Aivaras Abromavicius, who resigned on February 3 from his position as Ukraine’s economy minister, citing “the sharp escalation in efforts to block systemic and important reforms.”

Ukraine’s economy minister resigns over stalled reforms

Poroshenko: Abromavicius should stay on
Ukraine’s minister of economic development and trade abruptly resigned on February 3, citing obstacles to change and raising concerns about the war-torn country’s ability to institute sweeping reforms and rebound economically. Lithuanian-born Aivaras Abromavicius announced on February 3 that he had submitted his resignation due to “the sharp escalation in efforts to block systemic and important reforms.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, reacting that same day to Mr. Abromavicius’s resignation, said that the economy minister should stay at his post and push ahead with reforms.

Announcing that he was submitting his resignation, Mr. Abromavicius said in a statement to reporters that he had “no wish to be a cover for open corruption or puppets under the control of those who want to establish control over state money in the style of the old authorities.”

He singled out Ihor Kononenko, a senior lawmaker close to President Petro Poroshenko, saying Mr. Kononenko had lobbied to get his people appointed to head state companies and at top government positions. Mr. Kononenko rejected the allegations as “completely absurd” and accused Mr. Abromavicius of trying to shift the blame for his own failures atop the Economy Ministry. “I would like to make clear that each and every member of this Cabinet for the last 14 months has been doing everything in their power and sometimes even more,” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a Cabinet meeting. One of three foreign-born ministers

Mr. Abromavicius, a 40-year-old former asset manager, was one of several foreigners appointed to official posts as part of Ukraine’s attempts to pull the country away from its Soviet past, recover from Russia’s seizure of Crimea and kick-start a reform process. Continue Reading

Halychyna councils oppose self-governance for the Donbas

KYIV – The Lviv Oblast Council and Ternopil City Council voted on January 27 to submit appeals to the Verkhovna Rada, expressing their opposition to the establishment of local self-governance for the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Their appeals argue that approving the constitutional amendments – which besides conditions for decentralization would also set the foundation for the Donbas “specific procedures of local self-governance,” also commonly called “special status” – would bring Russian-backed terrorists to power in a legalized autonomous enclave that will be used by Moscow to further subvert independence. “For the defense of the interests of Ukraine and Ukrainians, we call upon you to take the historic decision of not voting, under any circumstance, for the constitutional amendments for the Donbas special status, or whatever you call it,” stated the appeal of the Lviv Oblast Council, as reported by the UNIAN news agency. “Beneath the beautiful veneer of words is hidden its true, cruel and Satanic essence hidden from society – to legalize the occupiers, whose boots are stomping upon the holy land of Ukraine.”

Their appeals join a growing chorus of pro-Western Ukrainians who oppose the establishment of Donbas local self-governance – widely considered to be de facto autonomy – which is being actively pursued by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at the behest of Western governments. They are led by French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who have urged Mr. Poroshenko to approve local self-governance as part of the Normandy format negotiations involving Russian President Vladimir Putin. Continue Reading

A resignation with ramifications

KYIV – It came as no surprise that President Petro Poroshenko met with Aivaras Abromavicius within hours of his resignation on February 3 to convince him to remain as minister of economic development and trade. Mr. Abromavicius is merely the latest Western-backed reformer to go public with complaints about corruption in the government, but he stands out as the most prominent, given his success as an investment banker. And the president knows that if Mr. Abromavicius goes, his standing in the West suffers, analysts said. “A president with an approval rating in free fall can ill afford offending the Western leaders who provided the diplomatic and financial support to keep Ukraine alive over the past two years,” said Brian Mefford, a non-resident senior fellow at the Eurasia Center of the Atlantic Council who works as a consultant in Ukraine. The reaction from the West was immediate. Continue Reading

Canada’s foreign minister responds to Lavrov remarks on ‘rabid’ diaspora

OTTAWA – Noting that he was looking ahead to improved relations with the new Canadian government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov on January 26 complained of the previous government’s cooperation with “rabid representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.”

At a press conference in Moscow on Russia’s diplomatic performance in 2015, Mr. Lavrov stated: “We were surprised by the total lack of any pragmatism in the impulsive actions taken by the previous government, which took the course, as you can understand, of blindly following the demands of rabid representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.”

The next day, in Canada’s House of Commons, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion admonished the Russian foreign affairs minister and underscored Canada’s strong and unwavering commitment to Ukraine and the Ukrainian Canadian community. He spoke in response to a question from Member of Parliament Borys Wrzesnewskyj (Etobicoke Center, Ontario), who said: “Mr. Speaker, by militarily invading and annexing Crimea, and by continuously sending soldiers and lethal military equipment into the Donbas, the Kremlin has not only violated European borders, but has also broken international agreements on the sanctity of borders. Recently, the prime minister made clear Canada’s position to Russia’s president. Can the foreign affairs minister share with this House the government’s position on Russia’s continued illegal occupation of Ukrainian territory?”

Minister Dion responded: “Mr. Speaker, the travelling I have been planning for a while to Ukraine will be four days from now. I am so pleased to go to Ukraine to express to the government of Ukraine the steadfast support of Canada for Ukraine, how much we deeply disagree with the invasion and interference of the Russian government in Ukraine, and also how much we will not tolerate from a Russian minister any insults against the community.”

Mr. Dion traveled to Ukraine on January 31-February 1, and met with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin. Continue Reading

Crimea’s annexation by Russia returns to Kyiv’s international agenda

Up to now, the shaky ceasefire in Ukraine’s Donbas region has mostly continued to hold (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, January 21). And thus, the Crimean peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in early 2014, has returned near the top of Kyiv’s international agenda. Following the severance of Ukraine’s economic ties with occupied Crimea late last year, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has proceeded to drum up international support for the peninsula’s eventual return. So far, there has been little reaction from Moscow, which is currently bogged down in Syria in addition to being preoccupied with falling global oil prices. Therefore, this may be a good moment for Kyiv to mount diplomatic pressure over Crimea on both Moscow and the West to prevent the lifting of sanctions against Russia. Continue Reading

Newsbriefs

Dion on Canada’s unwavering support 

OTTAWA – Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion visited Ukraine on January 31-February 1, meeting with Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as well as representatives of civil society, parliamentarians and government officials. Canada’s Department of Global Affairs noted: “Minister Dion reiterated the need for the full respect of Ukraine’s sovereignty and underlined the importance of full implementation of the Minsk agreements, particularly by Russia, to ensure a durable peace in Ukraine. Minister Dion also made it clear that the Canadian government intends to speak clearly, bluntly and directly to Russia about its unacceptable actions in Ukraine. Minister Dion expressed Canada’s strong desire to see Ukraine persevere in its democratic transformation and flourish as a strong and prosperous partner of Canada’s.” According to the department’s release, Minister Dion stated, “I am moved by the resilience and resolve of the Ukrainian people. Canada stands firmly with Ukraine and will continue to support the country’s enduring right to sovereignty, freedom and democracy.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress)

Pentagon seeks $3.4 B to counter Russia

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon will request $3.4 billion next year for additional troops and training to counter “Russia’s aggression,” a fourfold increase from the current fiscal year that reflects administration and allied worries about Moscow’s intentions in Europe. Continue Reading

Confrontation with the West becomes personal for Putin – and inescapable

Reporting in the Western media that the United States government was linking Russian President Vladimir Putin to corruption has rocked Russian domestic politics. Specifically, a recent BBC documentary carried remarks to this effect by Acting U.S. Treasury Department Undersecretary Adam J. Szubin, who heads the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (Slon.ru, January 26). The real shock came, however, when the White House rather matter-of-factly confirmed Mr. Szubin’s stated opinion that the Russian president was personally involved in shady deals (Kommersant, January 29). Mr. Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov called these allegations “unacceptable,” as well as “outrageous and insulting” (RIA Novosti, January 29), while Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, described the accusations as “fanciful and rude” and complained about a “deliberate escalation of tensions” coming from Washington (Newsru.com, January 29). The resonance of this scandal is bolstered by the fact that it exploded only a week after British judge Sir Robert M. Owen announced the conclusion of the United Kingdom’s investigation into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, which established that Mr. Putin himself had “probably” ordered it (Ezhednevny Zhurnal, January 22). Continue Reading

Vilnius at 25: What the West and the Russians have forgotten

Lithuanians and all those who love freedom around the world are remembering what happened in Vilnius a quarter of a century ago: the brutal killing by Soviet forces of 13 peaceful Lithuanians at the TV tower, an act that accelerated the drive to the recovery of Baltic independence and to the destruction of what was truly an evil empire. It is important to recall what happened on January 13, 1991, and especially the courage of Vytautas Landsbergis and thousands of ordinary Lithuanians in standing up to a brutal system and claiming their right to freedom and independence. But it may be equally important for the future to remember what both the West and many Russians appear to have forgotten. Not the details of those now long-ago events (those will always slip from memory with time) but rather two underlying realities that most Western leaders and populations and most Russians now seem committed to forgetting, realities that the deaths at the television tower should compel both to remember – and even more, to act upon. What the West has forgotten is precisely what the Vilnius events underscored: the Cold War, in which the Western powers had been engaged for more than 40 years, was not simply about overthrowing the Communist dictatorship. Continue Reading

“The Minsk agreements, negotiated over two rounds in September 2014 and February 2015, were supposed to signal the way out of the ‘Ukrainian crisis,’ in which Russia-backed separatists sought to overrun eastern Ukraine and bring it under Russian sovereignty. The problem is that what’s happening isn’t a crisis of Ukraine’s making but the result of military, economic and political aggression against it from Moscow. …

“The Minsk agreements contain requirements for both the Ukrainian side and the separatists and Russia. These encompass matters of security such as the truce, the withdrawal of heavy armor, and open access to members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). There is also a political dimension, which calls for decentralization and the holding of local elections. Continue Reading