About Mat Babiak

Political science graduate from the University of Toronto with an expertise in Ukrainian, Russian, and Soviet politics and history. Owner and editor of UkrainianPolicy.com

U.S. Intelligence: Russian tanks “sent from Russia to Ukraine”

During the U.S. State Department’s press briefing, deputy spokesperson Marie Harf dismissed earlier reports that insurgent-piloted tanks in the Donetsk region were of Ukrainian military origin. Rather, she elaborated that intelligence has provided convincing evidence that Donetsk militants acquired heavy weapons and military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks.

“They were somehow pulled out of the Russian warehouses, someone taught them how to use them, and they were sent from Russia to Ukraine,” Harf flatly explained.

Militants had thus far admitted they acquired the units “from a military warehouse” but without elaborating further. Unlike past acquisitions of weaponized vehicles which have been readily shown off to news agencies and crowds alike, these militants instead shied away from any bravado, anxiously warning Reuters journalists against capturing any photography of the acquired tanks.

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Pro-Russian Gunmen Loot & Torch HC Donbass Arena

On the night of May 26 armed insurgents from the Donetsk Republic stormed, looted, and torched the Druzhba Arena in Donetsk.

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The arena is the only professional capacity arena in the country and home to the HC Donbass hockey team, Ukraine’s top professional & international team. The gunmen stole plasma TVs, equipment, safety deposit boxes, and a company car before destroying surveillance equipment and setting the building ablaze.

The team is owned by Boris Kolesnikov, a close ally of Rinat Akhmetov and top ranking member of the Party of Regions.

The team issued a statement saying it was deeply angered by what happened and emphasized: “We call on those people who still sympathize with the rebels of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, terrorizing East Ukraine – think: Is this a “future” they want for themselves and their children?

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Insurgents Identified: The Green Men of VKontakte

This article was originally published on UkrainianPolicy.com

Ukrainian intelligence produced and presented a dossier of photographs to the OSCE last week. The images, and official accusations, point to Russian “sabotage-reconnaissance groups” being involved in the recent armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine – Donetsk region specifically. According to a New York Times article, the photos and their descriptions were “endorsed by the Obama administration,” but who are these men? With the power of crowdsourcing, but mostly with the power of social networking and public profiles, the identities of a series of Russian insurgents in Donetsk have been uncovered. Men have been comparing the size of their guns since the invention of gunpowder, and thankfully these few decided to flaunt just that. Publicly. On the internet.

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From the identified militants, a few notes can be made from the following gunmen who appear to be connected to the raids in Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. For one, not all are from Russia. While some may be local radicals, others appear to come from Belorechensk in Russia, or have connections to related neo-Cossack groups. This does not necessarily exonerate Russian state involvement, however. While it’s been known that military veterans and Russian ‘tourists’ have been actively involved for some time, the presence of Registered Cossacks of the Russian Federation connects Russia officially to the ongoing crisis. Registered Cossack organizations enjoy financial and organizational support from the authorities, including monthly salary as police auxiliaries. This, of course, isn’t the first controversial deployment of Cossack forces, who made a name for themselves on the world stage enforcing the law in Sochi.

Another point of interest is the insignia seen on a number of the gunmen. For clarity’s sake, the symbol is that of Andrei Shkuro‘s ‘Terek Wolf Company’, a detachment of White emigre Cossacks who fought for Nazi Germany during the second world war.

So who is involved in the Ukrainian invasion? Let’s take a look.

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Pro-Russian Separatists Loot, Assault Romani in Sloviansk

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Pro-Russian separatists have engaged in seemingly racially motivated acts of looting and assault against Romani residents of Sloviansk, reports the News of Donbass. Armed separatists have reportedly begun a series of home invasions against the city’s Romani population, robbing and assaulting their victims. The militants apparently have shown no regard for age or gender, and women and children have been among the victims who were beaten According to eyewitnesses, the gunmen carried off stolen property in trucks.

The perpetrators claim that they are acting on the orders of the self-described ‘People’s Mayor’ and leader of the separatist militant wing, Vyacheslav Ponomarev.

The attacks on Romani, also known as Gypsies, follows a troubling precedent set the day prior when members of the Donetsk Republic organization distributed anti-Semitic leaflets in an attempt to extort and intimidate members of the Jewish community. Ponomarev has also announced a “hunt” on the Ukrainian speaking population of Sloviansk, wherein those who speak the indigenous language be treated as suspicious and reported to the local militia.

Counter-terrorism Operation in Sloviansk

Following a late night session of the National Security Council which discussed anti-terrorism measures and the possibility of introducing a state of emergency, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced a counter-terrorist operation would begin in Sloviansk under the leadership of the Security Service (SBU). The operation is said to include units from all service branches in Ukraine.

Shortly thereafter, Avakov stated that separatists had opened fire on special forces in the city. He then posted a notice to citizens in the city to leave the city center, stay at home, and avoid windows for their own safety.

Riot police were then reported to have cleared a separatist roadblock leading in to the city. Eyewitnesses stated that the Russian tricolor had been also taken down from atop the city administration. Helicopters have been seen flying over the city.

The news follows yesterday’s explosion of armed separatist uprising in the northern Donetk region city of Sloviansk, where masked men in army fatigues and bulletproof vests, armed with assault rifles captured the executive committee building, the police department and SBU office in the city, along with a sizable weapons cache.

The counter-terrorist operation would be the first sign of retaking the Donetsk region, which has thus far been apprehensive to fight back. The last notable operation of its kind took place on April 8 when Jaguar units from Vinnytsia were used in the arrest of 70 separatists in Kharkiv attempting to take over the Regional State Administration building.

Ukrainian Hostages Beaten, Tortured in Crimea

As the Ukrainian presidential website reported Thursday evening, Ukrainian Navy commander Serhiy Haiduk along with several hostages was released from detention by Russian forces in Kherson region. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had ordered the regional authorities to free the detained hostages and allow them safe passage out of the region. The hostages were revealed to be AutoMaidan activists, and 2 are currently hospitalized.

Hostages were kept in the basement of the Republic military office in Simferopol since March 9th; the same which was seized by 100 Russian troops the day prior. According to UNIAN, the hostages said they were not fed for four days, and that the first day was especially trying as they were not allowed to drink, or the use of lavatory, and were also beaten constantly. They could not see their abusers faces as their heads were covered with bags and taped. One activist, who was placed in solitary confinement, said that there was no place to sit down, and because the room was so damp, he attempted to sleep standing up. The lone exception of the group, 64-year old Anatoly Kovalsky, said that while he was not physically beaten, he was abused mentally. In his case, he alleged that his captors constantly humiliated him and interrogators were regularly rotated every 10 minutes. According to Kovalsky, the interrogators wanted to know why the activists were in Crimea, their source of funding, if they were attempting to disrupt the referendum, and whether they had connections to Crimean Tatars or the Right Sector organization.

The two who were hospitalized, Andriy Shevchenko and Yuri Schekun, were treated for bullet wounds from a traumatic gun. Reports claim they were shot in the hands, fingers, and feet. The Center for Investigative Journalism identified the captors as members of Aksyonov’s guard.

Cinematographers from Babylon’13 remain missing since March 16th.

AutoMaidan activists have in particular come under persecution from authorities over past months, with leader Dmytro Bulatov making international headlines after he was kidnapped, tortured, mutilated and crucified by who he described as Russians.

Originally reported on UkrainianPolicy