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.
KYIV – Victor Pinchuk, the billionaire tycoon known for staging Ukraine’s premiere gathering of leaders and thinkers on Ukraine’s European future, drew criticism for suggesting that his country shelve integration with the continent and temporarily sacrifice Crimea in exchange for peace with Russia. He did so in an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal on December 29. On the commentary titled “Ukraine must make painful compromises for peace with Russia,” Mr. Pinchuk, 56, said that “Ukraine should give up the idea of European Union membership,” including NATO, and that “Crimea is Ukraine, but this position should not be an obstacle on the way of returning Donbas.”
He furthermore advocated for holding local elections in the Russia-occupied Donbas even though there won’t be “conditions for fair elections until Ukraine has full control over its territory.”
For years an advocate for closer ties with the 28-nation European Union, Mr. Pinchuk’s article came exactly three weeks before he holds the Davos Ukrainian Breakfast at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on January 19. CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria is scheduled to moderate a discussion on Ukraine’s future in a “changing world” between former British Prime Minister David Cameron and Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine’s vice prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. President Petro Poroshenko won’t attend the yearly meal that Mr. Pinchuk hosts in Davos, online news publication Leviy Bereg reported, citing anonymous sources in the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
KYIV – The new chairperson-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe chose war-torn Ukraine for his first foreign visit as the leader of the 57-state organization. Having announced that part of his mission would be to “defuse conflicts” during his year-long chairmanship, Austria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sebastian Kurz visited the frontline village of Shyrokyne in Donetsk Oblast along the Azov Sea coast on January 4. Mr. Kurz noted that the OSCE, whose 693 monitors have a mandate to monitor ceasefire efforts in the Donbas war, isn’t satisfied with the current “status quo” in eastern Ukraine. “This visit is supposed to signify in the first place that we aren’t happy with the status quo and we want to put forth effort so that changes lead to improvement,” he said at a news conference in Mariupol, some 30 kilometers west of Shyrokyne. Despite never taking hold since the truce was brokered in Minsk in February 2015, Mr. Kurz reiterated that the agreement is the only option for implementing peace and the measures that Ukraine and Russia agreed to fulfill.
KYIV – Russia extensively used cross-border artillery fire against Ukrainian military targets in July-September 2014 in what are considered “acts of war,” according to a new report by Bellingcat, a group of citizen journalists who use open-source investigation tools and techniques, that was released on December 21. Numbering in the “thousands,” the report says, the cross-border projectiles were the “first and strongest evidence of a direct Russian participation in the fighting.” Although they were already proven to have occurred by Ukrainian officials and the U.S. government, the new report analyzed the extent to which they were used in the summer of 2014, when they largely contributed to stemming a Ukrainian counterattack to retake the border areas near Russia, and cut off and surround the occupied Donbas capitals of Donetsk and Luhansk. In total, at least 279 separate artillery attacks likely were fired inside Russia, targeting 408 Ukrainian military sites in the “entire border area of the conflict zone.”
Using recent additions of satellite imagery to Google Earth, Yandex and Bing map services, Bellingcat said it found evidence of Russian artillery fire in 2014 “to a much fuller extent.” It found that weapons such as howitzers and multiple rocket-launcher systems were used and, based on other open-source evidence, said that “allows for direct attribution of responsibility to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”
Despite mounting evidence, Moscow authorities have consistently denied direct involvement in the Donbas war that has killed nearly 10,000 people and uprooted more than 1.7 million from their homes since April 2014. Instead, the Kremlin has attempted to portray the war as a civil conflict between Ukrainian government forces and indigenous pro-Russian separatists. The open-source investigative group found that Russia’s artillery barrages “escalated” in “magnitude” the more Ukraine’s offensive in summer 2014 succeeded to liberate occupied territory.
KYIV – Nadiya Savchenko is a woman of many firsts. She is Ukraine’s first female military aviator and the first servicewoman to have received the nation’s highest honor – the golden star Hero of Ukraine medal. She was also the most trusted politician in Ukraine, according to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, when Russian President Vladimir Putin released her in May, after holding her in captivity for nearly two years on trumped up charges, in exchange for two Russian intelligence operatives. Now, Ms. Savchenko, 35, faces the dubious prospect of seeing her political star dim the fastest on record. She has faced a swirl of criticism from fellow lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada, including from the Batkivshchyna party on whose ticket she was elected in absentia, for secretly meeting with Kremlin-backed separatists in Minsk on December 11.
KYIV – Lawmakers voted to strip Vadym Novinsky, 53, of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution on December 8 based on a motion filed by the prosecutor general that he allegedly was involved in kidnapping. The Russian-born oligarch and ally of disgraced ex-President Viktor Yanukovych called the measure “politically motivated” and “fabricated” as did his party, the Opposition Bloc, an offshoot of the former ruling Party of Regions. “I will accept your decision calmly, whatever it will be,” Mr. Novinsky said before the vote. “Because I know that the truth is on my side, and the truth always wins.”
Mr. Novinsky said he will not “run away” or attempt to avoid the investigation, according to a post-vote briefing. Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has yet to name Mr. Novinsky a suspect.
KYIV – Relations between Ukraine and Russia hit a new low last week when Kyiv held a series of missile tests and military exercises on December 1-2 near the Kremlin-annexed peninsula of Crimea. Kyiv had fired more than a dozen mid-range anti-aircraft missiles over the two-day period from Kherson in the south that flew as close as 30 kilometers near Crimean airspace that Moscow considers its own, yet is not internationally recognized. Even though Ukraine had sent out what are called NOTAMs, or aviation notices, on November 24 for sea and air space restrictions, Russia balked two days before the exercises. Russia’s Defense Ministry warned that it would shoot down the rockets and launchers on Ukrainian territory in a note delivered initially to the defense attaché at Ukraine’s Embassy in Moscow, according to the Interfax news agency. The Kremlin later toned its stance on December 1, the first day of the scheduled missile launches.
KYIV – From the outset, post-Soviet Ukraine’s fourth president, Viktor Yanukovych, started lying. “I’ve never committed a crime,” he said via video link from a Russian court in Rostov-on-Don on November 28. It was his first testimony to a Ukrainian court, given as a witness, and related to the trial of five riot police officers who were allegedly involved in the mass killings in central Kyiv during the Euro-Maidan Revolution in 2013-2014. Like Mr. Yanukovych, many of the law enforcement officers who allegedly gunned down some 100 protesters during the uprising either fled to the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory of Crimea or to Russia. While giving testimony that lasted over six hours, Mr. Yanukovych failed to mention that he is a twice-convicted felon.
KYIV – Hundreds of Kyiv residents, including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and First Lady Maryna Poroshenko, took part in a solemn ceremony to commemorate the Holodomor, or death by forced starvation, on November 26 in Park Slavy (Glory Park). Millions of Ukrainians were starved to death in 1932-1933 on the orders of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin carried out by his henchmen in Ukraine. At 4 p.m. on November 26 – the official Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holodomor – a moment of silence was observed. As the sun set, people nationwide set lit candles on windowsills to remember this act of genocide. Estimates vary, as do methodologies for counting, but researchers say that between 3 million and 10 million Ukrainians died, with approximately 24 dying every minute during the peak period in the early 1930s, according to historians.
KYIV – Dmytro Zhytniy can’t lift anything heavy, and is unable to run or jump. On January 23, 2014, when authorities started kidnapping members of the so-called Auto-Maidan – the roving protest on wheels – riot police ambushed and abducted Mr. Zhytniy on a Kyiv side street called Kriposny Provulok while the trained heavyweight boxer was rushing to the protesters’ aid. He was called to action near the city’s central Trade Union building, where he provided security as a Maidan self-defense unit member during his two days off from work at a local do-it-yourself store. Police put Mr. Zhytniy, 47, and several others into a paddy wagon. They beat their captives en route to a nearby forest, where they were forced to kneel for about one and a half hours in sub-zero temperatures.