News / Europe

Ukraine Rebel Leaders Quit; Russian Convoy Stops

A Russian convoy of trucks said to be carrying humanitarian aid for eastern Ukraine is seen parked near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Rostov Region, August 14, 2014.
A Russian convoy of trucks said to be carrying humanitarian aid for eastern Ukraine is seen parked near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Rostov Region, August 14, 2014.
VOA News

Two of the most senior pro-Russian separatists battling Ukraine forces near the Russian border quit Thursday, as Ukrainian troops pummeled locations near the rebel-held cities of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Artillery shells struck the center of Donetsk for the first time since rebels launched their rebellion against Ukrainian rule in April.  Western news reports say at least 25 people were killed in the Donetsk shelling, while Ukraine reported nine troops killed.

The departures of Russian nationals Igor Strelkov and Valery Bolotov also came as a huge Russian aid convoy remained parked on the Russian side of the border, with its destination unknown and its cargo manifest unclear.

According to Ukrainian media, the convoy of nearly 300 trucks on Thursday was heading towards Izvaryne, a border crossing controlled by pro-Russian separatists, but has stopped and is currently parked in Russia's Rostov region in an area some 40 kilometers away from the frontier. It is not clear how long the convoy will remain there.

Moscow insisted it coordinated the dispatch with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), but on Wednesday representatives of the ICRC said they were still in the dark about the final destination of the convoy.

The Kyiv government, which accuses Russia of arming and otherwise supporting the rebellion in eastern Ukraine, has called the convoy a "Trojan horse" and repeatedly voiced suspicions that Moscow is using it as part of a plan for a full-scale incursion. Western governments have expressed similar fears.

Moscow on Wednesday called the accusations "absurd."

Russia's Foreign Ministry says it is continuing negotiations with the Ukrainian government and the ICRC to get the trucks cleared into Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s government has dispatched some of its own trucks with supplies for people in eastern Ukraine affected by the conflict.

Three separate convoys left Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv Thurday heading toward Donetsk and Luhansk with 800 tons of food and sanitary products, Ukraine’s Emergencies Ministry said. Additioonal convoys will be organized in the coming days, it added.

Mixed messages

Earlier this week, Ukraine officials said the convoy's contents could be allowed entry if they were inspected by the International Red Cross first. Kyiv also has said the convoy could transfer its cargo at the border to trucks leased by the relief agency.

However, the Red Cross said Wednesday it was still awaiting a detailed inventory of the shipment before it will take custody of the goods.

International relief officials said much of eastern Ukraine, including the hub cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, lack medical supplies, water and electricity, as Ukrainian government forces press their offensive aimed at ending the rebellion by pro-Russian separatists.

The United Nations human rights office said Wednesday that the death toll from the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which began in mid-April, appears to have doubled in the past two weeks, climbing to nearly 2,100 fatalities as of August 10.

Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived Wednesday in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Russia seized and annexed from Ukraine in March.

He addressed Russian ministers and lawmakers traveling with him in Yalta on Thursday, the second day of his visit.

Sanctions remorse?

Putin on Thursday also said he believed many European leaders were eager to end the standoff over sanctions with Russia, which he said was “damaging our cooperation.”

Putin made the remark in Crimea after meeting with a French businessman who said he was interested in developing an entertainment complex on the peninsula.

Putin added that, based on a recent conversation he had with his French counterpart Francois Hollande, he felt that this also reflected the French president's mood.

Separately, Slovakia's prime minister criticized the European Union sanctions against Russia over Ukraine on Thursday, saying they would only threaten economic growth in the 28-member bloc.

“Why should we jeopardize the EU economy that is beginning to grow?” Robert Fico told a news conference.

Ukraine to impose own sanctions

Also on Thursday, the Ukrainian parliament approved a law to impose sanctions on Russian companies and individuals supporting and financing separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The government has already prepared a list of 172 citizens of Russia and other countries, and of 65 Russian companies, including gas export giant Gazprom, on whom they could impose sanctions “for financing terrorism.”

After Thursday's vote, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told parliament that Ukraine had taken a historic step.

“By approving the law on sanctions, we showed that the country is able to protect itself,” Yatsenyuk said. "The law should give a clear answer to any aggressor or terrorist who threatens our national security, our government and our citizens."

Finnish diplomacy

Finland's president says he plans to discuss Ukraine with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in southern Russia Friday.

The meeting, to be held at Putin’s residence in Sochi, would be the Russian president’s first encounter with a leader of a European Union country on Russian soil since the conclusion in February of the 2014 Winter Olympics he hosted in the same city.

Sauli Niinisto, Finland’s president, played down prospects for any breakthrough, but said his meeting with Putin would focus on finding ways to defuse tensions over Ukraine.

“I do not want to present myself as a great peace mediator,” Niinisto told a news conference. But he stressed a need for “open communication channels,” expressing hope that his initiative would bring a “small step forward.”

Quoting a Kremlin source, Reuters is reporting that the agenda for the Sochi meeting would focus on bilateral issues, primarily trade.

Finland is among EU countries hit hard by food import restrictions Moscow imposed last week in retaliation for EU sanctions.

Donetsk fighting

Heavy shelling has been reported in rebel-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine Thursday.

The Donetsk city council reported that two people were killed, and two shopping centers and a residential building damaged, in shelling that, for the first time, hit near the city's center. It also reported a fire on the grounds of an oil storage facility.

It was not clear who fired the shells but separatist online news outlets said Ukrainian government forces hit targets inside Donetsk and have struck regions to the east and southwest of the city in previous days.

Separately, the Donetsk regional health department reported that 74 civilians had been killed and 116 wounded in fighting throughout the region over the past three days.  The health authorities said 839 residents of the Donetsk region have been killed and 1,623 wounded since March 1.

Ukrainian troops have been slowly tightening the noose on rebels in Donetsk, a regional hub with a peace-time population of nearly a million.

Shelling has also been reported in Luhansk, another rebel stronghold.

Rebels in disarray?

Meanwhile, two senior rebel commanders have announced that they are leaving their posts, deepening the disarray among separatist forces.

The defense minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Peoples Republic Igor Strelkov, whom Kyiv accused of being a Russian intelligence officer, is reportedly moving to a less senior post.

Valery Bolotov, head of the self-proclaimed rebel government in Luhansk region, said he was injured and could no longer carry out his duties.

A week ago Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, also quit.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters.

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Comment Sorting
by: YaPiDo from: US
August 15, 2014 6:25 PM
If not Trojan Horse, then Red Herring.

by: Jake the Snake from: usa
August 15, 2014 11:12 AM
The hastily voted on it, without international approval or transparency.. Here's an idea lets Build a base on Russian soil and lease it and let all of our US Military oersonnel vote to see if they want the USA to annex them too.. I think i would expect 100% for annexation too...

by: GarryGR from: USA
August 15, 2014 2:37 AM
Well, I guess we know now what happened to Bagdad Bob. He's now Russia's official Information Minister! ;-)

by: Dmytro from: Ukraine
August 15, 2014 1:03 AM
I think our western friends are naive. I can tell you one thing: you have nothing to threaten Russia (especially Europe). And all that sanctions... Do you realize how former Soviet Union counties suffered all over the history? You think that a lack of European cheese and meat can make Russia give up? It makes me laugh when I watch American or British news about how Russia cannot live without western products. I am from Ukraine, and the last time I ate some of those banned products was... maybe several years ago. We are not used to luxury as you are so we can endure much more than you can imagine. To disrupt Russian economy you've got to impose sanctions for tens of years.
Of course I want this embarrassing war to be over. But what I see is just a political game while people are being killed in my country. When we overthrew our former president no one expected to be involved in the conflict that took so much. Europe, Russia - it does not matter, no one will help us to build more prosperous country unless we stop listening to wretched politics and start to rely only on our own.
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
August 16, 2014 9:18 AM
Hey Dmytro from Ukraine... I agree with you 100%..... The US and western European countries would miss all those banned goods, but they don't understand, that most people in the rest of the world never could afford those products, or they're in need other things more....

by: alo from: canada
August 14, 2014 3:20 PM
Could this be a distraction tactic? Everyone is concentrating at those white trucks while Putin is shipping weapons or digging tunnels somewhere else?
In Response

by: Jacques from: France
August 14, 2014 10:35 PM
Communist KGB said something but doing an other thing. Liar, killer and thieves.
In Response

by: Truth_Hammer from: America
August 14, 2014 10:18 PM
Putin started this whole mess. Now he wants to sweep in and act like a savior?


Does anyone else see this as a problem?

by: David Winfrey from: Chicago
August 14, 2014 2:50 PM
Putin is a liar and a scoundrel, not to be trusted. Check every truck, every glove box. He is no good.
In Response

by: Robert H.
August 14, 2014 10:23 PM
It isn't his fault a Western backed coup threw out the Democratically elected Ukrainian leader
In Response

by: john from: sydney
August 14, 2014 10:17 PM
Inside the trucks are gun, ammo , + Russian solders

by: bob swede from: USA
August 14, 2014 10:41 AM
Diplomacy is the only way, and Finland understands the political dynamics in Russia.
The bullying approach sanctions the typical United States approach to international relations. Their interventions in other countries did not go so well: Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, ...
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 15, 2014 3:50 AM
Appreciate your comment, among the irrational bilge spewed around this comments section.
In Response

by: DellStator from: US
August 14, 2014 2:28 PM
Finland knows Russia, you bet.
They know Russia stole land from them, expending over a half million men in the process, and they know Russia will be happy to do it again.
The Fins made Russia pay for the land grab in blood, but in the end, and lacking ANY international support, they had to cave in.
So I'm pretty sure the Fins would just advise the Ukraine to accept whatever Russia wants, since it's obvious your're Western allies are just as spineless as ours were, oh they are the same. Yeah, then definitely, don't count on them.

by: Michael from: New Guinea
August 14, 2014 9:30 AM
Shocking situation. Blatant Russia agression n propaganda brainwashing its citizens but also US geopolitical tit for tat goin on here. Feel for innocent ukraine people

by: Patrick from: Ca
August 14, 2014 4:32 AM
Did Russia "seize it, or did they vote to join Russia?
In Response

by: Charles from: USA
August 15, 2014 1:04 PM
That depends on your perspective. Masked men wearing military uniforms without insignia driving Russian plated trucks set up road blocks and seized key buildings. The elected officials in Crimea were replaced by the masked unmarked gunmen. Russian soldiers surrounded and took Ukrainian military bases and equipment. Then there was a hasty referendum with no real international oversight with only 2 options available join Russia or be autonomous. With unmarked Russian soldiers occupying Crimea and Russia promising higher pensions, tourism, and many other things in addition to allowing Russian citizens living and working in Crimea to vote.

Sounds like it was occupied and seized to me. But to some people the lack of bloodshed means it was the will of the people.
In Response

by: Matt from: STL
August 15, 2014 7:00 AM
They were voting to leave their central government, so why would they need its approval? It was legitimate because they have the right to govern themsleves. I've also yet to see any images or video of "masked men" forcing the Crimeans to vote a certain way. That is nonsense. The video of troops standing around doesn't cut it because there is no context.
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 15, 2014 3:57 AM
Maidan wasn't a vote. Crimea is finally free of Ukraine, as should much if not all of so-called east Ukraine. What was good for Bosnians should be good for separatist "Ukrainians"!
In Response

by: ron from: vegas
August 14, 2014 9:56 PM
So if we follow your logic,if folks in los Angeles vote to join Mexico then US goverment should allow it ?
In Response

by: Hal from: Canada
August 14, 2014 4:30 PM
Technically they voted, however the choices were as follows;

1.) lets leave the ukraine and join russia now
2.) lets leave the ukraine and join russia at some point in the future
In Response

by: Sunny Enwerem from: Lagos Nigeria
August 14, 2014 3:58 PM
Russia seize it forcefully to make them vote for Russia ,elections under masked men not from the country is a Joke.
In Response

by: raf delm from: USA
August 14, 2014 3:03 PM
Yes Russia seized Crimea. Which central govt of any country approved the voting?
In Response

by: Ivan from: Brooklyn
August 14, 2014 7:48 AM
Not a legitimate vote.

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