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Ukraine and MH17: A lesson in the value of Open Source Intelligence…

August 3, 2014

Summary: The Daily Beast crunch the data and demonstrate how hard it is to hide an armoured vehicle these days…

 

BUK air defence missile system, Torez, 17 July 2014

BUK air defence missile system, Torez, 12.30 pm, 17 July 2014

Some fascinating OSINT – ie Open Source Intelligence – here, using social media and local accounts to trace the route of the BUK missile system believed to be responsible for shooting down flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine:

“Over the last two weeks I’ve documented the various open source information that has revealed key pieces of information about the Buk Missile Launcher linked to the downing of flight MH17.  Now, using that information, I believe it’s possible to construct a timeline of events on the ground in Ukraine on July 17th that can be evidenced using a variety of open source information…”
It is definitely worth going through in full.

Mullah Omar and the Taliban statement on the occasion of Eid ul Fitr

August 2, 2014

Summary: Taliban annual statement hits usual themes, but looks lighter, more cautious and less confident than usual

Taliban alemarahOn 25th July the Taliban released a statement greeting the people of Afghanistan on the occasion of the end of Ramadan. This has been a Taliban custom since their ejection in late 2001 from at least 2006. This year, the Taliban claimed the “military situation is in favour of the Mujahideen” and called upon Afghan security personnel and citizens to side with them. The statement noted progress beyond the battlefield in education, justice, culture and other matters, including “coordination of NGOs”, “prisoner’s affairs” and “civilian casualties”. They claimed a great success for Taliban political recognition as a result of the release of a US military prisoner in exchange for Taliban prisoners. There were standard rejections of the current Afghan electoral process, reaffirmation of Sharia as the guiding principle for any Taliban-based government and calls on Afghans to reject any extension of the international military force presence in the country. Exhortations were made for Taliban fighters to avoid civilian casualties (on pain of investigation and punishment) and “win their hearts and minds”.

Analysis and Outlook

My standard caveat at this stage is that we do not have any strong proof that these are in fact the words of Mullah Omar or that he might have been involved in drafting them. However, they are generally accepted by knowledgeable analysts as emanating from the Taliban and I myself am reasonably comfortable with this assumption, not least because they appear on the Taliban’s own website as an official statement and have done regularly. I will therefore analyse the statement on the basis that this is a genuine statement from within the Taliban leadership.

The major milestones of Taliban official communiques each year are at the beginning of Eid, the end of Eid and the start of the “Spring Offensive”.  This statement is actually quite short and, well, dull, when compared to previous statements. It is broad, light and generalised.  There is some good analysis from Geopolicraticus here.  The word count clocks in at 2002 and compares against previous statements as follows:

Year   Word count

2014      2002
2013      2649
2012      3574
2011      2946
2010      3716
2009      2456
2008      1726
2007       666
2006       948

Word count is not everything, of course, but this looks like some slow, cautious beginnings, reaching a confident peak around 2010/12 and now perhaps more caution (proclamations of victory haven’t worked in the past) and uncertainty regarding the future. For some time now, the Taliban have had to contemplate future battles mainly against Afghan Moslems vice international infidels, albeit still with a significant international military presence and financial commitment. The usual subjects are touched upon: military prowess, calls on Afghans to shun the Westerners, rejection of electoral/political engagement with a corrupt, Western-backed regime, and to avoid civilian casualties. But the detail is lacking. They seem to be running out of things to say and ways of saying them. And the results that they want – lower civilian casualties, more security force and government defections, greater recognition form the international community – still are not happening in any significant degree. Better, perhaps, to be a little bit more guarded in their utterances for the moment?

But there are nuances that poke out and perhaps the omission of particular subjects can give us some clues. There is less about military victory. There are less overt “reach-outs” to the international community, which might suggest a shrinking desire for political engagement. In fact, there is nothing on talks, negotiations or reconciliation other than to suggest that the Taliban managed a “spectacular achievement” in getting Guantanamo detainees released in exchange for a US captive soldier. There is virtually nothing on any form of future government – and certainly not any government power-sharing – merely references to Sharia as the defining principle for governance and the basis of determining rights for men and women. In the 2013 Eid ul Fitr statement, Mullah Omar declared “we do not think about monopolising power”. In 2014 if feels more like they plan on being the government but would allow other ethnic groups to be represented.

Having a department that now specifically addresses civilian casualties, combined with continued Mullah Omar reminders that Mujahideen must refrain from abusing the populace, shows that, despite their angry rejections of international evidence, they recognise at some level their attacks are killing more Afghans than they would like and that this is affecting the way in which they are perceived across the country and internationally. They are continuing to learn from, and adopt, Western approaches. I am not sure whether the translation that gives us “hearts and minds” in the statement is accurately reflecting the Taliban’s usage of terminology, but clearly they continue to struggle with this issue – probably due, in large part, to their employment of suicide bombing.

By way of conclusion, we should of course be wary of any “official government statement”, as the Taliban would clearly like this statement to be seen, But, from these 2,002 (presumably carefully honed) words, the Taliban still show real uncertainty about the future and offer little evidence that they have prepared any peaceful, inclusive, political, governmental sets of solutions for Afghanistan. At best they offer a “war economy” and a simplistic set of aspirations that do not (or cannot) recognise how far the Afghan people have travelled since 2001 and the extent to which their life aspirations (and the country’s potential) may go beyond strict Sharia enforcement and agriculture.

This statement confirms to me that the Taliban are running out of ideas, have little idea about “post-2014” beyond fighting and do not understand the complex demands and desires of the Afghan populace.

Unfortunately – and I defy any Afghan analyst to say otherwise – they are still in with a chance to spoil things (ie pull everyone down to another mindless, brutal and fragmenting civil war) because no one really knows what is going to happen over the next couple of years. There is a great risk that the Afghan government (whatever it finally turns out to look like) will implode, be rendered inactive or grind to a rapid halt through the usual corruption, incompetencies and incoherencies.

 

Taliban flagThe Taliban statement is given in full here:

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, the Sustainer of (all) Creations, (Whose Way is to) help Mujahideen and humiliate the tyrants and arrogants. Peace be on our Master and Prophet, Mohammad, the Leader of the White- faced and footed (persons on the Day of Judgment) and (peace be on) his all descendants and companions.
The Almighty Allah says:” Allah is with those who keep from evil and those who do good.”
(16: 128)
Muaaz bin Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) has reported that the Holy Messenger of Allah said, “The head of the matter (religion) is Islam and its pillar is prayer and its peak jihad.” quoted by Termizi.

(My) Muslim Brothers and Mujahid Nation:
I extend my felicitation to you all on this occasion of Eid-ul-fitr, a day filled with joy and blessings. May Allah (SwT) accept, in His Sight, your fast, worships, charities, invoking, jihad and all good deeds.
Muslim brothers!
It is a matter of joy and gratitude that Allah, the Almighty , has bestowed on us this day in a time that we are witness to consecutive victories and achievements on the ground of Jihad. Praise be to Allah (SwT), the military situation is in favor of Mujahideen at the country’s level. The blanket of invasion has rolled back from vast areas, thanks to the help of Allah (SwT) and the unparallel sacrifices of the Mujahideen and people. Vital centers of the enemy have come under successful attacks in cities. Writ and administration of the Islamic Emirate has become stronger comparatively. Ranks of Mujahideen are now more well-organized, active and unified in contrast with the past. However, it is a pity that the enemy uses some non-aware and non-informed sons of the nation as an instrument for obtainment of their wicked objectives. They, themselves, are retreating from the ground of the battle while sending them forward (to the front of battles).
I call on all soldiers, police and generally, on the very Opposition, not to destroy yourselves for the goals of the invaders and against your own people. Come and wage jihad alongside with your own people and together with the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate against the common enemy in order to gain the bliss of the two worlds.
I urge religious scholars, tribal elders and the influential to convince these non-aware (youngsters) who are being used by the enemy and I call on their parents and relatives to strive to prevent their children from facing a loss of this world and the world to come.
As per the policy of the Islamic Emirate, Mujahideen should have a conduct of sympathy with those who leave ranks of the enemy. Give them (a warm) welcome. Appreciate and reward heroism of the committed Afghans who launch attacks on the enemy and then join the ranks of Jihad.
Praise be to Allah (SwT), the level of cooperation and trust of the people with Mujahideen has growingly enhanced. I thank, therefore, my faithful and patriotic people on behalf of the Mujahideen. I ask Allah (SwT) to grant them success, prosperity and happiness of the two worlds for the honest support.
Parallel to the battle ground, activities of the Islamic Emirate are forging ahead with initiatives in other sectors as well. Great services have been rendered in sectors of education, economy, adjudication and justice, call and guidance, cultural activities, martyrs, the handicapped, coordination and management of NGOs, prisoner’s affairs and civilian casualties. While asking Allah (SwT) to generously reward superiors and subordinates of these sectors for their efforts, in the mean time, I hope that more progress be made and effective activity carried out in the said areas.
Due to the efforts of the Political Office which performs its task under our instructions, Islamic Emirate has gained a political facade at world’s and internal levels. Many entities that used to oppose us now have come around to accept the Islamic Emirate as a reality. Exchange of the detainees with America as a result of the efforts of the representatives of the Political Office of the Islamic Emirate is a spectacular achievement.
The invaders- installed Administration has failed entirely, to the extent that it has lost trust of its domestic supporters and those who are funding it. It holds top position in corruption, usurpation of lands and public properties, plundering and lootings.
The current fake process under the name of elections has plunged the Kabul Administration and Western democracy into disrepute. In fact, the invaders and their internal allies wanted through the said process, to show to the Afghans that a (tangible) change has taken place. But the Afghans had realized their ambitions from the beginning. That is why majority of the people boycotted the process. Now all have come around to see that election and the ballots of the people were mere slogans to deceive people; sow racial, geographical and lingual and other hatred among the people. We all now see that the American game under the name of elections proved, as in the past, to be selections. So we had predicted. The power is in the hands of the invaders. What they say is compulsory on their internal allies to obey without taking into account interests of their country and people.
We want to tell American and European governments who have troops in Afghanistan or are intending to maintain political influence or military bases in Afghanistan, let the Afghans establish an independent Islamic government on the basis of their religious and national aspirations. If you want to deprive them of their right to form a government, it will be not only a tyranny and violation of human norms but also will result in the self-same consequences that you have seen in the past thirteen years. You might have realized that the Afghan people, whose history is full of struggles for the cause of Islam and independence, are not willing to accept governments installed by foreign hands.
We believe the war in Afghanistan will come to an end when all foreign invaders pull out of Afghanistan and a holy Islamic and independent regime prevails here. Presence of limited number of troops under whatever title it may be will mean continuation of occupation and the war. This is because none can tolerate invading forces in one’s soil. Similarly, we would like to tell those who are contemplating to sign a security treaty with the invaders to desist from acts which add to prolongation of the invasion and to causes of the war. The presence of the invaders in our country is not in the interest of anyone. The continuation of war aggravates security of the region and the country, particularly; it is a hurdle in the way of establishment of an Islamic regime and political independence; negates territorial integrity; gives rise to expansion of cultural invasion and bring about causes for ruining the coming generations.
We assure the world and the neighbors as we assured them in the past that our struggles are aimed only at forming an independent Islamic regime and obtaining independence of our country. We are not intending to interfere in the (internal) affairs of the region and the countries of the world, nor do we want to harm them. Similarly, we don’t tolerate their role to harm us and urge them to have reciprocal stance. I call on all Mujahideen in the frontier areas to protect their borders and maintain good relations with neighboring countries on the basis of mutual respect.
Concerning events and developments of the Middle East, I want to say that the global powers should leave people of the region to reach their legitimate aspirations. This is not justifiable to blame people’s uprising as terrorism and then rain down bombs on them or make prisons full with them. Such conduct will not break determination of a people.
We condemn, in strongest terms, the Israeli brutal action of martyring, injuring and driving from homes of hundreds of Palestinians. We call on the world, particularly, on the Islamic world that their remaining tight-lipped versus these brutalities is injustice and harms all. Practical and swift steps should be taken to prevent these gruesome brutalities, so that the security of the region and the world may not aggravate further.

Brave Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate:
It is your religious and national duty to try for the prosperity of the people and win their hearts and minds. Shun arrogance, vanity. To use weapon and force without justification allowed by Sharia rules; to threaten, harass and oppress people or harm their life, property and honor is a great crime. You will not be able to escape accountability in this world and the world to come for committing that. Your conduct with people should be nothing but tolerance, humility, forbearance, selflessness and mutual respect. Remember, God does not look at (judge) our outward image but look at our hearts and deeds that how we behave with people.
Mujahideen should make honest efforts to maintain justice and security in areas under the rule of the Islamic Emirate. They should clear (the areas from) thieves, highway robbers and saboteur elements and procure a conducive atmosphere of security and well-being for people.
Every caution should be taken to protect life and property of the public during Jihadic operations, so that, God forbid, someone is harmed. The Department of Prevention of Civilian Casualties should seriously pay attention to its task to prevent civilian casualties. Mujahideen should always remember that our steadfastness and success against the global invaders is the result of our holding the rope (religion) of Allah. So Mujahideen should, within the framework of obedience, follow the injunctions of Allah (SwT); the (traditions) of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and obey their superiors. Avoid hypocrisy, disagreements and discrimination. Strengthen the thread of unity, brotherhood and internal trust. Keep the rank of Jihad against the enemy as unbreakable as a cemented wall.
Mujahid Countrymen:
Our country is at the threshold of independence and freedom. We believe that the Almighty Allah (SwT) will bestow the blessing of a prosperous and self-reliant Islamic regime on the Afghans like the glory of defeating the invasion and tyranny. Afghanistan is a shared home of All the Afghans. They have right to serve this home. Islamic Emirate wants to establish a regime in which all ethnicities, tribes and groups of the Afghan society will see themselves. None will feel being alien.
As to the economic sector, Islamic Emirate will focus on agriculture, husbandry, and extraction of mines, infrastructures, developmental and technical systems with the help of the world’s assistance. (It will be) a regime which is servant of the society and will render service to the country and people in the light of justice and transparency, in the field of moral upbringing, educational, cultural, social, constructional and developmental sectors.
The Islamic Emirate believes implementation of an Islamic system guarantees well-being (of people) in this world and the world to come. Likely, it believes that science, technology, humanities sciences, incorporation and dissemination of new and positive (scientific) breakthroughs is a vital need for a strong and powerful nation to strengthen, stabilize and enrich itself and stand on its own feet. Therefore, we strongly reject the propaganda against the Islamic Emirate or the allegations that it is against education. Islamic Emirate believes getting knowledge (education) is a religious obligation.
The Islamic Emirate admits and totally believes in the rights given to men and women in the framework of Sharia which the holy religion of Islam has granted them and is committed to implementation of those rights.
To end, I extend you my felicitation on the occasion of Eid-ul-fitr and ask Allah, the Almighty to enable you to help the miserable and bereaved families in these holy days of felicity; to show compassion towards the orphans; to help the families of the martyrs, prisoners and refugees; to visit prisoners and the injured, serve them and admire them. Peace is on you all.
Mullah Muhammad Omar Mujahid
Amirul Momineen, Servant of Islam

1435/9/27
2014/7/25

MH17: don’t expect information and evidence gathering to be easy…

July 18, 2014

Summary:  Efforts underway by pro-Russians and separatists to destroy evidence and hinder information gathering…

HelItR ohjuspäivät Helsingin Ilmatorjuntarykmentti ItO 96, BUK M1Good report from the Guardian, printed in full here, about the seemingly inevitable attempts by separatists to cover up their tracks and destroy any evidence – including information that might have appeared on social media…

Russian separatist groups in eastern Ukraine are hastily covering up all links to the Buk missile battery suspected to have been used to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, according to western-based defence and intelligence specialists.

As the UN security council called for a “full, thorough independent international investigation” into the downing of the plane, concern that a cover-up was under way was fuelled by a standoff at part of the crash site between observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and rebel gunmen, which ended with a warning shot being fired.

Postings on rebel websites immediately after the crash boasted of having shot down what they claimed was an Antonov Ukrainian military transport plane, but these have been deleted.

The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha POSCEower, blamed a surface-to-air missile fired by rebels in eastern Ukraine and hinted that they might have had Russian technical help. The rebels are suspected of having used a Russian-built, vehicle-mounted Buk missile system to bring down MH17, killing all 298 passengers and crew. Power called for the crash site to be preserved. “All evidence must be undisturbed,” she said. “Russia needs to help make this happen.”

But hopes are not high. The OSCE was trying to gain access to one part of the large crash site but the commander of a rebel unit, known as Commander Glum, blocked them. After the warning shot, the OSCE convoy departed.

MH17 crash map There is also confusion over the black boxes and other devices apparently salvaged from the plane. A rebel military commander initially said he was considering what to do with them, while another rebel leader, Aleksandr Borodai, contradicting his colleague, said the rebels had no black boxes or any other devices.

The Ukrainian interior ministry added to fears of a cover-up when it released video purportedly taken by police showing a truck carrying a Buk missile launcher with one of its four missiles apparently missing, rolling towards the Russian border at dawn . The video could not be independently verified.

Other material on rebel social media sites was being deleted, including pictures showing the alleged capture of Buk missile vehicles by rebels from a Ukrainian air base last month.

Rebels said the boast on the social media site on Thursday that a plane had been shot down was not put up by them but by a sympathiser who mistakenly assumed it was a Ukrainian military plane that had been shot down. But in a separate posting a rebel leader also claimed that a plane had been brought down. “We warned you – do not fly in our sky,” he said. That too was removed.

A Nato intelligence specialist quoted by the military analysts Janes said the recordings “show that the Russian ‘helpers’ realise that they now have an international incident on their hands – and they probably also gave the order for separatists to erase all evidence – including those internet postings. It will be interesting to see if we ever find this Buk battery again or if someone now tries to dump it into a river.”

Video footage allegedly taken on Thursday appeared to support the idea that pro-Russia separatists had been to blame. It showed a Buk battery seemingly being moved in the rebel-held area between Snizhne and Torez close to the crash site. A still picture allegedly shows a missile in vertical launch mode beside a supermarket in Torez. However, the location has still to be established.

Ukrainian intelligence has published a tape said to be a recording between rebels and Russian intelligence in which they realise there has been a catastrophic blunder. One recording is said to be between a rebel commander, Igor Bezler, and a Russian intelligence officer in which he says: “We have just shot down a plane.” A second recording from an unidentified source puts the blame on Cossack militiamen.

Defence analysts with Russian expertise shared Power’s scepticism that Russia-backed rebel groups would have had the expertise to fire the missile and suggested it was more likely to have been Russian ground troops who specialise in air defence, seconded to help the rebels.

At the Pentagon, officials said a motive for the operation had yet to be determined, as had the chain of command. One said it would be “surprising to us” if pro-Russia separatists were able to operate the Buk missile battery without Russian technical support. The Ukrainian military confirmed it has Buk batteries but said it had none in the area the missile was fired.

Nato had Awacs surveillance and command-and-control planes flying in the Baltics around the time of the crash, but Pentagon officials did not think the aircraft picked up indications of the disaster.

Bob Latiff, a former US weapons developer for the air force and the CIA and now a professor at Notre Dame University, said he leaned towards a belief that it was a case of mistaken identity on the part of those who pressed the button.

“A radar return from an airplane like this would look very similar to that from a cargo plane, as was initially claimed by the separatists. If radar was all they were using, that is a shame,” he said. “All airliners emit identification signals which identify the aircraft and provide other information like altitude and speed. They also operate on known communications frequencies. It doesn’t sound like the separatists were using any of this.

“My guess is the system’s radar saw a return from a big ‘cargo’ plane flying at 30,000 feet or so and either automatically fired, or some aggressive, itchy operator fired, not wanting to miss an opportunity.”

Latiff said that if they had only one radar, as Ukrainian officials suggest, it would have been pointed at the target. A second, rotating one would normally have been part of a battery to pick up other planes in the immediate vicinity, but he said even that would not have established whether it was a commercial plane and there would normally have been communications equipment to pick up signals showing the plane was non-military.

Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military specialist at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said he regarded the tape recordings as genuine, as well as postings on social media pointing the finger at pro-Russian separatists or Russia itself.

But getting evidence would be very difficult. He said: “A decision has been made on the Russian side to hide their tracks. It will be hard to find the battery.” Satellites might have been able to catch something, but the trail from the missile would have been very short, Sutyagin said.

How’s this for “irreversible consequences”?

July 18, 2014

Summary: In my opinion Russian-backed (and likely Russian-armed) separatists mistook MH17 for a Ukrainian military aircraft and shot it down.

My heading is based on President Putin’s 13th July statement that Ukraine may suffer “consequences” as a result of a reported artillery round that landed in Russian territory, reportedly killing a Russian civilian. 

MH17 wreckageI spent quite a few hours through last night and early morning reading (and re-reading, in many cases) the various feeds coming through on the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.    The detailed minute by minute reports I don’t intend to air here, but the BBC live feed has been very useful.  I will cut to the chase and give my first pass at an assessment, while awaiting investigation results (reports that the black box recorders may be on their way to Moscow do not look encouraging).  In an “Information War”, the evidence collected over the coming days will also become a crucial battlefield to be fought over.

This looks to have been a mistaken shoot-down by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists based in eastern Ukraine.  These forces had reportedly recently gained access to at least one powerful surface to air missile system – BUK, or SA-11 “GADFLY”, in NATO parlance.  Separatists had been boasting about this acquisition and had been using it to effect – they had already shot down several Ukrainian aircraft.  At more or less the same time that MH17 lost contact with ground control, a separatist leader (Strelkov) of highly dubious repute appears to have gleefully claimed via social media to have shot down a Ukrainian AN-26 large military transport aircraft.  Transcripts of the separatist’s triumph followed shortly by recognition that a civilian aircraft had struck the ground, followed by “radio silence” read convincingly.  The separatist leader rapidly deleted the Facebook claim and separatists appear in denial mode.

The responses of Presidents Obama and Putin have both been limp thus far.  Obama has been very cautious, calling it a “tragedy” and prioritising the establishment of US casualties.  Putin is treading very carefully – he likely recognises most of the world believe Russia is meddling dangerously in eastern Ukraine.  He does not come out fighting (or denying) and, in my reading in of it, almost – in the first line here – seems to accept some blame:

this tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.

Lets see how Putin and the separatists deal with this.   But this is the downside of clever schemes to create and manipulate armed groups and firing up (or manufacturing) ancient hatreds.  They are much easier to turn on than turn off and hard to control and direct.  At least, for the moment, Putin finds it convenient to acknowledge Ukraine as a state.

Don’t expect to hear much from Strelkov for a while – he’s probably been reassigned to Georgia or Chechnya…

Ukraine aircraft shot down – suggestion missile fired from Russia

July 14, 2014

Just in from the BBC:

A Ukrainian military transport aircraft has been shot down in the east, amid fighting with pro-Russian separatist rebels, Ukrainian officials say.

They say the An-26 plane was hit at an altitude of 6,500m (21,325ft).

The plane was targeted with “a more powerful missile” than a shoulder-carried missile, “probably fired” from Russia. The crew survived, reports say.

Russia has made no comment. Separately, Nato reported a Russian troop build-up near the Ukraine border.

A Nato official confirmed to the BBC that the alliance had observed a significant increase of Russian troops, bringing their number to up to 12,000.

Russia denies supporting and arming the separatists, and has invited officials from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor its border with Ukraine.

Direct talks plea

A statement on Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko’s website said the An-26 was taking part in the “anti-terror operation” in the region.

Luhansk: fighting in the area has intensified in recent days

Ukrainian government troops have re-taken control of a number of towns and villages in recent days
Ukrainian Defence Minister Valeriy Heletei said a search-and-rescue operation was under way to locate missing crew members.

Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s security and defence council, was later quoted by Ukrainian media as saying that eight people had been on board the plane.

In a Facebook message, some of those taking part in Ukraine’s “anti-terror operation” said they knew “about the fate of two of the crew” and were checking information about the others.

Rebel forces – who earlier said they had targeted the aircraft in the Luhansk region – claimed they had captured the crew and were questioning them in the town of Krasnodon, reports in Russian media say.

Last month, the rebels shot down a Ukrainian Il-76 military transport plane as it was about to land at Luhansk airport, killing all 49 soldiers and crew on board.

Earlier on Monday, the Ukrainian air force said it had delivered “five powerful air strikes” in the region in an effort to end the blockade of the strategic airport in the rebel-held city.

Ukraine’s military later said the airport had been “unblocked” and the army had retaken several villages.

Some air strikes hit the city on Monday, a resident of Luhansk told the BBC on Monday.

Meanwhile, the rebels claimed they had destroyed a Ukrainian armed convoy near the airport.

Fighting in the area has intensified since a rebel rocket attack near the Russian border on Friday, in which at least 19 government soldiers were killed.

President Poroshenko has vowed retaliation for that attack. On Monday, he also said Russian military officers were fighting alongside the separatists – a claim denied by Russia.

Tensions rose further over the weekend when Russia accused Ukrainian forces of shelling across the border, killing one person and wounding two others.

At least 15 civilians were killed in Luhansk and the neighbouring Donetsk region on Sunday, reports say.

Germany and Russia have urged direct talks between Kiev and the rebels.

And the UK and US have renewed calls for Russia to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine.

Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama stressed the need for Moscow to take further steps towards peace or face further sanctions.

Separatist rebels have been fighting the government in Kiev since declaring independence in Luhansk and the neighbouring region of Donetsk in April.

The government began an “anti-terrorist operation” in April to crush the rebellion in the eastern regions.

More than 1,000 civilians and combatants are believed to have died in the fighting, which followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.

Russian warning to Ukraine after Ukrainian shell falls in Russia and kills Russian man

July 14, 2014

Summary: difficult to verify Russian accusation that Ukrainian gunfire lands in Russia.  Russian warning of “irreversible consequences”.

Whether a genuine incident or a manufactured one (the aim of this “game” for many of the players on both sides is to ensure that reality remains a very opaque concept), this is exactly the sort of incident that might indicate/trigger further Russian military actions…

(Reuters) Russia threatened Ukraine on Sunday with “irreversible consequences” after a Russian man was killed by a shell fired across the border, while Kiev said Ukrainian warplanes struck again at separatist positions in the east of the country, inflicting big losses.

Although both sides have reported cross-border shootings in the past, it appears to be the first time Moscow has reported fatalities on its side of the border in the three-month conflict which has killed hundreds of people in Ukraine.

Kiev called the accusation its forces had fired across the border “total nonsense” and suggested the attack could have been the work of rebels trying to provoke Moscow to intervene on their behalf. The rebels denied they were responsible.

 

Elections: tentative breakthrough – recounting to start…?

July 12, 2014

Summary: Possibility of a breakthought – a vote recount to begin…

Various Twitter and news outlets are now starting to suggest that some form of “vote recount” deal, brokered by John Kerry, has been struck between Dr Abdullah and Mr Ghani.  Seems as if a recount of all 8 million or so votes will take place in Kabul.  This recount to begin in the next day or so.Abdullah and Ghani, all smiles

 

This from the BBC

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