KYIV – Joe Biden’s sixth and last visit to Ukraine as America’s vice-president on January 16 was more symbolic and consultative in nature, Ukrainian experts said just five days before a new president is inaugurated in Washington. In his fifth visit since the Euro-Maidan Revolution, Mr. Biden, 74, came to show that America isn’t forgetting about Kyiv and was a swan song gesture of support, commented political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta Center. “It is a signal that we are remembered. He didn’t have to come to Kyiv. It’s a sign of respect and attention toward us,” Mr. Fesenko said.
Following are remarks by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden at a joint press availability with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv on January 17. The text was released by the White House, Office of the Vice-President. Mr. President, I may have to call you once every couple weeks just to hear your voice. (Laughter.) This has been going on a long time. Good afternoon, everyone.
WASHINGTON – Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led a bipartisan group of senators on January 10 to introduce comprehensive sanctions legislation on Russia for their cyber intrusions, aggression, and destabilizing activities here in the United States and around the world. The original co-sponsors of the Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017 are: Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “Russia has worked to insidiously interfere with and influence the presidential election in the United States, and Russian military aggression in Ukraine and Syria has violated international commitments and shown a clear disregard for sovereignty and humanitarian norms. Our comprehensive sanctions package being introduced today will send a clear message to Vladimir Putin that he has gone too far, and that there will be consequences for his actions,” said Sen. Cardin. “Every American should be alarmed by Russia’s brazen attack on our democracy,” said Sen. McCain.
MOSCOW – When U.S. secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson appeared before the U.S. Senate for his confirmation hearing on January 11, pundits and politicians in Moscow were watching closely for signals of the new administration’s stance on Russia. Reactions ranged broadly from upbeat pragmatism to an “I told you so” warning that a Russia hawk could be entering President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet. Over all, the comments painted a much more sober take on a Trump presidency than the jubilation displayed by many in Russia after his surprise victory in November. On the Vesti FM state radio station, prominent pro-Kremlin journalist Vladimir Solovyov chided those Russians who were expressing surprise at what many saw as a hawkish tone to Mr. Tillerson’s comments:
“For our dear listeners I will for the 156th time, although it is fashionable to say 150th, repeat that Tillerson is not Major Vikhr [a Russian TV superhero], and Trump is not Colonel Isayev, Stierlitz [a fictional Soviet superspy akin to James Bond]. They are both patriots of the U.S. One will, if confirmed, become the secretary of state.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration of trying to undermine President-elect Donald Trump’s legitimacy by spreading what Mr. Putin said were false allegations. A dossier shown earlier this month to Messrs. Obama and Trump – part of which was leaked and published – contained salacious and compromising, but uncorroborated, information compiled by a former British intelligence officer on links between Russia and Mr. Trump, who rejected the claims as “fake news.”
And on January 6, U.S. intelligence agencies said they had concluded that Mr. Putin ordered a hacking campaign that aimed to undermine U.S. democracy, help Mr. Trump, and discredit his opponent in the November 8 election, Hillary Clinton. Speaking at a news conference on January 17, Mr. Putin dismissed the dossier alleging Mr. Trump’s sexual activities at a Moscow hotel in 2013 as “fake” and charged that those who ordered it are “worse than prostitutes.”
In his first public comments on the claims, Mr. Putin suggested that Russian intelligence agencies would have had no reason to spy on Mr. Trump during his 2013 visit to Moscow, when the episode allegedly took place in a Ritz-Carlton hotel suite in Moscow. “Does anyone think that our special services chase every American billionaire?
We must reassure the Baltics and Ukraine – who live in the very shadow of Russia – that the United States will be there for them if trouble arises. Russian intimidation of our NATO allies or other free nations cannot be tolerated. It is conventional wisdom that history repeats itself. But the world should hope – and pray – that this maxim is off base when it comes to our global security. Security arrangements, like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which through 71 years since the end of World War II have kept us safe from yet another global conflict, are quickly showing signs of coming undone.
NEWARK, N.J. – Ukrainian American Bar Association representatives Victor Rud, chairman of the UABA Foreign Relations Committee, and Myroslaw Smorodsky, UABA communications director; Ronya Lozynskyj and Tamara Olexy of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America; and Yuriy Symczyk, national secretary of the Ukrainian National Association; met with Sen. Robert Menendez on January 6. Sen. Menendez (D-N.J.) is the senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The meeting was coordinated by Mr. Symczyk at the senator’s request. Its purpose was to discuss the Ukrainian American community’s deep concerns regarding the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be the next U.S. secretary of state and the potentially damaging impact his confirmation could have on Ukraine’s struggle to maintain its territorial integrity and independence. The UABA respectfully submitted to the senator proposed areas of questioning during the confirmation process of Mr. Tillerson with background briefing material for the senator’s consideration and review in preparation for the hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 11.
“Fear and weakness are bad advisers. They play into Russia’s appetites, invite even more aggression and greater human suffering. That’s why Ukraine has always advocated a solution based on the national interests and the will of Ukrainians who wish their country to be independent and prosperous, and their choices free of aggressive dictate. “Let us be clear about red lines that no one in Ukraine would dare to cross – not now, nor in the future: No reversal in European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine. This would be a surrender of independence, sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Donald Trump’s election has led many Russians to conclude that Western sanctions against Russia will be eased or lifted entirely in the coming months and that life in Russia will “really become easier.” But Moscow commentators warn that, paradoxically, that could become “a catalyst” for growing popular discontent within Russia. The reason, Andrey Polunin of the Svobodnaya Pressa portal says in summing up their views is that “if an external enemy in the form of the West disappears,” the Kremlin won’t be able to blame it for all of the shortcomings in Russia as it has done quite successfully up to now (svpressa.ru/politic/article/163694/). If in 2017 Western sanctions are lifted, Russian government experts say, the GDP of Russia could rise by 0.6 to 0.8 percent, a small but significant increase that could be improved further by rising oil prices. But Mr. Polunin says that no one should forget that “sanctions are far from the main cause of the slowing down of the Russian economy.”
One need only remember, he says, that the Russian economy began to head in the wrong direction already in 2013, before Crimea and the imposition of sanctions, “when the rate of GDP growth fell from 3.7 to 1.3 percent. Already then it was obvious that there were serious structural problems that Moscow was not addressing.
Following are excerpts from the editorial that appeared in the January 1-18 edition of Ukrainian News, based in Edmonton, Alberta. Of all of President-elect Donald Trump’s actions preceding his inauguration, none is more ominous for Ukraine than the decision to nominate Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. When you include Exxon’s corporate holdings in Russia, Tillerson’s personal stake in Exxon stock, and the extremely cozy relations the tycoon enjoys with Russia’s dictator Vladimir Putin, you end up with conflicts of interest that are not only colossal, but of historically unprecedented proportions. Just to name a few:
• Exxon has a potential $500 billion at stake in a massive exploration partnership with the Russian government’s oil company Rosneft in one of the many deals Tillerson worked out with Putin. The Obama administration blocked the deal when it imposed sanctions against Russia for its intervention in Ukraine.
It was heartwarming to see the photo in The Weekly (January 8) where U.S. Sens. John McCain, Amy Klobuchar and Lindsey Graham posed with Ukrainian troops. The senators pledged there would be “no Faustian bargain” between the U.S. and Russia that might abandon Ukraine. Unfortunately, these senators’ optimism runs diametrically counter to the agenda of the president-elect. Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump stated his fondness for Vladimir Putin.
The year 2016 for Ukrainian Churches was a busy one, and complicated by the ongoing war being waged by Russia. But there were notable accomplishments and attempts at healing spiritual disunity – not only between the Catholics and the Orthodox – but also between the meddling of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) via the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) and the divisions that have fractured the other Orthodox Churches in Ukraine: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC). The ROC and its affiliated UOC-MP announced in January the establishment of a new staff in the synod department of external church affairs to blacken the reputation of the UOC-KP, to block the Ecumenical Patriarchate from recognizing the Kyiv Church as canonical and to destabilize religious conditions across Ukraine. This move was seen by many experts as part of the hybrid war that Russia is waging against Ukraine and the West. This was the latest attempt using religious groups in Ukraine in filing complaints with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe of religious intolerance in Ukraine and giving Moscow a degree of deniability. Many of these “religious groups” are fronts for Russian Security Services (FSB) operations.
Unity was the key word for 2016 in our Ukrainian diaspora. On February 20, Ukraine’s Day of Commemoration of the Heroes of the Heavenly Brigade, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress spoke for Ukrainians worldwide when it said:
“Today, the Ukrainian Canadian community joins our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and around the world in commemorating the memory and heroism of all those who paid the ultimate price in the battle for a free and democratic Ukraine. From November 2013 to February 2014 the citizens of Ukraine took to the streets to protest against the corrupt, authoritarian regime of former President Viktor Yanukovych. On the Maidan in Kyiv (Independence Square), and on city squares throughout the country, the people of Ukraine claimed their unalienable right to liberty and justice. Their demand of their government was simple – to be treated with Dignity.
While 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, 2016 was the year Ukrainians in Canada celebrated the 125th anniversary of their immigration to the country – and Saskatchewan kicked the year off on January 5 when the province’s premier, Brad Wall, officially proclaimed 2016 as the Year of Saskatchewan Ukrainians, who comprise 13 percent of the provincial population. Two months later, on March 10, Manitoba followed suit with its own proclamation, which recognized the contribution Ukrainian Manitobans have made to the province, “initially through agriculture, forestry, railways and mining and, presently, in most professional fields of the workplace,” and in the creation and promotion of multiculturalism across Canada. Then-Premier Greg Selinger designated 2016 the Year of Manitoba’s Ukrainian Canadian Cultural Heritage through the proclamation, which also noted the provincial capital, Winnipeg, as “the first major urban center of Ukrainian Canadians, where many of the earliest religious cultural institutions were founded, including the Canada-wide coordinating body known as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, established 75 years ago,” and as “the first city outside of Ukraine to dedicate a statue honoring the bard and freedom fighter of Ukraine, Taras Shevchenko, built on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress [UCC].”
2016 also marked the 55th anniversary of the Ukrainian education program in Manitoba, which was taught in the early decades until it was disallowed in 1916 and later reinstated in 1961, according to the proclamation, which highlighted three Ukrainian Manitoban institutions established at the University of Manitoba: St. Andrew’s College in 1946, Ukrainian Studies in the Department of German and Slavic Studies in 1949, and the Center for Ukrainian Canadian Studies in 1981. The 125th anniversary celebrations continued through the year, with the July 21 launch of an exhibit – “Journey to Canada: Ukrainian Immigration Experiences 1891-1900” – at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
KYIV – President Petro Poroshenko has warned that Ukrainians may become disillusioned with their pro-European path if the European Union further delays closer integration with Kyiv. The EU agreed to provide visa waivers for Ukrainians last month after weeks of stalling, but the decision has not gone into effect. “To delay further would be flagrantly unfair as Ukraine has paid a high price,” Mr. Poroshenko told foreign ambassadors to Ukraine on January 16. “It would also be dangerous because more unreasonable delays would undermine Ukrainians’ faith in Europe. This is exactly what Russia wants,” he said, adding that Ukraine’s EU Association Agreement also should be ratified.