TIME Ukraine

Blame Game Unfolds After Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Crash

A part of the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane is seen after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.
A part of the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane is seen after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called it a "terrorist action."

Updated 7:55 p.m. EST

Ukrainian officials blamed a “terrorist action” for the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday, while pro-Russian separatists, who said they do not have weaponry advanced enough to shoot down an airliner, accused Ukrainian forces of causing the crash.

The Boeing 777 was flying at around 33,000 feet over eastern Ukraine en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed, killing all 298 people on board. That updated number, revised from 295, came from a Malaysia Airlines statement posted late Thursday, and reflects that there were three infants aboard the flight. The nationalities of those aboard, per the airline, break down as follows:

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 8.25.54 PM

An adviser in Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said on his Facebook page that the plane was shot down by a Russian-made radar-guided missile system known as the BUK. Ukrainian officials have denied that Ukrainian military forces were involved.

“MH-17 is not an incident or catastrophe, it is a terrorist attack,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeted.

On Thursday, Oleg Tsarev, one of the leaders of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, told TIME that the separatists don’t have the weapons to reach the altitude at which the plane was flying.

But as TIME’s Simon Shuster reports, Russian state media congratulated rebels last month for seizing BUK missile launchers from a Ukrainian air force base. This week, separatists shot down a military transport plane and reportedly brought down two other military aircraft–Ukraine said at least one was downed by an air-to-air missile, suggesting a Russian jet was to blame. And on Thursday afternoon, Russian media claimed the rebels had brought down yet another Ukrainian military plane over the town of Torez, just prior to reports that MH17 was shot down in the same area.

According to Eurocontrol, the agency that manages European air traffic, Ukrainian authorities had previously barred airliners in the area from flying below 32,000 feet. Authorities have now closed routes of all altitudes in the area, Eurocontrol said Thursday.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday afternoon that the plane has “apparently been shot down. Shot down not an accident. Blown out of the sky.” Biden, who spoke with Poroshenko after the crash, said earlier in the day that the U.S. was sending a team to help investigate.

Also on Thursday, President Barack Obama said he was still working to determine whether there were Americans on board. Obama was on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding newly imposed U.S. sanctions on Russia as news of crash emerged, and the White House said the crash came up in the conversation.

The Federal Aviation Administration was in contact with US carriers following the crash of Malaysian Air Flight 17, the agency said Thursday. The FAA confirmed that carriers have voluntarily agreed not operate in the airspace near the Russian-Ukraine border, and is monitoring the situation to determine whether further guidance is necessary.

French President President François Hollande called for an investigation into the cause of the crash of Flight 17, which was carrying at least four French nationals, according to that country’s foreign ministry. France has advised airlines to avoid any routes through Ukraine.

—With reporting by Zeke J. Miller

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Claims Russia Shot Down Military Jet

Ukrainian Army jets fly over the Ukrainian government military base while troops wait for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's visit in Devhenke village, Kharkiv region, eastern Ukraine on July 8, 2014. Evgeniy Maloletka—AP

The alleged incident is the third this week of a Ukrainian jet being fired upon

A Russian plane shot down a Ukrainian jet as it was flying on military operations over east Ukraine, Reuters reports.

Ukrainian military spokesperson Andriy Lysenko confirmed Thursday that a SU-25 warplane was shot down Wednesday evening by a Russian jet.

The allegation is the most vehement to date of Russia directly intervening in the military conflict engulfing east Ukraine. Russia’s defense ministry has refused to respond to the accusation.

Lysenko, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Defense and Security Council, told journalists the plane was downed by a rocket strike. He added that the pilot ejected without danger.

This is the third incident of a Ukrainian plane being fired upon this week. Last Monday a Russian missile allegedly shot down an An-26 transporter plane. Two of the eight people on board were killed, Kiev said.

On Wednesday, another SU-25 plane was struck by a rebel missile, though the pilot managed to land the plane with little damage. Ukrainian officials don’t suspect Russian involvement.

The conflict in east Ukraine between government forces and separatist rebels has been ongoing for three and a half months, with over 270 Ukrainian servicemen killed. Kiev has accused Russia of assisting the rebels.

On Wednesday U.S. President Barack Obama enforced sanctions on some of Russia’s largest companies, reducing their access to funds. Western governments have accused Russia of failing to help halt the violence.



U.S. Confirms Russia Sent Tanks to Ukraine

The U.S. confirmed Friday that Russia sent tanks and military equipment to separatist fighters in Ukraine.

The delivery of military equipment threatens to further escalate tensions between Russia, Ukraine and Ukraine’s Western allies after pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine began an open rebellion in April.

“We are highly concerned by new Russian efforts to support the separatists,” said State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf. “In the last three days a convoy of three T-64 tanks, several BM-21 or Grad multiple rocket launchers and other military vehicles crossed from Russia into Ukraine near the Ukrainian town of Snizhne. This is unacceptable.”

Harf said that the U.S. had information indicating that Russia had stockpiled old tanks in southwest Russia and that some of those tanks “recently departed.”

“Russia will claim these tanks were taken from Ukrainian forces, but no Ukrainian tank units have been operating in that area,” Harf said. “We are confident that these tanks came from Russia.”

Pro-Russian rebel leaders said Friday that they had received tanks, even as Ukrainian forces made inroads into driving out separatists from the southern port of Mariupol.

The government in Kiev is still trying to regain full control of eastern Ukraine—and cut off arms deliveries from across the border. On Thursday, amid allegations that the tanks been delivered across the border, newly elected President Petro Poroshenko told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the situation was “unacceptable.”

–With reporting from Zeke J. Miller

TIME Ukraine

U.N.: ‘Alarming Deterioration’ of Human Rights in Ukraine

May 13, 2014. Relatives of Hyudych Vadim Yurievichq, including his mother, center, mourn his death, at the Krasnoarmeysk cemetery, eastern Ukraine, May 13, 2014. Fabio Bucciarelli—AFP/Getty Images

A new U.N. report found that actions by armed groups in the restive east have led to an 'alarming deterioration' of the human rights of local populations

The United Nations sounded alarm bells on Friday over human rights violations in eastern Ukraine as well as the harassment and persecution of ethnic Tatars in Crimea.

In a report released simultaneously in Kiev and Geneva, the U.N. denounced the actions and impunity enjoyed by those armed groups—including the kidnapping, beating, detention and killing of locals, politicians and journalists—and stated the problems “remain the major factor in causing a worsening situation for the protection of human rights.”

The information was compiled by 34 human rights monitors in Kiev and four other cities, the New York Times reports.

Russia immediately condemned the report. Moscow said it ignores abuses committed by Ukraine’s government, despite the monitors having credible reports that Ukraine’s state security service detained pro-Russia activists and moved them to Kiev. Russia said those transfers amount to forced abductions.

Tension grew again on Thursday, when thousands of steelworkers and miners took control of the eastern city of Mariupol, prompting the pro-Russia insurgents to retreat. The workers are employed by Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, who urged his employees to take over the city on the grounds their jobs would be put at risk by autonomy.

[New York Times]

TIME russia

Putin Demands Ukraine Pay Ahead for Gas Supply

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with Ministy of Defence representatives at the Bocharov Ruchey State Residence on May 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with Ministy of Defence representatives at the Bocharov Ruchey State Residence on May 15, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that his country would only deliver crucial gas supplies to Ukraine on a pre-paid basis after June 1 since Ukraine already owes $3.5 billion in pack payments

Russia said Thursday that it would only deliver gas to Ukraine if the troubled country pays in advance, intensifying efforts to bring its neighbor back under its control, the Associated Press reports.

Ukraine has faced economic near-collapse since the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, and has been kept afloat in part by a $3.2 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund, which has offered a total aid package of $17 billion over two years.

But on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the country’s mounting debt to Russia has reached $3.5 billion and said that after June 1 it will only deliver prepaid gas.

The threat puts the pro-Western interim government in Ukraine under added pressure amid ongoing unrest in the country’s east, where pro-Russian separatists have seized administrative buildings and entire towns after Russia annexed the southern region of Crimea.

It’s not the first time Russia has lorded its energy dominance over Ukraine and other European neighbors. Amid price disputes in 2005 and 2009, Russia cut off supplies to Ukraine and Europe.

Cutting off delivery to Ukraine in June is likely to have less of an impact on Europe than in the past, the Associated Press reports, in part because it will fall during the warmer summer months and in part because Gazprom, the state-owned Russian gas giant, has built a pipeline to Europe that bypasses Ukraine. Ukraine has called for Russia to restore discounts on the gas that were canceled after Yanukovych was removed.


TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Gov’t Refuses To Invite Separatists to Peace Talks

Crisis Continues In Eastern Ukraine
Ukranian military soldiers man a highway checkpoint on May 13, 2014 near Slovyansk, Ukraine. At least 6 Ukranian soldiers were killed and more were reportedly injured by pro-Russian separatists in the nearby city of Kramatorsk. John Moore—Getty Images

Peace talks begin without the leaders of the insurgency in eastern Ukraine, one day after the deaths of up to 8 Ukrainian soldiers near Kramatorsk

The Ukrainian government in Kiev started peace talks on Wednesday, but did not invite the pro-Russia separatists who spearheaded a vote to defect from the country on Sunday.

Amid renewed tensions, Kiev had agreed yesterday to start a dialogue over a solution to the crisis that has left dozens dead in the east of the country, the Associated Press reports. But as the talks debuted today, it became clear the government deliberately declined to invite the separatists. This omission leaves many observers wondering what those talks will be able to achieve.

The talks come one day after the deaths of between 6 and 8 Ukrainian soldiers, according to various media reports, in the east of the country on Tuesday. The soldiers were ambushed by about 30 heavily armed rebels near the town of Kramatorsk according to the Ukrainian defense minister. Reports say it is the most serious loss of life for the government since the start of its operation against separatists.

The talks on decentralizing power are part of a peace plan drafted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov said the government was ready for a dialogue but that it would not do so with militant separatists who took over government buildings and fought troops loyal to Kiev.

The rebels deemed the talks meaningless. “If the authorities in Kiev want a dialogue, they must come here,” Denis Pushilin, an insurgent leader in Donetsk said. “If we go to Kiev, they will arrest us.” Despite the absence of the separatists, the talks were applauded by many European officials.




TIME Ukraine

Eastern Ukrainian Separatists Say Referendum Is On Despite Putin’s Plea

A man guards a road intersection as pro-Russian activists strengthen the barricades in front of the Ukrainian regional office of the Security Service in Slavyansk, May 7, 2014.
A man guards a road intersection as pro-Russian activists strengthen the barricades in front of the Ukrainian regional office of the Security Service in Slavyansk, May 7, 2014. Alexander Zemlianichenko—AP

Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine plan to hold an autonomy referendum despite a request by Vladimir Putin to postpone. The coordinating committee of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic announced that it would hold the vote on Sunday

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine agreed Thursday to go ahead with a referendum on autonomy a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin urged postponing the vote.

The coordinating committee of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic met Thursday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk and said afterward that the referendum would happen on Sunday as planned, the Associated Press reports. It’s unclear how the Kremlin will respond.

Putin said Wednesday the referendum should be postponed and claimed that Russian troops amassed along the border had pulled back, two moves apparently aimed at deescalating tensions in the region. Putin, however, maintained his calls for Ukraine’s military to cease operations against separatists that have spawned deadly clashes in eastern Ukraine.

The separatists’ announcement coincided with military exercises in Russia on Thursday involving the country’s nuclear forces, though those exercises have been planned since November.

TIME Ukraine

Putin Claims Russian Forces Have Withdrawn From Ukraine Border

Vladimir Putin, Didier Burkhalter
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Swiss Federal President Didier Burkhalter speak at their a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Sergei Karpukhin—AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed on Wednesday that his troops have pulled away from the Ukrainian border

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that his troops have pulled back from the Ukraine border, a move seemingly intended to lower the heat on the simmering crisis but whose veracity remains to be seen.

“We were told constantly about concerns over our troops near the Ukrainian border,” Putin said after meeting Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, the New York Times reports. “We have pulled them back. Today they are not at the Ukrainian border but in places of regular exercises, at training grounds.”

Putin urged pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to delay a scheduled May 11 referendum on the future of the region. “Russia urgently appeals to the authorities in Kiev to cease immediately all military and punitive operations in southeast Ukraine,” Putin also told reporters following his meeting with Burkhalter, according to the Kremlin’s website. “This is not an effective means of resolving internal political conflicts and, on the contrary, will only deepen the division. We appeal too, to representatives of southeast Ukraine and supporters of federalization to hold off the referendum scheduled for May 11, in order to give this dialogue the conditions it needs to have a chance.”

Despite Putin’s assurances that forces have withdrawn from the border, a NATO military official said here’s no sign to suggest Russia has actually moved its troops, Reuters reports. “We have no indication of a change in the position of military forces along the Ukraine border,” the unnamed official said.

Russia had placed 40,000 troops on the Ukrainian border earlier this year after protestors pushed out President Viktor Yanukovych. Pro-Russian militants have occupied several buildings in eastern cities and remain locked in sporadic fighting with Ukrainian forces.

TIME Ukraine

Dozens Killed in Ukraine Gunfight and Fire

A protester throws a petrol bomb at the trade union building in Odessa
A protester throws a petrol bomb at the trade union building in Odessa, Ukraine May 2, 2014. Yevgeny Volokin—Reuters

Deadly gunfights between pro- and anti-Russian groups in the Ukrainian city of Odessa erupted Friday, and a fire linked to the clashes killed 31 people

Deadly gunfights between pro- and anti-Russian groups in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa broke out Friday, and a fire linked to the clashes killed 31 people.

Odessa, a largely Russian-speaking city on the Black Sea near Crimea, had been generally free of the deadly violence that has erupted in Eastern Ukraine. But on Friday, police say three people were shot dead and 15 others injured in street battles, the Associated Press reports.

Another 31 people were killed in a fire that broke out in a union building during the clashes, but police did not say how the blaze started.

The violence Wednesday coincided with intensifying clashes in the country’s east, where government forces resumed operations against separatist militants who have taken control of towns in the region.

The government forces captured checkpoints outside the separatist-held city of Slovyansk and said they had “encircled” the city, according to Reuters. Separatists said Ukrainian forces killed three fighters and two civilians.

The Western-backed government in Kiev said two helicopters were brought down with missiles, killing two airmen, which it said was an indication that Russian forces were aiding the separatists, according to Reuters.

Russia, which has amassed thousands of troops on Ukraine’s eastern border after annexing Ukraine’s Crimea, has warned that it has the right to intervene to protect ethnic Russians. On Friday, a spokesperson for president Vladimir Putin called the assault by Ukrainian government forces a “punitive operation” and said the action destroyed “the last hope of survival” for a peace roadmap jointly agreed upon on April 17 by Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.


TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Reinstates Conscription Amid Pro-Russian Insurgency

The reinstatement of military conscription comes in the face of an increasingly empowered pro-Russian separatist insurgency in the country’s eastern regions

The interim Ukrainian president reinstated military conscription Thursday in the face of an increasingly empowered pro-Russian separatist insurgency in the country’s eastern regions.

The measure follows a parliamentary vote on April 17 that recommended interim president Oleksandr Turchynov enact conscription “without delay,” AFP reports. The decision comes as thousands of Russian forces are amassed on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Ukraine conscripted young men into the military until earlier this year, when former President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian ally, scrapped the law. Yanukovych fled to Russia in February amid mass anti-government protests.

The office of the interim president posted to its website a statement that says, as translated by AFP, that conscription was being reinstated “given the deteriorating situation in the east and the south … the rising force of armed pro-Russian unites and the taking of public administration buildings … which threaten territorial integrity.”

Ukraine’s military has about 130,000 members, though reserves could boost that figure to roughly 1,000,000, according to the AFP.

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