Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Russian Photographer In Ukraine's Fate Still Unclear, Despite Cryptic 'RIP' Tweet

Russian photographer Andrei Stenin, who reportedly went missing in eastern Ukraine in early August

The fate of a Russian photographer who disappeared nearly a month ago in eastern Ukraine remains a mystery despite scattered claims that DNA testing confirmed Andrei Stenin was dead.

A fellow Russian photojournalist claimed on September 2 that Stenin's remains have been identified, after he disappeared while covering fighting between pro-Kyiv and pro-Russian forces.

Another report, on the Russian FlashNord website, quoted the separatist "Donetsk People's Republic" as saying genetic tests had confirmed that remains found more than a week ago were Stenin's.

But Stenin's employers at news agency Rossiya Segodnya (also known as RIA Novosti) said they had no confirmation of Stenin's death. "We are awaiting the final results of genetic testing in the near future," Rossiya Segodnya Director-General Dmitry Kiselyov was quoted as saying.

The case has particularly alarmed Russians and international observers due to suggestions -- including by a Ukrainian official -- that Stenin, who was on assignment at the time, had been taken into custody by Ukrainian security forces.

Russian colleague and self-described "good friend" Vasily Maksimov (@vasilymaximov) announced Stenin's purported death via Twitter.

"Andrei Stenin's remains identified, it seems," Maksimov said. "RIA will soon let you know. Unfortunately, I no longer doubted this outcome. RIP."

The pro-Kremlin @Novorussia_ru feed also claimed Stenin's death had been confirmed, although it offered no attribution for the information.

The reports set off a wave of expressions of mourning for Stenin on social media.

Rossiya Segodnya had launched an online campaign in August featuring the #FreeAndrew Twitter hashtag.

Reports more than a week ago suggested Stenin's remains had been found along with the bodies of two other people, in some cases with accompanying photographs of a burned-out car said to have been found on the road between Snezhnye and Dmitrivka.

The leadership of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic reportedly claimed at the time that equipment and other evidence at the scene indicated one of the bodies was that of Stenin.

Speculation over who might be responsible for Stenin's disappearance fueled ongoing debate in a conflict in which all sides have been criticized for their treatment of journalists.

Stenin had been working in areas of eastern Ukraine where some of the most intense fighting was taking place between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists.

Many of his photographs showed the brutal realities of war and were shot while he was traveling with pro-Russian fighters. They included images of a captured Ukrainian soldier digging a grave for comrades, locals affected by the fighting, and pro-Russian fighters in combat or on leave

In the bitter media environment of war-torn Ukraine, some had accused Stenin of working for Russian security forces. But no evidence of such ties has been produced publicly.

Reporters Without Borders had said it was "very concerned" over Stenin's whereabouts in the days after his disappearance:

Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about Andrei Stenin, an experienced war photographer working for the past few months in eastern Ukraine for Rossiya Segodnya, a Russian news agency formed in 2013 from the merger of several state-owned news outlets. Stenin has been missing since 5 August, when Rossiya Segodnya reported his disappearance. Reporters Without Borders urges anyone holding him to make it known, and to release him at once.

A RIA Novosti source said on 8 August that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) was holding him near the southwestern city of Zaporozhye but a local SBU spokesman denied this and the Ukrainian government has yet to respond to requests by Rossiya Segodnya and local NGOs such as IMI for information. Representatives of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk said Stenin may have gone to Shakhtarsk, in the Donetsk region, where all communications are cut.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said four days after the disappearance that efforts were under way to find Stenin. "The relevant agencies are taking measures to bring the journalist back home because the life of any of our citizens, including journalists, is the top priority in such situations, of course," Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS.

On August 12, a RIA Novosti report quoted an aide to Ukraine's interior minister as saying Stenin had been "arrested."

"He [Stenin] was arrested by our security services," Anton Herashchenko, an aide to Ukraine's minister of internal affairs, said in an interview with Baltkom radio. "We think that Andrei Stenin may be guilty of aiding terrorists."

But Herashchenko subsequently complained he'd been quoted out of context and said he had no information about Stenin's whereabouts.

On August 20, he added that the Ukrainian National Security Service (SBU) "is not holding this man either."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, called for Stenin's "immediate release."

"This dangerous practice of detaining and abducting media workers is unacceptable and must end," Mijatovic said. "I call on those responsible to stop targeting journalists for carrying out their work."

Journalists from both the pro-Russian and pro-Kyiv sides have gone missing or turned up dead since separatist-fueled violence escalated in early April. 

At least six other journalists have been killed this year in Ukraine.

-- Andy Heil

The Week Ahead: September 1-7

September 1: The North Ossetian town of Beslan marks the 10th anniversary of a school hostage taking that left 334 people people -- including 186 children -- dead.

The Week Ahead is a detailed listing of key events of the coming week affecting RFE/RL's broadcast region.
Now on Twitter! Daily updates at @The_Week_Ahead.

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MONDAY, September 1:
Armenia:  The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Academy is scheduled to begin its work in Yerevan.
EU/Iran:  EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton meets Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Brussels to discuss a framework for renewed nuclear talks.
Russia: The North Ossetian town of Beslan marks the 10th anniversary of a school hostage taking that left 334 people people -- including 186 children -- dead. 
Russia/France: Russian State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin visits Paris, meets with Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) President Anne Brasseur (to September 2).
UzbekistanIndependence Day.
Vatican: Rome hosts an interfaith soccer match aimed at promoting peace.
TUESDAY, September 2:
NATO: The Czech Republic hosts NATO military air exercise (to September 15). 
Turkey/Azerbaijan: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Baku.
U.S./Baltic StatesU.S. President Barack Obama visits Estonia, meets with Estonian President Hendrik Ilves, Latvian President Andris Berzins, and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite in Tallinn.
THURSDAY, September 4:
Kazakhstan/SCO: Astana hosts a meeting of the chairmen of the Supreme Courts of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states.
Kyrgyzstan/CIS: A meeting of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) interior ministers begins in Cholpon-Ata on the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul.
NATO: The United Kingdom hosts a NATO summit in Wales (to September 5).
FRIDAY, September 5:
EU/Russia: EU agricultural ministers meet in Brussels to discuss the consequences of Russia's import ban.
Russia: The 10th Kazan International Muslim Film Festival opens in Tatarstan (to September 11).
SATURDAY, September 6:
Georgia: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is scheduled to visit Tbilisi
SUNDAY, September 7:

Tags:calendar of events, radio free europe, radio liberty

A Few Brave Russians Protest Invasion Of Southeast Ukraine

Pictures such as this one of a lone man protesting against Russia's invasion of southeast Ukraine in Moscow on August 28 have been doing the rounds on social media

At 12:41 a.m. Moscow time on August 28, Solidarity Movement activist Dmitry Monakhov tweeted: "I am Russian. Not cattle. Not a killer. And I am not an occupier. I am ashamed that Putin is my president. At 9:00 I will go to Manezh against the war."  

Less than 24 hours later, his message had been retweeted some 3,000 times.  

He went to Moscow's Manezh Square on August 28, and said that Putin's actions were illegal under Section 353 of the Russian Criminal Code, which bans the planning of "aggressive war," according to the LiveJournal of Philipp Kireev, who witnessed the scene and uploaded photos of it to his blog. Monakhov called for the opening of a criminal investigation into Putin.  

The police came and detained him. An onlooker shouted, "Don't like this -- go away, this is our home and we're going to live here," according to Kireev. 

"I have been detained, I don't know what the charges will be," Monakhov tweeted at 9:35 a.m. Moscow time. As of the time of publication, he had not tweeted since.  

The protest was one of a few scattered on Manezh Square of lone people protesting Putin's actions. The Interfax news agency quoted human rights activists as saying that six people were detained on the square. 

Some of these sporadic protests were photographed and subsequently shared on social media:

'No War With Ukraine'

На Манежной площади в Москве проходят пикеты против войны России с Украиной pic.twitter.com/qGQca7Gw8X

 'I Am A Citizen Of Russia Against The War With Ukraine" 

"No War"

Еще пикет pic.twitter.com/26qx9qSYNi

— Philipp Kireev (@mynameisphilipp) August 28, 2014

'War With Ukraine Is Suicide For Russia' 

Other top opposition leaders took to Twitter to protest Moscow's actions. 

The Twitter account of anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny, who is under house arrest and barred from using social media, tweeted out a blog post with a March poll from his organization showing a majority of Russians looking on a war with Ukraine negatively. 

Popular Russian opposition blogger Oleg Kozyrev tweeted a series of sarcastic observations. "The Kremlin destroying the Russian economy began with the economy of Ukraine," he said.

"Yes, in Russia we don't know how to build roads. Instead, we learned to bomb the roads of other governments."  He went on, "Why build a hospital in Russia, to be better than neighboring states, if you can just destroy the hospital of your neighbors."  

State media downplayed the new Russian front in Ukraine.

State-controlled NTV played NATO's statement that more than 1,000 Russian troops were on Ukrainian soil as an accusation without proof, and included a denial from Russia's representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Channel One called it an "alleged 'Russian invasion'" and said that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's August 28 statement that Moscow had brought forces into Ukraine caused "a new spike in anti-Russian rhetoric in the Western media."  

-- Luke Johnson

The Week Ahead: August 25-31

India -- Parveena Ahanger, chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), addresses a demonstration to mark the International Day of Disappeared Persons in Srinagar, 30Aug2012

The Week Ahead is a detailed listing of key events of the coming week affecting RFE/RL's broadcast region.
Now on Twitter! Daily updates at @The_Week_Ahead.

Follow Me on Pinterest

MONDAY, August 25:
Iran/Iraq: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visits Najaf, one of the holiest cities for Shiite Muslims.
Georgia/Austria: Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze visits Austria
TUESDAY, August 26:
Belarus: Minsk hosts a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, as well as officials from the European Union and the Eurasian Customs Union, which comprises Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.
PACE: The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) President Anne Brasseur makes an official visit to Prague (to August 27).
WEDNESDAY, August 27:
ItalyVenice International Film Festival opens (to September 6).
Romania: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania hosts a meeting of the foreign ministers of Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia in Bucharest (to August 29).
THURSDAY, August 28:

U.S.: Freedom House hosts in Washington a discussion titled "Empowering Human Rights Defenders in Exile."
FRIDAY, August 29:
EU: An informal meeting of European Union foreign ministers (Gymnich) begins in Milan under the Italian EU Presidency (to August 30).
Iran/Russia: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is scheduled to visit Moscow.
SATURDAY, August 30:
EU: EU leaders meet in Brussels to discuss a number of key appointments to be made for top EU positions.
Ukraine: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visits Brussels.
SUNDAY, August 31:
KyrgyzstanIndependence Day.
MoldovaLanguage Day.
World: 2014 World Water Week begins in Stockholm (to September 5).

Tags:calendar of events, radio free europe, radio liberty

'Mustang Wanted' Claims He Raised Ukrainian Flag Over Moscow

The photo posted to "Mustang Wanted's" Facebook page, accompanying his confession

Ukrainian daredevil "Mustang Wanted" has claimed via Facebook that he's the person who painted the "seven sisters" spire in Moscow in Ukrainian blue and raised the Ukrainian flag overnight on August 19-20.

He suggests he will turn himself in to Russian authorities "in exchange for the release of a brave Ukrainian girl -- Nadya Savchenko," a reference to a Ukrainian military pilot who is in Russian custody after being kidnapped and handed over by separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The death-defying urban legend -- who also identifies himself as Heorhiy in the post -- published what appears to be a selfie from atop the painted Stalin-era star, painted blue and yellow, high above the Moscow riverbank.

He says on Facebook that he has photos and video evidence to prove his claim.

"It took me almost all night and I finished about 6 a.m.," he says.

He says his confession "is aimed at liberation of those innocent Russians accused of hooliganism and who have every chance of falling victim to the well-known fairness of Russian justice."

PROFILE: Kyiv's Most Fearless Man


Four young Russians who were said to have been carrying climbing gear were detained and accused of the overnight stunt, which quickly went viral and appears to have sparked a wave of Internet memes by people who disagree with Russia's actions in neighboring Ukraine.

The Ukrainian pilot, Savchenko, has been accused by Russian authorities of complicity in the killing during fighting in eastern Ukraine of two Russian journalists.

On Facebook, Mustang Wanted says he did the painting and "raised the flag of independent Ukraine" in "a fit of sincere patriotic sentiment."

He dedicates his stunt to Ukrainian Independence Day, which is August 24, and to "all the guys defending my homeland now! Glory to Ukraine!"

-- Andy Heil

Video Stalin Tower Painted In Ukrainian Blue And Yellow

A Moscow city worker takes a selfie while atop the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment building in Moscow to remove the Ukrainian flag mounted there overnight on August 19-20. The hammer-and-sickled star and laurel wreath was also painted in Ukrainian colors.

MOSCOW – In the latest act of solidarity with Ukraine in Russia, a group of people have apparently scaled the heights of one of Moscow’s iconic Stalin-era skyscrapers, hoisted a Ukrainian flag over it, and painted the Soviet star at its peak yellow and blue.

The incident took place under cover of darkness in the early morning hours of August 20 at a massive 32-floor elite apartment building on the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment in downtown Moscow in the vicinity of both the Kremlin and the Federal Security Service headquarters.
It is not yet clear who was behind the stunt, although police have reportedly arrested four young Russians with climbing gear, all of them believed to be residents of Moscow and the surrounding region. 

To hoist the flag and paint the star, the climbers presumably would have had to scale the 176-meter building -- or find another way to reach its peak. 

An unidentified Moscow police official told the Interfax news agency that the group used "an internal staircase" to reach the top floor of the building and then used "special equipment" to reach its spire.  

A video posted by various Russian media purports to show one of the pranksters parachuting down from the height of the Stalin-era building after daybreak. 

WATCH: A Ukrainian Flag Flies High In Moscow

The detained quartet deny their guilt, according to press reports. An unidentified police official told the ITAR-TASS agency that the group claims they were simply thrill seekers and had nothing to do with the stunt. "The two young men and two girls say they jumped from a high building with parachutes. They say they didn't hoist any flag and didn't paint the flag," the official said. 

Some media reports suggested that the perpetrator might be the Ukrainian stunt daredevil Mustang Wanted. But he has denied involvement on his Facebook page. 

Despite the confusion, the caper was welcomed by liberal bloggers, many of whom have watched uneasily for months as the Kremlin has annexed Ukrainian territory and supported a separatist uprising in its east. 

"It's the beginning of change," a Twitter user with the handle "Reincarnation" tweeted on the microblogging site. 

Here are some more tweets from the scene.


The incident marks the latest in a series of acts of solidarity with Kyiv in Russia, despite the patriotic fervor that accompanied Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for the separatist insurgency. 
In other examples, some opposition activists have taken to singing the Ukrainian national anthem when they are arrested. 
Last week, Andrei Makarevich, front man for the popular band "Mashina Vremeni" (Time Machine) traveled to eastern Ukraine where he performed for internally displaced children, a move that saw him branded as a "traitor" by Russian lawmakers and pro-establishment musicians.
After Malaysia Airlines MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down in rebel-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, the liberal opposition "Novaya gazeta" newspaper ran the controversial cover page: "Forgive Us Netherlands." The majority of the 298 people killed on MH17 were Dutch.

And the popular Russian rapper and songwriter Noize MC also performed last week at a music festival in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, with a Ukrainian flag, drawing accusations in Russia of "betraying" his homeland. 

"I went to the edge of the stage and a girl in the crowd gave me a yellow-blue flag," Noize MC, whose real name is Ivan Alekseyev, wrote on his VKontakte page. 

"As a token of friendship between our peoples...I of course took it."

Alekseyev added that by playing in Ukraine, and accepting the flag, he "wanted to show that our people are brothers and friends. What we do not need is to fear and hate each other." He added: "I've never danced to the tune of the state, no matter what kind of state it was. I am for the people." 

It is unclear whether the detained climbers will be charged with vandalism.
According to an online poll conducted by the liberally oriented Ekho Moskvy radio station, 74 percent they should be released provided they repaint the star.

In a post on his Facebook page, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lauded the stunt, which came just days before his country celebrates Independence Day on August 24. 

"On the eve of Independence Day we are starting an initiative called 'Our Colors,' which is devoted to the Ukrainian flag," Poroshenko wrote. 

"And it is symbolic that, on this day, our colors have been painted on what is perhaps the greatest skyscraper in Moscow. I urge Ukrainians throughout the world, wherever they are, on the eve of the anniversary of our independence, to decorate their homes, offices, and cars in our national colors."

-- Tom Balmforth

Separatist Commander 'Strelkov' Bans Cursing

An Orthodox priest blesses pro-Russian separatist commander Igor Strelkov (left) during a religious service in the eastern city of Donetsk on July 10.

With the Ukrainian army making gains against pro-Russian separatists, the leader of the rebels has issued an urgent order.

Stop cursing.

"We call ourselves an Orthodox Christian army," Igor Girgkin says in the decree. And besides, "Foul words do not have a Russian origin and were used by Russia's enemies for the desecration of holy places."

Girkin, who goes by the nom-de-guerre Strelkov, or "Shooter," has told reporters that he served in the Russian Security Service until March 2013.

Kyiv says he is working for Russian military intelligence and was sent to Ukraine to stir discord. He has been accused of ordering abductions and executions.

Whether separatist fighters -- who appear to be retreating to the rebel stronghold of Donetsk as the Ukrainian army advances -- will follow Girkin's order is an open question, but some who have reported on the men appear dubious.

Girkin, though, is emphatic.

Apparently tying cursing to Ukrainian, Girkin closes the decree by claiming it is "forbidden to use the Russian language of the enemy soldier. It demeans us spiritually and leads an army to defeat."

-- Glenn Kates

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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