Flight PS752, 2020 forecast and more – Weekly Update on Ukraine #1, 6-12 January

Situation in the combat zone

Russia-backed militants keep violating the ceasefire. They fired upon the Ukrainian troops’ positions from Minsk-proscribed 122-mm artillery, 120-mm mortars as well as from grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and small arms.

Russia’s proxies fired upon the Joint Forces’ positions near Khutir Vilnyi – in the area of responsibility of “Pivnich” (North) operational-tactic command.

On January 11 Russia-backed militants fired three 120-mm mortar rounds upon Ukrainian troops’ positions outside Krasnohorivka. They also fired three times from automatic grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and small arms upon the Joint Forces’ positions near Pisky, in the area of responsibility of “Skhid” (East) operational-tactic command.

Flight PS752: what is now happening at the crash site

The crash site now.Ukrainian rescue workers examined the debris of the Boeing operated by Ukraine International Airlines at the crash site outside Tehran. Part of the rescue workers are returning back home to Ukraine.  

In a comment to “Radio Svoboda” (Radio Liberty) Head of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov said: “The search and rescue team examined the plane debris on an open-air site. The wreckage was being cleared from dirt and organized in rows. Luggage and personal belongings were being collected separately, additional lighting was provided for the search work. A team of experts that included rescue workers was recreating the plane’s hull from the debris.”

The Head of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine also said that some of Ukrainian experts who worked on the crash site of the Boeing 737-800 NG operated by Ukraine International Airlines are returning back from Iran. “Part of our experts that are no longer needed on the ground – our rescue workers who have all their work done, are returning to Ukraine. They’ve crossed the border and we have done everything for them to return safely. Those who need to stay – all involved in the investigation, DNA examination and forensic analysis are staying.”

What happened earlier: key facts on the tragedy. The PS752 flight Tehran-Kyiv operated by Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) crashed in Iran in the morning on January 8. There were 167 passengers and nine crew members on board, all 176 persons were killed.

Victims included citizens from seven countries: 82 were from Iran, 57 from Canada, 10 from Sweden, four from Afghanistan, three from Germany, three from the UK and 11 from Ukraine including two passengers and nine crew members.

On January 11 Iran officially admitted it accidentally brought down the UAI aircraft with a missile.

In a statement the President of Iran Hasan Rouhani said his country “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake”. He also said actions by the military that led to the downing of the Ukrainian aircraft will be investigated.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) took the responsibility for downing the Ukrainian aircraft outside Tehran.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) aerospace commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh said Iran’s air defense system had mistakenly identified the Ukrainian plane as a cruise missile.

A detailed look at the reasons of the plane crash. The Boeing 737-800 NG of Ukraine International Airlines was downed due to human error, Iranian television channel “Press TV” said. Iranian media released excerpts of a report by the Armed Forces of Iran that quotes military experts working separately from their civil aviation colleagues finding that the Ukrainian aircraft was shot down when Iran’s air defense system was on full combat alert facing the risk of attacks by the US. Shortly before the crash Iranian military recorded the US Air Force being active near Iran. It resulted from Iran’s missile attack on Iraqi bases housing US troops.

Statements by Ukraine International Airlines. The Ukraine International Airlines flight bound for Kyiv, Ukraine took off at the Tehran airport in accordance with all rules, it made no deviations from the route, said Ihor Sosnovsky, UIA Vice President Operations. He said the plane crew made no mistakes contrary to what had been said.

UAI will pay all insurance payouts and compensations to families of the passengers killed in the PS752 flight crash in accordance with international rules, UAI President Yevhen Dykhne said at the briefing at “Boryspil” international airport in Kyiv on January 11.

Statements by President Zelenskyi. The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi had a telephone conversation with the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani, the call was initiated by the latter. The Iranian President reassured the President of Ukraine that all responsible for downing of the plane will be held liable and that the Ukrainian expert group will be given all necessary support to ensure further efficient legal and technical cooperation. “Rouhani condoled with the Ukrainian people and families of the PS752 flight victims (…). The Iranian side apologized for the tragedy that claimed 176 lives. Head of the Islamic Republic of Iran fully admits that the tragedy happened due to erroneous actions of their military,” the press service of Ukraine’s President reported on January 11.

In the telephone call with President Rouhani, President Zelenskyi insisted that Ukrainian victims should be identified and their remains brought to Ukraine the soonest possible, all responsible for the tragedy must be held liable.

In his address to Ukrainians made on January 11 President Zelenskyi said: “In these hard days I would like to say the following. I will bring back all victims to their families. They will be able to duly pay their last respects. We will commemorate them with dignity. All guilty will be held liable.”

US sanctions against Iran. TheUS expands its sanctions against Iran introducing sectoral restrictive measures as well as sanctions against Iran’s iron and steel producers. The news came from Steven Mnuchin, the US Secretary of the Treasury. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Gholamreza Soleimani, the Commander of the Basij, and six other senior officials were sanctioned by the US in response to the missile attack on Iraqi bases carried out by Iran.

TheUS President Donald Trump said that new sanctions on Iran will produce a negative impact on Iran’s economy. “I have issued an Executive Order authorizing the imposition of sanctions against any individual or entity operating in the construction, manufacturing, textiles, or mining sectors of the Iranian economy or anyone assisting those who engage in this sanctioned conduct. This order will have a major impact on the Iranian economy, authorizing powerful secondary sanctions on foreign financial institutions,” President Trump said.

The House of Representatives passed a resolution by majority of votes limiting President Trump’s ability to use military action against Iran without congressional approval. The exception outlined in the resolution is the use of the armed forces if “necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack upon the United States.” The document does not have the power of a law and does not require the President’s signature in case it is approved by the Senate.

Opinion polling: the 2020 forecast

In a comment to Radio Liberty scientific director of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation Oleksiy Haran shared his forecast for the year 2020.

What will happen to President Zelenskyi, the government and the Parliament? “According to the new law, elections will be held on the proportional basis. In the last election ‘Sluha Narodu’ (Servant of the People) party scored 43 per cent, I guess they will score less in the present situation. Elections are always unpredictable. Approval rating of the authorities is objectively falling in any case. I think it is unlikely that Zelenskyi will be risking.

He succeeds in keeping his rating high, not least by means of populist decisions that we have been witnessing lately.

It will be hard to keep holding his rating high as he will need to make unpopular decisions, for example, on the land market.”

Actual reforms coming? “Authoritiesdo have accomplishments. The question is if they are going to listen to the demands of experts and of the civil society. For what it takes the land we see that the authorities have slowed down. They see the protests that are justly happening, and the law was not passed in the high-speed mode. If they keep listening and there is a dialogue, it will be right.

At the same time I don’t expect such openness in the future, because we see how some decisions and appointments are made. There are political persecutions, the Sheremet case is also very illustrative. The question is if the authorities are going to stick to the law or not.”

Are mass protests to be expected? “(The probability of) mass protests is 16 per cent (percentage of Ukrainians who expect mass protests in their cities, according to an opinion poll by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation). Sixteen per cent also claimed ready to take part in such protests. It comes obvious that they are a minority, but active minority should be enough for serious protests.

Some illegal actions by the authorities may cause mass protests. If the Sheremet case is falling apart or there is a move to discredit the veterans and the military while the arguments by the authorities will turn to be a failure and will fall apart in court, it is possible. Mass protests can also come as a response to economic failures: the land reform, (increased pressure on) registered entrepreneurs natural persons (FOP) and, definitely, should they give in to Russia.”