Estonian foreign minister, in leaked phone call, raises suspicions about Ukraine’s new government and sniper killings

March 5, 2014, 9:18 p.m. | Ukraine — by Brian Bonner, Katya Gorchinskaya

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Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

A leaked conversation between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton relays explosive suspicions that the same snipers are responsible for the Feb. 18-20 killings of both EuroMaidan demonstrators and police officers.

Paet goes further by raising the possibility that the gunmen may have been working for supporters of Ukraine’s new interim government, not ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, and that Ukraine’s current rulers are not interested in fully investigating who is behind the killings of some 90 people in the three-day period.

Paet also says that civil society leaders of EuroMaidan Revolution distrust the new Ukrainian government because they are tainted by corruption and have “a dirty past.”

He relays suspicions of coalition government involvement in the sniper killings after a conversation he had with Dr. Olga Bohomolets, a physician who attended to dead and wounded EuroMaidan protesters and who recently refused a ministerial appointment in the new government.

“What was disturbing is that the same snipers …killed people on both sides. She (Bohomolets) showed me some photos. She said that as a medical doctor she could tell it was the same handwriting, the same type of bullets and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened,” Paet tells Ashton. “There is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych. It was somebody from the new coalition.”

The authenticity of the Feb. 25 telephone conversation was confirmed to the Kyiv Post by Estonian Ambassador to Ukraine Sulev Kannike, speaking by telephone from Tallinn, the Estonian capital.

Bohomolets, however, did not respond to a phone call or text message seeking comment. However, the London Telegraph reported on March 5 that Bohomolets did not tell Kannike. “I think you can only say something like this on the basis of fact,” the London newspaer quoted her as saying. “It’s not correct and it’s not good to do this. It should be based on fact.”

Kannike, Estonia’s ambassador to Ukraine, said that the 11-minute conversation took place on Feb. 25 while Paet was in Tallinn and Ashton was in Brussels, the European Union’s administrative capital.

“Unfortunately, it’s true. Yeah. That’s fact-based,” Kannike said. “We are doing damage control.”

Kannike, however, cautioned against reaching conclusions based on one telephone conversation and said that Paet’s relayed suspicions do not represent any official Estonian position. He said it’s possible that “a third party” is responsible for the killings, making it all the more important for authorities to identify the killers and form who they were working.

He also suggested that Russia was behind the eavesdropping because he didn’t think that Ukrainian secret services had the capability to tap phones in Tallinn. The other possibility, Kannike said, is that the eavesdropping occurred on Ashton’s end in Brussels, the administration capital of the European Union.

Kannike said that another reason for his suspicion of Russian involvement is that the story broke in Russian news agencies first and distorted parts of the conversation, which was conducted in English.

Nataliya Lysova, a spokeswoman for Batkivshchyna Party member of parliament Hryrihory Nemyria, said “it’s nonsense, that’s all I can say,” regarding suspicions that former opposition leaders now in power or EuroMaidan Revolution leadesr swould have anything to do with murder of anyone, especially fellow protesters.

Interior Minister Arseniy Avakov in Kharkiv on March 5 raised suspicions that a third party – neither Yanukovych nor the opposition leaders – was involved in the shootings. Especially after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, speculation about Russian involvement in the deadly shootings has increased.

“The full recording is also available in English,” Kannike said, so the public “can track and check what the minister actually said.” 

The Paet-Ashton exchanges marks the second leaked conversation in the last 31 days between high-level Western officials discussing Ukraine. The first came with the leaked Feb. 4 conversation between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt, who were discussing the strengths and weaknesses of then-oppositon political leaders. The conversation is most famous for Nuland’s blurting out “you know, fuck the EU!” in frustration with the 28-nation bloc’s inaction in solving Ukraine’s crisis. 

A Feb. 25 conversation between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton contains explosive suspicions that the same snipers were behind the killings of dozen of EuroMaidan demonstrators and police from Feb. 18-20. 

Here is a partial transcript of the conversation:

Paet: “Impressions are sad…my impression is that there is not trust towards those politicians in those coalition from people on Maidan and the civil society. They say they know all these people, and these people have a dirty past, that they made some proposals to the same Olga (Bohomolets) and some other from civil society to join the new government. Olga, for example, she says directly that she is ready to go to the government only in the case if she can take with her her team, foreign experts to start real healthcare reforms. I thought, basically, that the trust level is absolutely low. On the other hand, all these security problems, integrity problems, Crimea – all this stuff. Regions Party was absolutely upset. They say they accept that there will be a new government, there will be extraordinary elections, but there is enormous pressure against members of parliament, there are uninvited visitors to party members. Some journalists … saw during the day that one member of parliament was beaten in front of the parliament building by these guys with guns on the streets. All this mess is still there, and of course, this Olga and others from civil society were absolutely sure that people will not leave the streets before they see that the real reforms will start. It’s not enough that just have a change of government. This is the main impression from EU’s and Estonia’s point of view. We should get ready to put together a financial package, also together with others. A clear message is needed: it’s not enough that there is change of government, that there is real reforms and real action (needed) to increase the level of trust, otherwise it will end badly. The Regions Party is saying that we will see that people from the eastern parts of the country will wake up and start to demand their rights. Some people also admit there were in Donetsk, where people said well, we can’t wait how long still will the occupation will last in Donetsk, that it’s a real Russian city and they would like to see Russia will take over…short impressions.”

Ashton: “…very, very interesting…we’re working on packages short, medium and long term, everything from how we’d get money in quickly, how we spoke with IMF and how we would get investment packages from business leaders and so on…

(Ashton said that on the political side, where the resources are short, she offered Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk and everyone she spoke to in the Ukrainian government as much expert assistance as is needed to conduct economic reform.)

“The countries that are closest to Ukraine have all been through dramatic changes, and have done big political and economic reform. We’ve got loads of experience to give to Ukraine, which we’re happy to give. I’ve said to people on Maidan: Yes, you want real reform, but you’ve got to get through the short-term first. You need to find a way in which you can establish a process that would have anti-corruption at its heart, will have people working alongside until the elections, and that you can be comfortable in the process.

“I said to Olga: you may not the health minister now, but you need to think about becoming health minister in the future because people like you are going to be needed to make sure that it will all happen. But I’ve also said to them that if you simply barricade the buildings now, and the government doesn’t function, we cannot get money in. We need a partner to partner with.

“And I’ve said to the opposition leaders shortly to become the government, that you need to reach out to Maidan, and you need to be engaging with them. You also need to get the ordinary police officers onto the streets under the new sense of their role so that people feel safe.

“I said to the Party of Regions people, you have to go and lay flowers to where people have died. You have to show you understand what has happened here. Because what you’re experiencing is anger of people who have seen the way that Yanukovych lived and the corruption, and they assume they’re all the same.

“And also know people who have lost people, and they feel he ordered that to happen. There is quite a lot of shock, I think, in the city, a lot of sadness and shock, and that is going to come out in a lot of strange ways if nothing is done about it. I think all of us will have to work on this. We have a big meeting here today to try and get this into play.Yeah, it’s very interesting, your observations.”

Paet: (Paet said that the only person who got a lot of positive mentions from the Maidan and civil society people was former Minister Petro Poroshenko, who has a lot of trust.)

“Second, what was quite disturbing is that the same Olg shwow all the evidence shows that the same snipers …killed people on both sides… she also showed me some photos. She said that as a medical doctor she could tell it was the same handwriting, the same type of bullets and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened. There is now a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not (ousted President Viktor) Yanukovych, but that it was somebody from the new coalition.”

(Paet said it was very disturbing that the new government was discredited from the very start.)

Ashton: ”…I think they do want to investigate…They also the need to let the Rada function. If the Rada doesn’t function, it will be complete chaos. Being an activist and a doctor is very, very important, but if it means you’re not a politician.”

Kyiv Post chief editor Brian Bonner can be reached at bribonner@gmail.com.

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