KYIV – President Petro Poroshenko urged the leaders of the G-7 group of industrialized nations to maintain sanctions against Russia for illegally taking over Crimea and for waging war in the Donbas.
Due to Russia’s persistent warmongering, there are “no grounds for the EU to cancel or ease economic and sectoral sanctions against the Russian Federation,” Mr. Poroshenko said during a telephone conversation with European Council President Donald Tusk ahead of the G-7 summit taking place on May 26-27 in Sicily, Italy.
KYIV – Ukraine commemorated the victims of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s mass deportation of Tatars from Crimea in 1944. A minute of silence was observed at noon on May 18 across the country – except in Crimea, which Russia seized in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum boycotted by many Crimean Tatars. In the Crimean capital, Symferopol, the Russian-imposed authorities prohibited Crimean Tatars from gathering in the central square to mark the anniversary of deportation. Several activists were detained and later released. In Kyiv, by contrast, church bells tolled for a minute to pay tribute to the victims of the deportation.
ByChristopher Guly / Special to The Ukrainian Weekly |
Ukrainian Canadian lawmakers are key players in bill’s progress
OTTAWA – Canada is closer to enacting Magnitsky-style legislation after Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, a Ukrainian Canadian, announced last week that the Liberal government would support a bill sponsored by Ukrainian Canadian Conservative Sen. Raynell Andreychuk that targets global human rights abuses and foreign corruption. Bill S-226, the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law) that Sen. Andreychuk introduced in the upper chamber last May, would freeze assets and impose travel bans on foreign nationals responsible for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. The private member’s bill is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer who uncovered the largest tax-refund fraud in Russian history that unwittingly involved Hermitage Capital Management, a company run by Chicago-born, hedge-fund manager Bill Browder. His tragic story inspired countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, to create Magnitsky laws that impose sanctions for human rights abuses and foreign corruption. The Canadian version won’t just target Russia, but will have a “global application,” said Ukrainian Canadian Member of Parliament James Bezan, who represents a Manitoba riding for the opposition Conservatives in the House of Commons, and who sponsored Sen. Andreychuk’s bill in the House, where it was debated on May 19.
KYIV – Censorship and a blow to freedom of expression, or a long-overdue move in defense of national security? President Petro Poroshenko’s blanket ban in Ukraine on several Russian Internet services, including leading Russian-language social networks and a popular search engine, has struck a chord – or a nerve, depending on whom you ask. The ban, based on recommendations of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) put forth in April and issued on May 16 by presidential decree, immediately triggered a wave of criticism from human rights groups and journalists, who claimed it was undemocratic. Meanwhile, many Ukrainians – particularly from the government and security apparatuses – heralded it as a long overdue step to combat Russian instruments of information warfare amid a bloody shooting war with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Specifically, the decree orders Internet service providers (ISPs) to block public access for three years to the Mail.ru group and its social-networking sites, VK (formerly VKontakte) and Odnoklassniki – the top two in Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials have announced a criminal investigation into Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and his secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, for the mass deportation of Muslim Tatars from the Crimean Peninsula during World War II, which killed tens of thousands. The investigation, announced on May 18 by the Prosecutor General’s Office, is the latest effort by Ukraine’s leadership to reopen painful chapters of the country’s Soviet history, including the 1930s-era famine that killed millions of Ukrainians. The probe will likely further irk the Kremlin, which has sought to burnish Soviet history particularly since the 2014 mass protests in Ukraine that paved the way for a pro-Western government. The protests led to Moscow annexing Crimea, which had been home to ethnic Tatars for centuries. The Crimean Tatar community has resisted the annexation, and Russia authorities have stepped up political repression against outspoken activists.
The visit of Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov to Washington on May 10 to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as President Donald Trump in the White House was seen in Moscow as the beginning of the long-awaited defrosting of previously ice-cold relations. Federation Council Foreign Relations Committee Chair Konstantin Kosachev praised the decision by Mr. Trump to receive Mr. Lavrov “the same way Putin received Tillerson in the Kremlin” as a sign the Trump administration is ready to treat Moscow as an equal. According to Mr. Kosachev, the possible involvement of Russia in the United States’ presidential elections was not discussed during Mr. Lavrov’s visit, “because there is nothing to discuss.” The tumult in the US press about the presence of a TASS news agency photographer in the Oval Office, together with Mr. Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who accompanied him, was dismissed in Moscow as an attempt by the anti-Trump American media to make a story out of nothing (Interfax, May 12). According to the chair of the Duma Foreign Relations Committee, Leonid Slutskiy, the meeting in the Oval Office may pave the way for a productive Putin-Trump summit in July in Hamburg, at the coming G-20 summit. “Constructive relations with America can be built,” continued Mr. Slutskiy, “first of all in fighting terrorism in Syria” (Militarynews.ru, May 10).
TORONTO – Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) President Eugene Czolij on May 1 participated in a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the UWC in Poland organized by the UWC member organization Union of Ukrainians in Poland. Mr. Czolij delivered the keynote address during the commemoration held at the National Home in Przemysl (Peremyshl), which had been confiscated by the Polish Communist regime in 1947 during Akcja Wisla and returned in 2011 to the Ukrainian community by Polish governing authorities. Presenting a historical overview of the UWC, Mr. Czolij focused on the many achievements of the organization throughout its 50-year history, including the UWC’s efforts to secure the return of the National Home to the Ukrainian community in Poland. He also called upon Ukrainians in Poland to continue working with the UWC and the Ukrainian diaspora in supporting Ukraine in the defense of its territorial integrity. The UWC president acknowledged volunteers in the Ukrainian community in Poland with certificates of recognition for their contributions to the development of Ukrainian community life in Poland.
PHOENIX – The words displayed on the university lecturer’s screen were chilling, particularly to those personally affected by the ongoing Russian assault against Ukraine: “The very rules of war have changed. The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power and force of conventional weapons. A perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe and civil war.”
The quoted words were those of Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation. The speaker was Prof. Braden Allenby and the topic, presented on April 25 at Arizona State University’s Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies under the leadership of Prof. Mark von Hagen, was “Weaponized Narratives: Civilizational Conflict and the Russian-Ukrainian War.”
Prof. Allenby, an international conflict expert who is a professor of law and of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering at Arizona State University’s Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, is also founding co-director of the Weaponized Narrative Initiative of the Center for the Future of War, a partnership between Arizona State University and the independent think tank New America. “Weaponized narrative” is defined as a new form of warfare, pioneered by Vladimir Putin’s Russia and now directed at both the U.S. and Ukraine that, in the words of Prof. Allenby and co-director Joel Garreau, “seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity and will by generating complexity, confusion and political social schisms.”
“Weaponized narrative” campaigns, in their view, achieve significant benefits for Russia at a relatively low risk of conventional military response by the West, which has reacted ineffectively through entities such as NATO and the European Union.
WASHINGTON – On May 3, the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation organized an event marking World Press Freedom Day, an annual international observance established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. On this date, the global community celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, assesses press freedom around the world, recommits to defending the independence of news media and honors journalists killed in the line of duty. The keynote speaker at the USUF event was Roman Popadiuk, the first U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and a deputy press secretary in the White House during the Reagan and Bush presidencies. Ambassador Popadiuk discussed the crucial role of journalists in a democratic society and shared some highlights from his days in government as the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukrainians established their independence. The event included an awards ceremony recognizing about two dozen Washington-area journalists from the Voice of America, The Ukrainian Weekly, 1+1 TV, the Ukrinform New Agency, the Atlantic Council’s “Ukraine Alert” and other media, for their “exceptional dedication in covering U.S.-Ukrainian relations.”
The awardees were Yaro Bihun (The Ukrainian Weekly), Melinda Haring (the Atlantic Council’s “Ukraine Alert”), Natalka Pisnya (1+1 TV), Yaroslav Dovgopol (Ukrinform), Daria Dieguts (Ukraina TV), Dmytro Anopchenko (Inter TV) and these journalists from the Voice of America: Zorislav Baydyuk, Anya Dydyk-Petrenko, Alina Golinata-Slota, Kostiantyn Golubchyk, Myroslava Gongadze, Ihor Hulawyj, Iuliia Iarmolenko, Tetiana Kharchenko, Oleksiy Kuzmenko, Ouliana Leeuwenburgh, Yuriy Mamon, Iryna Matviichuk, Mariia Moiseieva, Ruslan Petrychka, Mariia Prus, Nataliya Leonova Robert, Dmytro Savchuk, Tatiana Vorozhko, Elona Voytovych and Alex Yanevsky.
LOS ANGELES – The recently renovated Ukrainian Culture Center – the pride of Los Angeles’ Ukrainian community – held its yearly Pysanka Festival on April 2. The festival draws many Ukrainians as well as non-Ukrainians from all over southern California. This year, approximately 800 people visited this six-hour long popular event, which featured local pysanka artists showing off their beautiful creations and conducting master classes in “writing” a pysanka to take home. In addition, regional Ukrainian costumes were on display as were embroidered blouses and shirts; “vinky”(traditional headdresses), “rushnyky” (ritual cloths), tablecloths, ceramics, artwork and hand-made jewelry were available for purchase. Some of the vendors donated a portion of their profits to Ukrainian orphanages and toward rehabilitation expenses for several Ukrainian soldiers currently undergoing treatment in Los Angeles.
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The Ukrainian National Association Branch 414 hosted its 14th annual Easter Egg Hunt on April 9 on the grounds of St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church. The event attracted children between the ages of 1 and 10, with children preparing Easter cards for the parish shut-ins. During the festivities, children played games and hunted for the eggs and candy.
“Ukraine is returning home.” Those were the words of President Petro Poroshenko on May 11, when European Union member states approved the long-awaited waiver of visa requirements for Ukraine. Three days later, at a press conference in Kyiv, Mr. Poroshenko cited Ukraine’s closer ties with the European Union as a major achievement. That same day he participated in a flag-raising ceremony on the occasion of Europe Day in Ukraine – a day that has become all the more significant, he said, due to Ukrainians’ sacrifices during the Euro-Maidan-turned-Revolution of Dignity (2013-2014) when the people rose up to defend the country’s European future and to demonstrate that their country’s civilizational choice was with Europe, not the “Russian world.”
Mr. Poroshenko also cited Russia’s all-out effort to impede Ukraine’s movement toward the West: “Only crazy people can consider Ukraine to be part of the so-called ‘Russian world.’ Ukraine is part of a united Europe stretching from Lisbon to Kharkiv. For three years Russia has tried everything to block Ukraine’s path towards the EU. But nothing will stop our path to Europe.”
On May 17, the Ukrainian president was in Strasbourg, at the European Parliament, for the signing ceremony for the new visa-liberalization regime.
Last year, on May 31, 2016, Ukrainian military aviator Nadiya Savchenko was sworn in as a lawmaker in Ukraine’s Parliament, known as the Verkhovna Rada. She joined as a member of the Batkivshchyna Party, led by Yulia Tymoshenko, former prime minister of Ukraine. The 35-year-old was greeted as a war hero after her release on May 25, 2016, after over two years in Russian custody (708 days), and in her first appearance at Parliament reminded the lawmakers to urge the return of the “prisoners of the Kremlin.”
“I’m back, and I won’t let you forget,” she said. “I won’t let you, who sit in these chairs in the Verkhovna Rada, forget those guys who died at the Maidan and who currently are dying in the Donbas.”
The same effort that was made to free her should be used to free the remaining prisoners being held by the Kremlin, Ms. Savchenko said. She removed a banner with her picture on it that was draped around the rostrum, and replaced it with pictures of prisoners who remain in the Kremlin’s custody.
For Russians, Victory Day is an ever more important date; but they act as if May 9 was the end of history and fail to see that the Soviet Army, which liberated Eastern Europe from the Nazis, became an occupying force for almost half a century. Moscow commentator Tatyana Ross says that because Russians are encouraged by the Kremlin to view Victory Day in isolation from what followed, they view the reaction of Eastern Europeans to those events as efforts at “revision of the results of the Great Fatherland War” and as an impermissible defense of Hitler’s aggression (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59189 F3F19487). Russians don’t ask themselves why, after the Red Army liberated Eastern Europe, it didn’t go home but instead “left in all the liberated countries ‘a limited contingent’ of its forces” for decades, Ms. Ross says. And they don’t see the ways the liberation led to the occupation and the occupation led to Budapest, Vilnius and all the rest. “If Russia would just recognize and then condemn the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe,” Ms. Ross says, she “does not have any doubts that [the Red Army] would be viewed there as heroes who liberated [Eastern Europe] from German fascism.
Vladimir Putin, who exploited Russian euphoria over the Anschluss of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea three years ago to boost his own power, now wants Russians to pay less attention to that region so that they will not be as inclined to complain about the costs to them of that annexation, according to Yevgeniya Goryunova. “Russian euphoria about the annexation of Crimea has significantly weakened under the press of social and economic problems,” the Crimean political scientist says. “The Crimean theme is losing its importance,” and the only aspect of it that Moscow outlets now talk much about is the Kerch bridge (ru.krymr.com/a/28489804.html). In 2014-2015, Mr. Putin made “the sacred importance” of Crimea the centerpiece of his speeches, but already by 2016, as the economic crisis in Russia deepened and the costs of the occupation became more obvious, he shifted away from this theme. And by the end of that year, the Kremlin leader mentioned the annexed peninsula only in passing.