Why not kill them all?

Keith Gessen in Donetsk
LRB | 11 September 2014

Mikhail Mishin is a small, fit man with a couple of gold teeth in his mouth. He grew up in Makeevka, a large town next to Donetsk, and for several years played professional football, rising to the Ukrainian Second League before eventually quitting at the age of 28. After a few tough years, his father helped him find work in the sports section of city government. He lobbied for money for sports facilities and attended their opening ceremonies, where he always gave a short speech about the moral and physical benefits of sport. No scholar of languages, he was never able to master Ukrainian fully, which perhaps would have kept him from climbing higher in politics if things hadn’t taken a strange turn for him, and the Donbass region, earlier this year. In any case, around Donetsk, Russian was the only language necessary for overseeing children’s football tournaments. Mishin’s salary was $300 a month and he didn’t own a car, but he didn’t mind too much. His costs were low – he was unmarried and lived in his parents’ flat – and if he needed a ride somewhere, his best friend Aleksandr was always happy to drive.

When the Maidan protests started in Kiev late last year, Mishin followed them with increasing anxiety. He watched as young men in masks and the insignia of old Ukrainian fascist movements attacked riot police – some of them from the Donetsk area – with Molotov cocktails. He saw governors in the western provinces pulled out of their offices and roughed up by furious crowds. It seemed that the country was descending into chaos. When he heard a rumour that some of the young men from Maidan were headed for Donetsk, he believed it. After work he started taking the bus to the centre of Donetsk to stand with the protesters who called themselves ‘anti-Maidan’. Some of them waved Russian flags; others held up posters of Stalin. But they all wanted to express their disagreement with what was happening in Kiev. Mishin supported this. He was worried that he might get into trouble – he was a city official, after all – but he figured that he was doing it in his own time, and it was something he believed in. But he concealed his new political activity from his parents, who would have worried.

‘The protests in March and April were the most massive grassroots protests I have ever seen in Donetsk,’ Yuri Dergunov, who is also from Makeevka and teaches political science, told me. ‘In my memory people here had never been so active and so involved in their own fate.’ He pointed out the very specific social composition of the protests in Donetsk. The pro-Maidan protests, when they took place, were middle class and nationalistic; anti-Maidan was lower class and anti-oligarchic (and Russian nationalist). ‘I would see the people at Maidan and think: “What nice people, so well dressed, so educated.” Then they would open their mouths.’ The things that came out of their mouths included slogans taken from interwar Ukrainian fascism. They also expressed what Dergunov calls barely concealed ‘social racism’ towards the members of anti-Maidan. Perhaps nowhere else in Ukraine was the split between pro-Maidan and anti-Maidan so visible as it was in Donetsk.

While Mishin was quietly attending the rapidly growing anti-Maidan meetings, Enrique Menendez, a businessman, was himself getting worried. Menendez, who is named after his grandfather, a Spanish Republican soldier who retreated to France and after the war ended up in the USSR, is thirty years old. He grew up in a town fifty miles north of Donetsk and moved to the city after high school to seek his fortune. Too poor to afford university, he found he could navigate the media business, and got work at a growing internet company in Donetsk. Three years ago he started his own company, the Ad Factory, which did online marketing for businesses in Donetsk. He was doing well and had seven employees. But he began to feel his city slipping away from him.

In early March, Menendez and some other local professionals decided to organise a big pro-Ukraine meeting. Menendez was tasked with ensuring security for the protesters: everyone knew they might be attacked. He approached the staff of the newly appointed governor, but they couldn’t guarantee the protest’s safety; eventually he got in touch with the organised fans of Shakhtar Donetsk (shakhtar means ‘miner’ – Donetsk is coal country). These ultras, who had been supporters of Maidan, agreed to provide security. The meeting went off, thousands came, and at the end a group of men approached with sticks. The ultras were as good as their word and confronted the attackers, with the result that several of the ultras (as well as several of the attackers) ended up in hospital. This was as expected, but Menendez was discouraged.

The first thing he noticed was that the separatist forces were simply stronger: there were more of them in general, and there were more of them who were willing to employ physical violence. The second thing he noticed was that they were local. The third thing he noticed was that the police were at best passive and at worst openly hostile to the pro-unity protesters, and it didn’t get much better the higher up you went. In mid-March representatives of the post-Maidan Ministry of the Interior visited Donetsk. They met with civic leaders but most of all they met with the football ultras, and demanded that they arm themselves and prepare for battle against the pro-Russian forces in the city.

Menendez was furious. The government was coming to his city and trying to get football hooligans to beat up protesters. ‘Resolving conflicts – that’s what government is for. If you’re incapable of that, you’re not a government, you’re a profanation. Either from ignorance of the situation, or from understanding it full well, they were igniting a civil war.’

Menendez wanted to set up a dialogue with the pro-Russian activists, but his fellow pro-unity organisers wanted another rally. Menendez refused to participate. He thought it was unsafe, and on Facebook he discouraged people from attending. The march went ahead anyway. At the end of it a group of unity supporters was surrounded by a much larger group of separatists. The separatists threw bottles, cans and punches; at the end of it, one of the pro-unity marchers, the 19-year-old secretary of the local branch of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party, was dead.

Menendez knew several of the leaders of the pro-Russian movement in Donetsk. ‘This didn’t start yesterday,’ he told me. ‘If you look at photos of protests in Donetsk from 2003, you see the same Russian flags. The call for Donetsk to join Russia goes back a long way.’ Menendez was particularly friendly with Pavel Gubarev, initially the most visible of the separatist protesters. He liked Gubarev, whom he called Pasha, a lot. ‘He came from a poor family from outside Donetsk, as I did, and he rented his apartment in Donetsk, just like me, and was hoping to buy one.’ Gubarev sold advertising space on billboards in Donetsk and its environs; he had pioneered a system that allowed national chains to run advertising campaigns in the region without having to reach out to every individual billboard owner. ‘He was a great guy,’ Menendez said. ‘He worked hard and put a lot of money into his own education. He just happened to have always been a Russian fascist.’

Menendez hadn’t been in touch with Gubarev in some time when he called him in late February, to see how business was going (Menendez’s business was doing badly because of all the turmoil). ‘I could tell he was distracted when I called, like he was talking to someone else. It took him a moment to remember who I was. Then he said: “What business, bro? Donbass is joining Russia!” That’s when I knew we had lost Pasha.’

A week later, Gubarev was proclaimed the ‘people’s governor of Donetsk’, and a few days after that was arrested for separatist activity and taken to Kiev: at that point, the government was still able to carry out arrests in Donetsk. But things were spiralling out of control. In early March, there was a rumour that the oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, the ‘boss’ of Donetsk, owner of its football team, and the richest man in Ukraine, would deploy his private security force to restore order. It was an unappealing prospect, but better than a full-scale rebellion leading to war.

Akhmetov, it now appears, was playing a double game. Publicly he was silent; privately, it seems, he was financing the separatists (he denies it). But the rebellion soon developed a logic of its own. In early April, protesters stormed the regional government building for the third time in a month. One of them was the longtime local Communist parliamentarian Boris Litvinov; as one of the most senior members of the group, he was tasked with putting together a document establishing the region’s statehood. He went home and made himself a pot of coffee and looked up all the other declarations of independence on the internet. ‘From the United States to Kosovo,’ he told me. ‘Anything that appeared when you put “declaration of independence” into the search bar, I read.’ He drafted a short and punchy version for the Donetsk People’s Republic. Read aloud in the chamber of the regional parliament on the morning of 7 April, the hotchpotch declaration was met with raucous applause.

Throughout this time, Mikhail Mishin kept attending meetings. He signed up for volunteer defence work and was asked on several nights to guard the barricades in front of the regional government building; one night he was asked to help man a checkpoint on the road into town, overseeing the traffic police. He ran into a guy he used to play football with, Denis Pushilin, who had become one of the main organisers of the rebellion. Pushilin was glad to see him there.

No one was thinking that all this would lead to war. People were scared and unhappy and doing something about it. That the protest took on such a strong separatist colour was due less to the protesters’ basic demands (regional autonomy might have been enough for many) than to the recent Russian annexation of Crimea. ‘The contradictions didn’t necessarily lead to war,’ Dergunov said. ‘But when Crimea went with the option of total separation, it pushed the extremes, both pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian, to the fore. That was Putin’s real crime – this is what created the war.’

Then, on 12 April, the police station in the city of Slovyansk, fifty miles north of Donetsk, was taken over by a group of unidentified commandos. The police were overwhelmed. ‘These were not locals with hunting rifles,’ the new chief of the Slovyansk police told me. ‘These were highly trained, well-armed men.’ It soon became evident that the commandos had come from abroad: the Russian aid that the protesters in Donetsk had been calling for had finally materialised. At that moment, what had been a people’s uprising turned into an armed revolt, and some would say a covert invasion.

Disorganised and confused, the post-revolutionary government in Kiev was also intimidated: the Russians had massed troops at the border and repeatedly said that they were prepared to meet any violence against pro-Russia protesters with force. After the armed takeover of Slovyansk and then a dozen other cities in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the government sent in some tanks, unaccompanied by infantry, only to have local residents block their movements. It took several weeks before the government mounted a serious counterattack, which it called an ‘anti-terrorist operation’, or ATO.

Meanwhile the Donetsk People’s Republic, or DNR, was taking on some of the elements of statehood. First it organised a referendum (copied in neighbouring Lugansk) on autonomy; hundreds of thousands came out to vote ‘yes’. In mid-May, the DNR announced its first government. Boris Litvinov, the author of the declaration of independence, was named the executive officer of the council of ministers; Gubarev’s wife was made foreign minister (Gubarev himself had only recently been released in a prisoner exchange with Kiev); a newcomer from Moscow, a political ‘technologist’ called Aleksandr Borodai, was made prime minister; and Mikhail Mishin, the football player from Makeevka, was made minister of sport.

For the first few weeks after he took the job, Mishin went to bed each night wondering if he’d be arrested before morning. The Kiev government could still probably do that. But with each passing day he felt better, and started thinking about what the DNR could accomplish in the realm of sport. He certainly hoped league-leading Shakhtar Donetsk would return to the city, though that would have to wait until after the war.

War was getting closer. After a month of heavy shelling from the Ukrainian army, the rebel group in Slovyansk, led by a mysterious former FSB officer called Igor Strelkov, retreated to Donetsk. Once there, Strelkov established himself as the military commander of all forces in the region. It was estimated that the rebels had as many as ten thousand men under arms. To win the war now, the army would have to take Donetsk.

*

In early August I took the train from Kiev to Donetsk. Kiev was full of refugees from the east. Donetsk’s football team was staying at the Opera Hotel; others were staying with friends or relatives or in hostels and rented flats around town. The people of Kiev were not inhospitable, but they were wary, and they were angry. The ATO had been going on in earnest for two months, and each day brought news of more deaths from the front. The government had announced a ‘partial mobilisation’, calling up people who had once served in the armed forces, and there were also several volunteer battalions: some, like the Azov and Aidar battalions, were based on existing structures (in Azov’s case the Social-National Assembly of Ukraine, i.e. the far right, and in Aidar’s case the self-defence units of Maidan); others had been raised by locals who were willing to fight. In early August, the Maidan encampment was still partly intact, but the energy had vanished. One evening, at the edge of what remained of it, I happened across a group of forty men standing outside a bus and saying goodbye to friends and girlfriends. They looked tired, unshaven and for the most part out of shape. Eventually they lined up, did a roll call, and boarded the bus. They were volunteers for the Aidar battalion, and they were headed for Lugansk.

The post-Maidan government was now a war government. It banned the Communist Party from parliament for its alleged support of the rebels. It set up a gmail account for people in liberated towns in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions to write anonymous reports on fellow citizens who might have aided the rebels. And it was doing its best to scare people. A professor at Kharkiv University showed me an order from the Ministry of Education demanding that all senior university officials take part in mobilising staff for the ATO. Those who ‘sabotaged’ the process would be found guilty of ‘separatist tendencies’. ‘This language,’ he said. ‘It’s straight out of the 1930s.’

The day before I was to take the train to Donetsk I met a man from Lugansk called Kirill. He had been an outspoken supporter of Maidan and a unified Ukraine, and after the rebels took over the city they came to his house, arrested him and brought him in for questioning. They demanded that he admit he was a spy, and when he refused they shot him in the leg. They kept him another week, then dropped him off in the woods and suggested he disappear. He hid out with a friend until his leg got a little better, then made his way to Kiev. Now he spent his time playing video games and, out of some kind of repetition compulsion, watching YouTube clips of captured Ukrainian soldiers getting interrogated by the rebels. The films were horrible, and there were lots of them.

I arrived in Donetsk on a Tuesday; I knew we were getting close when I spotted the first slag heaps. I had been worried about document checks but no one asked for papers on the train or at the station. In fact there were no armed men at all until you got near the city centre. Then they began to appear, and unarmed passers-by correspondingly became fewer. Many stores were closed and car dealerships were entirely emptied out: it had only taken a few ‘mobilisations’ of new vehicles by the rebels for the dealers to take their entire stock out of town. The city looked half empty. Occasionally a group of people could be seen huddled around a cashpoint. Most of the banks felt unsafe filling up their machines. There were no police on the streets and the number of car accidents had increased. On the other hand there were advantages. One day I got into a taxi whose young driver had a crew cut and was blasting Russian girl pop from his radio. He didn’t look like the world’s most responsible driver. I reached for my seatbelt. ‘What are you doing?’ he said. ‘There’s no cops here.’ The rebels, apparently, were lax about seatbelts, though very strict when it came to drinking. People caught drunk in public were routinely picked up and forced to dig defensive trenches outside town. Habitual drunks had taken to wearing all black so as to be less visible to DNR militants at night.

The popular longtime mayor of Donetsk, Aleksandr Lukyanchenko, had fled to Kiev in July after being asked to pledge allegiance to the DNR and also, it was said, to prepare for the siege of the city by blowing up large buildings on the outskirts. But public buses, rubbish trucks and emergency repair crews were still working. In the centre of town, the rebel fighters were concentrated around the SBU (formerly the KGB) building – where Strelkov was said to have his headquarters and where a rebel codenamed Nose oversaw a growing population of hostages – and the 11-storey regional government building, now the seat of the government of the DNR. The rebel fighters came in different shapes and sizes. Some were kids, barely 18, of the sort who fill any army and always look too young to carry guns. They were in the minority. Most of the fighters were grown men: some were unemployed miners who had joined the rebels out of conviction or anger, and others were well-trained and well-disciplined troops. These last were partly local ex-military or ex-police, while others came from abroad, though they didn’t advertise this. (The most visible foreign fighters were those from the Caucasus, since they had more trouble blending in.)

At its maximum extent in late May, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics formed a bloc (they called it Novorossiya, New Russia, after the old tsarist term for the area) extending about ten thousand square miles west from the Russian border: about the size of Belgium, and one twentieth the area of Ukraine. In two months, starting immediately after the election of President Petro Poroshenko, rebel-held territory had shrunk by more than half. Donetsk had been the south-west corner of the territory; after the rebel retreat from Slovyansk, Donetsk had become more of a south-west redoubt. As a result, the city was being shelled from the west and the north.

And yet the rebels didn’t seem that worried. In the regional government building they held meetings and press conferences and updated their website. I spoke for a long time with Litvinov, who’d recently been elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet and added to the EU and UK financial sanctions lists. For him, it was as if 1917 had come to life from the yellowed pages of Lenin’s collected works. Was he worried about international recognition for his republic? ‘No. Think how long it took the Soviet Union to be recognised.’ (The US only recognised the Soviet Union in 1933.) ‘The only country that’s recognised us so far is South Ossetia.’ What about passports? ‘Here I think the Transnistrian experience is useful. People still have Moldovan passports. They know if they put a stamp in those passports that says “Transnistria” no one will acknowledge it. So what they do is, they have an insert that says “Transnistria” that they put into the passport when necessary, but also take out when necessary.’ Was he worried about the DNR becoming as isolated as Transnistria? ‘We won’t become Transnistria, for simple reasons of geography. On the one side of Transnistria is Moldova, on the other side Ukraine. They had to beg for the use of a little bit of the mouth of the Dniester from the Ukrainians. Whereas we have a nice long border with Russia. And we also have access to the sea.’ He pointed to the map on his wall that showed Donetsk and Lugansk with their pre-independence borders. When we talked, the coast of the Sea of Azov that he referred to, which included the big port city of Mariupol, had been under Ukrainian control for some time. But Litvinov was calm. ‘It’s not going to be a quick process. It’s going to be a long and difficult process. But we’ll get through it.’

*

In Donetsk I had expected to find a totalitarian proto-state, and I did. The Kremlin liked calling the government in Kiev a ‘junta’, but here you had a real one. Professional mercenaries in fatigues called the shots and even ministers of state felt compelled to cross the street at the sight of armed men, lest a misunderstanding occur. What I didn’t expect to find were so many people who believed in all of it with such certainty, and with such hope.

One day I visited Mishin in Makeevka. He and his friend Aleksandr Bik took me on a tour, past the giant Makeevka Iron and Steel Works, which in the 1930s was the largest steel plant in the USSR (producing more steel than the whole of Italy, it was said), and which continued to be a major player in Soviet steel until perestroika. In 1997 it filed for bankruptcy. It’s now owned by Akhmetov’s Metinvest and employs a fraction of the people it did during Soviet times. Nearby was a huge slag heap. I asked if we could climb it, but this was deemed inadvisable: the hill was full of dangerous chemicals, and people sometimes fell into holes in it.

We drove to the fields west of Makeevka to visit an old cow shed where Bik now raises worms to produce fertiliser; according to the US government, it was from one of the nearby fields that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 had been fired on. As we drove, Mishin and Bik described a world in which, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rackets took over. People started disappearing. With inflation skyrocketing, it was impossible to survive on a salary. You had to have your own business, and not everyone was cut out for that. Even once things stabilised there was banditism. As we got outside town, Bik pointed to what looked like abandoned digging projects. They were illegal coal mines run by Aleksandr Yanukovych, son of the former president, he said. They had scarred the fields and left craters and dead bodies in their wake. ‘You think we liked living under these people?’ Bik said. ‘No, we didn’t. But there wasn’t anything we could do.’ The anti-Maidan uprising changed all that.

For Mishin and Bik, the signal events of the past year looked very different from the way they looked to my friends in Kiev or Moscow. When liberals in those places had seen young men on Maidan attacking the riot police, they thought, ‘people power’; and when they saw men in Donetsk beating pro-Ukraine protesters, they thought, ‘fascists’. But that wasn’t how it looked from Donetsk. From Donetsk they saw fascists on Maidan and, on the streets of Donetsk, people power. Whether the actual fascists on Maidan made them more or less certain of this, I don’t know, but hearing it gave body to something the sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko had said to me in Kiev: ‘It was the liberals’ tolerance of the nationalists on Maidan that led to this. If they had rejected them right away, things might have turned out differently. It might have led to the collapse of Maidan. It might even have meant that Yanukovych remained president. But at least there would have been peace.’

Mishin and Bik were what the sociologists call the ‘losers’ of the post-Soviet transition. In Soviet times Bik had been a coal miner with aspirations to join the KGB. ‘They didn’t take Party bosses’ sons, you know,’ he said (wrongly). ‘They took working people like me.’ And Mishin was a mighty athlete. He recalled playing in a tournament in Leningrad and being promised a trip to the United States. ‘The USA!’ he recalled thinking. And then the whole world collapsed. Industrial regions like Donbass were hardest hit by the changes: it was the region’s industrial output that plummeted furthest in the 1990s; it was industrial plants over which the bloodiest turf wars revolved. And it was in these places that the loss of status was most extreme. Industrial work was championed by the Soviets, both in word and in deed: coal miners in Donbass earned on average two or three times what a software engineer like my father earned in Moscow. (In the early 1980s, Bik had been working as a miner for just a few months when he bought a motorbike. The girls went crazy for it.) When the Soviet Union ended, the entire country experienced what Nietzsche might have recognised as a transvaluation of all values: what had been good was now bad, and what had been bad was now good. Some people liked it and grew rich; other people were left behind. With the victory of protests that were still referred to by some of their supporters as Euromaidan, the people of this industrial region were being asked to endure yet another round of deindustrialisation – of austerity, unemployment and social death. They had balked at this and, what was more, they had an out. Deindustrialisation had gone hand in hand, the first time, with the collapse of the empire. But what if the empire could be restored? Maybe the jobs would come back? If the Russians felt they had ‘lost’ something in Ukraine, many people in Eastern Ukraine felt as if they’d been stranded from their motherland. ‘They call us traitors and separatists,’ Bik said. ‘But I don’t feel like a traitor. I felt like a traitor before, when I had to call myself Ukrainian. I don’t feel like a traitor now.’

Makeevka at this time was relatively quiet – it was in the rear of the fighting, behind Donetsk – but occasionally artillery could still be heard going off in one direction or another. It sounded like thunder, but louder and closer to the ground. In Kiev people believed armed men had taken over part of Ukraine and needed to be dealt with. From here it sometimes seemed as if the local population had finally taken their lives into their own hands, and then the army had come for them. ‘I feel bad for these people,’ a woman from Slovyansk told me. ‘They tried to change things, but in doing so they brought the enemy into their house.’ By the enemy she meant Russia. But it would be just as true a statement if the enemy was Ukraine.

The Ukrainian army was coming, and if the individual soldiers were for the most part coming reluctantly, the people who stood behind them, the media and political cheerleaders of the ATO, were coming with full intent. When they called the people of Donetsk ‘barbarians’ and ‘non-people’, they weren’t simply reacting to the things the rebels had done. They were reacting to what they’d done in Ukrainian politics for twenty years.

The people from the west wanted to be rid of the people from the east. Not so much in the name of Ukrainian nationalism as in the name of progress. For two decades the centre and especially the west of the country had been pursuing Europeanisation. There was certainly a socioeconomic difference in Donbass between the supporters of a unified Ukraine and the supporters of the DNR. The night after I visited Mishin in Makeevka, Enrique Menendez invited me to meet a small group of young, pro-Ukraine professionals who had remained in the city, doing humanitarian work. After delivering food to a dormitory housing more than a thousand refugees from the region, we drove to Havana Banana, a favourite haunt of mid-level rebel commanders, who ate, drank mineral water, and met up with prostitutes there. We drove in a new Fiat which Marina, at the wheel, had trouble handling. ‘This is my friend’s car,’ she said. ‘I’m borrowing it because she’s in Kiev. My real car is a BMW.’ We ate sushi and drank beer. At one point a yellow Porsche pulled up and some rebels hopped out. ‘Ah,’ Marina said. ‘They got it.’ She’d noticed the car around town, with its original owner, and wondered how long before ownership changed. The bill came and, given the low prices in Ukraine, was larger than I’d anticipated. ‘Who ordered $20 worth of sushi?’ I asked. ‘I did!’ Enrique said. Then we all went home, to avoid being out after curfew.

I mention all this to stress the difference between those who supported the DNR in Donetsk and those who didn’t. But among the young professionals I also met a journalist from Lviv. She wasn’t just dressed better than anyone in Donetsk, she was dressed differently, as if on a civilisational level. She looked like she was from France.

And so imagine if for two decades you have been trying to pull your country, bit by bit, into Europe. Imagine that it’s been a bumpy road – everything you accomplish seems to get sabotaged by the political forces from the east. Imagine that finally the contradictions within your country have come to a breaking point. Imagine that all the people who opposed your politics for twenty years – all the most backward, poorest, least successful people in the country – got together in one place, declared an independent republic, and took up arms? What would you do? You could let them go. But then you’d lose all that land and its industrial capacity and also what kind of country just lets chunks of itself fall off? Perhaps you could think of it as an opportunity. Something similar happened when the old Stalinists and nationalists took over the Supreme Soviet in Moscow in 1993. All the enemies of progress in one place, all the losers and has-beens: wouldn’t it be better just to solve the problem once and for all? Wouldn’t it be a better long-term solution just to kill as many as you could and scare the shit out of the rest of them, for ever? This is what I heard from respectable people in Kiev. Not from the nationalists, but from liberals, from professionals and journalists. All the bad people were in one place – why not kill them all?

asked Mishin and Bik if they’d known, when they declared independence, that it would lead to war. ‘If you pick up a gun, they’ll come for you with guns,’ in the words of one anti-DNR resident of Donetsk. But Mishin and Bik, like every other DNR supporter to whom I put this question, said no. They were just trying to be heard. And they pointed out that even in early April, before Strelkov and his crew had taken Slovyansk and escalated the conflict, Ukrainian fighter jets would fly very low over the pro-Donbass protests held in Donetsk. From the very start, Kiev had been prepared to use force.

*

As August went by, the Ukrainian army drew nearer. In my first few days in Donetsk, the fighting, if highly approximate shelling of each other’s positions can be called that, was on the outskirts of the city. A group of us travelled to the western edge of Donetsk to find houses, a market and a school that had been hit by Grad rockets and shells from what appeared to be Ukrainian positions. One man had been killed when the market was hit (the shell landed near him and ripped off half his head); a woman had been killed in another part of the city. By the end of the week the shelling had reached the centre of Donetsk. It usually started at 4.30 a.m., lasted half an hour, and then resumed around seven, again for a short period of time. To have shells falling within a half-kilometre of you is very loud and, really, very scary. Sometimes you hear a whistle followed by a crashing explosion. At other times you just hear the explosion. My first reaction when the shelling woke me up was to go to a high floor – we were in a nine-storey high-rise – and stick my head out the window. After I’d seen a flash not far from us and felt the entire building shake, I went quickly back down the stairs and into the building’s boiler room. A family of three and I sat silently there for half an hour until the shelling stopped. There were people in other towns in the east who’d sat in basements like this for weeks.

The centre of the city was being shelled by howitzers and tanks. On the outskirts of the city I had seen the traces of Grad rockets: a terrifying instrument that burns up much of its length before launching, like a space rocket, and then flies highly inaccurately into enemy territory, generally setting fire to whatever it hits. One night the Ukrainians bombed Donetsk: we heard the planes overhead (otherwise, especially at night, the city was extraordinarily quiet) and then the muffled sound of bombs dropping miles away. The next day we went to see the large craters they’d left in the road. I never once saw an actual military target – the SBU, for example – get hit, only civilian locations. Possibly the army had poor aim; possibly the army was hoping to encourage the remaining civilian population to leave. Or possibly the army didn’t care. Most of the people with means or connections were long gone. As one of Menendez’s friends from Kiev had said – to Menendez’s great annoyance – ‘all the normal people have left already.’ So the shelling increased.

*

I decided to leave Donetsk after seeing a man getting shoved into the trunk of a car by a group of armed men in fatigues. ‘Get the fuck in there, blyad’!’ one of them shouted at him. The man was blindfolded and had his hands bound behind his back. He was unsteady on his feet, either because he was drunk or they’d beaten him, or both. This was going on a few paces from the headquarters of the DNR, where Mishin was working on an organisation chart for his proposed ministry of sports.

I got on the train and travelled to Kramatorsk and Slovyansk, where the war had begun. Slovyansk, in particular, was a revelation. I had seen photos and videos of it under occupation, when people were being shot in the street. A month after the rebels had left, people were walking around eating ice cream. There were still plenty of ruined buildings, but the atmosphere was almost festive. I saw a group of children who were so cute and happy I wanted to take a photo. I asked their mothers if this was all right, and they said yes, except, they added, they weren’t from Slovyansk. They had come from Yenakievo, Yanukovych’s hometown, where the fighting between government forces and the rebels was fierce. Slovyansk, once a byword for the war, had become a place where people took refuge from it.

Not everyone felt better in Slovyansk after the departure of the DNR. I met a woman who’d been roughed up by ‘investigators’ interested in her vocal support for the separatists. Others, less involved, had simply enjoyed the rebels’ style of governance. ‘When they were here, there was order,’ one man told me. ‘After some of the shelling, there were copper and aluminium wires lying in the streets! No one dared steal them. They chased the Gypsies off from the train station where they sold drugs. There was order!’ As soon as the rebels left, the Gypsies returned, paying the police to look the other way, just as before. In general, things had gone back to the way they were.

But not in Donetsk – not yet, and possibly not for a long time. Even as reports came in that Russian armoured vehicles were crossing the border, the Ukrainian army continued to press into Lugansk and Donetsk. In mid-August the trains stopped running into or out of Donetsk. On Independence Day, the DNR paraded its Ukrainian prisoners of war through the streets. A crowd gathered to watch (the press department of the DNR had sent out invites by email), and people threw eggs and hurled curses at the prisoners. Meanwhile in Kiev the capital was treated to a large military parade. Some of the hardware that had been causing so much damage in the east was rolled down the streets of the city, in the very spot where Maidan had once been. Two days later, a Russian force crossed the border in southern Donetsk province and started heading for Mariupol. They were trying to establish the access to the sea that Litvinov had talked about two weeks earlier. At the time it sounded delusional. Now it was here.

I called Mishin. He was excited about the counteroffensive in the south, though also sick and tired of the war. A friend with whom he’d played football had been out grocery shopping when Makeevka was shelled. He was hit in the head by shrapnel and killed.

Enrique Menendez’s office building had been shelled too. Menendez was upstairs but ran down and outside unharmed. He had shown me the headquarters of the Ad Factory while I was in Donetsk. Inside the empty office eight computers stood silent. Google, one of Menendez’s business partners, had sent him two beanbag chairs, which still sat in their plastic wrapping against a wall. ‘We’re the only company in Donetsk that’s an official Google ad affiliate,’ Menendez said. ‘They were supposed to send those during the holidays, but they only arrived recently. I was so mad at them.’ The Ad Factory’s offices were on the seventh floor. Looking out, we saw on the northern horizon the distinctive grey smoke that rises from a house or other object on fire after a rocket attack. ‘I need to say goodbye to all this, mentally,’ Menendez said. ‘It’s all from a different world.’

29 August

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n17/keith-gessen/why-not-kill-them-all

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Boston Marathon Bombing Coverage–02 Sep 14

Gelzinis: Dzhokhar’s pal lost in translation
Peter Gelzinis
Boston Herald | August 22, 2014

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GUILTY: Dias Kadyrbayev, a college friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, with his defense attorney Robert Stahl at his left, pleads guilty yesterday before Judge Douglas P. Woodlock for impeding the investigation into the deadly attack.

Dias Kadyrbayev came to court yesterday flanked by his lawyer and his translator, a woman who looked a lot like my third-grade teacher.

She planted herself by Kadyrbayev’s left shoulder and only sprung into action on those occasions when the 20-year-old Kazakh’s brow wrinkled, or U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock would ask, “Do you understand me?”

The kid nodded politely, answered, “Yes sir,” and “No sir,” but never once, “I understand, your Honor.”

This bit of lost in translation became all the more curious when Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Seigmann rose to read six pages of stipulated facts about Dias’ role in trying to get rid of evidence that allegedly ties his UMass Dartmouth buddy, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, to the marathon bombings.

The most chilling part, the one without a trace of an accent, was the fateful text exchange Dias had with Tsarnaev on Thursday, April 18, 2013, the night he saw his friend in those pictures the FBI flashed around the world. There was nothing “foreign” about it.

“Yo, bro, u saw the news?” Dias asks.

“Yea bro, I did,” Tsarnaev responds.

“For real?” texts Dias

“I saw the news,” Tsarnaev replies, then follows it up with a warning, “Better not text my friend.”

Though Dzhokhar tries to lighten things up with a quick “LOL,” Dias asks, “U saw yourself in there?” meaning strolling with backpacks among all those unsuspecting strangers on Boylston Street.

Dias then adds, “ahaha…hahaha.”

What kind of virtual laugh do you suppose that was? As it turns out, it became Dias Kadrybayev’s entry into a situation that would have him copping a plea to obstruction of justice. He would find himself up to his ears in a vicious terrorist incident.

When the brief courtroom proceeding was over, Kadrybayev’s lawyer, Robert Stahl, told reporters that he was convinced his client had no role in the planning of the bombing, or that his friends might be involved.

That might well be true. But when it comes to this horrific act, joining in the cover-up is just as bad. I rode the elevator down yesterday with a sergeant from the Somerville Police Department, a woman who politely declined to say anything beyond, “I needed to be here.”

This cop came to court yesterday to see a kid admit that he obstructed the justice that might well have prevented the murder of MIT police Officer Sean Collier, who had just learned he was going to join the Somerville police.

That text conversation, which is bound to play a role in Dzhokhar’s upcoming trial, ends with Tsarnaev telling Dias “If yu want yu can go to my room and take what’s there…” He ends with “Salam aleikum.”

Dias responds with: “what’s wrong with u?

He should have taken that question to the police.

 

Boston Marathon bombing: Dias Kadyrbayev guilty of obstructing justice
Prosecutors to ask for seven years or less, but judge will review deal
Associated Press | Aug 21, 2014

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Attorney Robert Stahl speaks to media outside federal court in Boston, after his client, Dias Kadyrbayev, pleaded guilty to impeding the investigation into the deadly attack in April 2013. (The Associated Press)

A friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded guilty Thursday to impeding the investigation by removing incriminating evidence from Tsarnaev’s dormitory room several days after the deadly attack.

Dias Kadyrbayev, 20, admitted in federal court that he removed Tsarnaev’s laptop computer and a backpack containing fireworks that had been emptied of their explosive powder from Tsarnaev’s room.

Twin bombs placed near the finish line of the 2013 marathon killed three people and injured more than 260.

Under a plea agreement, federal prosecutors said they would ask for no more than seven years in prison. The agreement allows his lawyer to argue for a lesser sentence. The Kazakhstan-born Kadyrbayev also agreed not to fight deportation after he completes his prison sentence.

Judge will review plea agreement

U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock set sentencing for Nov. 18 but did not immediately accept the plea agreement, saying he first wanted to review a report that will be prepared by the probation department.

Kadyrbayev’s decision to plead guilty came just two weeks before he was scheduled to go on trial and a month after his friend and co-conspirator, Azamat Tazhayakov, was convicted of identical charges by a jury.

During Tazhayakov’s trial, prosecutors described Kadyrbayev as the leader in the decision to remove the items, but said Tazhayakov agreed with the plan. They said Kadyrbayev was the one who threw away the backpack and fireworks, which were later recovered in a landfill.

Kadyrbayev’s lawyer, Robert Stahl, said his client made a "terrible error in judgment that he’s paying for dearly."

Stahl emphasized that Kadyrbayev — a native of Kazakhstan who came to the U.S. in 2011 on a student visa — "had absolutely no knowledge" that Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were planning to bomb the marathon and was "shocked and horrified" when he learned they were suspects.

He said Kadyrbayev, who was 19 at the time, "now understands he never should have gone to that dorm room, and he never should have taken any items from that room."

Backpack, laptop taken from dorm room

His plea agreement with prosecutors does not make any mention of him agreeing to testify against a third friend who was also charged. Robel Phillipos is accused of lying to investigators about being present when Kadyrbayev took the items from Tsarnaev’s room. Phillipos is scheduled to go on trial next month.

The backpack, fireworks and laptop were taken from Tsarnaev’s room hours after the FBI publicly released photographs and videos of Tsarnaev and his brother as suspects in the bombing.

Prosecutors said Kadyrbayev exchanged text messages with Tsarnaev after seeing the photos, and Tsarnaev told him he could go to his dorm room and "take what’s there."

Prosecutors said the fireworks had been emptied of explosive powder that can be used to make bombs.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police several days after the bombings. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges and faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted. His trial is scheduled to begin in November.

 

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s College Friend Pleads Guilty
If a judge accepts the agreement, Dias Kadyrbayev, facing obstruction charges for disposing of Tsarnaev’s backpack after the Marathon bombings, will serve a maximum of seven years.
Susan Zalkind
Boston Daily | August 22, 2014

In a major turnaround, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s college friend Dias Kadyrbayev pleaded guilty to charges he obstructed the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings in a court hearing on Thursday.

Wearing a blue shirt and jeans, 20-year-old Kadyrbayev admitted he knew Tsarnaev was a bombing suspect when he went into Tsarnaev’s UMass Dartmouth dorm room and took his laptop and a backpack containing fireworks, Vaseline, and a thumb drive, and then threw the backpack into a dumpster. His guilty plea is the result of an agreement worked out between prosecutors and the defense, whereby Kadyrbayev will only serve a maximum of seven years instead of the potential 25 if found guilty. Judge Douglas Woodlock must still approve the plea agreement for the deal to move forward.

The prosecution said it took 25 agents two days to search through a landfill to find the backpack, and once they did, the items and the backpack had been altered.

“Is it all true?” Woodlock asked.

“Yes,” said Kadyrbayev, with his head down.

He stood solemnly when entering his guilty plea, a shift from his typically jovial mood—he started the hearing by flashing his attorney Robert Stahl a toothy grin. Despite the serious nature of his charges, Kadyrbayev comes off as a bit of a class clown. He has already taken the stand in attempt to suppress statements he made to the FBI on the grounds that he did not understand his Miranda rights. Expert witnesses argued that his reliance on slang masked his inability to comprehend complex phrases. Back in June, his first word to the court was, “Sup?”

Stahl later told reporters that Kadyrbayev has spent the past year alone in his cell, reflecting on his actions. “He understands he should not have gone to that room,” he said. “He did not do so out of malice.” None of the Tsarnaev’s friends facing charges are accused of knowing about the bombing beforehand.

Kadyrbayev’s plea is just the latest in a series of legal happenings stemming from Tsarnaevs associates, coming just a month after his friend and co-conspirator Azamat Tazhayakov was found guilty of obstruction after agreeing with Kadyrbayev to remove and throw out Tsarnaev’s backpack. He could face up to 25 years.

Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev are both from Kazakhstan. They became friends with Tsarnaev in 2011 during their first semester at UMass because they all spoke Russian and, according to friends’ testimonies, bonded over an interest in video games and weed. In an opening statement, Myers argued that they originally went to Tsarnaev’s room get his marijuana.

Missing from the courtroom yesterday was Robel Phillipos, another friend of Tsarnaev’s who allegedly was in the dorm room when Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov took the backpack. Phillipos is not facing charges of obstructing justice but is facing one count of lying to the FBI. His trial is set for next month.

Phillipos grew up in the same Cambridge apartment complex as Stephen Silva, who was arrested last month for selling heroin and for possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number in February 2013. The Ruger model P95 is believed to be the same gun the Tsarnaevs allegedly used to shoot and kill MIT officer Sean Collier.

“He basically let him use it but having no idea what he was going to do with it, and next thing you know, he’s a terrorist,” said a friend of Silva’s who asked not to be named.

Silva was friends with Dzhokhar and has an identical twin Steven Silva, who was reportedly even closer to the Tsarnaevs. Stephen Silva was arrested in November 2013 and told law enforcement, “I smoke weed because my friend is the bomber.” Silva’s friends tell Boston magazine Silva grew increasingly depressed after the bombing. His next court hearing is set for October.

Two additional Tsarnaev friends, Khairullozhon Matanov and Konstantin Morozov, were detained in separate incidents on May 30 of this year. Matanov is charged with three counts of lying to federal authorities and two counts of obstructing justice. His trial is set for June 2015.

Morozov was detained on immigration charges. His attorney Carlos Estrada says Morozov was applying for asylum and was detained after FBI agents asked him to become an informant. Morozov refused.

Tsarnaev’s capital case is set to start in November. The emerging theme from the testimony and documents of Tsarnaev’s associates’ cases is the younger Tsarnaev’s cool demeanor in the days after the bombings. In a video released in Tazhayakov’s trial, Tsarnaev appears to smile nonchalantly on the way to the gym, just a day after the bombings.

 

Legal analyst Tom Hoopes discusses Kadyrbayev plea
7News Boston WHDH-TV | Aug 21, 2014

BOSTON (WHDH) – Dias Kadyrbayev, a friend of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges Thursday.

Legal analyst Tom Hoopes weighed in on the hearing. He said the outcome of the Azamat Tazhayakov’s trial likely influenced Kadyrbayev’s plea.

"I think probably if they tried this case, exactly the same thing was likely to happen, at least that’s what the defendant and his lawyer thought. The prosecution was going to call all kinds of witnesses and this defendant wasn’t going to have anybody to call, and in this environment, the jury was probably going to find him guilty, and as a result of all that, he was going to do a longer sentence," he said.

 

Guilty plea opens evidence vs. Tsarnaev
Experts: Prosecutors must prove conspiracy
Bob McGovern
Boston Herald | August 22, 2014

Evidence dug up as part of yesterday’s guilty plea by a former college roommate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could be used against the accused Boston Marathon bomber if prosecutors can show they were part of a conspiracy to thwart investigators, according to legal experts.

“If people are considered co-conspirators, anything one says can possibly be used in the case of another,” said Peter Elikann, a Boston criminal defense attorney. “If these guys were doing anything to help Dzhokhar out, and he knew about it, they would be considered co-conspirators since they worked together to achieve a goal — to get rid of the evidence.”

Dias Kadyrbayev, 20, pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to charges that he hindered the investigation into the deadly 2013 bombings. He could spend up to seven years behind bars if Judge Douglas Woodlock approves the agreed-upon plea.

As part of his plea, Kadyrbayev admitted to a series of facts, including a text exchange with Tsarnaev that occurred after the attacks.

One comment could show that Kadyrbayev and pal Azamat Tazhayakov conspired with Tsarnaev to hide a backpack and laptop that were key aspects of the obstruction charge Kadyrbayev admitted to.

“If yu want yu can go to my room and take what’s there (SIC),” Tsarnaev texted Kadyrbayev, after it became clear that Tsarnaev was involved in the twin bombings that killed three and injured more than 260.

The statement, which was made before Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov raided Tsarnaev’s University of Massachusetts Dartmouth dorm room, could show that they were in a conspiracy to obstruct the investigation. If prosecutors prove the conspiracy, Tsarnaev’s words could be used against him as a co-conspirator, even if he isn’t indicted as one, according to an expert.

“As long as the government can establish someone is a co-conspirator in the charged conspiracy, they don’t have to be indicted,” said Brad Bailey, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. “It is sufficient to label someone an unindicted co-conspirator. However, the government still must prove the existence of the conspiracy charged and that the unindicted co-conspirator was part of it.”

Tazhayakov was found guilty of obstruction and conspiracy charges last month. He faces up to 25 years in federal prison when he’s sentenced Oct. 16. Kadyrbayev is set to be sentenced Nov. 18.

A third friend, Robel Phillipos, is charged with lying to investigators.

Boston Marathon Bombing Coverage–01 Sep 14

The Tsarnaev Women Tell Chechnya’s Story
Julia Ioffe
The Moscow News | 23/07/2014

There were three important women in Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s life—five, if you count his sisters—and each is a window into the culture to which he seemed to cling in the final years of his life.

First, there is his aunt, Maret Tsarnaeva, a Chechen refugee from Kyrgyzstan and now a resident of Toronto, by way of the U.S. In a press conference the day her nephew Dzhokhar was being hunted in the streets of suburban Boston, Maret, with her rust-colored hair and silvery manicured nails, gave a magnificent performance. She was brassy and assertive, commanding the attention of the reporters calling to her with questions. “I’m lawyer from back home,” she declared, exhorting the FBI to prove to her that her nephews were responsible for the bombing of the Boston marathon. “How difficult is that? Give me evidence!” she demanded, flicking her hand into the air as if peppering the press with her disdain. She talked about her nephews, but also about her youth in Kyrgyzstan, where the Tsarnaev brothers spent part of their childhoods. As a Chechen, Maret said she had to prove her mettle, to go over and above her Kyrgyz and Kazakh peers because, unlike them, “I was not in my land.” Asked about Tamerlan’s radicalization, Maret acknowledged that he did indeed turn to Islam in recent years. “He started praying five times a day, but I don’t see what’s wrong with that,” she said. “You just say words, gratitude to Creator.”

Maret is the old Chechnya: secular, Soviet, severed from its roots, paranoid and cynical in its knowledge, acquired painfully and firsthand, of what a government can do to its subjects. When Maret talked about her nephews being framed, she knew what she was talking about: “Lawyer from back home” actually meant state prosecutor, a key actor in a judicial system that was in practice a political bludgeon, one that actively invented charges against potential opponents. Maret also talked about Islam as a thing that is both native and foreign to her. Islam was something into which she was born, and which, to her, likely, is a set of pleasant traditions and holidays that give her a sense of belonging to an old history. For someone who had a Soviet upbringing, being born a Muslim was akin to being born Chechen; it was just another mark of ethnicity, and, towards the end of the Soviet experiment, didn’t mean much more than having a non-Slavic name.

Enter her sister-in-law, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, wife to her brother Anzor, mother to her nephews Tamerlan and Dzhokhar. You look at that old baby photo of Tamerlan from the late 1980s, and you see Zubeidat looking like a more sullen version of Maret. Her hair is uncovered and fashionably teased; her dress is secular, even stylish. At a press conference in Makhachkala, Dagestan, a quarter of a century later, she is a woman transformed, though the long, morose face is still the same. In between, she had moved from the wasteland that was nominally Buddhist Kalmykia, where Tamerlan had been born, to nominally Muslim Kyrgzystan, had another son, Dzhokhar, and two daughters, emigrated to America, gone to beauty school, married off her older son and daughters with uneven success, was arrested for shoplifting, divorced her husband, and moved back with him to her native Dagestan.

Somewhere along the way, Zubeidat found Islam in a way Maret never did.1 It is said that Zubeidat pushed Tamerlan toward the old faith when he started to lose his way, and it is also said that Mikhail Allakhverdov, the mysterious “Misha,” a Ukrainian-Armenian convert to Islam, had pushed Zubeidat or Tamerlan or both closer to Islam. And from there, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar seem to have moved on to more intense forms of the religion, including an interest in the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. It is something that seems to have percolated through the house and into Zubeidat’s newfound faith: She told one of her customers that the September 11 terrorist attacks were an inside job designed to turn the world against Muslims. “My son knows all about it,” Zubeidat is said to have claimed . “You can read on the Internet.”

Zubeidat is the new Chechnya, and the new Dagestan. At the Makhachkala press conference, she is dressed in a long-sleeved black caftan, her face framed tightly by a black and white hijab. Her mourning is expressive and theatrical, almost Middle Eastern. She talks about how she regrets moving to America— “why did I even go there?”—about how she expected America to keep her children safe, but instead “it happened opposite,” she says, weeping. “America took my kids away.” If the Tsarnaevs hadn’t emigrated, Zubeidat contends, “my kids would be with us, and we would be, like, fine.”

That, in the new Chechnya and the new Dagestan, is highly unlikely. While the Tsarnaevs were in Kyrgyzstan and America, the region began to change rather violently. After the First Chechen War ended in 1996, Chechnya became a mix of lawless wilderness rife with violence and kidnapping, and pockets ruled by fundamentalist warlords, like Aslan Maskhadov. After a second war between Russia and Chechnya broke out in 1999 and dragged on for years, Vladimir Putin installed Ramzan Kadyrov as president of Chechnya. Kadyrov was the son of a separatist mufti and led a vicious militia that switched to the Russian side early in the second war, and become allied with the FSB.

Kadyrov, who now posts photographs of his devout family at play or going on Muslim pilgrimages on his Instagram account, is accused of grotesque human rights violations. He now rules Chechnya with a mix of terror and a torrent of money from Moscow. He has led Chechnya down the path of increasing Islamization. Women are now required to cover up, lest they be harassed by the authorities or, worse, subject to paintball attacks by Kadyrov’s modesty vigilantes. Kadyrov has also voiced his support of honor killings, a rather stark turn for the once secular republic. “Now Chechen women must wear hijab and long dress with long sleeves to go anywhere out of home. There have been many situations of the public humiliation of those who tried to resist,” a Chechen woman told me. She asked to remain anonymous for fear for her family’s safety. “The previous generation was under the radicalization of Wahhabi regime during 1996-1999, but the Wahhabis lost, they didn’t achieve the goal to cover all Chechen women with hijab. But now the government has achieved that goal. This young generation of radicalized girls and boys might be a real threat to the society in the nearest future.”

Even before this policy had firmly taken root, the region became a source of unique terrorism: the female suicide bomber. The first woman to detonate herself was 22-year-old Khava Baraeva, who, in 2000, drove a truck packed with explosives into a local Russian military base, killing three. She was going after the commander who had killed her husband. Other Chechen and Dagestani women followed her lead, blowing up military posts as well as civilian targets inside Russia. Two women, for example, simultaneously brought down two Russian airliners in 2004, killing 89, and two young Dagestani women blew themselves up in the Moscow metro, in March 2010, killing 40. Half of the terrorists who seized the Dubrovka theater in Moscow in 2002 were women, strapped with explosives. Experts estimate that up to 40 percent of suicide bombings originating in the region are perpetrated by women.

The women have come to be known in Russia as “Black Widows.” At home they are known as shakhikdi, the Russianized feminine form shakhid, or martyr. “A lot of the women in these radical Islamic groups, for example, in Indonesia, they don’t get personally involved in frontline warfare but they raise their sons so that if their father is killed, they can step right away into his shoes,” says Mia Bloom, a scholar at Penn State’s International Center for the Study of Terrorism, and author of Bombshell, a book about women suicide bombers. “Women act as the glue within the terrorist cell,” she explains. “The daughter of one cell leader will marry a cell leader in another area to create linkages, like in 15th century European courts. And the women are to make sure that their men stayed fierce.” Bloom adds that, though it’s hard to do this in the U.S., in conflict zones “the mothers will convey a certain ideology or worldview to the children.” Others, like Mariam Farhat, a Hamas activist, encouraged her sons to go on suicide missions, and publicly bemoaned the fact that she didn’t have more sons to send into battle.

Chechen and Dagestani women took it one step further; they went into battle themselves. It is a stunning paradox, given that at home they live in what Bloom calls “an extraordinarily patriarchal society—so much so that the women at the Dubrovka theater were wearing explosive belts, they were not the ones with the detonators.” The man is the means and the ends of a Chechen home. When a Chechen woman is married, she is not allowed to speak at the wedding. Often, her relatives can’t even come. It is a celebration of the man’s acquisition. “In a Caucasian family, where the man dominates, woman is raised to take care of the man and to sacrifice for the man,” the Chechen woman told me. “The Caucasian code of ethics requires the woman to be modest and quiet. But during the war in Chechnya I have witnessed so many times how Chechen women would step before tanks and armed soldiers, aiming weapons at them, if their men were in danger of being captured or killed. So, this socially required behavior changes when it comes to a life and death issue. Mothers are ready to sacrifice for their sons, sisters for their brothers, wives for husbands, and so on.”

Though Zubeidat refuses to accept her sons’ guilt—“No, never,” she said that day in Makhachkala—and though a Russian wiretap caught her talking with Tamerlan about jihad, it seems unlikely that she would strap herself with explosives and charge forth against the enemy. Chechen and Dagestani mothers usually don’t. And that’s where Katherine Russell comes in, especially after a woman’s DNA was said to have been found on a fragment of the bomb.

Russell, the daughter of a Rhode Island doctor, met Tamerlan at a night club, converted to Islam, and, after marrying the elder Tsarnaev brother, reportedly became more observant and began to pull away from her family. She went to work while her husband stayed home. According to her friends, he was often abusive, calling her a “prostitute” and hurling furniture at her. This too is unfortunately common in the culture: Tamerlan’s naturalization was held up when he faced charges for slapping his girlfriend; his father, in an interview with The New York Times, wondered aloud at the strangeness of this country, where “you can’t touch a woman.”

But unlike a black widow, and unlike Zubeidat and Maret, when her husband was accused of blowing up the Boston Marathon and then died in a shoot-out with police, Russell, the American, did not pick up arms, verbal or physical, to avenge her man. She walked away. His violent attack on the state did not bond her to him; rather, it seemed to rip her out of his orbit, to shame and terrify her where, had Tamerlan been a radical in Dagestan, it may have brought her a certain grief-tinged honor. Instead, Russell issued statements in which she expressed her ignorance of the plot—the DNA was found not to be hers—as well as her shock and her family’s grief for the victims of the bombing. Most tellingly, she declined to claim Tamerlan’s body. Instead, it was claimed by his sisters, who though Americanized and horrified by Tamerlan’s act, said they would give their brother a proper Muslim burial.

 

Boston Marathon suspect’s sister allegedly threatened to bomb boyfriend’s ex
Associated Press | August 27, 2014

NEW YORK –  Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s sister was arrested Wednesday on suspicion she threatened to bomb a woman who previously had a romantic relationship with her boyfriend.

Ailina Tsarnaeva, who lives in North Bergen, N.J., made the threat against an upper Manhattan woman via telephone on Monday, police said. She turned herself in at a Manhattan police precinct, and police charged her with aggravated harassment.

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Several media outlets reported that Ms. Tsarnaeva told the Harlem woman she had "people who can go over there and put a bomb on you."

Officers gave Mr. Tsarnaeva an appearance ticket and released her pending a Sept. 30 court date.

A telephone number linked to Mr. Tsarnaeva was disconnected. Her lawyer, George Gormley, said he had left his office and would speak Thursday.

Ms. Tsarnaeva has been required to check in with Massachusetts probation officers since prosecutors said she failed to cooperate with a 2010 counterfeiting investigation.

Prosecutors said Ms. Tsarnaeva picked up someone who passed a counterfeit bill at a restaurant at a Boston mall and "lied about certain salient facts during the investigation."

At a hearing last October, Mr. Gormley said Ms. Tsarnaeva was pregnant with her second child and was unlikely to flee.

Ms. Tsarnaeva once lived in Cambridge, Mass., at an apartment linked to her brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who were the subjects of an intense manhunt in the Boston area in the days after the deadly April 2013 marathon bombing.

Records show Ms. Tsarnaeva now lives with a sister, Bella Tsarnaeva.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is charged with building and planting the two pressure-cooker bombs that exploded near the marathon’s finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others. He has pleaded not guilty.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after a gunbattle with police.

 

Defense Seeks to Move Trial on Boston Marathon Bombing
KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
NYT | AUG. 8, 2014

BOSTON — Citing “an overwhelmingly massive and prejudicial storm of media coverage” here, lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused in last year’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, pressed their case this week for moving his trial to Washington.

In papers filed here in federal court, Judy Clarke, the lead defense lawyer, wrote in response to prosecutors’ arguments: “Although the government insists that Mr. Tsarnaev has not been portrayed in a negative light, ‘but rather [as] the sympathetic young man who appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone,’ the actual data show he has been portrayed as a monster, a terrorist, depraved, callous and vile. He is viewed as an outsider, a foreigner, disloyal and ungrateful.”

The defense team had already sketched out its arguments for moving the trial, which is scheduled to begin in early November. In papers filed in June, the defense said its research had found an “overwhelming presumption of guilt” in Massachusetts against Mr. Tsarnaev in the bombings of April 15, 2013, which left three people dead and more than 260 wounded. Mr. Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to the 30 counts against him, 17 of which carry the death penalty.

In filings on Thursday evening, the defense sought to bolster those earlier arguments with almost 10,000 pages of supporting documents. They included extensive analyses of news media coverage and community attitudes performed by Edward J. Bronson, a professor emeritus at California State University, Chico.

Mr. Bronson was part of the team that argued unsuccessfully for the insider-trading trial of Jeffrey K. Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron, to be moved out of Houston, where the company was based. The court in that case ruled that pretrial publicity did not preclude a fair trial.

The Tsarnaev case is more frequently compared to that of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted in the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, in which 168 people were killed. The court held that prejudice against Mr. McVeigh in Oklahoma was so great that he could not obtain a fair trial there, and it moved the proceedings to Denver. In that case, the federal courthouse where the trial would have been held had been damaged in the bombing, and waiting for repairs would have delayed the start of the trial.

In papers filed here, Mr. Bronson said the Tsarnaev case “is more like the Oklahoma City bombing case, where a whole state was found by the trial court to be biased, than the city of Houston in the Skilling case.”

Ms. Clarke, a staunch opponent of the death penalty, added that the marathon bombing “has been portrayed, and is likely perceived, as a direct attack on Boston, its institutions, its traditions and each of its residents.”

Mr. Bronson said his analysis of coverage by The Boston Globe showed that it had run 2,420 articles on the bombing in a 15-month period, a volume that he called “extraordinarily high.” The Globe’s themes, words, phrases and passages constituted inflammatory overload, he said.

Brian McGrory, editor of The Globe, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the marathon bombing, said in response, “We believe our coverage to be fair, accurate and comprehensive, and will let our work speak for itself.”

It is not clear when the judge in the case, George A. O’Toole Jr., will decide whether the trial should be moved. The government will probably ask for time to respond to the latest filings.

Jeremy Sternberg, a former federal prosecutor in Boston and now a partner in the Boston office of the law firm of Holland & Knight, said the defense filings indicated that there were jurisdictions outside Boston, like Washington, that might be less prejudiced. But, he said, “they have not demonstrated that you can’t find a fair and impartial jury” in eastern Massachusetts.

Russian foreign minister answers questions on Ukraine and world issues

Text of "Answers to questions from the ITAR-TASS news agency by the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, Moscow, 4 August 2014" published on the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website on 6 August; subheadings added editorially.

Question: How do you assess the results of the meeting of the Contact Group on Ukraine in Minsk, and what are the prospects of a future meeting in this or another format? Please comment on the messages that Ukrainian soldiers have gone to Russia en masse. And what, in general, can you say about the topic of Ukraine?

Dialogue needed to resolve Ukraine conflict

Sergey Lavrov: The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has already provided his assessment of the meeting in Minsk, including in his contacts with foreign leaders. We welcome any steps aimed at dialogue rather than continuation of armed confrontation. Any dialogue should be equal to be productive. In other words, representatives of the south-east of Ukraine must be perceived as partners in the situation, which should be settled to make all those who live in Ukraine feel Ukrainians, part of their state, to make them to directly participate in reforms in their country, which were due long ago or even overdue. To be noted, the Ukrainian representatives said this when they were in opposition. Now they are heads of the state, and we would like them not to forget about the requirements to create structures, which allow reinforcing national unity, which they set when they were in opposition. Otherwise, they are no more than the current climate and temporary leaders.

It is also very important to stick to the other agreements which have been reached at the international level. In particular, the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine with the participation of the US secretary of state and the high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy signed a statement aimed at the resolution of three quite urgent tasks on 17 April in Geneva.

The first was to stop the use of force immediately, the second was to resolve humanitarian problems immediately, and the third was to start constitutional reform in a format which envisages the participation of all the Ukrainian regions and is open and accountable to public opinion.

None of those three requirements, to which the Ukrainian foreign minister signed, were implemented, primarily because Kiev chose another path and attempted to replace its internationally-agreed obligations with the so-called "peace plan by [Ukrainian President] Petro Poroshenko", which went in the right direction proposing a cease-fire, but its further points requested this cease-fire so that all the militia lay down weapons and surrender "at the discretion of the winner". This is directly contradictory to the obligations undertaken by Ukraine to start an equal and respectful dialogue with all the regions on how to build their state in such a way to make everything good in it, to make regions feel part of their country, which is respected, which chooses its leaders independently, has certain rights in the area of economics, finance and tax collection, and which guarantees the cultural and humanitarian traditions of its populations, including the use of their native language. I reiterate again that this has not been done. We drew the attention of our partners in the Minsk meeting to the fact that nobody has cancelled these criteria. They were agreed and approved, including by Ukrainians with the participation of the United States and the EU. It is not fair to try to "sweep this under the carpet", and we will not allow this to be done.

Ukrainian troops have asked for help in Russia

As to the situation with Ukrainian troops, according to reports, 438 troops asked to save them from military actions in the Russian territory. A total of 164 of them were border guards. We have helped the Ukrainian forces many times when they asked for help, accepted their wounded colleagues, and provided them with medical aid. For all those who wanted to return we provided such a possibility, nobody was kept against their will. However, to be honest, those who decided to return to Ukraine were later accused of desertion and court-martialled. I expect that the Ukrainian authorities will show their human side and understand that it is absolutely unacceptable when Ukrainians fight against each other, when they are forced to fight their own people, but those who refuse to do this become traitors and parricides.

I do not mean that orders should be disregarded, what I mean is that the current Ukrainian authorities have to fulfil the obligations which they have undertaken. I have already mentioned this. They made commitments on the international stage – both when Viktor Yanukovych was in power and after he was overthrown by an armed coup – to start a comprehensive dialogue with all the regions and political forces of the country. That is their main task. If they start it now, it will allow the resolution of a lot of problems. The militia will be able to relieve the minds of their families and those who rely on them, because they are defending populated areas. This will probably allow the insanity to stop, when day after day we receive more and more messages that there is shooting at populated areas using heavy armaments and missile systems, including Grads.

Russia wants to send humanitarian aid to east Ukraine

Orphanages, hospitals, schools and kindergartens have been damaged. Our appeals (it is not the first week when we address them to international organizations, including the UN, the OSCE, the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and the Council of Europe) to intervene, and, if it is currently impossible to make the Ukrainian authorities agree on a cease-fire, then, as a minimum, to undertake a humanitarian action and organize an international humanitarian mission. We have attempted to send a convoy with humanitarian aid through the Russian Emergencies Ministry many times: food, medical equipment, essentials. Officially, as we have to, we asked the Ukrainian authorities to coordinate such a supply of aid through a note. They gave an outrageous reply, I would even say that it was hooliganism: "We do not require any aid, resolve your humanitarian disaster in Crimea". This was the official note of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. It is outrageous, not humane from any point of view.

Today I am sending an official appeal to the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the ICRC and the UN again appealing to them to organize something like an international humanitarian mission, to send humanitarian aid to Donetsk and Luhansk under the aegis of the ICRC, as well as to the populated areas around these large megalopolises. There is no water or power supply in Luhansk, its infrastructure needs to be fixed immediately.

I expect that the international community, which is enthusiastic and concerned about other cases of humanitarian crises, for example, in the Gaza strip, will pay attention to the south-east of Ukraine, where the population is suffering no less than civilians in Gaza. There is only one difference: the Gaza strip launched missiles at Israel, which was forced to respond, although it was not proportionate. To be noted, Russia expressed its position that everybody should use and demonstrate maximum restraint.

Things were different in the south-east of Ukraine, people took weapons to protect themselves from the Ukrainian army, the National Guard and battalion created by God knows whom and paid by private individuals, who intend to suppress legitimate manifestations of those whom the new authorities started to promote, suppressing the Russian language, rights of regions and so on. This is not a response by force to force, it is about the use of force against those who spoke in favour of protecting their legal rights: language, cultural and historical.

I expect that international organizations will respond to the crisis in Gaza, which is absolutely necessary to stop the incidents which lead to sufferings of innocent Palestinian nationals, but hopefully they will also not forget about the aggression in the south-east of Ukraine, which they are currently attempting to put aside from the community.

West’s Middle East policies based on "personal attitudes"

Question: The crises in Ukraine and Gaza removed the situation in Syria from newspaper headlines. Some time ago, Russia’s initiative actually prevented a strike at Syria related to the elimination of its chemical weapons. There have been elections since then. How do you assess the situation in this country today? Did the prospects of a Syrian settlement get closer?

Sergey Lavrov: These prospects are getting closer, but unfortunately only because more and more lives are being lost in this terrible conflict, which is already acquiring a trans-border nature. The former Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL], which now goes by the Islamic Caliphate, has not only seized some Syrian regions, but is also occupying more and more land in Iraq. According to media reports, this terrorist group has already occupied the hydroelectric dam in Mosul. These are the same terrorists, who, when they acted in Syrian territory, were considered by our western partners (primarily Washington) as a force which probably did not comply with "high western values", but still they were fighting against the "bloody regime". When we drew attention to the fact that it was dangerous to connive with such groups, what our close US partners said actually was that terrorists using all the other forces should first overthrow President Bashar al-Asad and then they would deal with them.

For now, this group is unfortunately "dealing" with Iraq. The Americans have started to worry. This is another proof that the United States has no well thought-out strategy in this region, and all our attempts to start an intelligible talk at an early state of the Syrian crisis unfortunately failed. Our propositions were very simple: nobody should constantly adapt their internal climate on the international stage, as well as foreign policy, to their personal likes and dislikes. It happened in this way in Libya, when, as you recall, everybody was "angry" at Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, whom they accused of all the sorrows of the region. Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi was overthrown using radical groups, who received arms from France and several Persian Gulf states, despite the embargo which existed that time for supplies of weapons to anybody in Libya. Nevertheless, they were supplied, and we heard public statements from Paris and some Persian Gulf states – "yes, we are doing this, because Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi must be overthrown". Later, these French fought the same "guys", whom they armed to overthrow Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, in Mali. This is a true fact. These groups are still not "finished off", they are creating more and more problems and putting obstacles in the way. It seems that it is getting quieter in Mali, although the problem is still there, like it is there in the Central African Republic, in Chad, and many other countries of the African regions.

Now the same mistake is being repeated in Iraq, where, after they overthrew Saddam Husayn, the US governor-general actually drove off all the structures where Sunnis were represented (it was army, security forces and police). Now these Sunnis are attempting to take revenge, although it was clear from the very beginning that the problems of such a complicated country like Iraq can be resolved thought national consent only.

Russia proposes fight against terrorism as basis for Middle East policy

Instead of such actions, which are dictated purely by a personal attitude to one or another country’s leader, Russia proposed choosing some uniform essential criteria, in particular, the fight against terrorism. If this criterion were selected as a common denominator for actions by Russia, the United States, Europe, the Persian Gulf states, the Middle East and other countries, many things would become clear. For this we need to make an honest choice and refuse cooperation with those who can today be your ad hoc help in overthrowing a leader, whom you do not like personally, but later you have to decide what to do with them when they have become a burden. If we do not choose clear approaches and, primarily, consolidate on the anti-terrorist platform, we will constantly face such problems. Hundreds and thousands of lives will be the price of such twists, as we continue to observe in Libya, where the state has been destroyed.

The same thing is happening in Iraq, which is also "bulging at the seams". We are attempting to prevent such a scenario, because then the Kurdish problem will blow up, and this is terrible. We see this in Syria, where they are attempting to do the same for the sake of overthrowing one man. When we communicate with our western partners, they have kept saying the same thing to us for a year or two: "We understand everything – the threat of terrorism, which has won in Syria, is much worse than President Bashar al-Asad in power." They make such statements directly. We propose to be based on this and fight against terrorism. In response, they whisper that this is not so, but the US president and heads of several leading European countries have already said that Bashar al-Asad is nonhand- shakeable. And that is all. As we say, "a spoken word takes its flight", however, in this case, if we are guided by this Russian proverb, nothing good will come of it.

NATO searching for a reason to exist

Question: A remarkable date of 20 years since the removal of troops from Europe is approaching. Maybe it is not that big, but it is remarkable for the Russian-European angle. How do you assess this date and how do you see this situation after 20 years?

Sergey Lavrov: It is a complicated question. I will not go deep into the history. I will only say that many people criticized the haste in which this was done. They criticized the situation when Russia received almost nothing in exchange, even to simply accommodate the officers and soldiers who left Europe, as humans deserve. They were in tents somewhere in the field together with their families. It is evident for me that this haste was dictated by the need. Moreover, when the Soviet leaders agreed to deadlines and even set them, the Western partners were seriously and pleasantly surprised. They expected other deadlines and financial conditions.

However, we need to take into account the following. It was probably not euphoria which prevailed, but apart from momentary expectations to make it into history, the leaders of that time probably sincerely wanted to start a new life and see partners in Europe, hoping that Europe and the West in general would see us as partners. They hoped that everything would be equal, friendly and fair. They hoped that if there was no Warsaw Pact, and the Soviet Union, and the troops had been removed, why did they need NATO and other attributes which belonged to the "Cold War" era? These hopes were in vain. As you know, NATO did not stop and still continues to expand. This organization is searching for a reason for its existence. Afghanistan helped for some time. Now everybody has understood that Afghanistan is something that drags NATO solidarity to the "bottom". It is useless to do what the North Atlantic Treaty Organization did: the situation with the drug threat and the drug industry has worsened considerably.

Russia seemed to be a good target in NATO’s search for its reason for existence. I assure you, if there was no Ukraine, they would use another aspect of Russia’s domestic or foreign policy for speculation. We are observing this. Firstly, these are our disagreements on Syria with the West, which I have already mentioned. When the West announced that the President of Syria Bashar al-Asad could not be a partner any more, Russia believed that regimes should not be overthrown, we should agree. They accused Russia of everything that was happening in Syria. Then the former employee of the CIA and the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, showed up. They were also offended and "had a go" at Russian policy because of him. Then there were the Olympics – no idea why. Either it was because these Olympics happened, or because they seemed "too expensive" to the West. Or somebody thought that they were too successful, and Russia won. I do not know. We felt this prejudiced attitude long before the Ukrainian events.

Unfortunately, with all the good intents which our Western partners in Europe and America demonstrated to us, there is still the inertia of the "Cold War" and the inability to confront the continuing attempts to drive all the Europeans under the NATO "roof" and to talk from under it with a "strict voice". We regret all this, because it is not a far-sighted policy. It is based on a desire to establish their own order at any cost, and use sanctions and take revenge (I cannot find another word for it) in all other ways against those who do not agree, who are independent and do not want to go on the leash of the unipolar world.

New US ambassador will follow Washington’s line

Question: I would like to ask you about the forthcoming arrival of a new US Ambassador, John Tefft, in Moscow. We and our colleagues and see him as "Count di Cagliostro" or as Gogol’s "Government Inspector". There is so much talk about his personality, although a quite professional diplomat is coming, nothing more. Have you communicated with John Tefft? What do you expect from him? Is there "light at the end of the tunnel" in the development of Russian-American relations?

Sergey Lavrov: I do not know John Tefft personally, although some of my colleagues know him. He truly is a professional, career diplomat. In terms of this, I agree with you absolutely that there is no need to create a boom around the arrival of a new head of the diplomatic mission in Moscow. He is a career diplomat and in these terms it will probably be easier, because such a diplomat does as he is ordered. Washington makes the decisions. When he was ambassador to Georgia and Ukraine, he did not play "his own game". John Tefft is a disciplined man, who worked in the US Department of State all his life, because he did as he was ordered, unlike his predecessor, who, to a known extent, was a "freestyle artist". He was appointed politically and could allow himself liberties, and did this.

At the beginning this complicated our understanding: was this his independent action or the line followed at the instruction of Washington? In the case of John Tefft there will be no such doubts. All his actions will be those of Washington, and it will be easier for us to understand what the United States wants.

As to "light at the end of the tunnel", we have never created a tunnel from our side, we did not cement brickwork from our side, it was open. I do not know what the US armoured train is doing on their side, if it is on a side-track or symbolizes peaceful people. It is hard to understand Washington’s real approaches to their relations with us. The presidents of Russia and the United States communicate, they talk regularly. They had a phone conversation just recently. They have normal personal relations. I can say the same about my relations with the US secretary of state, John Kerry, whom I contacted a few days ago. We agreed to think about whether we can meet in the near future. The signals in such contacts are sufficiently positive. Of course, our partners always insist that they cannot share our approaches on Ukraine, but they are interested in achieving peace as soon as possible, they have no and cannot have any hidden agenda in Ukraine. They constantly propose organizing some contacts, continuing discussions with us, Europeans and Ukrainians. We are ready.

I have already referred to the Geneva Statement, which was adopted by Russia, the United States, the EU, Ukraine and Russia on 17 April. There was also an event in Berlin, where Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine adopted the Berlin Declaration on 2 July. We are ready to work in different formats (with the participation of the OSCE, as during the Minsk meeting), which can promote dialogue between the Kiev authorities and regions, primarily the south-east. They offer us to hold Russian-American or Russian-European consultations having invited, let’s say, the Kiev authorities to see what can be done. I reiterate again that we will agree to any format, but we can hardly achieve anything until those who represent the interests of the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, the south-east, receive a place at the negotiating table, until they are perceived as the people representing large Ukrainian territories and the people living there, until the approach to them changes, when they are called terrorists and separatists without understanding that this distorts the entire situation, when they stop persuading the rest of the country that they are separatists and schismatics [secessionists].

Armenia and Azerbaijan need to negotiate over Nagornyy Karabakh

Question: The forthcoming meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Sochi was announced recently. At the same time, the situation in Nagornyy Karabakh, in the area of contacts of Azerbaijani and Armenian units, has escalated. What do you expect from this meeting? Can we expect a breakthrough, or is it just a step towards a Nagornyy Karabakh settlement?

Sergey Lavrov: Separate meetings between the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, with the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, and then Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, are scheduled for the end of this week in Sochi. When they all get to one place at one time, it will probably be impossible to avoid talks about Nagornyy Karabakh. The way it happens will depend on the leaders.

Of course, we are worried about the events on the so-called "contact line". The parties accuse each other of provocative actions. Such things happened before, and, unfortunately, we have been observing periodic outbursts of such kinds for many years. However, this time everything is presented and perceived in a worse way. Many people died. Together with other countries, including the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on the Nagornyy Karabakh settlement (these are Russia, the United States and France), we have insistently appealed to show maximum restraint, to avoid any actions which can lead to another outburst of violence. We will talk to our partners from Azerbaijan and Armenia about ways of helping in trust-building and reducing confrontation risks in which we and the OSCE Minsk Group (primarily the co-chairs) can assist.

Some time ago, at one of the meetings between the presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, quite a modest statement was coordinated: on the need to develop trust measures in case of shooting. That time they needed to exchange dead bodies and captives and to agree on additional steps which would calm the situation down on the "contact line".

This conflict is perceived from both sides quite emotionally. We, as one of the co-chair countries, are undertaking a lot of efforts jointly with our US and French partners to help to deal with several issues which are preventing them from concluding a document laying down the political principles of a settlement, so that the parties form a package which is acceptable to them. The adoption of such extensive political statements, laying down the principles, by which they will be guided when settling the conflict, would certainly contribute to a normalization of the atmosphere. It is not easy to do so. There have been many attempts and each time it seemed that the important limit for consent was almost achieved, but then something went wrong. Therefore I will not make any forecasts. I believe that we need to insistently and stubbornly continue helping Armenians and Azerbaijanis in their search for wording which will be acceptable to both parties.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Moscow, in English 6 Aug 14

Donetsk Irregulars and Proxy Warfare

Brit student held as slave in Ukraine
Rebels seize him for speaking English
DON MACKAY and WILL STEWART in Moscow
Daily Mirror | August 6, 2014

A BRITISH medical student was held hostage for two weeks in Ukraine by pro-Russia rebels, it emerged last night.

Mohammed Gasim, 21, was reportedly treated as a slave by the armed thugs who captured him on a street for daring to speak English.

He was grabbed in the rebel-held Ukrainian city of Donetsk where he is studying.

Even after being freed, Mohammed was stranded in the war-torn country yesterday because he cannot get hold of his passport or identity papers.

A family friend said: "This has been a nightmare for him and his family. But now we know he is alive we are trying to get new documents for him so he can leave." The pal said British authorities can supply Mohammed, of Hounslow in West London, with the documents if he can prove who he is.

The friend added: "But all his belongings are in the university. He needs his student papers to prove he is British, but he can’t get there because the area is being bombed. He is stranded in a friend’s flat in Donetsk."

The pro-Moscow rebels, who reportedly forced Mohammed to dig ditches, had claimed online that he was dead.

A Donetsk University official said: "It was near a shop when a Russian man did not like it that our student spoke English. There was a fight, then the Donetsk People’s Republic took him."

Mohammed has spoken by phone to his frantic parents after his release.

 

In Ukraine, turning to a breakaway ‘professional’
Fixed on pro-Russia state, separatists draw aid from an earlier splinter region
ANDREW E. KRAMER
New York Times | August 5, 2014

DATELINE: DONETSK, Ukraine

Early in the separatist struggle for eastern Ukraine, a leading Russian nationalist, Aleksandr G. Dugin, painted a glowing portrait of what the newly captured territories, referred to in Russia as Novorossiya, would become.

The land will be ”a holy place for a renaissance of Russian culture, Russian spirit and Russian identity,” he told followers in Moscow. The residents will be ”absolutely different people – brave, clever and able to fight for their freedom.”

Today, that dream seems distant, as the Ukrainian Army closes in on Donetsk, the separatist capital, having claimed on Saturday to surround the city. Shelling by Ukrainian troops killed six people in Donetsk over the weekend and set fires in outlying districts, while the forces probed the city’s outer defenses. Shops and restaurants are closed, and the streets all but deserted. Yet the pro-Russia leadership is pressing ahead with a sweeping goal of establishing a lasting government here.

For that, they have turned to a cadre of bureaucrats who have made their way into Donetsk from Transnistria, a breakaway territory of Moldova that is another unrecognized, pro-Russia region. They are led by Vladimir Antyufeyev, who was a longtime security chief there, and who in July was appointed deputy prime minister of the main rebel group here, the Donetsk People’s Republic.

Until 2012, Mr. Antyufeyev led a security force in Transnistria called the M.G.B., which Western diplomats say was modeled on the K.G.B., the Soviet secret police agency. The force he is forming in Donetsk bears this name as well, which means the Ministry of State Security.

”It’s a clear sign of support for the insurgency in eastern Ukraine from at least certain circles in Moscow,” said William H. Hill, former head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission in Moldova, who knew Mr. Antyufeyev. ”It was extremely interesting to see that Moscow has fielded him again.”

Mr. Antyufeyev, 63, said that he came as a private citizen and a ”professional” in establishing both ordinary and secret police forces.

”I revive the law enforcement organs, the groups that maintain social order, the Ministry of Interior Affairs and the state security,” he said, in order to form the bedrock of a new government.

”The people have a right to live on their land, to speak the language they want,” he said. ”Only a state can defend that right. We are building a government formed by the will of the people.”

Mr. Antyufeyev and assistants form a civil corollary to the military aid that Western governments say is flowing to the separatists from Russia.

Mr. Antyufeyev replaced a Donetsk native as domestic security chief last month in a shake-up that the American ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, said strengthened Russia’s direct control of the movement just a week before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down, a fact likely to be contemplated in any future lawsuits over the downing that name the Russian government.

The United States and European governments accuse Russia of continuing to aid the separatists militarily even after the downing of the plane, which killed all 298 people on board. Russia and the insurgents deny this.

Some, but not all, of the roughly 40 former Transnistria officials have arrived already, Mr. Antyufeyev said in an interview on Thursday in his office in the People’s Republic headquarters, where a portrait of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, gazed down. Other experts are on their way.

The Russian government, he said, has no hand in this staffing, and he denied ever being a member of the Soviet or Russian intelligence forces. It is ”absurd,” he said, to assert that Russia has ”direct manual control” of the Ukrainian separatist leadership.

Mr. Antyufeyev lived for a decade in Transnistria under the assumed name Vadim Shvetsov, to avoid an Interpol arrest warrant accusing him of murder for his role in suppressing pro-independence demonstrations in Latvia in 1991. The deadline on that warrant under the statute of limitations has expired.

To avoid arrest, Mr. Antyufeyev and several dozen other Soviet police officials from the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia traveled to Transnistria and played a pivotal role in establishing the separatist state there.

Valery Litskai, a former foreign minister of the unrecognized Transnistria government, knew Mr. Antyufeyev when he established the M.G.B.

”He created very tight cooperation between the Russian F.S.B. and our M.G.B.,” Mr. Litskai said. ”The system was very well organized, far better than in Abkhazia and Ossetia,” where Mr. Antyufeyev also consulted on forming security forces. In Transnistria, Mr. Litskai said, ”he coordinated his work 90 percent with Moscow, and he never disguised it.”

Mr. Hill, the former O.S.C.E. chief, said Mr. Antyufeyev regularly met with the head of the Russian Federal Security Service, the successor to the K.G.B., when in Transnistria. ”People would claim to me that he was a line officer of the F.S.B.,” Mr. Hill said, though his Soviet-era police work was in the riot police force. Mr. Hill said Mr. Antyufeyev was also active in an arms-smuggling network linked to the Milosevics, Yugoslavia’s former first family.

Mr. Antyufeyev described his career in former Soviet hot spots as defending the rights of Russian speakers and ethnic Russians. Muddying a picture of clear Russian government support, in the 1990s he was arrested in Moscow on the Latvian warrant, though later released. Long before the ouster in February of Ukraine’s pro-Russia president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, which touched off the current crisis, Mr. Antyufeyev wrote a doctoral dissertation in 2003 that asserted the Russian government should support Russian-speaking groups in newly independent nations to retain its influence.

”If you push any living thing into a corner, even a little kitten, it will fight, and this is happening now to the Russians,” Mr. Antyufeyev said in the interview. ”For 20 years the West, and most of all the United States, while pretending to befriend Russia, did everything to keep it weak. Russia is being pushed into a corner.”

Mr. Antyufeyev’s prominence here was underscored last week when he was declared acting prime minister of his group, while its prime minister, a fellow Russian, Alexander Borodai, was away in Russia. The rebel military commander, Igor Girkin, known as Igor Strelkov, has said he served in the F.S.B. until last year.

Oleg Tsarev, a native Ukrainian, leads an umbrella legislature that aims to unite the two separatist regions, Luhansk and Donetsk, into a state called Novorossiya. Underpinning its legal scaffolding, it now has a draft constitution written, he said, by lawyers in Moscow who are not in the Russian government.

The Transnistria bureaucrats, he said, were needed because the revolution ”formed chaotically, and many good people made decisions on their own, so we needed to bring order.”

Aleksandr A. Karaman, a former vice president of Transnistria who joined Mr. Antyufeyev in Donetsk, said in an interview that the formation of a bureaucracy and state security police force proved critical in the early years of the separatist region in Moldova, and that the experience of the architects of this effort is invaluable now in Ukraine.

”The problems here and in Transnistria are one and the same, only we went through them earlier, and the Donetsk People’s Republic is going through them now,” he said. ”The problem is building a state.”

Mr. Antyufeyev said he was an expert in just this. ”All empires fall,” he said. ”Then, you will need us. We are helpers. We are the professionals. You cannot blame us, as you cannot blame a doctor for the patient he treats. Only we are not doctors, but lawyers and political scientists.”

 

Russian paper details split among rebel groups in Ukraine’s Luhansk

Text of report by Russian Gazeta.ru news website, on 23 July

[Report by Andrey Koshik: "Split around Strelkov. Luhansk militias lack coordination and one-man leadership"]

Luhansk – The lack of a single command is one of the main problems of the self-proclaimed Luhansk people’s republic [LNR]. Some militia members are subordinated to LNR leader Valeriy Bolotov, while others are building cooperation directly with Donetsk commander Ihor [Igor] Strelkov. Admittedly, there are also positives for the insurgents in this division: Various groups are moving behind the Ukrainian lines, inflicting great damage on their troops. Gazeta.Ru’s correspondent spent several days in besieged Luhansk.

To this day several independent entities are fighting in the Luhansk republic: In the city itself they comprise the Zarya battalion subordinate to LNR leader Valeriy Bolotov and the Leshiy special battalion that is building cooperation with Donetsk commander Ihor Strelkov, sidestepping Bolotov.

During a 20 July briefing Bolotov said that "there are individual disparate detachments that are attempting to dominate and somehow seize control of certain areas." "We are actively combating this at this time: It is impossible to fight a common enemy and have an enemy operating behind your own lines," the LNR leader said.

Although there is no longer open confrontation at the level of the commanders, because of a lack of coordination ordinary militia members periodically find themselves in conflict situations.

When Luhansk was being constantly bombarded by grenade launchers and Grad missiles on Sunday, 20 July, Gazeta.Ru’s correspondent witnessed how fighters from one of the attachments spotted men in camouflage gear on the roof of the 17-storey hospital, taking them for target aimers. They made their way there under fire, apprehended several individuals, and took them "to a basement" [for interrogation]: It transpired that they were fighters from another battalion who had decided to identify National Guard firing positions from the roof in order to launch an artillery counterstrike. It took a couple of hours to sort it out and they were released.

Discussing the incident, militia members admitted that prior to this they had repeatedly found themselves in a confused situation under fire from another detachment.

Some of them link the tense relations between the various detachments of separatists to the pre-war rivalry between Donetsk and Luhansk. A few years ago there was talk that the two regions might unite under Donetsk’s jurisdiction – such an arrangement naturally did not suit the local political and financial elites. It is clear that the current LNR leadership too is not prepared to transfer unlimited powers to Ihor Strelkov in a war situation. But many fighters see him specifically as the people’s leader.

Igor Orzhentsov (aka Vedun [meaning "Sorcerer"]), deputy commander of the Leshiy battalion, arrived in Luhansk with a friend from Moscow six weeks ago. "We were really up for this trip, realizing that, unless we stop this abomination, this scum that has come together from all over Europe, next year there will be a Maydan in Russia," the 42-year-old says. He describes how they ended up in the militia tent camp in front of the Luhansk Ukrainian Security Service building. They went into their first battle – to beat back a National Guard breakthrough in the vicinity of the villages of Metallist – wearing jeans and shirts and had trouble even acquiring a grenade each.

"There was absolutely no coordination – chaotic thinking, chaotic actions. The situation is now normalizing and we have one-man leadership, for which Strelkov was the catalyst," our interlocutor says categorically. "Anyone who does not accept Strelkov’s one-man leadership will be outlawed and disarmed."

Vedun feels that the National Guard can be defeated even without peacekeeping troops from Russia just as long as there is humanitarian aid, equipment, and media support. But he acknowledges that "right now we are losing the media war."

Talking about the locals, he tells the following story: "In one family they had a relative killed, and a healthy man of 30-something refused to join the militia but his wife joined up and disowned her husband."

The militia members say that two psychological types stand out among the Luhansk residents remaining in the city:

One set have immured themselves in basements, stay there even during relatively safe hours, and only come out to buy bread and use the bathroom. Others, who frequently get killed by mine fragments under fire from the Ukrainian army, go about their business during bombing raids. They are tense and wound up, but they go.

"It may indeed be true that unification has not been achieved, but during these months Luhansk has not been captured because various groups are going behind enemy lines and inflicting great damage on them," Ilya Manachenko, commander of a Cossack company, says. "Can you be confident that there are no traitors in our ranks? Consequently, if we joined forces joint plans would become known. Now we attack spontaneously."

The Cossack commander has no particular feelings about Strelkov specifically, but in the end he agrees nevertheless that it is only together that the militias can resist the National Guard.

"I talk to them all as it is necessary to coordinate all of our moves: I can ‘put people in place’ while Zarya carries out softening up with artillery," Manachenko says. In his words, not everybody acts like that; there are individual "princelings" with small detachments who operate exclusively independently. Incidentally, our interlocutor has himself fallen out with his wife and children because he has joined the militia: They did not support his standpoint.

It is noteworthy that many local fighters originating from Luhansk Oblast also feel cool about Strelkov, and some people have not even heard of him. At the same time, they feel cynical about "people’s governor" Bolotov. But they all agree that unification – very quickly, within the next few weeks – is vitally necessary: Without it is impossible to fight the regular army for long.

Source: Gazeta.ru website, Moscow, in Russian 0000 gmt 23 Jul 14

 

Expert says Russia may supply ballistic missiles to militants in east Ukraine

Text of report by private Ukrainian news agency UNIAN

Russia may soon supply ballistic missiles to terrorists in Donbass [parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions] in order to discredit [Ukrainian] antiterrorist operation forces, the coordinator of the Information Resistance group, military expert Dmytro Tymchuk, has said.

Tymchuk was speaking at a news conference [in Kiev] today.

"The situation with the Boeing [that crashed in Ukraine’s Donetsk Region on 17 July] did not affect the Kremlin’s stance. Putin sticks to the same policy that he started in April," he said.

"What concerns us most is that Russia is actively pushing an idea that Ukraine allegedly uses ballistic missiles, and we do not rule out the possibility that these systems, with Russian crews, can soon appear in Donbass in order to discredit Ukrainian troops," Tymchuk added.

For his part, military expert Yuriy Karin spoke about "well-planned information operations and carrying them out along with Russian propaganda, and coverage of rebels’ all military operations in the media".

In particular, he stressed that "if we take the issue of military hardware deliveries to Ukraine, several days before the appearance of T-64BV tanks on Ukrainian territory, we noticed a statement by [militant leader Igor] Girkin saying that the commander of the Artemivsk unit, where such tanks are stored, got several millions. Right after this statement, reports emerged in social media that tank experts are needed in Shakhtarsk [town in Ukraine’s Donetsk Region that remained under militants’ control until recently]".

"Then we saw three tanks entering Ukrainian territory, there was a demonstrative ride through the cities [under militants’ control], and then more than 30 tanks were deployed on Ukrainian territory," the military expert added.

"The same story is with aviation. A report that terrorists had received their own aircraft emerged several days before two of our aircraft were downed from Russian territory by Russian fighter jets," Karin noted.

He stressed that "there was the same story with Buk anti-aircraft systems. But Russian propaganda appeared to be against terrorists in this story, they said that Buk had been seized and that the so-called militia had received them [Buk anti-aircraft systems]. When the Boeing had been downed, Russian propaganda turned around and tried to put the blame on the Ukrainian army in just three hours".

Source: UNIAN news agency, Kiev, in Ukrainian 1000 gmt 5 Aug 14

 

Several Ukrainians detained over ties with pro-Russian rebels

A representative of the radio frequencies centre has been detained in the city of Kramatorsk in Donetsk Region, the news-based 5 Kanal television channel reported at 0500 gmt on 5 August, quoting the press centre of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).

According to the report, the detained man, following an instruction from a Russian criminal, was monitoring the frequencies used by the Ukrainian troops and submitting this information to militants of the self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic.

The counterintelligence unit of the SBU has detained a local resident in the city of Artemivsk in Donetsk Region, who set up and coordinated a network of informers supplying pro-Russian militants with information on Ukrainian troops, Interfax-Ukraine reported at 0958 gmt on 4 August.

According to the SBU’s press centre, the detained person has been systematically supplying pro-Russian militants with information on the number of Ukrainian troops and the technical condition of Ukrainian military hardware. The SBU said that rebels had been using the information to prepare armed attacks on Ukrainian security forces.

Kiev police have identified the person who made hoax phone calls that bombs had been planted in the building of the presidential administration and in a Kiev hotel. The man, aged 31, is kept in custody in Kirovohrad for making similar calls before, the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported at 0808 gmt on the same day, quoting the public relations department of the Interior Ministry’s main directorate in Kiev.

Source: 5 Kanal TV, Kiev, in Ukrainian 0700 gmt 5 Aug 14; Interfax-Ukraine news agency, Kiev, in Russian 0958 gmt 4 Aug 14; UNIAN news agency, Kiev, in Ukrainian 0808 gmt 4 Aug 14

 

Military expert says 12,000 rebels, Russian mercenaries fighting in east Ukraine

Text of report by private Ukrainian news agency UNIAN

Kiev, 5 August: Around 12,000 terrorists are acting in Donbass [parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions] and their number is increasing, the coordinator of the Information Resistance group, Dmytro Tymchuk, has told a briefing in Kiev.

"According to our estimates, around 12,000 terrorists are acting in Donbass," he said.

"We observe a tendency of this number increasing after we registered around 10,000 of them a month ago," Tymchuk added.

He also said that "we observe an increase in the number of mercenaries from among former Russian law enforcers. In our opinion, this means that their resources are running out since they used to recruit former retired special-purpose servicemen with combat experience. It looks like the number of Russians willing to fight is about to run out and they have started to expand their list of candidates".

Source: UNIAN news agency, Kiev, in Ukrainian 0849 gmt 5 Aug 14

Insurgents Disrupt Medical Services

Plus Media Solutions | August 5, 2014

The Human Rights Watch has issued the following news release:

Insurgent forces in eastern Ukraine have threatened medical staff, stolen and destroyed medical equipment and hospital furniture, and compromised the ability of civilian patients to receive treatment, Human Rights Watch said today. Insurgent forces have also expropriated ambulances and used them to transport active fighters.

Such acts are strictly prohibited under the laws of war, which afford special protections to medical units and personnel as well as to the wounded and sick, Human Rights Watch said.

"Pro-Russian insurgents’ attacks on medical units and personnel are putting sick and vulnerable people and those who care for them at risk," said Yulia Gorbunova, Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "This appalling disregard of people who are sick or wounded can be deadly and needs to stop immediately."

Human Rights Watch has also documented attacks on hospitals by explosive weapons that killed at least two medical staff. While the circumstances suggest Ukrainian armed forces launched some of these attacks, further investigation is needed to determine responsibility.

Medical units are civilian objects with special protections under the laws of war. They include hospitals, clinics, medical centers and similar facilities, and ambulances and other medical transportation, whether military or civilian. Parties to a conflict must ensure that medical personnel are not endangered or harmed, and hospitals and ambulances are not attacked, damaged, or misused.

Through on-the-ground investigations in eastern Ukraine, Human Rights Watch found that insurgent armed fighters unlawfully expropriated and used ambulances to transport combatants, threatened medical staff, and damaged and stole medical equipment. Human Rights Watch also found that to secure treatment for their wounded, insurgents occupied hospital wards and buildings, compromising the safety of patients and staff and the treatment of civilian patients.

Human Rights Watch documented how insurgent forces unlawfully seized at least four ambulances in Sloviansk and used them to transport able-bodied armed fighters in Donetsk. A Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed ambulances in Donetsk transporting able-bodied armed fighters through the city.

Armed insurgents dressed in combat uniform also drove ambulances transporting wounded fighters. Human Rights Watch was unable to determine whether the drivers were exclusively assigned to medical duties, which would afford them special protection.

Human Rights Watch found, through its own observations and interviews with medical staff, that in four hospitals a significant number of armed, able-bodied insurgent fighters were on the hospital premises. While their presence was ostensibly for the hospitals’ or patients’ protection, the security needs did not appear to justify the presence of large numbers of fighters. Most of them appeared to serve no security function and they were not stationed at the gates or the perimeter of the hospital as could be expected if their function was to guard the hospital.

Instead of protecting the hospitals, the presence of a significant number of armed insurgent forces on hospital premises put the hospital at risk of becoming a military target, Human Rights Watch said. Under international law, parties to the conflict are obliged – to the extent possible – to avoid placing military targets such as troops within or near populated areas.

Insurgents seized wards to treat wounded insurgent fighters in at least two hospitals: the Kalinin Hospital in Donetsk and the Lenin City Hospital in Sloviansk. In the Lenin City Hospital and in the Semyonovka psychiatric hospital, insurgents also stole or destroyed surgical equipment, furniture, and, in the Lenin City Hospital, patient files. While the laws of war do not explicitly prohibit requisition of civilian hospitals for treatment of wounded fighters, such requisition should not be detrimental to patients. In all cases, the wards were in regular use by the hospitals, and the seizure inevitably had a negative effect on the treatment of civilian patients, Human Rights Watch said.

Explosive weapons such as artillery shells and unguided rockets have struck at least five hospitals in eastern Ukraine since June 2014, killing at least two medical staff, Human Rights Watch found. The circumstances of the attacks, most of which took place in insurgent-controlled areas under attack from government forces, suggest that government forces were responsible, but further investigation is needed to determine whether such attacks amounted to violations of humanitarian law. Ukrainian authorities should promptly and thoroughly investigate the attacks on hospitals, and hold accountable those responsible for any violations of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch also called on Ukraine’s international supporters to urge Ukraine to strictly adhere to international humanitarian law in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

While other presumptively civilian structures become military objectives if they are being used for a military purpose, hospitals only lose their protection from attack if they are being used, outside their humanitarian function, to commit "acts harmful to the enemy." The presence of armed guards or of small arms belonging to wounded fighters does not constitute "acts harmful to the enemy." Even if military forces misuse a hospital to store weapons or shelter able-bodied combatants, the attacking force must issue a warning that sets a reasonable time limit and may attack only after such a warning has gone unheeded.

The leadership of the armed groups connected to the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic should hold accountable those among their ranks responsible for abuses against medical staff, facilities, and patients, Human Rights Watch said.

In its July 15 report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described the insurgent armed groups’ leadership as including "many … nationals of the Russian Federation" and under whose central command "previously rag-tag of armed groups with different loyalties and agendas were now organized."

With its influence over rebel forces in Ukraine, Russia should insist that they adhere to norms of international humanitarian law, including the special protections afforded to medical units and personnel as well as to the wounded and sick, Human Rights Watch said.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights estimated that hundreds of civilians had been killed and more than a thousand wounded in the conflict in eastern Ukraine between mid-April and July 26.

"Civilians are already bearing the brunt of the conflict in eastern Ukraine," Gorbunova said. "Interfering with the medical assistance they need is simply unconscionable."

Insurgents’ Unlawful Expropriation and Use of Ambulances

A driver at the ambulance station in Sloviansk told Human Rights Watch that insurgent forces had tried to seize the station’s ambulances several times when they controlled Sloviansk, from April 2014 to early July:

They came at least a couple of times, shooting in the air, threatening, and demanding that we give them ambulances, but at those points all the ambulances were out driving, so they were unsuccessful.

Another employee of the ambulance service said that on at least one occasion, in May, the insurgents wanted the ambulances to transport bodies of insurgents killed in fighting.

When the Ukrainian armed forces drove the insurgents out of Sloviansk on July 4 and 5, the insurgents seized four ambulances and used them to retreat from the city. "It probably made it easier for them to run away from the Ukrainian forces," one driver told Human Rights Watch.

Independent journalists and observers told Human Rights Watch that they saw armed insurgents driving ambulances on numerous occasions in Donetsk. Human Rights Watch researchers saw armed insurgents driving ambulances twice in one day.

On July 21, a Human Rights Watch researcher, standing at an intersection close to the train station, witnessed a convoy of several military vehicles moving from an area of active fighting in the northern part of Donetsk. Among the vehicles was an ambulance with its side door open, revealing several armed insurgent fighters inside, none of whom appeared to be injured. The same day, a Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed an ambulance arriving at the Kalinin hospital in Donetsk. The driver was dressed partly in camouflage uniform and carried an automatic weapon. The ambulance carried what appeared to be an injured fighter.

Carrying firearms for self-defense does not constitute an act "harmful to the enemy," but medical personnel, even if they are members of a fighting unit, should be exclusively assigned to medical duties. Human Rights Watch was not able to verify whether the ambulance driver arriving at the Kalinin hospital was exclusively assigned to medical duties.

Insurgents’ Presence at and Occupation of Hospitals

Insurgent forces also partially or fully occupied buildings of at least three hospitals – in Sloviansk, Semyonovka, and Donetsk. Wounded fighters in a non-international armed conflict are entitled to care and can be treated in civilian hospitals without compromising the protection afforded to the hospital. Likewise armed opposition groups may use civilian hospitals for treatment of wounded fighters, insofar as it is not detrimental to the treatment of other patients.

Human Rights Watch witnessed first-hand the presence of numerous armed insurgent fighters on hospital premises during visits to hospitals in areas controlled by insurgent forces. Several armed insurgent fighters were standing outside the central city hospital in Snezhnoe when Human Rights Watch visited on July 18. Human Rights Watch also observed numerous armed insurgents on the premises of the Kalinin hospital in Donetsk during two visits. It was not evident that the fighters were there to provide security for the hospitals.

Semyonovka Psychiatric Hospital

The deputy chief of the in-patient psychiatric hospital in Semyonovka, a sprawling complex of 20 buildings about three kilometers from Sloviansk, told Human Rights Watch that in early May, armed insurgent fighters seized one of the hospital’s buildings, usually used by patients in their leisure time:

They came in without asking and set up shop here. The head of the hospital asked them to leave, because there were people in the hospital receiving treatment for serious psychiatric conditions. He said that they had no business bringing armed men and guns there. I heard the fighters threatening him in response: "Try and stop us and we will kill you and all your patients," they said. After that, we no longer allowed patients outside.

The doctor said that the insurgents stole or destroyed much of the hospital’s property, including furniture, equipment, and a laboratory.

Throughout May there was heavy fighting between government and insurgent forces in the immediate area around the hospital, the doctor said (see below, Attacks on Hospitals). On May 26, medical staff evacuated the hospital’s patients and personnel to other facilities in Zhdanovka, Gorlovka, and Donetsk. The insurgents allowed staff to evacuate the patients, the doctor said.

Subsequent fighting completely destroyed the hospital complex. Human Rights Watch documented major destruction of all buildings in the hospital complex during a visit in July.

Lenin City Hospital, Sloviansk

Medical personnel at the Lenin City Hospital in Sloviansk told Human Rights Watch that armed insurgents arrived in mid-June and occupied one of the hospital’s two surgical wards, on the ground floor of a hospital building. The loss of one of the wards meant that doctors did not have the capacity to treat all of their civilian patients. The presence of the armed insurgents also contributed to increasing stress among the medical staff. Many did not show up for work, leaving the hospital understaffed to serve the patients.

Medical staff told Human Rights Watch that the insurgents used the ward to treat injured fighters, but the insurgents guarded the ward around the clock, preventing access for the hospital’s medical personnel. Two hospital nurses also said that the insurgents controlled the hospital’s bomb shelter and prevented medical personnel and patients from using it.

During a Human Rights Watch visit to the hospital in July, the hospital’s staff was trying to prepare the ward for use again. One of the nurses told Human Rights Watch that the insurgents had damaged the ward’s walls and floors and stolen all the surgical equipment, as well as some hospital furniture. Human Rights Watch observed that several doors in the ward had been removed and that all windows in the ward had been barricaded with sandbags.

Medical personnel also told Human Rights Watch that the insurgents stole the hospital’s paperwork, including all patient files, when they fled Sloviansk on July 5.

Kalinin Hospital, Donetsk

Human Rights Watch visited the Kalinin Hospital in Donetsk after insurgent forces took over two of the hospital’s buildings in mid-July. One of the hospital’s doctors told Human Rights Watch that between 30 and 40 armed insurgents took over the buildings:

The hospital administration told them that they didn’t want them here, but [the insurgents] didn’t listen. They behave fine and the hospital has made them leave their weapons in the ward where they are located, but we are concerned that there might eventually be fighting on the hospital premises.

The insurgents left one of the hospital buildings about a week after they had taken it over and after Human Rights Watch spoke to the doctor.

However, they continue to occupy another building, a rehabilitation center for radiation victims from the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the doctor said. This led to the closure of inpatient treatment for those patients. The doctor told Human Rights Watch:

They have set up a military hospital there with their own doctors. Seriously injured fighters first come to us and then we transfer them there. I don’t know what happens to the patients after this. I really don’t know what goes on there. I know they have a military hospital there, but maybe they use the building for other purposes as well. None of [our] medical staff go there at all.

Attacks on Hospitals

In at least five cases Human Rights Watch documented, explosive weapons struck hospitals, killing two medical workers. Although Human Rights Watch has not been able to establish with certainty who attacked the hospitals, four of the hospitals were in insurgent-controlled areas at the time of attack. In at least two of the hospitals, insurgents were on the hospital premises, suggesting that Ukrainian armed forces might have been responsible. The fifth hospital was in a government-controlled area. Further investigation of these cases is necessary to establish responsibility with certainty.

Lenin City Hospital, Sloviansk

On the afternoon of June 14, at least two shells struck the area of the Lenin City Hospital in Sloviansk, medical personnel told Human Rights Watch. Insurgent forces had established control over Sloviansk in April and had erected a checkpoint at the intersection of Taras Shevchenko and Uritskogo streets, approximately 800 meters from the hospital’s main entrance and almost adjacent to the hospital premises.

One shell struck the roof of a building housing the trauma and cardiology wards and one of the surgical wards. At the time of the strike, insurgent forces occupied the building’s surgical ward on the ground floor of the building that was hit. The strike shattered significant parts of the wooden roof and an attic, but did not damage the wards. The damage to the roof did not allow Human Rights Watch to establish the direction of the incoming shell, and Human Rights Watch did not find any remnants of the weapon that would have allowed further identification.

The second shell struck an intersection just outside the fence of the hospital premises, close to the insurgent checkpoint, severely injuring 36-year-old Tatyana Kubran, a surgical nurse who was leaving the hospital with her husband after her 24-hour shift. Medical staff told Human Rights Watch that Kubran, who had worked as a nurse at the hospital for many years, died later that day from her injuries. When Human Rights Watch visited the hospital in July, there were still visible shrapnel marks in the asphalt, on the hospital fence, and a nearby traffic sign at the intersection where Kubran was injured. Human Rights Watch also observed remnants of the insurgent checkpoint nearby.

Semyonovka Psychiatric Hospital

In the early morning on May 25, a shell hit the in-patient psychiatric hospital in Semyonovka, partially destroying a wall of one of the hospital’s buildings, the hospital’s deputy chief said. None of the patients or medical personnel were injured during the attack, she said, because they spent the night hiding in the basement.

The doctor said that in early May, the insurgents set up a checkpoint approximately one kilometer from the hospital. Between May 5 and May 26, when the hospital staff and patients were evacuated, the hospital was almost constantly surrounded by heavy fighting:

The fighting was right next to us, there were bullets flying into the hospital yard and ricocheting off the walls. And there were loud explosions; it was especially bad at night. There was only one time when we had a siren warning of the upcoming attack. All other times, there was no warning – we would just run every time we heard shooting or explosions. Altogether, we had to evacuate all our patients into the basement seven times at least. Sometimes patients had to stay in the basement for two nights in a row.

Krasny Liman Railway Hospital

On June 3, shells struck the Krasny Liman Railway Hospital, killing the hospital’s surgeon. Medical personnel at the hospital told Human Rights Watch that shelling began at about 3:30 p.m. without warning and that the attack lasted no longer than 10 minutes. The chief doctor of the hospital said that the hospital’s surgeon, Vasiliy Shistka, had just finished a planned operation when the shelling started. As he was walking out of the operating room, a shell fragment hit him on the head. He died two weeks later as a result of his injury. No other hospital personnel or patients were killed or wounded in the attack.

The attack also significantly damaged the hospital. In particular, the roof and infrastructure of the general therapy wing was seriously damaged, as were the walls and infrastructure of the surgery wing, the gynecology wing, and the hospital’s pharmacy. The explosions shattered the windows.

The hospital serves mainly railway workers and is located approximately 25 kilometers southeast of Sloviansk. At the time of the attack, Ukrainian government forces were engaged in military operations to re-establish control over Krasny Liman. The chief doctor told Human Rights Watch that on June 4, the morning after the attack, a group of Ukrainian servicemen approached the hospital in an armored carrier to carry out a search, as they believed insurgents were using the hospital for military purposes. They did not show any identification documents but demanded that he lead them through the hospital, the chief doctor said.

Having examined all the wards and hospital grounds in that manner, the military acknowledged there were no insurgents present. The doctor also alleged that the military commander showed him a map on which the hospital was marked as an insurgent hospital and explained that they believed that insurgents had been using the hospital for military purposes.

As of early July, the prosecutor’s office had started an investigation into the shelling of the hospital. Because there was strong evidence suggesting the targeted nature of this attack, on July 18, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to President Poroshenko urging him to ensure that the investigation into this attack is thorough and prompt.

In addition to the three cases detailed above, a doctor at the hospital in Gorlovka, a town just north of Donetsk, told Human Rights Watch by phone that what she presumed was a Grad rocket struck the hospital premises on July 27, shattering the hospital windows.

Medical personnel at the children’s hospital in Sloviansk told Human Rights Watch that a shell had struck the hospital on May 30. Human Rights Watch confirmed during a visit that the front wall of the hospital was partially destroyed. At the time of the attack, all patients had been evacuated. Human Rights Watch has no information that there were armed fighters present at the Gorlovka or Sloviansk children’s hospitals at the time of the attacks.

Pro-Kremlin party leader hails people’s republics in southeast Ukraine

 

Text of report by the website of Russian newspaper Izvestiya on 31 July

[Article by Sergey Mironov, leader of the A Just Russia faction in the Russian Federation State Duma: "Novorossiya – new Russia. Just Russia faction leader Sergey Mironov on what Russians want and how they are able to defend their interests"]

Novorossiya [southeast Ukraine] has been occupying the principal place in the picture of Ukrainian events recently. Politicians, political analysts, journalists, and experts are talking about bombardments and bombing raids, the deaths of children and old people, thousands of refugees, the destruction of the Malaysian Boeing, and the militias’ retreats and counteroffensives. But among all of this there is a subject to which nobody is paying attention, and I would like to do so. It seems to me that it is exceptionally important. More important than many other issues if you look at it in terms not of days and weeks but months and years.

Let us ask ourselves: What is happening in Novorossiya if we look at this process from an ideological and world-view angle? What kind of state do the defenders of the DNR [Donetsk people’s republic] and the LNR [Luhansk people’s republic] want to build?

A. proviso. I do not know whether the insurgents will succeed in defending their motherland against highly superior enemy forces, although I wish them success with all my heart. But in any event we have to acknowledge something that is obvious: The existence of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics is an established historical fact. This event has already divided the history of Ukraine into "before" and "after." You can burn cities to the ground and not leave a single person alive in the southeast, but you cannot erase these pages from history with Grad, Uragan, and Smerch missiles.

The inhabitants of Novorossiya are compelled to exist in a state of permanent stress; they feel that they are living on the brink of death. At the same time they feel their historic predestination, and this feeling is proving to be stronger and deeper than the fear of death – it outweighs it. So it is not just war that is determining the life of the state of Novorossiya. Activists and politicians in Donetsk and Luhansk are engaged in imposing order in civil matters.

What does all this mean? A process of forming a nation is underway. Collective creativity by Russian people who, through the culpability of former leaders, are compelled to live other than in Russia, is underway. It was difficult and agonizing for them to exist in an aggressive environment that denies their identity. This aggression began with the language issue and ended in bombing raids. But there is a paradox here: Against the backdrop of explosions, while war is waging, people are thinking about how they would like to live in conditions of peace. What should the republic be like? How should it be organized?

DNR and LNR constitutions have already been written. A vigorous lawmaking process is underway. Novorossiya has a name and policy documents, albeit they have not yet – in wartime conditions – been completely honed. The constitution of Novorossiya has been published. In accordance with this constitution Novorossiya is a rule-of-law democratic state. Secular, but with clear moral points of reference. At the present time it is a parliamentary republic although it might possibly become a presidential republic once it has withstood the Kiev authorities’ terror and consolidated itself. In Novorossiya there is a mixed economy and equality among all types of ownership, and in domestic policy there are social priorities.

The legislative initiatives that are emerging testify that these few million people want to see their republic as a social state based on traditional values. Social justice and tradition form the essence of the societal and state project that is currently being built in the DNR and the LNR.

In there is a flag and coat of arms incorporating symbols from prerevolutionary and Soviet traditions. This choice testifies to a desire to overcome the historical fractures in Russian history. And overcoming historical fractures and divisions is a guarantee of stability in present-day politics. In other words, healthy conservatism is inherent in Novorossiya’s citizens in peacetime. But today they are compelled to defend themselves and their historic choice.

Despite the mass killings of civilians that the Ukrainian army is perpetrating, these people are not retreating from the choice that they made in the course of the referendum. They are not turning their back on their ideals. They are fighting and dying for them. The current (essentially temporary) Kiev government hates their flag, hates their ideals, and is blatantly ignoring their social project. It is ignoring their historic rights and expression of their wishes, denying the indisputable fact that everyone has his own path within a common European tradition. This government talks about a "conflict of mentalities," repudiating the principle of pluralism and describing their opponents as "nonhuman" and "subhuman," and is terrorizing the civilian population.

But, I repeat, even if Ukrainian troops were to destroy all the defenders of Novorossiya and carry out mass purges, it will no longer be possible to erase the fact of the emergence of the state of Novorossiya from world history. We will have to live with this understanding. Consequently it is necessary to formulate a systemic attitude towards this historical phenomenon.

The Russian intellectual elite will have had to answer the question as to why a logical merging of social democratic and conservative ideals – that is to say, ideals of social justice and traditional values – has taken place in Novorossiya’s public consciousness. This set of ideals emerged on the soil of Donetsk and Luhansk not under pressure from external forces but as the free choice of the people.

Here it is impossible to get away from the simple and obvious fact that these ideals reflect the views and ideals of not only several million inhabitants of Novorossiya but also the enormous overwhelming majority of the population of Russia. The nationwide Russian support for Donetsk and Luhansk is largely determined by a community of ideas, especially a community of values and historical reference points. What are they?

First, in Novorossiya and Russia people identify themselves with the Russian Orthodox tradition – not in a strictly church sense but in a broader interpretation. As opinion polls demonstrate, around 80 per cent of our country’s citizens describe themselves as such. Second, these are the same 80 per cent who today support Vladimir Putin and expect him to strengthen the Russian state. Finally, these are the same people who are proud of our army, which crossed the Alps, halted Napoleon, saved Russia during the years of the Great Patriotic War [as World War II is known in Russia], and very recently protected the population of Crimea from the fate that subsequently overtook the inhabitants of Donetsk and Luhansk. The army that is ensuring the country’s sovereignty and integrity, to which a recent session of the Russian Federation Security Council was devoted….

The word Novorossiya today has not one but two meanings. On the one hand, it is the name of former Russian lands. On the other, it means "new Russia." A little Russia that is seeking to follow the same path along which the Russian Federation is also travelling.

Today those who lay claim to global control within the framework of a unipolar world are attempting to obstruct progress in this direction. To obstruct it to the detriment of their own and – even more so – European interests. But the historical journey of large and small nations cannot be halted. The example of Novorossiya has shown what Russians want and how they are able to defend their interests. And I would not advise anybody in the world to even try to do in Russia what they are trying to carry out in Ukraine. The outcome for such experimenters would be extremely inauspicious.

Source: Izvestiya website, Moscow, in Russian 31 Jul 14