Ukraine: Daily Briefing – January 15, 2019, 5 PM Kyiv time

Ukraine: Daily Briefing
January 15, 2019, 5 PM Kyiv time
Ukraine’s Chief of General Staff Gen. Victor Muzhenko meets with NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gotemoeller, January 15. Photo – NATO
1. Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reported at 12:30 PM Kyiv time that in the last 24 hours, one Ukrainian soldier was killed and two Ukrainian soldiers were wounded in action. In the last 24 hours, Russian-terrorist forces opened fire on Ukrainian positions on the Luhansk and Donetsk sectors of the front 12 times in total. Returning fire, Ukrainian forces killed 4 and wounded 3 enemy combatants in the last 24 hours.
2. Russia tries to impose secrecy on its illegal seizure of 24 Ukrainian POWs
Image – Andriy Yermolenko

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) reported, “If Russia has nothing to hide in its ‘prosecution’ of 24 Ukrainian POWs, why is the FSB asking for their detention court hearings to be held behind closed doors?  Even in Russia, court hearings are open unless state secrets or similar are involved.  It is no state secret that Russia violated international law, both through its attack on and seizure of three Ukrainian naval boats on 25 November 2018 and the taking of 24 Ukrainians prisoner.
            Russia does, however, have an interest in minimizing media and diplomatic attention to its holding of Ukrainian POWs, and this is clearly the reason for trying to block access to court hearings.  This was probably also the motive for Russian Human Rights Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova suddenly having to ‘make an urgent trip’ and cancelling a planned meeting with her Ukrainian counterpart, Lyudmila Denisova.
           Nikolai Polozov, who is coordinator the group of lawyers representing the 24 POWs, reported on Monday that the FSB investigative department will be applying to the court on 15 January for the hearings to be held behind closed doors.  The position of the defence team, he stressed, is that there must be open and transparent court hearings, with the media and representatives of foreign diplomatic missions free to attend, as well, of course, as Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsperson and any of the men’s family.
          Polozov noted separately that ‘the Russian authorities are well aware of the illegal nature of their actions with respect to the Ukrainian POW seamen and also the ongoing violation of the Third Geneva Convention.   The attempt at secrecy and Moskalkova’s sudden departure from Moscow are clearly aimed at trying to avoid further political fallout.  They will not work, Polozov stresses.  ‘The political price of holding the POWs is already too high for Russia and will only increase.’ […]
          All of the men have declared that they are prisoners of war. One of the first to do so was the Commander of the Berdyansk, Roman Mokyak who demanded that the ‘investigators’ treat him and his men as prisoners of war and refused to give any testimony to the Russian authorities until they released his men. […]
          As POWs, their treatment is regulated by the Geneva Convention on POWs and it is effectively a war crime to be treating them as though suspects of ordinary criminal prosecutions.  The ‘detention hearings’ on 15 January, which will almost certainly extend their imprisonment, are a flagrant violation of international law.”
3. Ecumenical Patriarchate publishes Tomos of Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine
Image – Orthodox Church of Ukraine

The Ecumenical Patriarchate published the Tomos of Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, received by Metropolitan Epiphaniy of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, in Istanbul on January 6. The document states, “our Holy Great Church of Christ blesses and declares the Orthodox Church in Ukraine as Autocephalous, invoking the abundant gifts of God and boundless treasures of the All-Holy Spirit upon the venerable Hierarchy, the righteous clergy and pious people throughout the land of Ukraine, and praying that the First and Great High Priest Jesus Christ-through the intercessions of our all-holy and most blessed lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary; the holy and glorious prince Vladimir, equal to the apostles; the holy and glorious queen Olga; our venerable and God-bearing Fathers, the ascetics and monastics of the Kyiv Lavra and all the Monasteries-may forever support the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine, now reckoned in the body of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and grant it stability, unity, peace and increase for His glory and that of the Father and the Holy Spirit.”
4. US Senate Minority leader to force vote on US Treasury’s decision to lift sanctions on Deripaska-linked companies
Reuters reported on January 12, “U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Saturday he will force a vote soon on a resolution to disapprove the Trump administration’s decision to relax sanctions on three Russian companies connected to oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
           ‘I have concluded that the Treasury Department’s proposal is flawed and fails to sufficiently limit Oleg Deripaska’s control and influence of these companies and the Senate should move to block this misguided effort by the Trump Administration and keep these sanctions in place,’ Schumer said in a news release.
           The U.S. Treasury announced on Dec. 20 that it would lift sanctions imposed in April on the core businesses of Deripaska, including aluminum giant Rusal its parent En+ and power firm EuroSibEnergo, watering down the toughest penalties imposed since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
           After lobbying by European governments that followed the imposition of sanctions, Washington postponed enforcement of the sanctions and started talks with Deripaska’s team on removing Rusal and En+ from the blacklist if he ceded control of Rusal. […]

On Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted that the Trump administration would keep tight control on companies linked to Deripaska, despite the decision to ease restrictions. Mnuchin said the firms would face consequences including the reimposition of sanctions if they failed to comply with the terms.”

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