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  • Su-25 warplane crashes in Russia
    30.03.2016 | 10:10 UNIAN

    A Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft crashed on Wednesday during the landing at an airfield in Russia's Far Eastern Primorye territory, the defense ministry said, according to Russian news agency TASS.

    The Su-25 jet was performing a training flight, the ministry's press service said, TASS wrote.

    "The pilot ejected, his life and health are not under threat. The flight was made without an ammunition allowance. There are no casualties or destruction on the ground," it said.

    A ministry's commission for flights safety is heading to the crash scene.

    A source in the law enforcement agencies earlier told TASS that the aircraft crashed near Chernigovka airfield due to "engine malfunction."

    The local administration confirmed that crash occurred in Primorye's Chernigovsky settlement, adding that there were no casualties or serious destruction. Su-25 warplane crashes in Russia : UNIAN news

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    Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp

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    • Getting hot in Donbas: Enemy fires 158 bombs at Zaitseve within 1.5 hours
      29.03.2016 | 23:39 UNIAN

      Donbas in eastern Ukraine has been seeing escalation since the early hours of Tuesday, and the village of Zaitseve is the hottest spot now, according to the press center of the Anti-Terrorist Operation headquarters.

      "Enemy attacks in the Donetsk sector were aimed at Ukrainian troops in the villages of Luhanske, Mayorsk, Opytne and Novhorodske, and the town of Avdiyivka. But the hottest spot was the village of Zaitseve – Russian proxies had fired one hundred and fifty-eight 120mm and 82mm bombs at it within an hour and a half," the press center said.

      In total, the Russian-backed militants attacked Ukrainian troops in Donbas 33 times from 00:00 to 18.00 local time on Tuesday.

      The enemy continues using the large-caliber weapons banned under the Minsk peace agreements.

      Automatic grenade launchers and small arms are also used, as was in the case near Avdiyivka.

      "The enemy's attempts to provoke the Ukrainian army into firing back with the use of weapons whose caliber exceeds 80mm were in vain. Our soldiers were able to retain their positions, using small arms, grenade launchers, large-caliber machine guns," the ATO HQ said.

      The situation in the Luhansk sector, which has been relatively calm, has also escalated after militants resumed shelling. In particular, Ukrainian troops came under sniper fire near the town of Schastia. A large-caliber machine gun was used by the enemy to shell Ukrainian positions in the village of Novozvanivka. A similar situation was seen in the village of Shyrokyne, which is close to the Ukrainian-controlled strategic port city of Mariupol.

      "The intensity and ways of firing at ATO positions reveal militants' attempts to keep the Ukrainian armed forces in suspense along the entire contact line," the ATO HQ said.
      Getting hot in Donbas: Enemy fires 158 bombs at Zaitseve within 1.5 hours : UNIAN news







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      Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp

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      • Latvia blocks website of Russian news agency 'Sputnik'
        UA WIRE March 30, 2016 3:05:25 PM

        Authorities in Latvia called the agency an instrument of Russian propaganda and misinformation. The decision to block the website is related to sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union.

        Latvia denied the agency the right to use the domain .lv for the news portal Sputnik Latvia, as reported by internet portal Delfi on March 29th. As reflected in the official letter received by the management of Sputnik Latvia on behalf of the NIC registrar, "registration of the domain name sputniknews.lv violates the EU Council Regulations concerning restrictive measures with regard to the threat posed to Ukrainian territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence." The letter says that violation of the provisions of the Regulation may become a basis for criminal charges under the Criminal Code of the Republic of Latvia. The registrar received a request from the MFA of Latvia that indicated that the provisions of the EU Council Regulation were being violated by the registration of the domain sputniknews.lv as Sputnik Latvia is connected to the Russian state information agency Rossiya Segodnya. The head of the agency, Dmitry Kiselyov, has been included in the EU sanction list.

        According to Mārtiņš Drēģeris, the spokesman for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edgars Rinkēvičs, "this information channel has clear external political aims and is part of a comprehensive set of tools the Russian Government uses to distribute false facts and propaganda," as quoted by the website mixnews.lv.

        The MFA of the Russian Federation, in turn, called such restrictions "open censorship."

        A short time after, the internet portal Sputnik Latvia resumed operation under a .com domain. UA Wire - Latvia blocks website of Russian news agency 'Sputnik'

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        Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp

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        • ‘I captured her and personally handed her over’ A Luhansk separatist reveals how Nadiya Savchenko fell into rebel hands
          07:31, 30 March 2016 MEDUZA (The Real Russia, Today)

          He goes by the military nickname “Ilim.” A fighter for the Luhansk People's Republic, he says he is the one who personally captured Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian soldier convicted earlier this month of murder and sentenced to 22 years in prison by a Russian court. In an interview with Meduza's special correspondent Ilya Azar, “Ilim” confirmed the main argument Savchenko's lawyers say proves her innocence: she was captured before noon on June 17, 2014—before the shelling of Metalist, a village outside Luhansk, which killed two Russian journalists from the media outlet VGTRK. These deaths (as well as charges of crossing into Russia illegally) were precisely why a Russian court in Rostov put Savchenko on trial. Ilim also says he's sure that Savchenko headed a sniper unit and acted as a spotter for Ukrainian artillery fire at Metalist. (Ilya Novikov, one of Savchenko's lawyers, however, says this claim is no more than a “legend.”) Ilim wasn't invited to testify at Savchenko's trial. In his place, the court heard from two “militia” combatants: Dmitry “Snipe” Oslovsky (who investigators say participated in Savchenko's detention) and Sergei “Cap” Moiseev (who allegedly brought her to Luhansk). These men told the court that Savchenko was apprehended only after the killing of the two Russian journalists.

          Ilim says he didn't hide from investigators; the court simply never called him. Before speaking to Meduza, he says he never even gave a single interview during the entire conflict in eastern Ukraine. There's almost no information available about Ilim on the Internet. According to the Kiev-based project “Peacemaker,” which maintains records of all the individuals serving in the “militias” of the Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics (the LNR and DNR), “Ilim” is really a Ukrainian citizen named Andrei Tikhonov—the deputy commander of a detached commandant regiment. Ilim calls himself a lieutenant colonel and a soldier in the LNR.

          In his interview with Meduza, he first spoke of Ilim in the third person, but he later admitted that he is in fact Ilim, and he permitted us to reveal his military nickname in this text.

          Yulia Polukhina, a journalist for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta who worked in the LNR, confirms Ilim's identity. She says he really was the lieutenant colonel of a commandant regiment in the LNR and he fought in the battle before Savchenko was taken captive.

          The battle for Stukalova Balka

          [In the region where the battle occurred on June 17, the day that Savchenko was captured] there were two highgrounds: Stukalova Balka and the village of Metalist, where there was a traffic police post at the crossroads. [This is the precise spot where VGTRK journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin were killed.]

          Our forces had positions in the Metalist area, and a bit below there were two “amphibians” [assault vehicles]. This was our second line of defense [against the Ukrainian army], and lower down was Stukalova Balka, where we set up our first line of defense at the road. At the curb, to one side of the road, there was a machinegun nest that belonged to the [separatist] “Dawn” battalion, which we called “Zazrya” (In Vain), back then. On the other side of the road, an [LNR] group took up its position, with a machine gunner and a SPG [tripod-mounted man-portable antitank gun] ready for assault fire. Between the two points was just a flat lowland.

          In the morning, we boarded six vehicles to the first line of defense [to Stukalova Balka]. When we started unloading, someone shouted, “They're attacking!” and we looked down the road and saw two [Ukrainian] BTRs [armored personnel carriers] coming right at us. Everybody took up defensive positions.

          Behind the BTRs, a [Ukrainian] tank popped out, which an [LNR] fighter “lit up” with an [antitank gun]. The Zazrya battalion stopped one BTR right in front of its machinegun nest. It went right into it. Then they blew it open with a shot into its rear. The second BTR came through the [antitank fire], shooting its machine gun in every direction, almost running me down, along with Vitaly [another separatist]. It broke through straight ahead and then left.

          After a few minutes, the second attack came. You could even call it the third one, if you count the tank. Three [Ukrainian] armored vehicles arrived. We took out the first two right there. The third BTR broke through our position, and we kept hitting it from behind with a grenade launcher.

          When was this?
          It's hard to say when exactly, but the battle began around eight in the morning, and by noon Savchenko had already been handed over personally to [LNR Defense Minister, now LNR head, Igor] Plotnitsky. It all happened in like four hours—that much I can guarantee you.

          Ilim came to the interview with one of his former logistics lieutenants, who had remained silent the whole time, until now, when he spoke up and offered the correction: “It was between eight and ten in the morning.” Ilim didn't seem to appreciate the interruption, however, and cut him off abruptly.

          And what happened next?
          [Ukrainian] troops started pouring out of the BTR that we'd really lit up. There was even this funny thing, where the final soldier jumped out and hopped into a trench, but our machine gunner's PK machine gun jammed, so he tossed it aside and started shooting at the Ukrainian from a Makarov pistol. It was only with the last shot that he blew off half the [Ukrainian's] head, who fell into the trench where our guy was. I ran up, took a look, and said, “Bro, looks like he wanted to eat you.”

          Then the second attack came, and I returned to my position, where [separatist] Volodya was camped out, firing from an antitank gun at first, and later a rocket launcher. Three [Ukrainian] BTRs approached. We stopped one on the way [with a shot] into its side, in the engine compartment. The second one made it a bit farther, until our fighter Volodya (who [also] took out a tank) blew its ass off.

          Volodya, our anti-tank grenadier, got three bullets in the collar, around the neck, and one bullet through his thigh from a DShK [heavy machine gun]. Another round from a DShK smashed to bits the assault rifle belonging to Vitya, the platoon chief, injuring him seriously and wounding me, too. When the BTR started coming at us, I was in the middle of bandaging him (his face had been seriously injured), and at this moment the BTR broke through.

          Was there another tank that reached Metalist?

          Yes, Igor Artemev—military nickname “Omsk,” and head of the platoon command post—let it pass through the trenches, and then he stopped it with two RPG shots. The tank's crew—its commander, senior lieutenant, and two tank operators—escaped and holed up on the second floor of a nearby two-story house.

          At about this time, we [at Stukalova Balka] and “Cobra” Henry, the Zazrya commander at the first line of defense, gathered the [disabled] BTR and two BMPs [infantry combat vehicles] and lined them up in a row across the road, turning their guns on the enemy. The BTR was in good shape, and the second BMP was fine, too. The other one had a hole straight through its engine and was leaking oil, but it still worked. When they saw our “armor,” even the [separatist] Cossacks in Metalist started shelling us with “zushki” [anti-aircraft fire] out of fright [thinking Ukrainian troops had taken our position]. In all my ****ing life, I've never been in a battle like that or seen so much shelling.

          Savchenko's capture
          When I was bandaging Vitya, he started shooting from a pistol in the direction of Stukalova Balka because he saw troops crossing the field. We stopped him, because these were our fighters returning from the golf club [located north of Stukalova Balka, where the first clashes between separatists and Ukrainian troops occurred early on June 17]. While the battle was happening, heavy sniper fire pinned them down, and they couldn't come to our aid.

          Meanwhile, we questioned our prisoners from the BTR and BMP. I remember two fighters from Poltava with scalp locks, and another two young guys from Ivano-Frankivsk.

          At this point, a light blue Ford Fiesta with a Kiev license plate started driving up [to our position]. It stopped about 100 yards short of us, and out stepped a person in uniform.

          A group of our men approached the person and we stopped the car. Inside the vehicle, there were two men about 30 years old who said to us, “Who are you guys after? We're on the same side.” We answered, “That's great. Now crawl out from there ... comrades.”

          While this went on, our boys turned back to the person [who had stepped out from the car], who it turned out was some young woman. Ilim asked what her name was. When she said nothing, he hit her over the head with the butt of his gun. Then she said, “Nadiya.” Ilim then asked her a second question: “What's your callsign?” Again, she said nothing, and Ilim knocked her over the head with his gun, again. Then she answered, “Bullet.”

          You didn't ask her about anything else?

          No. Why should I have? What is there to say to these people? They should be killed.

          So why didn't you kill her?

          We'd captured them. I don't kill prisoners. They wanted to stab one of the prisoners with the scalp lock (he'd already been shot in the chest), but I didn't let them. The other one, they say, was stabbed to death by the Leshevskie [soldiers in the Leshy separatist battalion]. But I would have killed “Bullet,” if I'd known they would make her into a heroine and elect her into the Rada. But hindsight is always 20/20. >>>>>
          -------------------------------------
          Continue long, but very interesting read...
          https://meduza.io/en/feature/2016/03...anded-her-over


          æ, !

          Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp

          Comment


          • Vladimir Putin sent Russian mercenaries to 'fight in Syria and Ukraine'
            Fighters from a private military company called Wagner were used for deniable military operations abroad, finds an investigation by a Russian newspaper
            THE TELEGRAPH Allison Quinn 6:06PM BST 30 Mar 2016

            President Vladimir Putin has sent Russian mercenaries to fight in Syria and Ukraine, decorating them for their service and concealing their casualties, according to a new report.

            An investigation published by Fontanka, an independent Russian newspaper, found that the Kremlin had hired members of a private military company called Wagner to go to Syria and Ukraine. The use of contractors gives Mr Putin a deniable way of sending trained personnel to both countries.

            Wagner is believed to have a membership of around 1,000 mercenaries, but officially the group does not exist since Russian law forbids private military companies. But Wagner is registered in Argentina and has a training camp in the Russian village of Molkino – the same village that hosts a training site of the 10th special forces brigade of the GRU military intelligence.

            The Russian defence ministry has announced the deaths of six servicemen in Syria. But former members of Wagner interviewed by Fontanka claim there were several dozen fatalities in the unit last year alone.

            A high-ranking member of Russia's intelligence services then distributed posthumous military honours, signed by Mr Putin.

            Photographs of the awards, all signed by Mr Putin, are included in the report. The decorated men were confirmed as fighters in Wagner by other members of the unit. Others were killed in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and 2015.

            Pictures have emerged of Maksim Kolganov, a mercenary with Wagner, when he was in the city of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine and the port of Latakia in Syria. He is believed to have been killed in Syria on Feb 3 after which he received a posthumours “For Courage” medal from the Kremlin.

            Another photograph of Kolganov shows him at the Wagner training facility in Molkino, where he stands in front of a door reading: “Anyone who doubts our peacefulness will choke to death on blood. Because our mercy is ruthless!”

            Several Wagner fighters took part in the battle for control of the Ukrainian town of Debaltseve in January and February 2015. This also involved hundreds of regular Russian troops and involved one of the heaviest artillery bombardments in recent history, dealing a decisive blow to Ukraine’s army.

            Mr Putin has publicly spoken of how private military companies can be used by the Kremlin to conduct deniable operations. As prime minister in 2012, he called for such companies to be legalised, describing them as a “tool for the implementation of national interests without direct participation of the state”. Vladimir Putin sent Russian mercenaries to 'fight in Syria and Ukraine' - Telegraph

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            Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp

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            • Russian Private Military Company 'Wagner' and their operation in Syria
              Background
              SYRIAN CIVIL WAR

              "Wagner", or formally, OSM is a Russian Private Military Company which finds it's roots in the former "Slavonic Corps" who were disbanded after their misadventure in Syria. The name "Wagner" is the callsign of the Commander of the formation, he is a retired Lieutenant Colonel who commanded a Spetsnaz GRU group of the 2nd Separate Brigade stationed in Pskov. Wagner formerly worked under the 'Moran Security Group' conducting maritime safety operations. Wagner first visited Syria in September 2013 alongside the 'Slavonic Corps', at which point he was not a Commander and OSM did not exist. OSM has operated in Ukraine during the civil war mainly conducting operations against corrupt groups in the LNR and DNR, they are allegedly responsible for the killing of both Batman and Mozgovoy. Their first actions were as 'Polite People' in Crimea, seizing UA positions and disarming UA bases. A Russian Defence Official has claimed that OSM is about 1,000, but much like everything about this company, it is very hard to verify. The lowest estimates are battalion (400) sized.

              Application and Training
              OSM is a highly secretive company and so is not advertised on the web or publicly. Wagner recruited people from the defunct Slavonic Corps and ex-military professionals from across Russia. Those in the know are able to arrange joining through a series of phonecalls. Confidentiality is a priority from the beginning of the application.

              To join OSM, the person must tick boxes to ensure that he is fit for the job. This includes a medical examination, proof of good soldiering in the past and background checks. They do not want any serious criminals (see phone conversation at the bottom of the page). If the candidate passes this, it is then off to Molkino in Krasnodar Krai for a month, home to 10th Separate GRU Spetsnaz brigade. OSM supposedly has a training camp close to that base. During this period of time, the mercenaries undergo training to conduct combat missions effectively.

              Here is an interesting album I found of Russian Cossacks (who fight in Ukraine) training in Molkino, I'm unsure if this is OSM's camp or the camp of the 10th Separate Brigade.

              The training is intense and they do not skimp on funding (which was one of the attractive parts about this PMC - good equipment and training). Every day, they shoot up to 15 Kornet ATGMs as practice. One soldier saying one Kornet is equivalent to the cost of a car. During training, the mercenary is paid 80,000 ruble (1,100 USD). If they fail training, they are not paid anything but their travel costs to Molkino. After passing training, they are able to do both 4 and 5 grade work (see below).

              The Mercenary must agree to not have any social networking accounts, and no pictures, videos or any type of media must be taken. Electronic devices are given to Company and allowed access at certain times. Passport is also given in. Mercenaries are expected to remain silent about their work and if they do not, the contract is considered void. The mercenary must keep this silence for 10 years.
              Salary as an active member of OSM

              There is a pay grade in OSM depending on the level of danger of the operation at hand.
              Pay Grade 2, this is a base pay. 60,000 ruble (830 USD)
              Pay Grade 3, pay during Polygon (training) - which is pay grade 2 + 20,000 ruble. So, around 80,000 ruble (1100 USD).
              Pay Grade 4, Police Operations, the type of work OSM did a lot of in Ukraine - disarming and arresting criminal gangs - 120,000 rubles (1660 USD)
              Pay Grade 5, actual combat duties and military operation, 240,000 ruble (3320 USD)

              Of course, squad/platoon/company leaders are entitled to more. Commander of a company - 320,000 ruble (4427 USD)

              In the case of an injury, depending on severity, 50,000 ruble (691 USD) to 300,000 ruble (4150 USD) can be provided. In the case of death, a specified person will receive 3 million ruble (41508 USD)

              Payments are made after so-called 'Business trips'. In case of not following orders, the mercenary is reverted to base pay and disciplinary action is taken.

              Syria
              It is said that the group was contracted by the Syrian Government to conduct operations in Syria. They operated T-90 tanks and howitzers.

              Fontaka claims that this picture of Russians (and some Syrians) posing in front of a Russian Mi-8AMTSh in Syria are not Russian servicemen, but mercenaries who were in the Slavonic Corps and now in OSM.

              The group gained recognition when allegedly 9 members of their group were killed when a mortar hit their base in October (reported in mid-December). After this, they were said to have been withdrawn from Syria.

              IHS Janes reported in late September that there are Special Forces units reporting to the Russian Embassy in Damascus, while some may speculate it is 'Zaslon' which is not even known to be existing, it would also make just as much, if not more, sense for it to be a PMC.

              When Russian Media began circulating the report of 9 dead, the Russian MoD made this statement:

              The news outlet is citing an investigating report by the Wall Street Journal, which does not mention either the participation of Russian soldiers in ground action or their deaths on the Syrian territory,

              which is rather ambiguous, as it is true that it does not state anything about Russian servicemen dying but it does talk about Russian mercenaries dying. Russian MoD does not seem to address this fact.
              Legality

              The document that is signed before going on 'Business trips' is as follows:

              "I voluntarily leave the borders of the Russian Federation with observance of the established rules of departure for obtaining objective information on the occurring events in territories, border with the Russian Federation.

              I am not the mercenary as I am not going to participate in armed conflicts or military operations. I am going to follow laws and rules of the country of residence.

              I wasn't subjected to recruitment, wasn't trained and didn't earn material reward for participation in the military conflicts or military operations outside the Russian Federation.

              My only purpose is and only obtaining objective information on the occurring events

              Nobody had impacted my decision, nobody asked me about commission of illegal actions, and nobody bears and can't bear responsibility for my actions which will be made by me in the future as my actions will always have the protective or constraining character.

              Whatever surnames or the organizations were mentioned in connection with my future actions in the country of residence, it will always not be true as everything that I do, I do only on the internal belief and on my own initiative".

              Now officially, PMCs are banned in Russia at this point (Article 208), only 'security companies' are allowed to exist. In reality, multiple Russian PMCs exist and are allowed to exist and operate in many parts of the world. They operate in a so-called grey zone where they are either registered as a foreign company or say they work as individuals. This is risky as there is no legal framework for Russia to help the PMC if they ever come into trouble, eg Slavonic Corps in 2013. PMCs are an effective way to conduct covert warfare (commonly dubbed Hybrid warfare), something that the Russian government has very much toyed with during the Ukrainian crisis. This could be why they are considering legalizing PMCs officially.

              Of course, when Fontaka asked these PMCs - Moran Security Group, RSB group about any operations in Syria, they were all swift to deny it.
              https://www.reddit.com/r/syriancivil...ner_and_their/

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              Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp

              Comment



              • REUTERS Margarita Antidze TBILISI Mar 30, 2016 2:51pm EDT
                UK's Hammond: Russia 'going backwards' on sanctions relief

                Russia is moving further away from having Western sanctions lifted over its role in the Ukraine crisis, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told Reuters on Wednesday.

                Hammond, who was in Georgia to meet Prime Minister Georgy Kvirikashvili and to visit the BP-operated South Caucasus Pipeline, has a track record of robustly criticizing Russia's actions.

                His comments run counter to statements from some European diplomats and business interests who argue Russia is getting closer to having sanctions lifted after they were imposed by the West over Moscow's support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

                "If Russia wants the sanctions lifted, then its course of actions is very clear. It has to comply completely with its obligations under the Minsk agreements," he told Reuters in an interview, referring to a shaky ceasefire deal between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces.

                "Unfortunately, what we've seen over the last couple of months, is an increase in violations of the ceasefire," he said. "So, we appear to be going backwards over the last weeks and months."

                International monitors have warned of increasing violence in eastern Ukraine, saying rebels backed by Russia have moved heavy weaponry back to the front line.

                Western powers also say they have satellite images, videos and other evidence to show Russia is providing weapons to the rebels and that Moscow has troops engaged in the conflict that erupted following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014.

                Russia denies such accusations.

                "We must not forget that this was an incursion into the sovereign territory of Ukraine, Russia annexed Crimea illegally in international law," Hammond said.

                "Of course, reforms and steps are needed on the Ukrainian side as well. But we should never equate the two. Russia is the aggressor in this conflict."

                Extended at the end of last year, the Minsk peace deal signed by Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany aims to give Ukraine back control of its border with Russia, see all heavy weapons withdrawn, return hostages and allow an internationally monitored local election in the east.

                Hammond earlier told a news conference Russia represented a threat to all countries because of its disregard for international norms.

                When asked by Reuters whether Russia still posed a threat to countries in the region such as Georgia and the Baltic states, Hammond told a news conference:

                "Russia ignores the norms of international conduct and breaks the rules of the international system. That represents a challenge and a threat to all of us." International monitors have warned of increasing violence in eastern Ukraine, saying rebels backed by Russia have moved heavy weaponry back to the front line.

                Western powers also say they have satellite images, videos and other evidence to show Russia is providing weapons to the rebels and that Moscow has troops engaged in the conflict that erupted following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014.

                Russia denies such accusations.

                "We must not forget that this was an incursion into the sovereign territory of Ukraine, Russia annexed Crimea illegally in international law," Hammond said.

                "Of course, reforms and steps are needed on the Ukrainian side as well. But we should never equate the two. Russia is the aggressor in this conflict."

                Extended at the end of last year, the Minsk peace deal signed by Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany aims to give Ukraine back control of its border with Russia, see all heavy weapons withdrawn, return hostages and allow an internationally monitored local election in the east.

                Hammond earlier told a news conference Russia represented a threat to all countries because of its disregard for international norms.

                When asked by Reuters whether Russia still posed a threat to countries in the region such as Georgia and the Baltic states, Hammond told a news conference:

                "Russia ignores the norms of international conduct and breaks the rules of the international system. That represents a challenge and a threat to all of us."International monitors have warned of increasing violence in eastern Ukraine, saying rebels backed by Russia have moved heavy weaponry back to the front line.

                Western powers also say they have satellite images, videos and other evidence to show Russia is providing weapons to the rebels and that Moscow has troops engaged in the conflict that erupted following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014.

                Russia denies such accusations.

                "We must not forget that this was an incursion into the sovereign territory of Ukraine, Russia annexed Crimea illegally in international law," Hammond said.

                "Of course, reforms and steps are needed on the Ukrainian side as well. But we should never equate the two. Russia is the aggressor in this conflict."

                Extended at the end of last year, the Minsk peace deal signed by Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany aims to give Ukraine back control of its border with Russia, see all heavy weapons withdrawn, return hostages and allow an internationally monitored local election in the east.

                Hammond earlier told a news conference Russia represented a threat to all countries because of its disregard for international norms.

                When asked by Reuters whether Russia still posed a threat to countries in the region such as Georgia and the Baltic states, Hammond told a news conference:

                "Russia ignores the norms of international conduct and breaks the rules of the international system. That represents a challenge and a threat to all of us." UK's Hammond: Russia 'going backwards' on sanctions relief | Reuters

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                Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp

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                • Rzeczpospolita: Putin's allies have lost billions of dollars due to sanctions
                  UA WIRE March 30, 2016 2:31:45 PM

                  The publication wrote that Timchenko had lost about four billion dollars and Rotenberg, about three billion.

                  During the two years that sanctions have been imposed by the EU and the U.S. against Russia due to the war against Ukraine, friends of President Vladimir Putin have lost billions of dollars.

                  Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported this issue, adding that Gennady Timchenko, who is “number one” in all the “blacklists” of the West is the most affected by the economic pressure. Before the Russian-Ukrainian war, he headed the Gunover Company and had a monopoly on the sale of Russian oil. The billionaire, who has been friends with Putin since Putin served in the KGB, was included on the U.S., Canadian and Australian sanctions lists. He lost control of Gunover a few days after the start of economic pressure against Russia.

                  In late 2014 he returned to Moscow from Geneva. Visa and Mastercard have refused to provide service to Timchenko's accounts. His private Gulfstream G650 jet has not left the hangar in Moscow for over a year because the manufacturer in the U.S. refuses to provide maintenance as a result of the economic sanctions. In just two years, Timchenko's assets have declined from 15.3 billion to 11.4 billion dollars.

                  In turn, Arkady Rotenberg, who has been friends with Putin since school, has lost $3 billion as a result of the U.S., the EU, Canadian and Australian sanctions. His fortune is now estimated at one billion US dollars. His brother Boris has lost $700 million and was forced to transfer the ownership of his assets in Finland to his son.

                  At the same time, it remains unknown how much "Kremlin's banker" Yuri Kovalchuk has lost. In 2014 his fortune was estimated at $1.4 billion. However, the sanctions against him and his bank were imposed not only by the EU, the US, Australia and Canada, but also by Switzerland. All countries have frozen the accounts of Kovalchuk, his bank and other companies associated with him.

                  Sanctions against Russia were introduced by the United States, the European Union and some other countries (Australia, Japan, Canada, and Norway) in several stages in 2014. After the annexation of the Crimea, the U.S. and the EU introduced personal sanctions against politicians and other citizens of Russia and Ukraine who were responsible for undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Higher level economic sanctions were introduced in the summer of 2014 (a number of the U.S. economic sanctions were imposed in the spring of 2014) after Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.

                  At the end of December 2015, the U.S. Treasury tightened the sanctions previously imposed on individuals and legal entities, and not just Russian ones. In addition, the Treasury Department has introduced sectored sanctions against a much wider list of companies. In March, the U.S. extended the sanctions against Russia for another year.
                  UAWire - Rzeczpospolita: Putin's allies have lost billions of dollars due to sanctions

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                  • Russia’s new tactics
                    31.03.2016 | 09:00 UNIAN Andriy Vasyliev

                    Over the last two years, a number of microstates, mainly those located in the Pacific, have introduced a visa-free regime with Russia.

                    For example, two years ago, the island nation of Fiji canceled visas for Russians, while the Kremlin offered similar terms to hypothetical tourists from Fiji.

                    A year ago, it was Vanuatu, microstate in Melanesia, that suddenly decided to introduce visa-free regime with the Russian Federation.

                    And now Mauritius, a distant island in the Indian Ocean close to Madagascar, also readies to join the visa-free club.

                    This series of events separated in time may appear confusing, weird and even funny. Really, why would a fish need a bicycle? (Especially considering persistent recommendations of Russian authorities to its citizens to spend their holidays in occupied Crimea or in the Russian resort of Sochi). Are there any Russians living in Vanuatu? Hardly so, given the fact that the tourist exchange and trade turnover between the island nation and the Russian Federation is close to a zero (except for Mauritius, but the island is considered one of the world’s most expensive and exquisite resorts, so it’s the Russians with several different passports on them, other than Russian, who travel there, enjoying a "personal" visa-free regime).

                    However, I will explain what has really been happening.

                    Given the fact that Moscow has been losing on all fronts in the Ukrainian (as well as Syrian and Turkish) issue in the UN General Assembly, it resorted to a good old buying of votes, desperately searching for any allies and attempting to secure at least some smallest foreign policy victories.

                    It is clear that Russia is not in a position to radically change the situation in their favor. It’s not even about the money as it’s too inconvenient for representatives of those states which systematically vote in the UN against Russia to take bribes from Moscow, while a visa-free travel to Russia of, say, British citizens, is unlikely to force the British government to reconsider its principles.

                    But Sergey Lavrov’s clowns can at least try to make it appear as if they are improving the situation at the UN for Russia, employing such tactics.

                    People from a grim high-rise building on Smolenskaya Square in Moscow are buying the votes of those UN member states which traditionally abstain on “Ukrainian” resolutions. Usually a powerful Vanuatu, glorious Honduras and other countries with whom Russia has recently signed visa-free agreements, are too distant from the problems of Ukraine, Syria, or Yemen.

                    After all, Russians believe that in exchange for foreign political favors or substantial bribes, these countries may alter their position in the UN General Assembly from a neutral "abstained" to a categorical support of Russia.

                    My sources in the UN have been telling me this for years. And the situation has not changed a bit.

                    Russia pursues its policy of silencing the issue of Crimea. It ignores the problem of human rights in the occupied peninsula and refuses to talk about its role in the armed conflict in Donbas.

                    ... Meanwhile, it tries to buy more time in order to buy a sufficient number of votes in the UN.

                    And the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, just as the Ukrainian Mission to the UN, should do something to counter this.
                    Russia’s new tactics : UNIAN news

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                    • Chinese cable laying ship operating in Kerch Strait breaks down
                      31.03.2016 | 12:00 UNIAN

                      Chinese cable laying ship, Jiangong 1, which has been laying a so-called "energy bridge" from Russia's Kuban to the occupied Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, has broken down, according to Kerch.FM.

                      "One of the auxiliary engines of the vessel is down. Now the cable laying vessel needs to be towed," a report reads.

                      It is noted the ship cannot be sent for repair due to pressing deadlines. Therefore, it was decided to continue the operations of the Chinese cable laying vessel supported with a tug to replace the broken engine.

                      The agency reports that the laying of the third branch of the energy bridge across the Kerch Strait has been started. The construction is scheduled to have been completed by the end of next month.

                      Kerch has suffered from power outage for two days due to the energy bridge construction work.

                      However, as of now, the construction of the energy bridge across the Kerch Strait has been suspended, as reported.
                      Chinese cable laying ship operating in Kerch Strait breaks down : UNIAN news

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                      • 16:22 31.03.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                        Parliament simplifies family farm registration

                        The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has adopted the law on amendments to some laws of Ukraine on the promotion, creation and operation of family farms.

                        Some 262 deputies voted for relevant draft law No. 1599.

                        The document provides a simplified procedure for the transformation of personal peasant farms into family farms, simplifies registration and organization of their business activities, as well as the procedures for obtaining permits.

                        The document foresees amendments and additions to the law on farms and personal peasant farms in order to create legal, economic and social preconditions for the transformation of personal peasant farms into family farms, obviating the need to receive the status of legal entity or individual entrepreneur. The measure ensures the full participation family farms in the agricultural market and strengthens the social protection of members of such farms, stimulating the creation on their basis of a viable system of agricultural service cooperatives and the integrated development of small farms in rural areas.

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                        • 15:54 31.03.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                          Kremlin spokesman Peskov on possibility of placing nuclear weapons in Crimea

                          Crimea is part of Russia's territory, and Moscow does not intend to discuss its measures on the peninsula with anyone, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said after being asked about the possibility of placing nuclear weapons in Crimea.

                          "As far as nuclear or non-nuclear weapons in Crimea are concerned, since Crimea is a region of the Russian Federation, Russia has no intention of discussing with anyone its steps on its own territory that are taken in strict compliance with the norms and principles of international law," he told reporters.

                          Peskov said this when commenting on remarks made by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Washington that Russia intends to place nuclear weapons in Crimea.

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                          • REUTERS LONDON/MOSCOW Stephen Grey & Jack Stubbs Mar 31, 2016
                            The property manager and Putin's friends

                            A little-known Russian businessman from St Petersburg has provided properties to multiple women who share one common theme: President Vladimir Putin.

                            One of the women is Putin's younger daughter; two are close relatives of a woman Russian media have reported to be Putin's girlfriend – though the president has strongly denied any relationship. And a fourth is a student who posed for a calendar celebrating the president's birthday. All of the properties are in upmarket gated complexes in and around Moscow.

                            Public records show Grigory Baevsky, a 47-year-old business associate of an old friend of Putin, sold or transferred the properties to three of the women. In the other case, Putin's younger child, Katerina Tikhonova, used the address of a flat owned by Baevsky as her own when registering a new company.

                            The connections add to the picture of individuals in Putin's wider circle and the way these people blur the lines between public and private business.

                            Last year, Reuters reported that Putin's daughter Tikhonova, who holds a senior position at Moscow State University, is personally advised by some of Putin's oldest friends. She is also married to Kirill Shamalov, son of billionaire Nikolai Shamalov, an associate of Putin's.

                            Baevsky has worked as an aide to another close friend of Putin, his judo partner, Arkady Rotenberg.

                            Public records show that companies co-owned by Baevsky have benefited from state construction contracts worth at least 6 billion rubles ($89 million) in the past two years.

                            Baevsky has previously attracted little attention. His connection to Putin was uncovered by investigative journalist Roman Anin who was conducting research for the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an East European media network.

                            Baevsky is a former property manager for a state company in St Petersburg. In 2006, he founded a dacha cooperative near the city with Arkady Rotenberg and Rotenberg's brother Boris, public records show.

                            Baevsky went into business with the Rotenbergs in 2011, working until 2014 as a director at Arkady Rotenberg's investment vehicle, the Russian Holding company, according to corporate filings. Public records also show he was declared as an 'affiliated person' of SMP Bank, which is majority-owned by the brothers.

                            Arkady Rotenberg was among the first Russian businessmen to be put under Western visa bans and asset freezes over Moscow's seizure of Crimea. According to the U.S. Treasury, Rotenberg and his brother Boris have won billions of dollars from projects awarded to them by Putin. The brothers have denied getting help from the Russian leader for their businesses.

                            Reuters sent questions about the property deals to Baevsky's last known home address, and to businesses owned by him, but received no response.

                            Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters: "We know nothing about who this (Baevsky) is. The President is also not acquainted with him."

                            Separately, Peskov told reporters on a conference call that the Kremlin was facing a series of queries from international media about Putin's relationship with his childhood friends and their receipt of state contracts. He said he would not comment because the Kremlin believes the articles are part of a politically-motivated campaign to discredit Putin.

                            A spokesman for Rotenberg said the businessman had no information about Baevsky's property deals. Asked if Baevsky was acting on behalf of Rotenberg in his property dealings, or if they were related to Rotenberg's friendship with Putin, Rotenberg's spokesman said: "Of course not. Such declarations are absurd." The spokesman said Baevsky "does not work" for any Arkady Rotenberg company or holding.

                            STUPID QUESTIONS?
                            The role of Baevsky emerged when the OCCRP – which is funded by the Open Society Institute, USAID, and the Swiss government, among others – discovered that a woman called Katerina Tikhonova declared her home to be an apartment owned by the businessman. Tikhonova, as Reuters reported last year, is Putin's 29-year-old daughter. In November 2012, she used the apartment's address when she filed papers to register herself as co-founder and owner of a private company called Interdisciplinary Initiatives Foundation in Natural Sciences and Humanities.

                            Reuters has reviewed the Tikhonova company registration papers, and public documents confirm the flat is owned by Baevsky. It is not known whether Tikhonova lived at the flat or paid any rent there. The flat is around 6.5 km (4 miles) from Putin's official residence.

                            Tikhonova did not respond to questions about her use of the address.

                            In addition to the Tikhonova deal, public records show that in 2013 Baevsky transferred ownership of a home and plot of land in a pine forest at Uspenskoe in the Moscow region to Anna Zatsepilina. The neighborhood is one of the most expensive in Russia.

                            Zatsepilina is the 81-year-old grandmother of Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast and public supporter of Putin. In 2008 the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Korrespondent named Kabaeva as Putin's girlfriend. Putin has rejected the assertion and Reuters could not independently confirm it. The newspaper closed soon after the article appeared.

                            Zatsepilina could not be reached for comment. The Uspenskoe home sits within a gated community and is protected by security guards, who denied access to Reuters and declined to help contact any of its residents.

                            In an earlier deal, in 2009, public records show that Baevsky transferred ownership of an apartment in Veresaeva Street in the Moscow suburbs to Leysan Kabaeva. She is the sister of Alina, the former gymnast.

                            Asked about how she came to acquire the property from Baevsky, a spokeswoman for a company owned and run by Leysan Kabaeva declined to comment.

                            Asked about Alina Kabaeva's relationship with Putin and about Baevsky's dealings with her relatives, a spokeswoman for the former gymnast said: "They are all adults, answer to themselves, and live their own lives. Alina Maratnova Kabaeva is not connected to a single one of these questions."

                            Last year Baevsky transferred another apartment in a smart gated complex in Moscow to Alisa Kharcheva, a 23-year-old former international relations student. The sale price was not disclosed.

                            In 2010, a group of students and would-be students from Moscow State University created a calendar to celebrate Putin's birthday. The calendar featured pictures of themselves; Kharcheva starred on the month of April. Two years later, Kharcheva posed with a cat and a photograph of the president in a personal blog post entitled "***** for Putin," which extolled the president's leadership. The blog post also featured her entry from the 2010 calendar.

                            Asked how she came to buy a flat from Baevsky, Kharcheva said the transaction was a normal one conducted through a real estate agency. She said she did not know the businessman.

                            "We bought this flat with a mortgage. And we pay that mortgage to this day." Asked if any connection to Putin had helped her obtain the flat from Baevsky, she replied: "No one has ever asked me such stupid questions."
                            The property manager and Putin's friends | Reuters

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                            • Ukraine’s Unyielding Corruption
                              NY TIMES THE EDITORIAL BOARD MARCH 31, 2016

                              The Ukrainian Parliament finally voted to oust Ukraine’s odious prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, on Tuesday. The United States and European countries that have provided aid to Ukraine had long pressed for his dismissal; in his year in office, Mr. Shokin became a symbol of Ukraine’s deeply ingrained culture of corruption, failing to prosecute a single member of the deposed Yanukovych regime or of the current government while blocking the efforts of reform-minded deputies. Alas, nothing is likely to change unless President Petro Poroshenko and Parliament agree to install some real corruption fighters and approve serious judicial reform.

                              Corruption has been pervasive in Ukraine since independence, fed by close-knit ties between politicians and oligarchs and a weak justice system. The protests in 2014 that led to the removal of President Viktor Yanukovych were largely fueled by popular fury at his monumental corruption and abuse of power. Yet his overthrow has yet to show results.

                              In a speech in Odessa last September, the United States ambassador, Geoffrey Pyatt, said corruption was as dangerous for Ukraine as was the Russian support for a military insurgency in eastern Ukraine. And on a visit last December, Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. said corruption was eating Ukraine “like a cancer.” Among the examples Mr. Pyatt cited was the seizure in Britain of $23 million in illicit assets from the former Ukrainian ecology minister, Mykola Zlochevsky; Mr. Shokin’s office, however, declared that there was no case against the minister, and the money was released.

                              In his last hours in office, Mr. Shokin dismissed the deputy prosecutor general, David Sakvarelidze, a former prosecutor in Georgia brought in by President Poroshenko to fight corruption. And before that, Mr. Shokin had systematically cleansed his office of reform-minded prosecutors. The acting prosecutor general now is Yuriy Sevruk, a crony who can be trusted to continue Mr. Shokin’s practices.

                              Mr. Poroshenko, himself a product of the old system, has had his hands full with the Moscow-backed separatists in the east and unceasing political turmoil in Kiev, where Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s government is hanging by a thread.

                              In these circumstances, Mr. Poroshenko seems to have accepted continuing corruption as the price to pay for a modicum of maneuvering room. But the president, the prime minister and the Parliament must be made to understand that the International Monetary Fund and donor nations, including the United States, cannot continue to shovel money into a corrupt swamp unless the government starts shaping the democratic rule that Ukrainians demanded in their protests.

                              Mr. Poroshenko cannot simply allow one of Mr. Shokin’s cronies to slide into the ousted official’s tainted seat. He should immediately reinstate Mr. Sakvarelidze and begin a broad public discussion on the choice for the next prosecutor general, making clear that his mandate will be a thorough reform, and that the government will be fully behind it.
                              http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/01/op...orruption.html

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                              • Coalition for two
                                KYIV POST Alyona Zhuk Mar. 31, 2016 20:44

                                Parliament's two biggest factions, the Bloc of President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front, are only four votes short of the 226 majority needed to form a new coalition.
                                -------------------------------------------
                                As soon as they lure the missing lawmakers, they can form a new government and put an end to the political crisis that has gripped the nation since mid-February.

                                Critics say such a small coalition will be too shaky as it will depend on political will of each coalition’s member - should anyone quit, the system is at risk again.

                                However, this seems to be the only way left for the Poroshenko Bloc to achieve its goal to replace Yatsenyuk as prime minister.

                                Earlier two more factions agreed to form the new ruling coalition - Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party and Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna.

                                They had also voiced the readiness to consider the Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Groysman as a candidate for the prime minister’s seat, proposed by Poroshenko Bloc. But it didn’t work out. After the president’s faction denied the conditions set up by Lyashko, he said his party would stay in the opposition.

                                With Tymoshenko, the deal seemed to be sealed. With the 19 members of her faction, the coalition would number 235 lawmakers – which is 11 more than the required minimum of 226 lawmakers.

                                But at the last moment Tymoshenko said she would sign the coalition agreement only if 18 bills, initiated by herself and her allies, were guaranteed to be passed.

                                The problem is, the legislation pushed by Tymoshenko aims to ease the financial burden of regular Ukrainians at extreme measures that contradict the demands of the International Monetary Fund, the country’s main source of financial aid.

                                If adopted, the bills would threaten Ukraine's chances to receive the third tranche of the IMF loan of $1.6 billion that was already delayed because of the coalition crisis.

                                Five of the bills on Tymoshenko’s list were submitted to the parliament in summer of 2015. Back then, the Ministry of Finance estimated that their adoption could cost Ukraine's budget more than $5 billion, according to news outlet Liga.net. Ukrainian media immediately called them "the anti-IMF bills." They seek to stop the growth of the utilities' prices, increase pensions and state scholarships for college students.

                                Some say that the bills that seem impossible to pass are just a way for Tymoshenko to block the forming of the coalition while also looking good to the voters.

                                Tymoshenko, whose party did well in the local councils' election in October, is the biggest advocate of the early parliamentary election, where she hopes to increase her party’s presence in the Verkhovna Rada.

                                At the same time, Ihor Lutsenko, a lawmaker with Batkivshchyna faction, says that all statements that these bills do not meet the IMF requirements are “fantasies.”

                                “Very often, when someone says that Europe won’t accept something, it’s really just a matter of negotiations,” he told the Kyiv Post on March 31. He added that Ukraine should not follow each condition, set up by the IMF.

                                According to Lutsenko, all talks with Batkivshchyna have been paused since they set their demands on March 29.

                                Emergency headhunting for MPs
                                Instead, the Poroshenko Bloc started to draw in new members, aiming to set the coalition without the help of Tymoshenko or Lyashko. On the morning of March 29 the faction numbered only 135 lawmakers, which, when added to the People’s Front 81 members, left the two factions only 10 votes short from the coveted majority.

                                During the day, three lawmakers joined the Poroshenko Bloc. Oleksandr Bryhynets and Dmytro Belotserkovets replaced Yegor Firsov and Mykola Tomenko, two ex-members of the faction who were expelled from the Verkhovna Rada in controversial circumstances on March 28.

                                On the same day, the scandalous Oleh Barna returned to the Poroshenko Bloc. He was expelled from the faction after he awkwardly attempted to lift and pull Yatsenyuk from the parliament’s tribune as the prime minister was delivering his annual report on Dec. 11, 2015.

                                Next, several lawmakers joined the Poroshenko Bloc in an even more questionable way.

                                The three lawmakers who were expelled from Samopomich faction in 2015 joined the president’s faction on March 30 and March 31: Iryna Suslova, Pavlo Kyshkar and Viktor Kryvenko. The move was apparently unconstitutional.

                                Suslova was kicked out of Samopomich after she supported Viktor Shokin in a vote that made him Ukraine’s prosecutor general in February 2015. Kyshkar and Kryvenko were expelled after they voted for the changes to constitution on decentralization, another vote that Samopomich did not support.

                                Sergii Leshchenko, a lawmaker with the Poroshenko Bloc, lashed out at the faction’s leadership, saying that ex-members of Samopomich were brought to faction with the violations.

                                He and other critics cite the Constitution Court ruling from 2008 that said that a lawmaker elected on a party list has to stay in the faction of this party.

                                Kyshkar told the Kyiv Post that he understood that after this move his political career is over. However, he added, it was worth doing, as this is a chance to prevent the early parliamentary elections that Ukraine might face if the new coalition is not formed soon.

                                The previous coalition started falling apart after Batkivshchyna and Samopomich left it following the failed no-confidence vote on Yatsenyuk’s Cabinet on Feb. 16.

                                No harm in trying
                                After the Poroshenko Bloc lost hope to attract Radical Party and Batkivshchyna due to their unrealistic demands, it made an attempt to lure Samopomich, a faction of 26 lawmakers.

                                During the joint meeting of the two factions on March 31, the Poroshenko Bloc said it would meet the conditions set up by Samopomich in exchange for their signatures under the new coalition agreement.

                                With Samopomich, the coalition would reach 248 members.

                                Earlier Samopomich repeatedly required that the new independent prosecutor general is elected and transparent election legislation is adopted.

                                Olena Sotnyk, a lawmaker with Samopomich, told the Kyiv Post her faction did not agree. In her words, they could support the new coalition in its further moves, but “we’ve already been in coalition with them, the people did not change.”

                                According to Leshchenko, now the two biggest factions will “lure people in and form a coalition for two.” Coalition for two

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