Thursday, October 30, 2014


Ukraine

Ukrainian Separatists Still Hold 7 OSCE Observers After Talks Free Swede

Two of the eight captive members of an OSCE military verification team are marched in under armed guard for a press conference organized by pro-Russian separatists in Slovyansk on April 27.
Two of the eight captive members of an OSCE military verification team are marched in under armed guard for a press conference organized by pro-Russian separatists in Slovyansk on April 27.
By RFE/RL
An OSCE negotiating team in the eastern Ukrainian town of Slovyansk has secured the release, reportedly on medical grounds, of one of eight international military observers captured and deemed "prisoners of war" by pro-Russian separatists.

Reuters reported that one of its correspondents outside the city administration building in Slovyansk saw the man come out, escorted by three unarmed men, get into a white OSCE jeep, and drive off.

The release came hours after the negotiators went into a meeting with the self-styled "mayor" of Slovyansk, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, whose gunmen abducted the OSCE team along with five Ukrainian soldiers.

A spokeswoman for the separatists said the freed man is a Swede who suffers from diabetes.

Other sources identified him as "Major Johannson."

The breakaway group's spokeswoman said no other prisoners had been freed.

Ponomaryov has said he considers the OSCE team to be "prisoners of war."

Meanwhile, an unnamed OSCE spokesperson reportedly denied a claim via Twitter by acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya that OSCE Secretary-General Lamberto Zannier was on his way to Kyiv.

Before the negotiators arrived in Slovyansk, the eight OSCE prisoners -- including the Swede, four Germans, a Pole, a Dane, and a Czech -- were marched before reporters for the first time since their capture on April 25.

One of them, German Colonel Axel Schneider, said the group had "not been touched" by their captors since they were seized.

But there was no indication of when they might be released.

The OSCE verification team was reportedly in eastern Ukraine to oversee implementation of an agreement signed in Geneva earlier in April that aimed to reduce tensions in the region.

"In our town, where a war situation is going on, any military personnel who don't have our permission are considered prisoners of war," Ponomaryov told reporters.

Ponomaryov previously suggested the OSCE group were "NATO spies" and said they could be part of an exchange that included pro-Russian separatists detained by Ukrainian authorities.

Ponomaryov has also referred to them "not as our hostages" but "our guests."
All eight members of the seized OSCE team sit at a press conference in Slovyansk alongside separatist leader Vyacheslav Ponomaryov (fourth from left), who has called them "NATO spies" and "prisoners of war."
All eight members of the seized OSCE team sit at a press conference in Slovyansk alongside separatist leader Vyacheslav Ponomaryov (fourth from left), who has called them "NATO spies" and "prisoners of war."


Andrei Kelin, Russia's envoy to the OSCE, said on April 26 that Moscow would "undertake all possible steps" to free the observers.

Ponomaryov also announced his forces had captured three officers of Ukraine's State Security Service (SBU) in an operation overnight.

Ponomaryov said he also considers those three men "prisoners of war."

Rossiya 24 and other Russian TV stations showed footage of the three men being questioned while bound to chairs, blindfolded, and showing signs of having been beaten. The channel also showed identification and badges indicating they are SBU employees.
A screen grab from Russian KP.ru TV showing one of three men Slovyansk separatists claim are captured Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) agents.
A screen grab from Russian KP.ru TV showing one of three men Slovyansk separatists claim are captured Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) agents.


The captors have alleged that the SBU men were in the area to abduct a separatist.

The SBU confirmed the capture of the three officers but said they were in the area to investigate the murder of local politician Volodymyr Rybak from the pro-Western Batkivshchyna political party.

Rybak was abducted earlier this month and his body found a week later in a pond near Slovyansk. He had been stabbed several times and thrown into the water, weighted down so he would drown.

A second body found around the same time was that of a university student.

Trouble In Donetsk

Meanwhile, pro-Russian separatists seized control of the offices of the regional TV and radio company in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on April 27.

Media reports say the separatists raised the flag of their self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" over the building.

Reuters news agency said separatists in masks, with truncheons and shields, were standing at the entrance to the building controlling access, while more separatists in camouflage fatigues could be seen inside.

Earlier in the day, pro-Russian protesters rallied in Donetsk's central Lenin Square, demanding a referendum on the federalization of Ukraine.

Separatists already control the regional governor's office and the city hall in Donetsk, the main city in eastern Ukraine, as well as official buildings in a string of other eastern Ukrainian towns.

U.S. Anger With Moscow

In Malaysia, visiting U.S. President Barack Obama lashed out at Russia, saying the country's leaders have "not lifted one finger" to de-escalate the tensions in Ukraine despite agreements reached earlier this month in Geneva at a meeting of the top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, the United States and European Union. 

Obama said on April 27 that more sanctions against Russia would be announced soon, reiterating that pressure will mount until Russia takes action to rein in pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

"Collectively, us and the Europeans have said that so long as Russia continues down the path of provocation rather than trying to resolve this issue peacefully and de-escalating, there are going to be consequences," Obama said, "and those consequences will continue to grow."
A Ukrainian military checkpoint near the Donetsk region on April 25
A Ukrainian military checkpoint near the Donetsk region on April 25


Obama said the United States is coordinating fresh sanctions against Russia with Washington's partners in the European Union, who are expected to gather for emergency sanctions debate on April 28.

The Group of Seven (G7) leading industrial powers agreed this week to move forward with additional sanctions against Russia if Moscow does not take concrete measures to support an agreement reached in Geneva.

The United States and EU accuse the Kremlin of aiding the pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine and also of placing additional pressure on the new government in Kyiv by massing some 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's border.

Moscow continues to deny any involvement in events in eastern Ukraine and explains the presence of its troops along Ukraine's border as being part of extended military exercises.
 
Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

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