the eastern front. Throughout the week, Russian-terrorist forces opened fire 85 times on Ukrainian positions on the Luhansk and Donetsk sectors of the front, including at least 35 times with heavy weapons. Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation headquarters reported that returning fire, Ukrainian forces killed 19 and wounded 14 enemy combatants in the last week.
2. Russian warships attack Ukrainian navy in Sea of Azov
Radio communication between the Russian leadership and ships. Communications released by the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. English subtitles. To listen to audio, please click on image above
On November 25, in a deliberate and unprovoked attack, Russian warships attacked and opened fire on Ukrainian navy ships in neutral waters in the Sea of Azov.
At least 6 Ukrainian sailors were wounded. Three Ukrainian ships were captured by Russian naval forces. 24 Ukrainian sailors are in Russian captivity. This was a premeditated act of escalation of aggression against Ukraine by Russia, which has been waging war on Ukraine for over 4 years.
On November 26, Ukraine’s Parliament met to consider President Poroshenko’s request to institute emergency measures including martial law in certain areas of the country in response to the heightened threat of additional aggression by Russia. 276 MPs (226 needed) voted to support the implementation of the Decree. President Poroshenko stated that “I emphasize that I do not envisage any measures in the Decree related to the restriction of the rights and freedoms of citizens.”
The Decree is being implemented in 10 oblasts that border the Black Sea, the Azov Sea and Russia. It is valid for 30 days. The President stated and Parliament affirmed in a resolution declaring that the presidential election will be held as scheduled March 31, 2019.
3. 24 Ukrainian sailors in Russian captivity on sham charges
One of 24 Ukrainian sailors held prisoner by Russia being taken to “court” Photo – Reuters
The Kyiv Post reported on November 30, “A court in the Russian-occupied Crimea put 22 Ukrainian Navy sailors and two intelligence agents in pre-trial detention for two months on sham charges.
The Ukrainians were on board of three Ukrainian Navy vessels that Russian coast guard ships attacked and captured in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait on Nov. 25. The Ukrainians were accused of illegally entering Russia’s territorial waters and face up to six years in prison if found guilty.
The accusation is based on Russia’s claim that the sea near Crimea is Russian territorial waters. However, international law and the international community doesn’t recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and sees the peninsula – and the waters around it – as Ukrainian.
Since the Ukrainians haven’t broken any laws, they must be treated as prisoners of war, according to Gyunduz Memedov, chief prosecutor of the Crimean Department of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine operating in exile.
Instead, the prisoners are being tried as civilians, said Edem Semedliayev, a lawyer who agreed to defend Ukrainian sailors in courts.
Additionally, Russia is not letting International Red Cross representatives visit the imprisoned sailors, Lyudmila Denysova, Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman, said on Nov. 28. […]
Russia holds 70 Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar political prisoners in custody. Now the number has grown to 94 prisoners. Russian authorities used the presence of two officers of the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, aboard with Ukrainian sailors as evidence of an orchestrated provocation that aimed to justify the imposition of martial law in Ukraine.
The SBU responded by saying that the counterintelligence officers had been ‘carrying out duties to repel Russian aggression for over four years, alongside their comrades from the Armed Forces, the National Guard, and the State Border Guard Service.'”
4. 24 Ukrainian POWs moved from Crimea as European Court of Human Rights demands answers from Russia
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) reported on November 30, “The European Court of Human Rights has reacted swiftly to an application from Ukraine in defence of 24 Ukrainian sailors whom Russia seized after firing on Ukrainian naval boats on November 25. The information demanded could not be more relevant, as the men have all, reportedly, been taken from the remand prison in occupied Crimea, without any explanation or indication of their destination.
Ivan Iishyna, Deputy Minister in Ukraine’s Justice Ministry, reported on 29 November that the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] has demanded information from Russia by Monday, 3 December, regarding the seizure of the 24 men and the legal grounds for holding them prisoner; where they are being held; injuries they sustained (when fired upon by Russian border guards) and the medical treatment provided. Lishyna has dismissed Ukrainian media reports stating that ECHR has demanded the men’s release as inaccurate.
He explains that the question regarding the legal grounds for the men’s imprisonment is very important as Ukraine has yet to be informed why Russia has seized Ukrainian naval servicemen. Let them now explain why they are not only holding them prisoner, but have brought criminal charges against them (of “illegally crossing Russia’s state border”, this carrying a sentence of up to six years’ imprisonment).
This is extremely important as the men are, in accordance with the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war, and are protected by international law.
The events on 25 November are at one level a continuation of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine which began in February 2014. There are, however, some significant differences. On this occasion, Russia cannot even try to hide behind its use of soldiers without insignia, usually dubbed, far too kindly, ‘little green men’. Russian FSB border guards deliberately rammed a Ukrainian naval boat and opened fire on three naval vessels, injuring six Ukrainian sailors.
The Kremlin’s attempts to blame ‘Ukrainian provocation’ are absurd since Russia had and is continuing to block access to the Azov Sea in flagrant breach of both international law and a bilateral agreement from 2003. If Russia has been able to wave supposed criminal charges to try to justify its previous arrests and imprisonment of Ukrainians on political grounds or for their faith, this time its attempt to bring absurd criminal charges is in direct and visible breach of the Geneva Convention on POWs.”
The full report from KHPG is available here: 24 Ukrainian POWs moved from Crimea as European Court of Human Rights demands answers from Russia
5. Atlantic Council: US should provide Ukraine with defensive security assistance to address maritime vulnerabilities
Writing for the Atlantic Council, Michael Carpenter, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense stated, “Russia’s act of aggression against Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea on [November 25] should not be dismissed as an isolated incident in its four-and-a-half year old war against Ukraine. This pre-meditated attack is part of a broader effort by Moscow to take full control of the Kerch Strait-a strategic chokepoint that connects Russia to Crimea and separates the Black and Azov Seas. Control over the Kerch Strait gives the Russian navy complete dominance over the Sea of Azov, whose only direct outlet to international waters is through the strait.
Such maritime dominance would allow Moscow to effectively blockade the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk, two major commercial gateways in eastern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely betting that by suffocating the fragile war-torn economy in eastern Ukraine, he can sow opposition to Ukraine’s central government and eventually blackmail Ukraine into some sort of accommodation. Russia’s effort to acquire maritime dominance in the Azov Sea is therefore a key pillar of its strategy to suborn Ukraine. […] The US response to this highly aggressive confrontation has unfortunately been underwhelming. […] Here’s what the United States should do. […]
The United States should provide Ukraine with defensive security assistance to address its maritime vulnerabilities: land-based anti-ship missiles, radars, and surveillance equipment for domain awareness. None of these systems poses a risk of offensive escalation, but they would send a powerful message to Russia that its actions have consequences. […]
The United States should lead a discussion at NATO on establishing a NATO Standing Maritime Group in the Black Sea, potentially headquartered at Constanta, Romania. A NATO maritime presence led by Black Sea littoral nations, augmented by the rotational presence of other NATO nations, would help deter Russian aggression in the region. […]
The United States needs to overhaul its ineffective sanctions policy on Russia. The United States should stop conflating weak measures (like those restricting the issuance of new debt or sanctions against government officials) with more powerful measures like asset freezes on major Russian banks (none of which have had their assets frozen).
Finally, rather than outsourcing US diplomacy to France and Germany, as Pompeo and Haley have suggested, the United States should join forces with our European allies to seek a resolution to the conflict backed by real leverage, and not just rhetoric.”
6. G7: “There is no justification for Russia’s use of military force against Ukrainian ships and personnel”
The Foreign Ministers of the G7 stated on November 30, “We, the G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the High Representative of the European Union, express our utmost concern about Russia’s actions against Ukraine in the Kerch Strait and surrounding waters, which have dangerously raised tensions. There is no justification for Russia’s use of military force against Ukrainian ships and naval personnel.
We urge restraint, due respect for international law, and the prevention of any further escalation. We call on Russia to release the detained crew and vessels and refrain from impeding lawful passage through the Kerch Strait.
We, the G7, once again reiterate that we do not, and will never, recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, and we reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
7. Synod approves text of Tomos granting Autocephaly to Ukraine’s Orthodox Church
The Holy Synod, chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarch, convened on November 27-29. The Ecumenical Patriarchate reported on November 29, “in the context of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s previously-made decision to grant autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine, and in anticipation of the issuance of the Patriarchal and Synodal Tomos, the Holy and Sacred Synod drafted the Ukrainian Church’s Constitutional Charter.”
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko stated on November 29, “Fellow Ukrainians, today, at the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, historic decisions were made on the creation of the Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church […] The Tomos is a charter of our spiritual independence. The Ukrainian Church is one of the fifteen independent Orthodox churches, which form the Ecumenical Orthodoxy.”
8. IMF Managing Director on status of Ukraine Stand-By Arrangement
Following a telephone conversation with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko on November 28, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde stated, “I had a constructive conversation with President Poroshenko earlier today, during which we discussed the status of the expected Stand-By Arrangement.
The President informed me about the key parameters of the 2019 budget, which was recently approved by parliament and is currently under review by IMF staff. The preliminary assessment is satisfactory and the process is expected to be completed shortly. We also explored possible technical assistance from the IMF to strengthen tax administration and make the tax system more growth friendly while assuring debt sustainability.
All prior actions are expected to be completed by the Ukrainian authorities by December 10, 2018, and a meeting of the Executive Board to discuss the Stand-By Arrangement would be convened promptly after that.”