One national guard member has been killed and over 100 injured in violent protests outside Ukraine's parliament, the interior ministry said. Clashes between nationalists and riot police erupted after MPs gave initial backing to reforms for more autonomy in the rebel-held east. Some in the crowd lobbed what police said were live grenades at officers protecting parliament.
The Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, said the violence was "a stab in the back". Protesters led by the populist Radical Party and the ultra-nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party - who oppose any concession to the Russian-backed separatists - gathered outside parliament early on Monday.
After a rowdy debate, 265 MPs out of 450 backed the first reading of the decentralisation bill, granting more powers to areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. Initially, there were only minor clashes but a BBC correspondent then heard small explosions followed by a much larger one - apparently from a grenade.
The Ukrainian Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, said some 30 people have been detained, including a Svoboda member who confessed to throwing a grenade. Of the 122 people hospitalised, more than 11 were in a critical condition, the minister added. He bitterly criticised Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok, writing on Facebook that several explosive devices had been thrown by people wearing Svoboda T-shirts.
Ukrainian authorities had "sufficient reason" to close the airspace over conflict-stricken eastern Ukraine before the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, according to the findings of a Dutch investigation into the crash.
The Boeing 777 was heading from Amsterdam to Malaysia when it was shot down on July 17, 2014, over Ukrainian territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists. All 298 people aboard the aircraft died in the crash.
The Dutch Safety Board (DSB) said whatever happened to the plane happened quickly, leaving the passengers dazed or unconscious. And while it's not clear if anyone died in midair, no one could have survived the plane's impact with the ground, the DSB said.
The DSB took the lead in the crash investigation at the request of Ukraine, which remains locked in conflict with pro-Russian separatists in its eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Ukrainian authorities arrested two men that it claims are Russian security agents off the Black Sea coast after the pair apparently got lost at sea in a tiny boat during a training exercise in Crimea, seized from Ukraine by Russia in 2014.
The men, who were washed ashore in Ukraine's Kherson region, claimed to be agents of Russia's Federal Security Bureau (FSB) who had been deployed in Crimea, where they were taking part in a training drill, the head of Ukraine’s border police, Viktor Nazarenko, announced on Facebook.
Russia has not yet commented publicly on the arrest but has contacted Ukrainian authorities to confirm the men were FSB patrol guards, Ukraine’s border guard spokesman Oleg Slobodyan told the local 112 channel. The two men have been jailed for 15 days.
It is not the first time Russian security or military officials have arrived unannounced in Ukraine under suspicious circumstances.
After the end of the exercises, Russian troops are in no hurry to leave the border areas with Ukraine, according to the New York Times, citing the American military. At the same time, messages about the transfer of equipment to the Russian-Ukrainian border and to the Crimea annexed by Russia in 2014 began to appear en masse on Russian social networks.
American estimates of how many additional troops have amassed at the border differ. One of the sources of the publication said that we are talking about about four thousand military personnel.
According to the Ukrainian General Staff, 28 battalion-tactical groups of the Russian armed forces are held along the Ukrainian border as of March 30. However, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Ruslan Khomchak notes that "an additional concentration of up to 25 enemy battalion-tactical groups is expected in the near future."
True, here it is necessary to take into account that the Ukrainians include in this number not only troops in the adjacent Bryansk, Voronezh and Rostov regions of Russia, but also units stationed in the annexed Crimea.
Against the background of more frequent shelling in Donbass, experts are again talking about a possible unfreezing of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The Kremlin's reaction Press secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov, answering on April 1 a question about what the build-up of the Russian military presence on the borders with Ukraine and in Crimea is connected with, said that the Russian Federation is moving the armed forces across its territory at its discretion and this "should not bother anyone it poses no threat to anyone. "
According to Peskov, Russia is taking the necessary measures to ensure the security of its borders. "With regard to the participation of Russian troops in the conflict on the territory of Ukraine, Russian troops have never taken part in it and are not taking part in it, this is an exclusively internal Ukrainian conflict," he repeated the Kremlin's unchanged position since 2014.
Donbass: New War or Local Operation? What is the reason for the aggravation in the east of Ukraine Breakthrough or curse of Zelensky? What is behind the new truce in Donbass To the clarifying question, whether the military who are suddenly being transferred to the border will turn out to be "vacationers" who "at the behest of the heart" will go to help the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass, Peskov reiterated that Russian troops have never taken and will not take part in the war in eastern Ukraine. This thesis was repeatedly refuted in 2014 and 2015 by journalists who actively covered this war.
What they say in Kiev Until recently, there was virtually no information in the Ukrainian information space about the accumulation of Russian troops near the border. However, the statement that the ceasefire announced in July last year in Donbass actually does not work has long become a commonplace in the statements of a representative of the Ukrainian government.
The attention of the general public was drawn to the Donbass after four Ukrainian servicemen were killed near Horlivka on March 26. These were the largest one-time losses of the Ukrainian forces for quite a long time, and in connection with this incident, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Ruslan Khomchak was summoned to the Verkhovna Rada.
His report began with information that Russia was building up its armed forces near the Ukrainian borders. True, one cannot say that this information stirred up the Ukrainian society: the media mentioned Khomchak's report in a different, rather ironic, context.
Right during his speech, Anna Kolesnik, a deputy from the ruling Servant of the People party, wrote a message from her phone to a certain interlocutor with the text: "We are listening to Khomchak. We must get rid of this country." The post was photographed by parliamentary journalists and sparked a storm of outraged comments.
And although later Kolesnik said that in this way she discussed plans for the May holidays with an acquaintance, many observers interpret him precisely as the fear of Zelensky's comrades-in-arms before the start of a big war.
Judging by Ruslan Khomchak's interview to the Batsman program published on Wednesday, the Ukrainian military does not expect an escalation of the conflict in Donbass in the near future.
"Is there an immediate threat today that we will wake up tomorrow morning and there will be a war? Today the General Staff assesses the situation in such a way that there will be no tomorrow. Because for this there must be appropriate factors, appropriate actions to take place on the part of the Russian Federation, in the territories that are not temporarily controlled by our government. Today we do not see the factors that should have happened. But, of course, the threat exists, "Khomchak said.
Official Kiev rejects the possibility of resolving the conflict in Donbass by force. Moreover, the head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group, Leonid Kravchuk, said that during the last round of the Minsk talks, he offered Russia to declare a new truce from midnight on April 1. However, according to him, the Russian side did not support this proposal.
Media reports from Russia and the self-proclaimed republics about the preparation by the Ukrainian armed forces of a large-scale offensive in the Donbass in Kiev are traditionally considered information stuffing.
However, in the already mentioned interview to the Batsman program, General Khomchak said that the offensive of the Ukrainian army in eastern Ukraine is “possible”: in his words, “we must be ready to attack, defend, and conduct maneuvering actions.”
Chiefs of Staff talks On March 31, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milli, spoke by telephone with the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov. The conversation took place at the initiative of the American side, the Russian Defense Ministry stressed.
Both sides provided few details of the conversation between the generals, but the call came after Ruslan Khomchak told the Ukrainian parliament that Russia was building up its armed forces near its borders, posing a threat to the country's security, Reuters notes.
According to the American side, Milli and Gerasimov "exchanged views on issues of mutual interest." This is not their first conversation.
Milli spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart on March 31. Very little is known about this conversation either. The Ukrainian General Staff said that General Khomchak informed the interlocutor "about the current security situation in Ukraine and around its borders." Separately, Kiev noted that General Milli "reaffirmed the unshakable support of the United States of America for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine within internationally recognized borders."
The Pentagon is aware of the movement of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, the US is discussing this issue with its NATO allies, said Defense Ministry spokesman John Kirby, answering the question of why General Millie called Russia and Ukraine.
“We are concerned about the recent escalation of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, including violations of the ceasefire agreement reached in July 2020,” he said. “Russia's destabilizing actions undermine de-escalation intentions.”
"In addition, we are aware of the reports of the Ukrainian military on the movements of Russian troops on the borders of Ukraine. We are discussing our concerns about the growing tension and violations of the ceasefire with NATO allies," the Pentagon spokesman added.
When asked about unverified videos that "appear" to show large amounts of Russian military equipment moving into Crimea, Kirby said he could not confirm the credibility of such reports. And when asked whether Russia can prepare for a new invasion, he answered: "Obviously, we do not want to see any more violations on the territory of Ukraine."
What the New York Times wrote On March 30, the New York Times published an article about a sharp escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and "along the de facto border between the two countries on the isthmus of the Crimean peninsula."
Russia is sending an airborne brigade from the Volgograd region to the annexed Crimea
"Last week, US European Command raised the level of surveillance from a possible crisis to a potentially imminent crisis - the highest - in response to the deployment of additional Russian troops," the newspaper writes.
The escalation of tension on the contact line in Donbass was also noted by the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov.
"Some officials believe that Russia is mainly engaged in saber-rattling and does not want to resume the offensive. Others are more worried, believing that Mr. Putin's intentions are unclear and that an operation aimed at testing the new president could quickly escalate into something more sinister," writes New York Times "Recent violence in eastern Ukraine and a troop buildup could be a way for Moscow to gauge the Biden administration's commitment to Ukraine, according to current and former officials."
At the same time, at the end of March, videos and photos of Russian equipment outside military ranges appeared on social networks several times. In particular, the echelon with armored personnel carriers, armored vehicles "Tiger" and army "Kamaz" users noticed in the Rostov region, "near the border with Ukraine." Also in the network got a video of the transfer of tanks and armored personnel carriers across the Crimean bridge. Earlier, military vehicles were seen near Rostov on the M4 "Don" highway.
The Russian military does not associate the movement of equipment and people with the situation in Donbass and explain this by a "control check" after the winter period. As noted in the press service of the Southern Military District, it will be aimed at working out a whole range of combat training tasks "for the defense of the Russian Black Sea region, including the Crimea."
The correspondent of the Russian service of the BBC phoned several familiar farmers in the Matveyevo-Kurgan, Neklinovsky and Chertkovsky districts of the Rostov region - these territories directly border on Ukraine and the self-proclaimed republics. However, the interrogated interlocutors have not noticed any activity of the military lately. They also did not see the movement of equipment or army units.
Part of the movement of Russian troops may have a more prosaic explanation. On March 25, at a meeting of the board of the Ministry of Defense, Sergei Shoigu said that by the end of 2021, the 56th Brigade of the Airborne Forces (Airborne Forces) will become an airborne assault regiment deployed in the Crimean Feodosia.
Now the brigade is stationed in Kamyshin of the Volgograd region and, judging by the discussions in city publics, the paratroopers have already begun moving to Crimea. Their path to a new location inevitably runs along the Russian-Ukrainian border.