TIME Ukraine

Ukraine: Russia’s Aid Convoy Is a ‘Direct Invasion’

A Russian border guard opens a gate into the Ukraine for the first trucks heading into the country from the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Aug. 22, 2014.
A Russian border guard opens a gate into the Ukraine for the first trucks heading into the country from the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Aug. 22, 2014. Sergei Grits—AP

But Moscow warns against interfering with the trucks' crossing

Russia sent dozens of aid trucks into eastern Ukraine on Friday without the Ukrainian government’s approval, the Associated Press reports. This show of defiance, which a Ukrainian security chief called a “a direct invasion,” has increased fears of conflict between Russian forces and the Ukrainian military.

A witness told Reuters that 70 of the 260 white trucks left a Russian convoy that had been stalled at the border for over a week. The breakaway column crossed the border and headed for the rebel-held area of Luhansk, accompanied by some Ukrainian separatist fighters.

The convoy was being held at the border while Kiev and Moscow negotiated the terms of the crossing and discussed the trucks’ contents and the role the International Committee for the Red Cross should play. Both sides had agreed the Red Cross would accompany the vehicles, but an unnamed Ukrainian official told the Interfax news agency that the 70-strong convoy traveled without ICRC escort.

Ukrainian and Western officials are worried Russia may use the convoy as an excuse for Russia to directly intervene in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Moscow, however, has dismissed this as preposterous, saying instead that Friday’s border crossing happened after it had grown impatient with Ukrainian delays.

“All excuses to delay sending aid have been exhausted,” said Russia’s foreign ministry in a statement. “The Russian side has taken the decision to act.” The ministry further warned at any attempts to disrupt the convoy. A spokesperson for the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin has been told of the convoy’s advance.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations that it has been sending weapons and experts to help separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. The conflict has intensified around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk recently, with fatalities rapidly rising. All told, the struggle between Ukrainian troops and rebels loyal to Russia for control of eastern Ukraine has been raging for four months. The death toll stands at over 2,000, and many residents are stranded without food, medicine or clean water.

[AP]

TIME russia

Russia Is Closing McDonald’s Restaurants Over Health Violations

The oldest of Moscow's McDonald's outlets, which was opened on Jan. 31, 1990, is closed on Thursday, Aug. 21.
The oldest of Moscow's McDonald's outlets, which was opened on Jan. 31, 1990, is closed on Thursday, Aug. 21. Alexander Zemlianichenko—AP

But the crackdown comes amid tit-for-tat sanctions between Russia and the West

Russian regulators are targeting McDonald’s restaurants in a crackdown that authorities say is a matter of food safety.

But the closure of several Russian McDonald’s restaurants and unscheduled checks of several others comes on the heels of tit-for-tat sanctions between Russia and Western countries over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Earlier this month, Russian authorities banned a wide array of food imports from the United States, the European Union and several other countries after Western powers enacted economic sanctions against Moscow.

According to Reuters, the Russian state food safety agency temporarily shuttered four restaurants on Wednesday, including the world’s busiest McDonald’s store in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, citing breaches of sanitary rules. On Thursday, the agency said it was conducting checks on other outlets across the country.

The agency has denied that its actions are politically motivated, according to Reuters.

“We are aware of what is going on. We have always been and are now open to any checks,” a spokesperson for McDonald’s in Russia told Reuters. The chain operates 438 restaurants in the country.

[Reuters]

TIME Ukraine

Russian Aid Convoy Keeps on Trucking Toward Ukraine

A Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for residents in rebel eastern Ukrainian regions moves along a road about 30 miles from Voronezh, Russia, Aug. 14, 2014.
A Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for residents in rebel eastern Ukrainian regions moves along a road about 30 miles from Voronezh, Russia, Aug. 14, 2014. Yuri Kochetko—EPA

Kiev has now agreed to let the trucks enter Ukraine, but a full agreement on the crossing has yet to be reached

A Russian convoy numbering close to 300 vehicles has resumed its journey towards separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine, laden with what Russia says is humanitarian aid supplies for the people of Ukraine.

Traveling at 50 miles per hour the aid convoy left a military base in Voronezh, Russia before dawn, the New York Times reports. The vehicles had been held there for over a day following outcry from the Ukrainian government, and as Western officials voiced suspicions they could be cover for a potential invasion.

But it now appears that the convoy will be permitted to enter Ukraine. The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, said Wednesday the trucks could cross following inspections by officials from Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Russia says the dispatch of aid, which were dispatched early Tuesday, was intended to counter the escalating humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine. Moscow said the trucks, equipped with 649 tons of water and 340 tons of canned meat, were intended to help Ukrainians in areas like Luhansk where heavy fire has cut off water and electricity supplies. Residents are also without communication as phone lines have been hit.

Moscow and Kiev haven’t yet reached a complete agreement over the convoy’s crossing, however. If the vehicles cross at Izvarino, an eastern Ukrainian town close to Luhansk which isn’t under Ukrainian control, the existing agreement between Russia and Ukraine would need to be rewritten. Both sides had originally decided that the trucks would cross further north at a Ukrainian-held border crossing.

Poroshenko’s government authorized a similar Ukrainian aid convoy this week, in response to Moscow’s actions. Lorries loaded with supplies left Kiev, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk Thursday bound for Starobelsk in eastern Ukraine.

The West has regarded the Russian convoy with deep suspicion. Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the UN said if Russia acted unilaterally in its humanitarian mission, it would “be viewed as an invasion.” On Monday NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Reuters that there was a “high probability” of Russia invading Ukraine, potentially “under the guise of a humanitarian operation.”

Russia meanwhile insists that it’s working with the Red Cross despite their protestations otherwise. “All this is going on in complete coordination with and under the aegis of the Red Cross,” said Dmitri S. Peskov, spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin to reporters.

Both convoys, Ukrainian and Russian, will arrive amidst escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine. The latest figures from the UN place the death toll at 2,086 since fighting began mid-April. Over half of these fatalities occurred in the past two weeks.

[NYT]

TIME russia

Russia Bans Wide Array of Food Imports From the U.S., EU

Russian Premier Dmitry Medvedev announces sanctions at the Cabinet meeting in Moscow on Thursday, Aug. 7.
Russian Premier Dmitry Medvedev announces sanctions at the Cabinet meeting in Moscow on Thursday, Aug. 7. Dmitry Astakhov—AP

"The situation now requires us to take retaliatory measures."

Russia banned a wide array of food imports from Western countries Thursday in a spiraling sanction war amid the worst ties between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the additional restrictions, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said he signed a decree banning for one year the import of foods such as meats, cheese and vegetables from the European Union, the United States, Australia, Canada and Norway, the Associated Press reports.

The measures will cut off what would have amounted to some $12 billion in imports from the EU and more than $1 billion in imports from the U.S., according to the AP. They are also likely to take a toll on the supply of higher-end food goods for Russia’s wealthier urbanites, according to the AP.

“Until the last moment, we hoped that our foreign colleagues would understand that sanctions lead to a deadlock and no one needs them,” Medvedev said, according to the AP. “But they didn’t and the situation now requires us to take retaliatory measures.”

The restrictions follow the harshest sanctions yet imposed by the West last week targeting a large swath of the Russian economy, including finance, oil and defense. Those measures were intended to squeeze the already troubled Russian economy even further, after Russia seized Crimea in March and is suspected of continuing to support pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Medvedev also said Ukrainian airliners would be banned from flying over Russian airspace. He said such measures may be extended to Western airliners, some of which currently fly over Siberia from the U.S. en route to other parts of Asia.

[AP]

TIME

Livestream: Obama Speaks from Martha’s Vineyeard

President Barack Obama is expected to address foreign policy issues followings his phone call with Putin and the collapse of a ceasefire in Gaza.

TIME Ukraine

Investigators Finally Reach Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Crash Site

Alexander Hug deputy head for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine, looks on next to armed pro-Russian separatists on the way to the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site, near Donetsk on July 30, 2014.
Alexander Hug, deputy head for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe monitoring mission in Ukraine, looks on next to armed pro-Russian separatists on the way to the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site, near Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, on July 30, 2014 Sergei Karpukhin—Reuters

Clashes between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists had kept the team from the site until today

International investigators reached the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 for the first time since the Boeing 777 was downed by a missile in eastern Ukraine on July 17, the Associated Press reports.

Fighting between the Ukrainian military and the pro-Russian separatists had kept the investigation team, made up of Dutch and Australian forensic experts and officials with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, from accessing the site.

But on Thursday, the team was able to pass through both Ukrainian and rebel checkpoints. A spokesman for the Ukrainian government announced a “day of quiet” Thursday to ensure the safety of the team, though reporters on the scene say clashes were ongoing in the area.

Ukraine has intensified its assault on rebel-held territory since MH17 crashed with 298 people on board, and fighting has left more than 1,000 dead, including hundreds of civilians.

The investigators limited their initial visit to reconnaissance, according to the New York Times, and left at around 5 p.m. local time to head back to the rebel-held city of Donetsk, about 65 km (40 miles) from the site.

They are expected to focus on retrieving human remains — Australian Foreign Minister said up to 80 bodies are believed to still be strewn across the crash site — and collect victims’ belongings, the AP reports.

[AP]

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

Ukraine
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.

[Reuters]

TIME

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

TOPSHOTS-UKRAINE-RUSSIA-POLITICS-UNREST-CRISIS
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]

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