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    Ukraine Tag

    British and American media are reporting that Ukrainian government officials have seen data from the say the downed Malaysia Airlines' black box recorders. According to these officials, the airliner suffered an explosive loss of pressure after it was punctured by multiple pieces of shrapnel from a missile. From the BBC:
    They say the information came from the plane's flight data recorders, which are being analysed by British experts. However, it remains unclear who fired a missile, with pro-Russia rebels and Ukraine blaming each other. Many of the 298 people killed on board flight MH17 were from the Netherlands. Dutch investigators leading the inquiry into the crash have refused to comment on the Ukrainian claims.
    Meanwhile those same Dutch investigators in charge of finding out what happened have yet to visit the crash site, view the wreckage or see the human remains from the aftermath of the downing of the plane. From CNN:

    Ten days after Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot from the skies over Ukraine, the situation on the ground in Ukraine has gotten worse. U.S. officials released satellite images today showing proof that Russian forces have been shelling eastern Ukraine from the Russian side of the border.
    The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which released the civilian-taken satellite images Sunday, said they show visual evidence that Russia has been firing shells across the border at Ukrainian military forces. Officials also said the images show that Russia-backed separatists have used heavy artillery, provided by Russia, in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine.

    The remains of nearly 200 passengers from downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 have been removed from the wreckage and placed in refrigerated rail cars in a rebel-controlled area of eastern Ukraine. From ABC News:
    It may be some time before the bodies of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 are returned to their families. In an exclusive interview with ABC News today, the leader of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic said they would not be turned over until international inspectors come here to inspect them. "We can and we want to give bodies to the relatives but experts have to examine the bodies here. That is international practice," Alexander Borodai said.

    A flurry of media reports are reporting that a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet has been shot down over Ukrainian airspace. The Boeing 777 carried 295 people and was "at altitude" (30,000 feet) according to the Interfax agency. All on board are said to have perished, according to Ukrainian sources. The media reports and video of a fiery crash have exploded on the internet after this initial tweet came from Malaysian Airlines. On FOX News Channel's breaking news coverage -- Jennifer Griffin, FOX News Pentagon correspondent, says the Ukrainian interior minister reports a Russian surface-to-air missile system brought down the flight. Griffin says Ukrainian civilians and government officials had reported seeing the advanced Russian BOOK missile system move into the country from Russia in recent days. From BBC News:

    This seems like a broken record, but the last 24 hours have turned the standoff in Eastern Ukraine from a "ceasefire" to a hot war that doesn't appear to be cooling down soon. On Friday, June 20, Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko announced a unilateral one-week cease-fire by his government as a way to deescalate the crisis with pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko announced to ceasefire with an ultimatum for the rebels: disarm or leave Ukraine.
    Poroshenko called the 7-day cease-fire, which was to begin later on Friday, a first-step in a larger agreement, not only giving separatists a chance to disarm, but also for pro-Russia rebels to leave the country, the Kiev Post reports. He called on separatists to lay down their weapons, or else be "destroyed," the President said. "The forces of the anti-terrorist operation will halt military action starting today and through June 27," Poroshenko was cited as saying by the Interior Ministry on its website.
    Probably to no one's surprise, the ceasefire was violated several times in the last 10 days mainly by the pro-Russian forces. So as July dawned in Ukraine, the ceasefire was over and heavy fighting broke out in the separatist eastern regions.

    Sunday was election day in Ukraine, and while turnout appeared heavy at polling stations in Kiev, it was a different scene in portions of the east.  Nonetheless, Petro Poroshenko declared victory after preliminary exit polls signaled he'd won the majority of the votes. From CNN:
    Billionaire Petro Poroshenko declared victory Sunday in Ukraine's presidential election, following preliminary exit polls that suggested he got 56% of the vote. His closest challenger, former Ukrainian prime minister and leader of the Batkivshchyna party Yulia Tymoshenko, conceded the election after exit polls showed her with 13% of the vote. Poroshenko, a candy tycoon known as the "Chocolate King," is also a seasoned politician. The election took place Sunday despite a recent wave of deadly violence in the east and threats by pro-Russia separatists to prevent citizens from casting their ballots.
    In February, Ukraine’s parliament ousted President Viktor Yanukovich from office and named an interim president, which was followed of course by months of continuing unrest, particularly in the country’s eastern region. Many of the polling stations were closed Sunday in the east, according to the Associated Press via ABC News:

    The European Union has announced a new round of sanctions that target 15 individuals with a travel ban and assets freeze as the situation in eastern Ukraine has continued to escalate. From CNN:
    The European Union has imposed sanctions related to the crisis in Ukraine on another 15 people, bringing the total number targeted to 48. The EU said Monday they are responsible for actions that "undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine." The targets include Dmitry Kozak, Russia's deputy prime minister; Russian military chief Valery Gerasimov; and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, including Denis Pushilin, the self-declared leader of the "Donetsk People's Republic." EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was alarmed by the worsening security situation in eastern Ukraine, and she called on Russia to take "concrete steps" in support of an international deal signed this month aimed at easing tensions. She warned that if necessary, the European Union "will look at possible additional individual measures" related to the crisis.
    The EU’s move comes just on the heels of an announcement from the United States regarding its own expansion of sanctions against Russia. The Department of Treasury indicated Monday it is imposing additional sanctions on “seven Russian government officials, including two members of President Putin's inner circle, who will be subject to an asset freeze and a U.S. visa ban, and 17 companies linked to Putin's inner circle, which will be subject to an asset freeze.” The situation on the ground in eastern Ukraine meanwhile remains tense.

    One monitor was freed Sunday after pro-Russian separatists seized a group of eight European monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in eastern Ukraine earlier this weekend. From CNN:
    Pro-Russian separatists holding a European military observer team in eastern Ukraine released one of the observers for medical reasons Sunday, shortly after parading them before cameras, officials on both sides of the dispute said. At least seven of the inspectors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe appeared at a news conference staged by the self-declared mayor of Slavyansk, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, who referred to them as "prisoners of war." The freed observer was from Sweden and had been suffering from diabetes, Ponomarev spokeswoman Stella Khorosheva told CNN. And Michael Bociurkiw, an OSCE spokesman in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, called it "a welcome development." Holger Schmuck, one of the German members of the team, said earlier that their captors had ensured the ailing observer had all the water and sugar he needed and were taking particular care of him. The monitors were seized Friday outside Slavyansk, one of the flashpoints in the standoff between Ukraine's interim government and pro-Russian factions challenging its authority in the east. They said that although they have diplomatic status, they went along with Sunday's news conference because the mayor asked them to.
    The bus on which the group was traveling earlier was reportedly commandeered and driven to the headquarters of the separatists in Slovyansk, according to a Wall Street Journal report earlier this weekend. Reuters reported Saturday that the separatists suspected the monitors of spying, and offered to release them in exchange for prisoners.

    Russia on Thursday announced that it would begin military drills along the border of Ukraine, as the crisis there has continued to escalate in recent days. From CNN:
    Following days of simmering unrest, tensions in Ukraine escalated sharply Thursday, with Russia embarking on new military drills near the border after Ukrainian forces said they killed five pro-Russian militants. Ukraine's Interior Ministry said Ukrainian forces killed the five militants during operations to take down pro-Russian activists' roadblocks around the city of Slavyansk. The Russian response was quick to come. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that "if the Kiev regime has started to use the army against the population inside the country, it, beyond any doubt, is a very serious crime." It would "have consequences" for those making the decisions, and for relations between the two governments, Putin said at a media forum Thursday, according to state TV channel Russia 24. Shortly afterward, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia would conduct military drills in response to the operation in southeastern Ukraine, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said. "We are forced to react to such a development in the situation," Shoigu is quoted as saying. "Starting today, exercises of battalion tactical groups from the Southern and Western military districts will begin near the borders with Ukraine."
    Russia’s announcement comes after Ukraine has resumed a crackdown on pro-Russia separatists who continue to set roadblocks and occupy government buildings in areas of eastern Ukraine, as an earlier truce fell apart.

    U.S. Army paratroopers began arriving in Poland on Wednesday for what will be a series of military exercises to occur in four countries across Eastern Europe as the crisis in Ukraine continues. From CNN:
    A contingent of U.S. Army paratroopers arrived in Poland on Wednesday, the first of what will be a "persistent presence" of U.S. troops as the crisis in nearby Ukraine continues to unfold. The company-sized contingent will conduct training exercises with Polish counterparts and is visiting at the request of Poland. The joint exercises are a symbol of force as the conflict in Ukraine between pro-government and pro-Russian factions continues unabated. The United States and Russia accuse each other of fomenting unrest in Ukraine. The U.S. troops stood in formation at an airfield next to Polish troops as military leaders from both countries addressed them, reiterating the alliance between their nations. "Poland has been there for the United States, and today, as the transatlantic community confronts Russia's unacceptable aggression against Poland's neighbor, Ukraine, a sovereign and independent state, we have a solemn obligation in the framework of NATO to reassure Poland of our security guarantee," said Stephen Mull, the U.S. ambassador to Poland. The United States will maintain a presence in Poland at least through the end of the year, he said.
    The exercises will be part of a rotational presence in the area, and will also take place in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well.

    On the second day of his trip to Ukraine, Vice President Joe Biden offered words of support to Ukraine and to leaders of its interim government, while also criticizing Russia for its recent actions. From the NY Times:
    Vowing that the United States would never recognize Russia’s “illegal occupation” of Crimea last month, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday reiterated America’s support of Ukraine, declaring that “no nation has the right to simply grab land from another” and calling on Russia to stop supporting masked gunmen who have seized government buildings across the east of the country.

    Mr. Biden’s remarks, made during a meeting with Ukraine’s interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, signaled strong American backing for the shaky new government in Kiev that Moscow does not recognize and condemns as the illegitimate fruit of a putsch engineered by the West.

    “…We, the United States, stand with you and all the Ukrainian people on a Ukraine united,” Biden said while speaking alongside Yatsenyuk.  “And I’ll say at the top we do not recognize -- we do not recognize -- Russia’s actions in the Crimea.” [Full remarks available here.] Biden also announced a new financial aid package to Ukraine, according to CNN.

    Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Ukraine Monday, where he planned to meet with the acting prime minister and president, as well as various members of Parliament and representatives from non-governmental organizations over the next two days.  Biden’s trip comes on the heels of yet additional escalations in the conflict in eastern Ukraine over the weekend. From Reuters:
    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will announce a package of technical assistance focused on energy and economic aid distribution during a two-day visit to Ukraine that began on Monday, a senior administration official said. Biden is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit the country since the crisis with Russia erupted months ago. His trip is largely symbolic. But during talks with Ukrainian leaders on Tuesday he will announce U.S. assistance, primarily of technical know-how to boost energy efficiency as well as production in Ukrainian natural gas fields and extraction of "unconventional" gas resources, a senior administration official told reporters traveling on board the vice president's plane. A U.S. team was also in Ukraine to help deal with the issue of securing gas flows from EU countries such as Slovakia and Hungary in the event that Russia cuts off Ukraine's supply, the official said. Kiev gets about half of its gas from Moscow and a large proportion of Europe's gas is pumped from Russia via Ukraine. The United States is pushing Ukraine and the European Union to diversify their energy supplies and become less reliant on Russia. Biden arrived in Kiev as an agreement reached last week to avert wider conflict in Ukraine began to falter.
    Foreign ministers and officials from the United States, Europe, Russia and Ukraine agreed in Geneva Thursday that separatists would disarm and vacate occupied government buildings in exchange for amnesty as well as guarantees of rights for ethnic Russians in Ukraine, according to NBC News. But Reuters reported Monday that both sides in the conflict soon after accused the other of breaking the agreement, while pro-Russia separatists showed no signs of relinquishing control of government buildings. Tensions also escalated further in eastern Ukraine on Sunday after a shootout at a security checkpoint near Slovyansk, despite what was supposed to have been a truce.

    Earlier Thursday, reports surfaced that leaflets were distributed earlier in the week in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk demanding Jews register with a government office. We waited to report the information here at Legal Insurrection because of conflicting reports on the story and questions about the authenticity of the leaflets. And then of course, there is the question of whether this is part of a propaganda campaign from one or both sides in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Let’s start with the earlier reports. Here is an earlier article from USA Today:
    Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where pro-Russian militants have taken over government buildings were told they have to "register" with the Ukrainians who are trying to make the city become part of Russia, according to Ukrainian and Israeli media. Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city's Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee "or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated," reported Ynet News, Israel's largest news website. Donetsk is the site of an "anti-terrorist" operation by the Ukraine government, which has moved military columns into the region to force out militants who are demanding a referendum be held on joining Russia. The news was carried first by the Ukraine's Donbass news agency. The leaflets bore the name of Denis Pushilin, who identified himself as chairman of "Donetsk's temporary government," and were distributed near the Donetsk synagogue and other areas, according to the reports.
    Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the leaflets, regardless of where they came from.

    The efforts of Ukraine’s government to crack down on pro-Russia separatists who have recently seized various government and security buildings in the east appeared to suffer setbacks Wednesday. From CNN:
    Pro-Russian militants appeared to tighten their grip on Ukraine's eastern town of Slaviansk on Wednesday as Ukrainian military forces massed nearby in an uneasy standoff. On a day of fast-moving events in the restive region, officials in Transnistria, a separatist region in Moldova on Kiev's other border, turned to Moscow for recognition -- taking example from Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine last month. In Donetsk, six armored vehicles sent into the nearby city of Kramatorsk in the morning later showed up carrying Russian flags in Slaviansk. Ukraine's Defense Ministry said the vehicles had been seized by militants after they were "blocked by local residents, including representatives of Russian labeled subversive and terrorist groups." As of mid-afternoon local time, the vehicles were located "near an administrative building in the center of Slaviansk, surrounded by men in armed uniform not related to the Armed Forces of Ukraine," it said. It was not immediately clear what had happened to the personnel in the cars. State-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti said the crew of the vehicles had switched sides to join the protesters, while other reports said they had been seized by militants.
    An earlier report from Reuters news agency also confirmed that the vehicles were later seen under control of pro-Russia separatists.  The article indicates there were reports that Ukrainians gave up the vehicles to the separatists but notes that it was unclear whether there was any threat of force. And the Wall Street Journal reports that in Donetsk, separatists took over the city council building with little effort and apparently without intervention.

    Ukraine’s government says it has secured a small airport in eastern Ukraine after reported clashes with pro-Russia separatists, though some of the details remain unclear. From the Associated Press (via Boston Herald):
    In the first Ukrainian military action against a pro-Russian uprising in the east, government forces said they repelled an attack Tuesday by about 30 gunmen at a small airport. The clash came hours after Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, had announced an "anti-terrorist operation" against the armed, pro-Russian insurgents who had seized control of numerous buildings in at least nine cities in Ukraine's restive east. The central government has so far been unable to rein in the insurgents, who it says are being stirred up by paid operatives from Russia. The insurgents are demanding broader autonomy and closer ties with Russia, and, complicating the political landscape, many local security forces have switched to their side. The clashes Tuesday came at Kramatorsk airport, just south of the city of Slovyansk, which is 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the Russian border. The city has come under the increasing control of the gunmen who seized it last weekend. The precise sequence of events in Kramatorsk was mired in confusion amid contradictory official claims.
    The BBC, which had a reporter in Kramatorsk, indicated that an angry crowd had gathered outside the airbase, while a group still remained later and chanted slogans in favor of referendum. Reports of casualties were still unclear at the time of this writing, as the AP noted.

    Adding to tensions between the U.S. and Russia over the situation in Ukraine, a Russian fighter jet made numerous close-range passes near a US Navy ship in the western Black Sea over the weekend.  The action came as Ukraine is confronting continuing conflicts with pro-Russian separatists that have recently escalated. From Agence France-Presse (via Yahoo News):
    A Russian fighter jet made several passes at low altitude near a US destroyer cruising in international waters in the Black Sea at the weekend, the Pentagon said Monday, branding it "provocative and unprofessional." The incident close to the Romanian coast further heightens tensions already inflamed by Russia's actions in Ukraine, where Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and stands accused of stoking unrest. The US vessel was sent to the Black Sea on April 10 in a show of Washington's solidarity with its Eastern European NATO allies concerned about Russia's actions. Colonel Steven Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "On April 12, a Russian Su-24 made numerous close-range, low-altitude passes in the vicinity of the USS Donald Cook, while the Cook was conducting operations in international waters in the western Black Sea. "The aircraft did not respond to multiple queries and warnings from Donald Cook. The event ended without incident after approximately 90 minutes." He added: "This provocative and unprofessional Russian action is inconsistent with international protocols and previous agreements on a professional interaction between our militaries."
    Another military official who spoke anonymously to AFP described that during some of its passes, the plane had come close to less than 1,000 meters from the ship. Tensions of course have been high throughout the continuing crisis in Ukraine, especially after recent conflicts in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russia militants had seized several government and security buildings over the weekend.  The incidents prompted the Ukraine government to issue a deadline for protesters to disarm and vacate buildings and the announcement of an anti-terrorist operation. But by Monday, pro-Russia forces did not appear to be backing down, with reports of yet another building being taken over - this time in Horlivka -  and the continued occupation of other buildings in eastern Ukraine, according to CNN.

    Amid escalating tensions in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists have seized buildings over the weekend, Ukraine’s acting president said the government would deploy troops to launch a “full-scale anti-terrorist operation.” From Reuters:
    Ukraine has given pro-Russian separatists a Monday morning deadline to disarm or face a "full-scale anti-terrorist operation" by its armed forces, raising the risk of a military confrontation with Moscow. Angered by the death of a state security officer and the wounding of two comrades near the flashpoint eastern city of Slaviansk, acting president Oleksander Turchinov gave rebels occupying state buildings until 0600 GMT to lay down their weapons. "The National Security and Defense Council has decided to launch a full-scale anti-terrorist operation involving the armed forces of Ukraine," Turchinov said in an address to the nation. He blamed Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimea region when Moscow-backed former president Viktor Yanukovich fled after months of pro-Western protests, for being behind the rash of rebellions across Russian-speaking towns in eastern Ukraine. "We will not allow Russia to repeat the Crimean scenario in the eastern regions of Ukraine," Turchinov said. Russia's foreign ministry called the planned military operation a "criminal order" and said the West should bring its allies in Ukraine's government under control. "It is now the West's responsibility to prevent civil war in Ukraine," the ministry said in a statement.
    In the eastern Ukraine town of Mariupol, there were also reports that separatist protesters had seized control of city hall earlier Sunday, according to another Reuters report. Sunday’s developments follow the seizures of several buildings by pro-Russia forces in other eastern Ukrainian cities Saturday.
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