Separatists Block Vote In East Ukraine

Kiev

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“Pro-Russian separatists in the embattled east of Ukraine got their way today, marring a presidential election that went smoothly across the rest of the country and was being endorsed by poll observers as the cleanest in the 23 years since Ukraine broke from the Soviet Union.” Read my full Daily Beast dispatch here.

And

“Exit polls tonight will give the first indication whether front-runner Poroshenko will have secured the necessary 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a June run-off. He has been widening his lead, according to recent opinion polls, over second-placed contender former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. But he may be denied an outright victory because of the crowded field, though some pollsters think he may have pulled off an absolute victory”

Pre-Election Violence Escalates in Eastern Ukraine

Kiev

From my latest for the Daily Beast three days before presidential elections:

“The interim government of Ukraine has called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council following a dawn attack today by separatists in east Ukraine that left at least 13 soldiers dead and up to 20 wounded. The country’s interim prime minister says he has evidence of Russian involvement in the attack, one of four to take place three days before Ukraine’s presidential elections.”

I have have heard of several families in Donetsk leaving, fearing there will be serious election violence in the east. There have been also worries expressed by foreign election advisers at the lack of preparedness by the Kiev government when it comes to security in the east for the polls. On that I write:

“Under Ukraine election law the police are tasked with providing election security but in the east many have sided with separatists or are not prepared to challenge them. Foreign election advisers were urging the government to amend the law to allow other security services, including the army, to have an election security role but ministers failed to do that. However, they have changed the law to allow soldiers to vote at local polling stations rather than their barracks arguing their presence in the voting queues may help to deter attacks.”

You can read the full story here.

Battle Of The Bugs

Donetsk

Fun piece by Daisy Sindelar on how some pro-Kyiv Ukrainians are nicknaming Russian separatists in the east “koloradi”, or Colorado beetles, for their orange-and-black stripes. The separatists have followed their Crimean counterparts and adopted the orange-and-black St. George ribbon as their symbol.

The ribbon is associated with World War II and worn by veterans on Russian military holidays. And as far as pro-Russians are concerned the wearing of the ribbon now is appropriate – they argue that in east Ukraine they are fighting western Ukrainian fascists and followers of World War II Nazi collaborator Stephen Bandera.

The Colorado beetle is thought to have found its way to central Europe during the 1940s having been brought in accidentally on transport ships – paranoid as ever, the Soviets after the war suggested this had been a dastardly plot by the West to ravage Soviet agriculture.

A Moscow analyst is suggesting that Russian propagandists shouldn’t get worked up about the dubbing of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine “koloradi”, suggesting they should use light-touch irony to respond by calling Ukrainian ultranationalists from the Right Sector, who favor red-and-black colors, “klop-soldatki”, or firebugs.

Law Of War, How Pro-Russian Separatists Are Breaching It — So Too The Media

Slovanysk

The German government has condemned the displaying before the media yesterday by pro-Russian separatists in the Ukrainian town of Slovanysk of the kidnapped members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE). In a statement the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said: “The public parading of the OSCE observers and Ukrainian security forces as prisoners is revolting and blatantly hurts the dignity of the victims.”

Some Western reporters were discussing the issue of showcasing prisoners yesterday afternoon after the press conference staged by the town’s thuggish separatist leader, the former Soviet soldier-turned soap factory owner Vyacheslav Ponomaryov. I missed the press conference, but asked if any reporters had abided by the old standard and asked if the OSCE team members were participating in the news event voluntarily or were being coerced? Apparently no one had.

And this is worrying. Old-guard journalists, with an eye to the Geneva Conventions, used to be more careful and would ask prisoners if they are willing to talk with the press before interviewing them or taking part in a conference featuring them. Also, there is a judgment call that needs to be made here. Even if a prisoner indicates they are willing, they might fear saying they don’t want to because they fear their captors’ displeasure.

In Syria I have interviewed prisoners when I have been convinced they are truly willing. On two occasions I have declined interviewing captives because I felt even though they agreed the circumstances suggested they were being intimidated into doing so or coerced.

The Geneva Conventions state: “Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. … Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”

In an article in Slate magazine back in 2003, law professor Michael Byers suggested, “journalists aren’t bound by the Geneva Conventions, they can’t be prosecuted for interviewing or taping prisoners.”

But it is a good yardstick for reporters to follow – and at various times they have done.

Even more worryingly, I am told none of the journalists who were invited to videotape three pro-Kyiv Ukrainian intelligence service, SBU, members who were displayed stripped to their underpants, bloodied and blindfolded expressed concerns about what they were participating in.

In fact, what may be happening here is we, the media, are encouraging the abductions, part of an intimidation campaign waged by thugs among the pro-Russian separatists, and colluding in the stage-management of suffering.

And we need to rethink. I am not going to attend any press conferences featuring captives staged by the pro-Russian separatists, unless I am convinced the captives are participating voluntarily.

As a footnote, it is worth pointing out that pro-separatist boss Ponomaryov claims he is holding people – OSCE monitors, pro-Kyiv politicians and activists and journalists who have offended him – under the “laws of war.” Well, the main laws governing the conduct of war are the Geneva Conventions. If the separatists are invoking the conventions, they should understand they are in breach of them by these shows they are putting on of the unfortunates who fall into their hands.

Russian Banks Funding Agitation In Eastern Ukraine

Kiev

If yesterday’s Geneva deal aimed at “de-escalating” the Ukraine crisis fails, Russia’s top banks might be the target of the next round of Western sanctions.

This from my radio dispatch last night for VOA:

“As Western powers consider introducing further sanctions against Russia, Ukraine’s government says it has evidence that four Russian banks are involved in funding pro-Russian separatist agitation in eastern Ukraine and is urging Western politicians to sanction them.”

You can read the full Web piece here.

Can The Ukrainian Military Hold The Line?

Kiev

From my Daily Beast dispatch yesterday:

“Kiev officials admit they need to move fast to extinguish the growing pro-Russian insurrection in the country’s east but initial offers of reform, including greater decentralization of powers, are having no effect. The decision to dispatch the army is backfiring badly with soldiers expressing their unhappiness with being deployed against civilians, whether or not they are being egged on by Moscow, and supervised and trained by Russian advisors.”

 

How Putin Could Grab Ukraine Without Sending Tanks In

From my weekend piece for the Daily Beast: “’Putin’s objective remains to regain control of Ukraine, but I suspect he now thinks he can do this without ordering in the tanks,’ says Andrei Illarionov, a former Putin economic policy advisor and now an unstinting critic of the Russian leader.

Illarionov tells The Daily Beast he expects Putin to maintain an intimidating offensive build-up of Russian forces along the Ukraine border, nonetheless, and that there will be no let-up in the fomenting of separatist agitation in the eastern Ukraine towns of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lugansk and now Sloviansk. The aim is to destabilize Ukrainian politics, weaken Ukrainian state institutions and help Putin’s political allies reassert their power in Kiev.

Read all here.

Gotcha: Kiev, Russian-Trained Special Forces and Maidan

Kiev

From my exclusive for the Daily Beast today:

“The first crack of a sniper’s round in Kiev’s Independence Square came shortly after nine o’clock on the morning of February 20 and the last about seven hours later at around four o’clock in the afternoon drawing to a close the bloodiest day in what had been a months-long struggle to oust Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych…

Most of the photographs accompanying this article were taken on February 20, and they appear to reveal the truth about who carried out the shootings in Independence Square on that day—a fateful one for both Ukraine and for Europe, which suddenly witnessed the continent’s worst political violence of the 21st century. The pictures shared exclusively with The Daily Beast show members of a crack anti-terrorist unit known as the Alfa Team in the courtyard of the headquarters of Ukraine’s feared state security service, the SBU, preparing themselves for battle. The agency’s seven-story headquarters occupies an entire city block and is just three streets from the Maidan.”

Read full story here about what was going on in the nearby SBU HQ on that fateful day when at least 50 protesters were gunned down.