Pride Versus Prejudice In The West

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Let me make several remarks about the current political course of the West, which combines strength and weakness, pride and prejudice.

Throughout its history, my country — the Soviet Union — conducted cruel and arbitrary mass purges; participated in international political terrorism; fostered new totalitarian regimes; committed aggression; and violated fundamental principles of law. Russia has returned to that behavior.

Now the West is firmly resisting Russian expansion. This instills in me hope with regard to the most urgent global problems. I have serious concerns, however.

The grounds for my concerns are widespread myths about Russia that have become rather prevalent in the West. These myths have been reinforced by experienced and skilled masters of deception from the special departments of the FSB (the Russian successor to the KGB).

One of the main myths is that Russia (the U.S.S.R.) freed the world from fascism. That is not true. Since the mid-19th century, Russia, the Soviet Union, and the current Russian Federation have never freed anyone. What they have done was enslave people, including their own population.

The Tsar-Liberator Alexander II, who abolished serfdom in 1861, was assassinated by terrorists who brazenly called themselves “The People’s Will.”

It’s true that Hitler’s army was drowned in Soviet blood and buried under Soviet corpses. It’s true that Europe and the United States did less than they could and should have done during World War II. But that is a completely different matter. The definitive motives for the Soviet Union’s major role in the military victory were not at all liberation. The peoples of Eastern Europe and Germany, who were ruled by two successive tyrants — Hitler and Stalin — should remember this.

Another common and dangerous idea is that Russia’s immorality and political barbarism are solely Russia’s internal affair. That isn’t true. In our present interdependent world, serious problems become global and affect everyone. Russian (and not only Russian) totalitarian tendencies are fraught with catastrophic global consequences. No one knows how to deal with this challenge, but many people realize that not to face it is shameful and dangerous.

It’s true that we don’t know how to make universal values enforceable instead of empty slogans, but we should at least know what simply must not be done. You cannot appease an aggressor. You must not buy your safety, especially your gas supply, with other people’s lives and fates. The acceptance of immoral political pragmatism is the shameful legacy of the Munich and Yalta agreements. Overcoming this legacy is long overdue.

Alas, the West’s deficit of political will nullifies its good intentions. Russian expansion in the Caucasus exposed Western “forgetfulness.” Each stage of this expansion was met by the unfeigned outrage of the West. There was the cruel ethnic cleansing of Georgians during the early 1990s in Abkhazia, provoked by Russian “peacekeepers.” In 2008, there was the creation of two Russian satellites on Georgian territory, which caused general indignation. But all such offenses were quickly forgotten.

In the same vein, there were the many years of incoherent, ineffective fussing by the Council of Europe over Russia’s outrages in Chechnya.

Now it is Ukraine’s turn.

The occupation of Crimea has already been almost forgotten by the public. The European Union postponed some important items of the agreement with Ukraine, and the European Parliament did not contest this decision. It is said that the decision will not do any economic harm to Ukraine and will not give Russia any economic preferences. Russia, however, is not looking for any economic preferences; it just doesn’t want to allow Ukraine to join Europe. Russia will interpret and use this postponement for a year and a half as a concession to its pressure. And the industry of a devastated Ukraine will not become competitive in that time.

There was a time when Europe imagined that the Cold War ended with the demolition of the Berlin Wall. It’s not true. Russia only took a breather. Imagine a postwar Germany that left the Gestapo untouchable. Or a Stasi lieutenant colonel chancellor of Germany. That is and will be the Russia with which you seek partnership and mutual understanding. Right now, it will play fair only if forced to do so. It cannot be persuaded to do so. (Note that “forced to make peace” is a concept understood by the United Nations.)

Many are ready to make concessions to Russia, arguing that a cornered rat is dangerous. That’s true. But you must remember: a rat, whether cornered or left in peace, is still a powerful carrier of plague. The plague under discussion has lasted almost a hundred years and has killed millions of people. The choice is limited — you either fight the plague, or, in the words of Pushkin, you “feast in the time of plague.”

Five years ago the European Parliament awarded my colleagues and me the Sakharov Prize, and I would like these notes to be taken as an open letter to the West. I knew Andrei Sakharov well. I am convinced that today, as in the past, he would urge the civilized world to be more resolute in its stand against tyranny. I will not discuss specific steps to support the victims of Russian expansion, but I wish to remind my readers that the American Lend-Lease Act and the Marshall Plan were historical examples of extensive and successful actions to defend democracy.

Effective resistance to the advance of the “evil empire” demands a maximum effort now. The day after tomorrow may be too late.

Can Moscow bet on ‘Trump card’ in U.S.?

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The meteoric rise of eccentric billionaire Donald Trump to become the favorite Republican candidate in the U.S. presidential nomination race has catapulted the issue of disengagement with Russia back onto the political agenda. Washington’s policy of containment toward Russia has been pushed back to the forefront of the usually U.S.-centered campaign, with Trump positioning himself as a better partner for the Russian president than Barack Obama.

The biggest surprise came at a public meeting when Trump said, on the topic of potential relations with Russian leader Vladimir Putin: “I think we would get along very, very well.” He also rejected the neoconservative foreign-policy orthodoxy, putting to doubt the expediency of Washington’s involvement in the Middle East since the 2003 war in Iraq, and suggesting it would better suit American national interests to engage Putin’s Russia rather than alienate it and force it to search for allies elsewhere.

It was not the first time that Trump had made fine-tuned comments about Russia. In April last year, after what is seen in the West as the Russian takeover of Crimea, Trump, in an interview with Fox News, said that Putin deserved credit for strengthening the international prestige of his country. In June this year, Trump reminded that everyone in the U.S. agreed that everything should be done to avoid Russia and China coming together, yet Obama did just the opposite.

The American mainstream media mocks Trump. But since voters with a distinct pro-Republican leaning are still shopping for an acceptable candidate to run for the presidency, it does not make sense to dismiss the messages of Donald Trump as pure demagoguery. Nor should too much attention be devoted to his politically incorrect lambasting of Mexican migrants, which, while deserving the outrage with which it was met, does not constitute the essence of the alternative embodied in the figure of this flamboyant maverick.

Trump’s critical assessment of the U.S. administration’s foreign policy seem to resonate with Republican supporters. Still, what is the root cause of Trump’s appeal and current ratings? Edward Lozansky, president of the American University in Moscow (and member of the Republican Party), provided his insight into Trump’s phenomenon:

“Nobody expected that Trump can be a serious candidate… and then suddenly the public, which is supposed to make the ultimate decision, took a liking to him. Other politicians, they talk, talk, talk and promise many things but cannot deliver. Trump is the guy who can deliver. It is not easy to build a business empire worth some 9 billion dollars. He’s got property all over the place, he is well known. People are hungry for some new personality. But the Republican Party’s establishment does not want him. And what can happen, he can create a third party. We had a precedent with Ross Perot. Trump does not need fund-raising; he’s got his own money. It could be a very interesting phenomenon. The campaign was pretty boring. Now it is exciting.”
— Trump’s positive pronouncements about a dialogue with Russia have reopened the debate among the U.S. Democrats and Republicans on “who lost Russia.” Is this something that remains on the radar of U.S. politicians?

“At this point, Trump is the only candidate for nomination in the presidential race, both from the Republican and the Democratic side, who believes he can improve relations with Russia, which are now reaching a dangerous point. Almost every day we hear from an American general or a politician that Russia is the greatest threat to the United States. It might be said to score some political points. But the American people, I think, do not want confrontation with Russia. Trump claims he is the only one who can make a deal. Trump is a businessman, and business people, they want to make deals. He believes that he and Putin can make a deal.”

— Plenty of American political scene-watchers believe that Donald Trump will not secure nomination approval, let alone become the next U.S. president…

“If I were Trump or his advisor, I would definitely advise him to form a third party instead of fighting the Republican Party’s establishment. And then, who knows, a miracle could happen, and we could see not only a new face on the American political stage but also a dramatic improvement in U.S.-Russia relations.”

You do not need to be a fortuneteller to predict that Donald Trump will not last the course in this race. Yet Troika Report strongly believes that the legacy of his participation is here to stay. The final Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential race may well incorporate a good portion of the bold approach articulated by the daredevil outsider into their policy.

Moscow would dearly love to bet on this “Trump card” but his chances of making it to the top are unconvincing at best. Yet his surge to prominence serves as an indication that some Americans are seeking alternatives so desperately that they can forgive the man for his boisterous claim to become the “greatest jobs president that God ever created” and make America “great again.”

Incredible photos of 10 Russian warplanes intercepted over the Baltic Sea

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On July 24, Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon jets intercepted and identified 10 Russian military aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea.

The RAF Typhoons from were launched as a large formation of Russian planes flew close to the Estonian airspace (most probably going to or returning from Kaliningrad Oblast).

According to the UK MoD, once airborne, the RAF jets identified the planes as being four Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback attack planes, four Mikoyan MiG-31 Foxhound fighters and two Antonov An-26 Curl transport aircraft.

The planes appeared to be carrying out a variety of routine training.

Russian activity in the Baltic region has increased in the last few days. On July 29, NATO interceptors identified 12 Russian military aircraft flying near the Latvian border: three An-76 and one Il-76 cargo planes, four MiG-31s and four Su-24s, were detected flying near the Latvian outer sea border above the Baltic Sea in international airspace.

Liechtenstein court freezes $13.6 million belonging to Ukrainian judge

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A court in the capital of Liechtenstein, Vaduz, on July 28 ordered the arrest of 13.1 million Swiss francs ($13.6 million) on accounts owned by the wife of a Ukrainian judge, Ukraine’s State Financial Monitoring Service has reported.

The service, together with the financial intelligence services of Liechtenstein, discovered that five companies, registered in Panama and Liechtenstein, had opened the accounts in banks in Liechtenstein and Latvia.

“A substantial amount of money of doubtful origin” has accumulated in the accounts, according to the report.

The State Financial Monitoring Service said the companies belong to or have been operated by the acting judge of Ukraine’s Supreme Economic Court and his wife. The service did not identify the judge.

The service, however, did say that the judge had been one of the deputies of the chairman of the Supreme Economic Court when Viktor Yanukovych was president.

According to the official website of the High Council of Justice of Ukraine, two judges were appointed as the chairman’s deputies of the Supreme Economic Court on May 16, 2013. They are Artur Yemelyanov and Viktor Moskalenko.

However, Moskalenko isn’t listed as an acting judge of the Supreme Economic Court, according to the website of the court, while Yemelyanov is an acting judge of the fourth chamber of the court.

The court’s press service, when contacted by the Kyiv Post, said it could neither deny nor confirm that the judge whose assets had been arrested in foreign banks was indeed Yemelyanov.

A Donetsk native, Yemelyanov appeared in the media spotlight early this year when he reported that he owns 12 apartments and two houses in his asset declaration, while his annual salary is about $10,300.

After avoiding journalists for about a month, Yemelyanov finally told the Hromadske television channel’s investigative program Slidstvo.Info that the assets belong to his wife, who is “a private entrepreneur.”

According to the Slidstvo.Info, the judge’s wife, Svitlana Yemelyanova, owns a beauty salon and runs self-development courses, none of which make much money.

The State Financial Monitoring Service of Ukraine says it will continue to cooperate with the financial intelligence services of Liechtenstein to investigate the sources of the money found in the arrested accounts.

All the materials of the case have been submitted to the Prosecutor’s General Office of Ukraine, the service said in a press release.

Ukrainian swimmer flees persecution in Crimea: “It’s worse than Soviet times!”

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Sevastopol marathon swimmer Oleg Sofyanik has decided to stay in mainland Ukraine after being summoned for questioning about another Ukrainian, Yury Ilchenko who is in detention, seemingly for an article opposing Russia’s occupation of Crimea. Sofyanik has also openly expressed his opposition and fears he will be arrested if he returns.

The 51-year-old swimmer is known beyond Ukraine and has taken part in many marathon swimming events. The 51-year-old was apparently a dissident in Soviet times and faced KGB persecution. Like Ilchenko, he made no secret of his opposition to Russia’s annexation of his native Crimea. Although facing FSB harassment, and FSB questioning as to why he didn’t take Russian citizenship, he had until recently managed to remain, He explained to that he had been monitoring rights abuses in Crimea. This, he said, was needed as others who would normally be reporting abuses are either imprisoned or have left Crimea.

He explained to Novoye Vremya that the situation changed towards the end of July when he was already on his way home to Sevastopol from a marathon event abroad. He received a call saying that enforcement officers had appeared at his flat several times, forced their way in, carried out a search and left a note. The note was from Mikhail Novoseltsev, head of the ‘Centre for Countering Extremism’ in Sevastopol. Sofyanik called him and asserts that Novoseltsev said the following:

“We came to you because of the arrest of your friend Yury Ilchenko, the Sevastopol blogger. He was arrested on July 2 for posts on [the social network] VKontakte. He wrote anti-Putin statements and articles. He has been in the Simferopol SIZO since July 2.” Novoseltsev was not willing to simply talk on the phone with Sofyanik, insisting that he come for a proper talk. According to Sofyanik, Novoseltsev effectively confirmed that he could face arrest, and unsurprisingly Sofyanik decided not to go back.

Sofyanik says that Ilchenko also received several visitations from Novoseltsev during the winter. He was interrogated many times and forced to delete material from VKontakte and Facebook.

Sofyanik’s account of such harassment and of the events surrounding Ilchenko’s arrest makes it quite clear why Ilchenko has been targeted. This is of importance since the investigators are now also claiming that he abused his partner’s 11-year-old daughter.

Sofyanik says that Ilchenko was planning to go on honeymoon to Bulgaria at the beginning of August. Instead, he is in SIZO [pre-trial detention prison] and his partner has been pressured into writing a report claiming that he molested her daughter. Sofyanik points out that these are all KGB methods.

He says that Ilchenko is charged under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code – ‘extremism’ for posts on VKontakte in January, and Article 340 over the alleged molestation. Together that could get him a 20 year sentence.

This is a vile regime, he adds, that will use any methods, however dirty. It’s worse than in Soviet times where the KGB will talk with a person once or twice and only later, if he didn’t change his actions, arrest him. Now there’s none of that, he says, they just turn up and take everything.

He calls the FSB a criminal-political gang, who also try to get some kind of commercial benefit. One family of Crimean Tatars had 2 or 3 thousand dollars in savings kept in the house. There were no documents for the money and the FSB officers just pocketed it.

Russia has taken all measures, including threatening the Crimean Human Rights Field Mission with being declared an ‘undesirable’ organization, and therefore illegal, to hide rights violations in Crimea. As reported, it was difficult to find out any information about the charges against 37-year-old Ilchenko. Radio Svoboda’s Crimean Service spoke with his father a week after his son was arrested. Gennady Ilchenko explained that a search had also been carried out of the home they share. It lasted 4 hours and produced nothing (more details here).

Gennady Ilchenko’s account of the earlier harassment his son has faced, and the reason for his arrest, coincide with that given by Sofyanik. The added ‘molestation’ charge appears to be a chillingly cynical reminder of past methods against dissidents. So, in fact, does this whole case against a Ukrainian expressing his opposition to Russia’s invasion and occupation of his homeland.

Incompetence and Corruption Taint Ukraine’s Military Performance

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After more than a year of fighting in eastern Ukraine, the country’s regular army remains disorganized and poorly equipped. “The Defense Ministry needed to test underpants for a year before approving them for use. I’m not kidding,” President Petro Poroshenko told a meeting of regional chiefs this month.

Building up an army to withstand the threat from Russia and pro-Russian separatists has been a formidable task. When Moscow annexed Crimea and conflict erupted in Ukraine’s east, Kiev had outdated Soviet equipment and just 180,000 troops, of whom only 5,000 were battle ready, according to a speech Poroshenko made last month. The government has since boosted military spending to an unprecedented 5 percent of gross domestic product and increased troop numbers to 250,000. Some 50,000 are actively serving in the east.

But examples of incompetence and corruption within the military regularly appear in Ukrainian media. In June, Segodnya newspaper reported that an administrative error had left eight servicemen on their way to the front stranded for days in the city of Kharkiv.

Vladislav Seleznyov, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, denied any error and said the eight men had gone AWOL. “They went on some adventures and came back to the collecting point in a state of intoxication and refused to go to the conflict zone,” Seleznyov said. Military police guarded them for eight days and then officials from the men’s brigade collected them to take them to the front. “They physically resisted, saying, ‘We won’t go,'” said Seleznyov.

In a separate case, a wounded serviceman took four months to prove to the Defense Ministry that he was alive after it mistakenly classified him as “killed in action” and stopped paying his salary.

In a statement, the Ministry blamed an administrative error and said the money had now been paid.

Families have also faced delays in receiving compensation for soldiers killed in combat, according to the Ukrainian media. Ukraine’s military prosecutor, Anatoly Matios, has written on Facebook several times about cases where the military has been slow to compensate families.

Businessman Yuri Biryukov, who advises Poroshenko and manages voluntary efforts to equip the military, has blamed the problems on mismanagement. “There are 100,500 reasons: from the idiotic over-bureaucratization of our army to the lack of enough computers, from under-qualified military suppliers to fears of reporting problems to high command,” he posted on Facebook.

Seleznyov, the military spokesman, said the Ministry of Defense was implementing “a genuine process of reform,” but added: “It would not be honest to say that we don’t have problems.”

Military prosecutor Matios told Reuters that he has investigated numerous cases of bribery and theft in the past year and has made some progress. But, he said, it would require a sea change in attitudes for real progress. “Society wants irreversible and immediate change because the economic situation has been bad for so long. Not enough has been done either by us, by the government or by lawmakers,” he said. “We have laws, (but) we don’t have the culture of implementing them,” he said.

The Ministry declined to comment on the corruption allegations.

Is Now the Time to Invest in Ukraine?

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George Soros, a billionaire philanthropist with a strong interest in Eastern Europe, is known as the man who broke the Bank of England. In 1992 on a day now called Black Wednesday, he made more than $1 billion in a savvy, aggressive bet against the British pound. Deals like this one have earned him a reputation as one of the world’s top money managers and currency speculators.

In March 2015, in comments to an Austrian newspaper, he stated he was considering a $1 billion investment in Ukraine, which is in desperate need of foreign investment and aid.

Investing in a country in the midst of a civil war and a severe economic crisis is audacious. However, Soros believes the investment is not only important for the country as it rebuilds but could also be profitable.

Large-scale fighting in Ukraine is finished. According to analysts from both Macro Advisory and the Risk Advisory Group presenting in meetings this year at the U.S.-Russia Business Council, the separatists in eastern Ukraine no longer have Russian support for significant military action.

Sanctions and the economic downturn are now finally having an impact on Russian decision-making. In addition, a degree of autonomy for the Donbass region is the most likely outcome at this stage and is acceptable to Russia. Investors can be less concerned about political risk in Ukraine and focus instead on finding the country’s nascent opportunities.

Ukraine, which already boasts a sizable market of 45.9 million, will soon become attractive for investors interested in export to the EU and also the Eurasian Economic Union. At the start of next year, a free trade agreement with the EU is expected to be implemented, eventually creating easy access to the combined European market.

Though Russia objects to free trade between Ukraine and the EU, it is hard to believe that after one delay of implementation because of Russia, there is going to be another.

Furthermore, depending on how negotiations and relations work out between Ukraine and Russia, there could be an opportunity in the future for companies investing in Ukraine to have access not just to the EU but also continued access to the Russian market, one of the biggest in Europe.

Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe Christian Friis Bach argued recently that assuming Kiev implements important changes to its regulatory barriers to trade, Ukraine is in an enviable position to take advantage of its location and become a key link between free trade in the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union.

The country’s economic challenges are widely known — corruption, sickly fiscal health and ailing industrial output.

However, there is also great opportunity because of Ukraine’s desperate circumstances. As it exits from the political crisis and works to extract itself from the economic crisis, there is a crucial window for daring businessmen like George Soros to invest while it is as cheap as it is ever going to be.

The massive investments that Soros is allegedly weighing would be in agriculture — a traditional strength of Ukraine — or infrastructure, which will ease transport within the country and export out of the country. He also recognizes the importance of investing in Ukraine and providing support now in a time of great need for the country.

Crises have always attracted risk takers like Soros. Ukraine now is like many other possibly lucrative but risky bets of the past and present. There are chances to profit, but you have to be bold and shrewd.

However, it is a superior opportunity in at least one respect to most other crises: Investing in Ukraine could not just make you a profit; it also has the chance be a lifeline for a country that has shown that it has chosen a free, democratic future for its people.

Russia vetoes resolution to set up MH17 international tribunal

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As expected, Russia used its veto at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on July 29 to block moves to set up an international tribunal to investigate the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

Malaysia in mid-July submitted a draft resolution on setting up the tribunal to the U.N. But Russia soon made it clear that it would oppose the measure, with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 describing any such tribunal as “counterproductive and premature.” Russia was the only country on the 15-member U.N. Security Council to oppose the resolution.

In explaining Russia’s decision, Russia’s Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin reiterated earlier statements that a tribunal would be premature and also questioned whether the investigation into the tragedy could “resist the propaganda” from Western media.

U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Samantha Power hit back, vowing that “no veto will stand in the way” of getting justice for the victims and slamming Russia for having “callously disregarded the public outcry in the affected nations” and “frustrated international peace.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin expressed regret over the decision and hit out at Russia, noting that “the role of Russia in this conflict is absolutely clear” and saying the only reason to veto the tribunal would be out of guilt.

“If you are afraid of truth, you are definitely on the wrong side. You are alone here,” Klimkin said.

Three countries abstained: China, Angola, Venezuela.

Russia, as one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, has the power to block approval of a council resolution. For a resolution to pass, it must gain the votes of at least nine of the 15 council members, including all five of the permanent members – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Russia’s veto means the countries backing an international investigation into the destruction of MH17 will probably have to look for other ways to move the process along, as well as to put pressure on Russia to cooperate.

The Netherlands, which was given leadership of the current crash investigation and criminal probe into the MH17 tragedy at the request of Ukraine, is likely to be at the forefront of further efforts to widen the investigation. There were 194 Dutch citizens among the 298 who were killed when MH17 broke apart in the air and crashed over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

Although the current air crash investigation into the MH17 tragedy that is being carried out by the Dutch Safety Board is not expected to release its findings until October, leaks from the board and investigations carried out by media and citizen journalists strongly indicate that the plane was downed by a powerful Buk anti-aircraft missile. Experts, citing photo, video, wire-tap and satellite imagery, suspect Russia of supplying the missile system to anti-government forces in eastern Ukraine shortly before MH17 was destroyed.

A parallel criminal investigation into the MH17 tragedy that is being carried out by Dutch prosecutors is expected to present its findings only in 2016.

Kiev says rebels launch 2 large, failed offensives

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Ukrainian military officials say separatists in the east carried out two attacks on July 28.

According to the Ukrainian army, about 100 armed separatist fighters tried to push back pro-government forces near the town of Shchastye in the Lugansk region, using mortar launchers and a tank. The battle lasted for about three hours; the separatists suffered losses and ultimately retreated.

The second attack took place near the town of Avdeyevka in the Donetsk region. According to Kiev, 30 separatist fighters tried to take over a Ukrainian support point, but were forced to retreat.

Ukraine’s military also says the separatists have shelled Ukrainian positions roughly 80 times in the past 24 hours.

The self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics have not yet commented on the incidents.

A ceasefire has been in place in eastern Ukraine since mid-February 2015, in accordance with the Minsk peace agreement, signed by Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France. Since then, both the separatists and the Ukrainian government’s armed forces have regularly accused each other of violating the terms of the agreement.

Between July 26 and July 27, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) came under fire twice. On July 26, shelling took place near a border checkpoint between separatist-controlled territory and Kiev-controlled territory in the town of Shchastye. On July 27, automatic grenade fire and explosions took place near two OSCE patrol vehicles in the village of Shyrokoe. Debris from one of the explosions hit one of the patrol leaders and split apart his helmet. He was hospitalized with a mild concussion and bruising.