KYIV – Dr. Phillip Karber never projected that Ukraine would be able to withstand Russian military aggression for as long as it has – three years already. The president of the Potomac Foundation, an independent policy center in Virginia, said Ukraine’s army has “substantially improved” since Moscow engineered an armed uprising in the easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in April 2014. “It was a miracle,” the expert in defense and national security told The Ukrainian Weekly in a telephone interview, noting that Kyiv was “struggling to get 10 battalions ready to fight.”
Today, three years into the Donbas war, and after 10,000 people killed, Ukraine has 22 brigades and close to 70 battalions, and has the structure to have up to 30 brigades. Although Ukraine in spring 2014 managed to prevent Russia from carrying out the “Novorossiya construct” whereby the Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, Zaporizhia and Odesa oblasts would slip from Kyiv’s grasp, according to Dr. Karber, it could’ve settled the conflict had it “moved faster and more decisively.”
He credited the “spirit of the Maidan” – the revolution that toppled Viktor Yanukovych’s oppressive and corrupt presidency in February 2014 – in whose aftermath volunteer units were immediately formed and initially resisted the combined Russian-separatist elements in Ukraine’s east. But he was quick to say that, by the end of the summer of 2014, Ukraine’s military had made progress to improve its fighting capability and today is five times stronger.
KYIV – Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian mogul whose political tentacles extend to Washington, London, Moscow and the Ukrainian diaspora community, faces extradition to the U.S. on bribery charges following a Vienna court ruling on February 21. Vienna’s Higher Regional Court reversed a lower court’s ruling from April 2015 that said U.S. authorities were partially politically motivated in their pursuit of Mr. Firtash over $18.5 million in kickbacks that he allegedly arranged for Indian officials in order to mine titanium for Boeing, a major aerospace company and mainstay U.S. military government contractor. Worth an estimated $250 million, according to Forbes, Mr. Firtash, 51, has repeatedly denied the allegations. He looked bewildered and shocked upon hearing Judge Leo Levnaic-Iwanski’s ruling. “It wasn’t for us to judge whether Mr. Firtash was guilty, but only whether the extradition is allowed,” the judge said, as cited by Bloomberg.
WASHINGTON – Ukrainians in gathered on February 20 in the heart of the U.S. capital, near the Lincoln Memorial, for a vigil commemorating the heroes of the Heavenly Brigade. The event, which was attended by members of the Ukrainian community and diplomats from the Embassy of Ukraine, started with mournful Lemko folk song “Plyve Kacha.” It was with this song three years ago that the fallen Ukrainian heroes went on their last journey from the Maidan in Kyiv. In his address to participants of the vigil, the ambassador of Ukraine to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, said that we, Ukrainians, must be worthy of the memory of the participants of the Revolution of Dignity, who gave their lives for a decent future for Ukraine. Ambassador Chaly stressed that the struggle for Ukraine continues against Russia’s ongoing aggression. He thanked everyone for their unity and solidarity with Ukraine.
The ouster of the U.S. national security advisor, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, on February 13 is seen in Moscow as a serious setback and a victory of anti-Russian forces trying to prevent a normalization of relations between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Dmitry Peskov, Mr. Putin’s press secretary, refused to comment on Mr. Flynn’s forced resignation, insisting this was an internal matter for the U.S. The Kremlin confirmed Mr. Flynn had contacts with the Russian ambassador in Washington, Sergei Kislyak, last December, before Mr. Trump’s inauguration. But Mr. Peskov claimed that the U.S. media’s interpretation of the content of these contacts is “wrong” (Interfax, February 14). The chair of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Russian Federation Council (the upper chamber of Parliament), Konstantin Kosachev, wrote on his Facebook page, “Ousting a National Security Advisor for contacts with a Russian ambassador is worse than simply paranoia.” According to Mr. Kosachev, “Flynn visited Moscow previously and was, unlike other American officials, open to dialogue on improving relations.” President Trump has failed to become a truly independent political player, Mr. Kosachev suggested, and is being cornered by opponents; or the new administration has become riddled by Russophobia. The chair of the Foreign Relation Committee of the Duma (the lower chamber of Parliament), Leonid Slutsky, called the ouster of Mr. Flynn a “provocation” – “the target was not Flynn, but Russia.” Russian foreign policy experts and officials see the Trump White House surrounded by enemies and besieged by “sore loser” Democrats supported by Russophobe Republican senators, all building up a possible case for impeachment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first telephone call with the newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump on January 28 resulted in nothing sensational. A promise to immediately lift U.S. sanctions against Russia never materialized. The parties agreed only to maintain regular contacts and to continue to cooperate on combating international terrorism, first of all, against the Islamic State (Kremlin.ru, January 28). Nevertheless, among many figures close to the Kremlin, there is hope that the new U.S. president’s alleged sympathy for Mr. Putin could translate into pulling Russia out of its global isolation – into which Moscow drove itself particularly after starting a war against Ukraine three years ago. In January, a group of pro-Kremlin “political technologists” (in the former Soviet Union, the rough equivalent of Western political operatives, strategists or “spin doctors”) held a roundtable on the topic “Russian-U.S. Relations in the Era of the New U.S. President.” One of its members, the director of the Political Conjuncture Center, Alexei Chesnakov, said: “If Trump wants to be a great president, he should be ready to conclude big deals” (Actualcomment.ru, January 31).
“Russia is fake news,” asserted U.S. President Donald Trump at his press conference on February 16. This broad statement is both true and false, but in neither case is it helpful for his intention to “get along” with Russia (RIA Novosti, February 17). It is true in the sense that Russia produces a massive amount of fake news, some of which may have had some impact on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in the U.S. And fake news coming out of Russia continues to poison bilateral relations, like for instance the claim that Mr. Trump’s demand to return Crimea to Ukraine is a violation of his electoral promise (Moskovsky Komsomolets, February 15). Yet, the U.S. president’s contention is false in the sense that a great deal of news about compromising connections between the members of the new U.S. administration and Russian officials have turned out to be based in fact – recently leading to the resignation of Michael Flynn from the position of National Security Advisor (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, February 16). Every instance of communication with Russia has become so toxic that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson preferred to take an extremely cautious position on “practical cooperation,” which the Russian media duly presented as Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov’s victory over his U.S. counterpart (Gazeta.ru, February 16).
The following press statement on the “Third Anniversary of Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity” was released by U.S. State Department’s acting spokesperson, Mark C. Toner, on February 20. Three years ago, thousands of Ukrainians came together on the Maidan, Kyiv’s central square, to demand that their voices be heard. Braving subzero temperatures and violence by security forces, these Ukrainians peacefully called on their government to recognize their choice to join Europe. Ukraine has made remarkable progress since then, but much work remains to be done to fulfill the promise of the Maidan. As we remember the courage and resolve shown by the Ukrainian people in the Revolution of Dignity, the United States calls on Ukraine’s leaders to strengthen efforts to fight corruption and continue the political and economic reforms that will honor those who gave their lives to secure a better, more democratic future for Ukraine.
“…The rise of adversaries new and old demands a strong response from all of us. “In the east, NATO has markedly improved its deterrent posture by stationing four combat-ready multinational battalions in Poland and the Baltic states. “In the wake of Russian efforts to redraw international borders by force, rest assured the United States, along with the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany, will continue its leadership role as a framework nation in the Enhanced Forward Presence Initiative, and we will support other critical joint actions to support this alliance. “And with regard to Ukraine, we must continue to hold Russia accountable and demand that they honor the Minsk agreements, beginning by de-escalating the violence in eastern Ukraine. “And know this: The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which, as you know, President [Donald] Trump believes can be found.
UNITED NATIONS – As the volatile conflict in eastern Ukraine enters its fourth year, 1 million children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance – nearly double the number this time last year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported on February 17. “This is an invisible emergency – a crisis most of the world has forgotten,” said UNICEF’s representative in Ukraine, Giovanna Barberis, in a news release. “Children in eastern Ukraine have been living under the constant threat of unpredictable fighting and shelling for the past three years. Their schools have been destroyed, they have been forced from their homes and their access to basic commodities like heat and water has been cut off,” she stated. The release attributed the increase – an additional 420,000 girls and boys – to the continued fighting and the steady deterioration of life in eastern Ukraine, where some 1.7 million people have been internally displaced, and many families have lost their incomes, social benefits and access to healthcare, while the price of living has sharply risen.
Hundreds of daily ceasefire violations put children’s physical safety and psychological well-being at risk.
It’s been a month of remembrances and memorials. First, the 99th anniversary of the historic Battle of Kruty, and most recently, the third anniversary of the killings on the Maidan of the “Nebesna Sotnia,” which is translated as either Heavenly Hundred or Heavenly Brigade (a “sotnia” is a company of 100 soldiers). On January 29, 1918, in a battle near the train station at Kruty, some 80 miles northeast of Kyiv, a small contingent of Ukrainian forces – composed mainly of a student battalion of the Sich Riflemen and a company from the Khmelnytsky Cadet School – faced a superior Russian Bolshevik force of 4,000 men. The Ukrainian contingent succeeded in blocking the Bolshevik advance on Kyiv for several days. The young Ukrainians’ resistance also enabled the Ukrainian National Republic to conclude the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, a major accomplishment as a result of which the UNR was recognized by the Central Powers despite the Bolsheviks’ attempts to represent Ukraine.
Five years ago, on February 27, 2012, security forces in Russia and Ukraine announced that they had thwarted a plot to assassinate Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Russian state-run television Channel 1 alleged that the plot was to be carried out shortly after Russia’s presidential election on March 4. In the report, separate footage showed two alleged plotters saying they were ordered by North Caucasus insurgent commander Doku Umarov to kill Mr. Putin. The Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed law enforcement official as saying the plot was uncovered after Ukrainian intelligence agents detained two Russian citizens in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa early in February in connection with an accidental bomb blast in the city in January. One of the videos, provided by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), showed suspect Illya Pyanzin, a 28-year-old Kazakh citizen, who had traveled to Ukraine from the United Arab Emirates with a Russian national, an accomplice who was later killed in the accidental bomb blast.
A nation and those who care about it should know its heroes, and for Crimean Tatars, one of the greatest is Ayshe Seitmuratova, the only woman of her nation the Soviets arrested and condemned twice, who on February 11 marked her 80th birthday in her Russian-occupied homeland. In an appreciation of her life so far, Crimean historian Gulnara Bekirova notes that Ms. Seitmuratova is “an individual with a complicated fate and with a complicated and very strong character” who began at an early age the struggle for her “much-suffering people” and “has never retreated from it” in all the years since (ru.krymr.com/a/ 28303848.html). At the age of 29, she was arrested in the place of her Samarkand exile by the KGB and brought to Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison. She spent seven months there before being found guilty of producing materials about how the USSR treated the Crimean Tatars, for which she was sentenced to three years conditionally. That was supposed to dissuade her from further “dissident” activities, but it didn’t. And three years later she was arrested again and this time sentenced to three years in the notorious camps in Mordovia.
Even as Vladimir Putin decreed that Moscow recognizes documents issued by its clients, the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Luhansk People’s Republic,” Russian officials in at least seven places in the Donbas were handing out Russian passports – a repetition of what Moscow did in South Ossetia in 2008. The two steps are in fact interrelated, Aleksandr Artishchenko and Lidiya Grigoryeva of the Versia portal suggest. They mean that residents of the DNR and LNR can now take Russian citizenship on the basis of their own documents rather than on those of Ukraine, thus easing and accelerating the process (versia.ru/novye-grazhdane-rossii-iz-dnr-i-lnr-zhdut-vezhlivyx-lyudej). And that, in turn, suggests three more important things, the two authors say. First, it is an indication that Moscow may very well have had enough with negotiating about the fate of the Donbas and is prepared to live with or at least threaten to live with a frozen conflict there for a long time.
On February 20, Ukrainians all over the world pause to mark the Day of Commemoration of the Heavenly Hundred (also known as the Heavenly Brigade, from the Ukrainian term “Небесна Сотня”). The following statement was released in Ottawa by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. In November 2013, the people of Ukraine rose up in protest against the authoritarian, corrupt regime of former president Viktor Yanukovych. On Kyiv’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosty), and city squares throughout the country, the Ukrainian people made of their government a simple demand – to be treated with Dignity. They demanded democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights.
“In troubled times, Canada Should Not Abandon Ukraine,” editorial, The Globe and Mail, January 31 (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/editorials/ukraine-at-a-distance/article33852834/):
Canada should renew its military training mission to Ukraine, and not let it expire at the end of March. Rumor has it that the mission – called Operation UNIFIER, for some reason – will continue. But the Cabinet has not yet made a decision, and its scale (up or down) remains in doubt. In this case, more is better. That is because the conflict in the Donbas region in the southeast of Ukraine is getting worse.