Rocket strike kills dozens of Ukrainian soldiers near Russian border

Zelenopillia is 9km from the Russian border
Zelenopillia is 9km from the Russian border

A rocket strike has killed dozens of Ukrainian servicemen in the Armed Forces and State Border Guards in an attack that took place on the morning of July 11 near the Russian border in the southern Luhansk region.

At 4:30 am, Russian-backed militants unleashed a rocket salvo on Ukrainian forces, targeting a motorized brigade from Lviv near the town of Zelenopillia, located on a highway south of Luhansk city. The attack is said to have been conducted using BM-21 Grad multiple-rocket launcher vehicles.

According to preliminary reports, the militants unleashed the attack from a distance 15 km – Zelenopillia is located 9km from the Russian border. Ukrainian forces are said to have responded with an airstrike.

Conflicting death toll

The press service of the Ministry of Defense had initially reported that 19 were killed, while a Ministry of Internal Affairs advisor earlier stated that up to 30 had been killed in the attack. Vladislav Seleznev, spokesperson for the ongoing Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO), responded to these reports on Facebook, clarifying that that instead 23 had died and 93 remained wounded.

“For every life of our soldiers the rebels will pay with tens and hundreds of their own. Not a single terrorist will escape responsibility, each will get his comeuppance,” said President Poroshenko in response to the incident.

Russian-backed militants concentrated in Luhansk and Donetsk have shown an increasing display of armored vehicles, including tanks and surface to air missile systems in recent days as they prepare for the Ukrainian military advance to liberate occupied cities.

A view of the damage

'Strelkov' apologizes for Donetsk looting

Military commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Russian operative Igor “Strelkov” Girkin has made a public plea to the people of Donetsk, calling to ‘severely punish’ his men for committing “serious crimes and banditry” in an attempt to save face following the city’s increased occupation by his militia.

“I ask the people of Donetsk for understanding of what people arrived here, who for months lived in a state of stress and deadly threat. Not all of the men were prepared to enter a peaceful city after being in the trenches,” he said.

[quote]”Perpetrators of such crimes will immediately be court martialed, regardless of their relationship to the militia.”[/quote]

In a separate interview, he suggested that increasing wages and compensation for militiamen would increase local enlistment. He had previously made public statements decrying a lack of local support in the Donetsk area.

After retreating en masse from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk and ceding the key cities to Ukrainian forces, Strelkov’s militia took up positions in Donetsk, the region’s largest city and capital. Looting had already been a problem in the past for Donetsk, with members of the Vostok Battalion from Russia seizing the Regional State Administration building and detaining offenders from the Donbass People’s Militia.

‘Strelkov’ has been described by Ukraine’s security service as a Russian colonel and resident of Moscow. He is currently a target of European Union sanctions, and was named by the EU’s Official Journal to be on the staff of the Russian foreign military intelligence agency (GRU), and a key figure involved in the military takeover of Crimea as an assistant on security matters to Sergei Aksyonov, Crimea’s self-declared prime minister.

The Donetsk Republic remains legally classified as a terrorist organization in Ukraine.

Russian lawmaker asks to ban 100-ruble bill because of nude statue

In a letter to the Central Bank, Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) lawmaker Roman Khudyakov has called for the removal of the classical Greek statue of Apollo from the Russian 100-ruble bill, saying the statue showed “intimate parts of the body” and that the banknote should come with an “18+” rating, referencing the rating system used for films.

Russia recently enforced a ban on ‘indecent’ language in the arts.

The bill currently depicts the statue of Apollo riding a four-horse chariot from above the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. The statue was altered during restorations in 2011 which included covering Appolo’s penis with a fig leaf.
The controversial banknote

“You can see clearly that Apollo is naked, you can see his genitalia,” Khudyakov told Reuters Television.

Khudyakov says he was inspired after overhearing a conversation between two children gawking at the image: “The girl screamed at the boy: ‘Can you see that? I told you, there is a penis here!’ I was shocked, you know.” He then justified his request by saying “As bills of that denomination often get into the hands of children as pocket money, I strongly request your help in changing the design of the banknote or otherwise bringing it into accordance with current legislative regulations.”

“I submitted a parliamentary request and forwarded it directly to the head of the central bank asking for the banknote to be brought into line with the law protecting children and to remove this Apollo.”

Officials responsible for enforcing the recently-introduced law on protection of minors from harmful information declined to comment officially on Khudyakov’s grievance, but noted that money printing was outside the powers of the agency. The request to remove the statue from the bill comes admin a significant growth of religious and social conservatism in Russia, especially with regard to the Kremlin’s stance toward sexual relations and perceived

Metropolitan Volodymyr’s Death Highlights Moscow Patriarch’s Failure in Ukraine

The death on Saturday of Metropolitan Volodymyr, the longtime head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, simultaneously highlights the failure of Moscow Patriarch Kirill in Ukraine, Russian commentators say, and likely accelerates  a wholesale re-alignment of Orthodox bishoprics and congregations in Ukraine.

Volodymyr, who died at the age of 79 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease which in fact forced him to give up his day-to-day management of his church earlier this year after serving as its metropolitan since 1992, was a major figure not only in Ukraine but in Russian Orthodoxy more generally.

In 1990, he finished a close second to Metropolitan Aleksii in the voting for a new Moscow patriarch, and in the two decades since that time, he has played a key role not only in the expansion of the bishoprics of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine but also in the retention of its congregations, which otherwise might have left that hierarchy.

While many Ukrainians viewed Volodymyr as little more than Moscow’s man in their country, Russian commentators remember him as something more than that and at least some are worried that his death will lead to the further decline in the position of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine.

In a comment on, that site’s editor, Anatoly Baranov said that Volodymyr “was one of the most interesting officials of the Russian Orthodox Church” and almost became its patriarch on two occasions, first in 1990 when he lost to Aleksii and then in 2009 when he was nominated but withdrew.

Volodymyr’s withdrawal allowed Kirill to be elected, a misfortune, Baranov says, because “if the intelligent and experienced Kyiv metropolitan had become head of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is likely that the events in Ukraine would have developed in an entirely different way.”

“The aggressive and often stupid foreign policy of Patriarch Kirill is far from the least important factor underlying the Ukrainian crisis,” the editor says. What happened was this: “the Kremlin began to openly define the policy of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Patriarch Kirill did not find in himself the courage to conduct his own.”

Metropolitan Volodymyr was “another man” entirely, Baranov continues, especially with regard to the level of his authority in society outside of Russia.  And he concludes: “the tragic events in Ukraine not by accident coincided with the deterioration of the health of the Kyiv metropolitan, and his life ended along with the disappearance of that Ukraine which he knew.”

Volodymyr’s authority was truly enormous, and with his passing, Moscow and the Moscow Patriarchate are going to find it ever more difficult to retain their positions among the Orthodox in Ukraine.  Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill implicitly recognized this in their message of sympathy on Volodymyr’s death.

But their words are unlikely to slow the process of the Ukrainianization of Orthodoxy in Ukraine at an organizational level, and with that process accelerating, both the Kremlin and especially Patriarch Kirill are going to see their leverage religious and political decline there, in the post-Soviet states, and internationally as well.

Some Orthodox writers have been referring to Volodymyr’s as “a Soviet church functionary,” one of the last of a generation that will inevitably disappear.  But unlike Kirill, who remains very much what he was, the late Volodymyr was someone who made an attempt to change. That gave him an authority Kirill very much lacks.

Putin’s Ukraine and Bush’s Iraq: same water in different containers?

Ukraine has historically been at the heart of many important events, be it with dramatic tones, such as the Chernobyl accident or Stalin’s famine, or rosy endings such as its well-deserved independence and the Orange Revolution, precursor to the Arab Spring. The current Ukrainian crisis has its roots in former President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to shun a European Union Association Agreement to work with Russia. The move led to Yanukovych’s ouster as well as Ukraine’s loss of Crimea and the establishment of a pro-Russia separatist ethnic group. This article starts from the premise that historical events are always inscribed in a symmetrical repetitive pattern with outstanding parallels that reveal themselves later in time. The symmetrical parallelism is not exogenous to Ukrainian culture for it recalls Bulgakov’s recalling of the Jerusalem of Pontius Pilate’s trial of Yeshua, in The Master and Margarita. Ukraine’s position regarding the American invasion/liberation of Iraq under President Bush will be recalled here in order to teach us lessons about the Ukrainian cultural reaction to the ethnic strife that is putting the country in an impossible compromise between Russia and Europe. The article claims that Eurasia is the winning equilibrium for Ukraine in the same way that in the Iraq crisis, the then Ukrainian authorities, probably under a heavier Moscow spell, adopted a pro-American posture balanced with a pro-Russian stance.

In his statement to the United Nations at the Plenary Meeting of the 56th session of the United Nations General Assembly on agenda item 166 entitled “Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism”, the first of October 2001, Ambassador Valery Kuchinsky, head of the Permanent Representation of Ukraine to the UN said that “Ukraine has repeatedly condemned, in the strongest possible terms, international terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.” He also added: “We have consistently supported the concerted efforts by the international community in combating this scourge. My country has ratified most of the instruments of universal character in this field. Last year, Ukraine signed the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, the Terrorist Bombing Convention is to be ratified in the near future.” This tone locates the Ukrainian apparatchik in a universal framework of the war against terror, but the question that triggers our curiosity is the extent to which the Ukrainian version of the war is different or “independent” from the American version, spreading its shade over a world falling gradually under the spade of standardized globalization. Since the discourse on terror is somehow linked to that of the war on Iraq, one might examine the Ukrainian stance on the US liberation/occupation of Iraq, especially in light of Mr. Kuchinsky’s espousal of “international norms”, citing the different elements that might explain the blurry position of the Ukrainian government on this matter. In fact, Ukraine had sent 318 military Ukrainian soldiers and 58 machinery units to Kuwait but it said that the shipment was only for defensive purposes, similar to many other countries like Morocco which claimed that the soldiers were there to defend holy Mecca. How reliable is the Ukrainian discourse of international norms given that the United Nations included on the tenth of September 2001 depleted Uranium among the weapons of mass destruction? And what political variables might explain Ukraine’s “two-level’ games”[1]?

Mr Kuchinsky had said in a press communiqué on February 18 2003 (CS/2450) that “war would be the last and the worst solution” referring to the American invasion of Iraq. However, the fact that the Ukrainian diplomat in Iraq Valentyn Novikov had left the country on March 11th foretells a Ukrainian belief in the American preference for war. One crucial element here was the refusal of Russia, a strong member of the Security Council, to back this war. Did Ukraine speak from the other side of the fence just to inconvenience its former patriarch? Maybe Ukraine’s decision to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq is part of the answer. Elements in this direction were already provided in the Russian massacre against Chechnya when the leader of the Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense Party, Andrei Shkil, spoke about a “Ukraine-Chechnya” partnership aided by the honorable refusal of the Ukrainian foreign ministry to shut down Chechen news agencies. This posture will be somehow mimicked in 2014 when Russia will partner with Crimea and other Eastern provinces of Ukraine. However, this official position was tempered by the statement of President Kuchma on October 24 2002 after meeting Croatian President Stjepan Mesic about the moments of violence in Moscow that he called an insolent act of terrorism. Hence, the stance of Ukraine, regarding the War on Iraq, might well be influenced by the historical blurry relationship between Russia and Ukraine, a mirror of the ethnic and ideological divide between the Eastern and Western oblasts of the country. The Ukrainian alliance with the United States was expressed by the press-service of the US embassy to Ukraine, as it has reported to a Ukrainian news agency that “On March 25 (Tuesday) we asked the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington and the Presidential Administration in Kiev whether Ukraine would welcome being cited in President Bush’s speech the following day as part of the Coalition to Disarm Iraq. We were very clear that President Bush would cite Ukraine as part of the Coalition and that this is why we were asking” mentioning also that “Ukraine asked that we recognize that the role of its battalion is defensive and not part of the military conflict.”[2]

Another element that might explain Ukraine’s position on this War on Iraq is oil. Back in 1993, Ukrainian experts foresaw the Ukrainian oil dependence on Russia and suggested diversifying the resources of energy so that the Vice President of Ukraine, Masyk, paid a visit to Iran and countries of the Persian Gulf in order to consider building the gas pipe. However, the project failed due to some political pressures from certain lobbies that are certainly at odds with a romantic attachment between Ukraine and the Middle East. Today, in light of the arm twisting between Gogol and Pushkin, the energy independence issue is on the priority agenda. In the summer of 2001, President Leonid Kuchma symbolically welded the last juncture of the oil pipeline Odessa-Brody which unites the south of Ukraine with the highways coming from Siberia to Europe. This pipeline’s cost for the Ukrainian Oil Corporation and its state was 465.5 million US dollars and since the oil pipe extended to the Polish port Gdansk, it attracted some countries which were moved either by territorial concerns, like Poland, or profit motives, like the US. Little notice has been made then of the meeting between a special counselor of Steven Mann, the US State Secretary on diplomacy in issues connected with power engineering in the Caspian region, and the Ukrainian government to negotiate the creation of an international consortium devoted to the operation of this oil pipeline. It was maybe a tactic by the Ukrainian government to incite the help of the United States regarding this consortium before the European Union and the international financial organizations, in the same way that the aid package for Ukraine from the European Union keeps an eerie eye on the Russian board.

The anti-war protests in Washington DC were matched by the anti-Kuchma Kiev protests where about 30,000 went out in the streets including opposition figures like Viktor Youtchenko. A study conducted by the polling firm Taylor, Nelson, Sofrez-Ukraine showed that 82% of Ukrainians hold the view that “the military operations in Iraq are not acceptable under any circumstances.”[3] A Ukrainian poll which was conducted by the sociological service of the Razumkov Center of Political and Economic Studies on September 18 – 24, involving 2002 respondents aged 18 and up, came up with 72.9% Ukrainians opposing war on Iraq and 60% wanting Ukrainian official denunciation of military actions. Moreover, Ukrainian Muslims have expressed their condemnation of the war on Iraq represented by the Center of Muslims of Ukraine and of Kyiv, the Muslim Religious Community (Markhamat), the Kyiv Muslim Religious Community, the Interregional Association of nongovernmental organizations (Arraid) and the Islamic Public Culture Center.  To know the importance of such a position, suffice it to say that there are about 2 million Ukrainian Muslims located mainly in Crimea, a factor that rendered Kuchma’s position on the war ambiguous lest he revived secessionist feelings. However, Kuchma could have used the war as an ideological tactic in his duel against his parliament, either to drive the public’s attention away from the mounting criticism to which he has been exposed, or to set a motion of symbolic power of contestation with the legislative power. In fact, on March 20, 2003 Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada approved the deployment to Kuwait of an army battalion that specializes in the clean-up of chemical, biological and nuclear contamination by a voting margin of 258 to 121. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Councilapproved the request from the United States on February 20 to use the 19th Special battalion in Iraq, while President Kuchma signed a decree supporting the Kuwait invitation on March 6 to use Ukraine’s expertise. It is interesting to notice here that the Tymoshenko factions opposed the deployment bills while other factions supported it. In other words, in order to understand the Russian presence in Ukraine, as a vital political issue for Ukrainians, one needs to see how the Ukrainian political culture of the Iraq invasion laid ground to such a refusing or acquiescing posture vis-à-vis foreign interventionism.

Another issue of symmetry is the weapons of mass destruction. We all recall how Ukraine’s disarmament task had set a “repertoire of settlement” for Iraq, in the tortuous road of weapons of mass destruction. After the disintegration of the USSR, Ukraine found itself in possession of the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal with 176 launchers of intercontinental ballistic missiles and 1,240 warheads. The Ukrainian independence was founded upon three premises: 1) no acceptance, 2) manufacturing or 3) acquiring nuclear weapons. Western sensitivity over nuclear issues convinced Ukraine’s leaders that they could sign the trilateral agreement in Moscow on 14 January 1994 by the United States, Russia, and Ukraine, a Western success in disarming Ukraine by dictating that the Russian Federation sends 100 tons of fuel to Ukraine for its nuclear-power plants and the United States pays $60 million to the Russian Federation in support of that process. The agreement bounded Ukraine to transfer 200 nuclear warheads over a 10-month period and as of May 1994, 120 SS-19 Stiletto and 60 SS-24 Scalpel intercontinental ballistic missiles had been shipped out of Ukraine to Russia. No attack was launched on Ukraine because it agreed to return its weapons of mass destruction to Russia, and it did not rebel against the American implication in the disarmament process, a factor absent in the Iraqi case by official standards. In fact, at the Special Operations Forces Exhibition (Sofex), in October 2002, in Jordan, many Middle Eastern states coveted a piece: “It has since emerged that, following the fair, the Ukraine reportedly sold the system to Iraq, in breach of the UN arms embargo. US defense intelligence has confirmed that Iraq has the system.”[4] Thirteen American and British experts traveled to Ukraine in November 2002 to investigate whether the country sent any Kolchuga radar systems to Baghdad in violation of U.N. sanctions after the U.S. State Department said it had verified the authenticity of a July 2000 recording, in which President Leonid Kuchma is heard approving the sale of a radar to Iraq for $100 million. The investigators found in their report that Ukraine had provided documentation on seventy two Kolchuga systems with four radars “missing.” Ukraine said that it sold the four systems to China, but refused investigators access to the contracts, on the ground that they were commercial secrets. Furthermore, the investigators reported that Ukrainian officials denied them access to complete reports of their own internal investigations and refused to answer key questions. If Ukraine’s refusal to cooperate fully with the investigative team, on the grounds of preserving commercial secrecy is legitimate, isn’t Iraq’s refusal to cooperate on the grounds of a higher motive, preserving national secrecy, a tolerable practice in the ‘repertoire of refusal’? Isn’t then the Russian posture claiming national security in the latest Ukrainian episode to be examined?

Dr. Roman Serbyn wrote some words of wisdom in The Ukrainian Weekly of November 6, 1988 when he informed us that “Ukrainians can make a major contribution in the field of international politics by becoming advocates against the use of food as a weapon. Who is better placed than Ukrainians to inform the world on how totalitarian systems resort to under nourishment and starvation in order to keep the whole nations in submission?” Isn’t the issue of European conditioned “aid” to Ukraine somehow similar to food as a weapon in that it twists Ukrainian arms into an isolationist posture with Russia? By the end of April, 2004, Ukraine had lost five soldiers in Iraq. According to Reuters, President Kuchma said the following words: “Our troops are not occupying Iraq and are not taking part in military action against Iraq. Our position remains the same.” He reiterated his opposition to the military solution from the beginning. Furthermore, Ukrainian troops pulled out of Kut, in Early April, after an explosion killed a Ukrainian soldier. Hence, the Ukrainian official position in the War against Iraq had moved from a humanitarian position of opposition to war, dictated by its public opinion, to a desire to be part of the American led coalition. However, the alleged accusation of the shipment of Ukrainian Radars to Iraq, directly or through China, reflects the blurry position of the Ukrainian regime in this war, and might be explained by the predominance of the Russian oblast political culture in the Ukrainian land. In fact, according to Reuters “Ukraine sent the troops last year to repair ties with the United States, which had been strained by reports of illegal arms sales to Baghdad before the overthrow of Saddam.” (Reuters, 4/28/2004, 11:18) The episode of contention between Kuchma and his public, or his parliament, is indicative of this confused policy. The failure of complete Ukrainian compliance with the investigative British and American arms team, regarding the alleged selling of radars to Iraq, is another parallel between Iraq and Ukraine, but the outcomes were not the same. In the last episode between Russia and Ukraine, we witnessed that wax and wane posture between Europe and Russia, playing on the ethnicity/minority card with a slightly invisible background of Syria. If the political trajectory goes linear, we will witness a schism between Ukraine and Russia, with times of convergence, around the Syria/Iraq issue and a more economic penetration, by Gulf countries, of the Ukrainian territory. If one draws dramatically the parallel between Ukraine and the Levant, one can predict the emergence of a very narrow-minded Slavic Xenophobic group in Ukraine that will claim some sort of hegemony over the rest of the Dominion in the same vein in which ISIS claims the Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq. If one accepts the now-common allegation of the financing of ISIS by some Gulf entities, one has to be vigilant as to who will chip in with the new Slavic Frankenstein whose shadow will unfortunately come to loom over Ukraine’s pretty sky if separatism continues to be the predominant paradigm. I run the risk of being ridiculed as a parallel universe pessimistic dreamer if I dare say that Ukraine will become the New Ireland if we do not take the matter seriously and monitor the financial “bounties” that are pouring into the country by the “philanthropic” external dogs and the wolves to use Irene Nemirovsky’s title, and we should not romanticize Europe and demonize the East lest our short memory reminds us that The anti-Semitic Dreyfus affair was made in Romantic France. It is perhaps timely, with respect to Ukraine’s East/west rift, to reminisce the famous Baghdad Sufi Junayd’s wisdom: “The water’s color is the color of its container.”

Dr. Abdelilah Bouasria is a term assistant professor of global politics at George Mason University, Virginia, USA

[1]  This concept was coined by Robert Putnam in 1988 in an international context in which a country negotiates with an international polity bearing in mind its domestic constituents and Kuchma is torn here between his public opinion and his interests with America as an ally.


[3] Woronowycz, Roman, 2003. Majority of Ukraine’s citizens against U.S.-led war in Iraq. The Ukrainian Weekly. 13, Vol. LXXI

[4]  Burrows, Gordon, 2002. The right to fair arms. The Guardian. October 17

Shootout on Maidan

Tonight at approximately midnight armed skirmishes took place on Kyiv’s central square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, between two groups. Conflicting reports describe the incident as being between those camping on Maidan with men claiming to be part of Maidan Self-defense, or alternatively between local self-defense units and a group of armed, masked thugs.

According to police, one man was hospitalized with gunshot wounds but have yet to release an official report on the altercation’s circumstances or arrests.

The Central Council of Maidan Sotnia, a self defense group, described the shooting as “a provocation.”

“Attackers hid their faces with balaclavas. Companies raised by the alarm drove the attackers away, but a new assault by morning is not ruled out,” the group said.

According to the Twitter user @tombreadley, involved in provoking and carrying out the attacks were two groups of 40 masked thugs who arrived from the direction of Shevchenko Lane and Hrinchenko St.

[quote]“They were catching people of non-Slavic appearance. They did not take down the tents, but they did drag people from the tents closest to the Lyadski Gates. They were armed with brass knuckles, chains, bats. About 10 to 15 people from Maidan got injured…How such a [large] crowd slipped out from Malopidvalna St. to Volodymyrska St., by the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] so quietly, is a mystery. The attackers scattered in little groups, 10 people from Maidan rushed for their defense. They had a Kalashnikov! At first they shot into the air, then at the attackers. Two people seriously wounded are at the ambulance…”[/quote]

As of 01:50 am, everything was quiet on Kyiv’s central square.

Sources: UNIAN, Ukrayinska Pravda

Russia: Hesitant to resume talks, "such are the laws of war."

[quote style=”boxed”]”It will be much more difficult to resume negotiations. Such are the laws of war.”[/quote]

“Having interrupted the truce, President Petro Poroshenko made a dramatic mistake. This will lead to new victims, but now he will be personally responsible for them,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev publicly posted today on his Facebook page.