Ukraine: Daily Briefing – November 30, 2017, 6 PM Kyiv time

Ukraine: Daily Briefing
November 30, 2017, 6 PM Kyiv time
Ukrainian Armed Forces and Canadian Armed Forces medic during Operation UNIFIER first aid training. Photo – Joint Task Force -Ukraine
1. Russian Invasion of Ukraine
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces reported at 12:30 PM Kyiv time that in the last 24 hours, no Ukrainian soldiers were killed or wounded in action. In the last 24 hours, Russian-terrorist forces opened fire on Ukrainian positions on the Luhansk, Donetsk and Mariupol sectors of the front 18 times in total, including at least 5 times with heavy weapons.
2. “Court” in Russian-occupied Crimea extends illegal detention of Ukrainian political prisoner Volodymyr Balukh
Volodymyr Balukh, illegally imprisoned in Russian-occupied Crimea. Photo – RFE/RL
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) reported, “A court in Russian-occupied Crimea has yet again extended the detention of Volodymyr Balukh, despite the clear illegality of the move even according to Russian law, Balukh’s serious health issues and the fact that his elderly and nearly blind mother has been left without any support.  Russia’s revenge for the Ukrainian flag on Balukh’s home and his unwavering opposition to annexation is effectively unconcealed, with the lawlessness presumably intended as a warning to others.
           Balukh has already been in detention for well over 11 months, despite the deeply flawed nature of the charges against him and the High Court ruling on October 2 which overturned his conviction and 3.7 year sentence.  He was recognized as a political prisoner by both Ukrainian human rights groups and the Russian Memorial Human Rights Centre within two months of his arrest, and the refusal to release him following the High Court ruling has been viewed as yet more proof of the political nature of the prosecution.
          Balukh’s lawyer, Olga Dinze has no illusions about any possibility of an acquittal.  She says that the original sentence was revoked only because the defence complained to the High Court about the judge who had taken part in both earlier proceedings against Balukh, and in the case appealed.  The High Court therefore ordered a ‘retrial’, however the prosecution’s indictment remains the same, and Balukh is still imprisoned. […]
          Balukh himself spoke of the excruciating pain he is suffering in detention due to a serious medical condition which has been aggravated by the conditions in detention and by the failure to provide him with any medical care.  He said that he would regard the refusal to release him as evidence of deliberate action aimed at physically eliminating him.  The previous hearing had needed to be adjourned and Balukh taken to hospital, yet he was still returned to the detention unit. […]
           While Volodymyr says that he could not have acted any other way and that it’s better to die standing, than to go down on his knees, he is clearly tormented with remorse at the suffering he has caused his mother, and the fact that he is not there to help her.  Natalya Balukh is 75, can scarcely see and is in ill-health yet is now forced to tend to her small farm by herself.  […]
          Volodymyr Balukh was arrested on Dec 8, 2016 after an unexplained search which allegedly found 90 bullets and several trotyl explosive devices in his attic.  He had no record of violence and the constant searches and harassment he had faced since Russia’s invasion of Crimea for his openly pro-Ukrainian position made it inconceivable that he could have held anything illegal in his home.  The full report from KHPG is available here
3. US Navy boosts patrols in Black Sea region
USS James Williams arrives in Odesa. Photo – Stars and Stripes

Stars and Stripes reported on November 29, “The USS James E. Williams sailed into the Black Sea this week, the second U.S. warship in the past three months to patrol a region where fighting has increased. […]
         Another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the USS Porter, completed a similar mission in August. The current patrol demonstrates the Navy’s more frequent presence in the Black Sea, where its ships once visited sporadically. […]
Destroyers are there to augment allied defenses and protect waters of economic and military importance, officials said.
         Besides its security patrol, the destroyer crew will train with the Ukrainian and Turkish navies, said Capt. Tate Westbrook, who oversees ships in the Sixth Fleet theater.
         ‘These multinational operations improve our ability to operate together in this very strategic part of the world,’ Westbrook said.
          Some analysts say Washington must maintain a military presence in the region to assure allies concerned about Russian military activities. […]
          As the USS Williams approached the Black Sea on Saturday, a Russian interceptor flew within 50 feet of a Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol jet, creating turbulence that tilted the Poseidon. The incident, which military officials described as dangerous and unprofessional, underscored tensions between the two militaries. […]
          Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said that countering Russian aggression against Ukraine is vital in maintaining the region’s stability.”

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