On the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge

The following text was released by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress on April 9. The Ukrainian Canadian community joins all Canadians in commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. “Several thousand Ukrainian Canadians fought in World War I with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Many were recently arrived immigrants to Canada who served their new homeland with distinction and honour,” stated Capt. (ret.) Andre Sochaniwsky, CD, president of the Ukrainian War Veterans Association of Canada. “Today we pause to remember the enormous sacrifices Canadians have made to the cause of freedom.”

On April 9, 1917, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps attacked German positions on Vimy Ridge in northern France.

Crimea, fake news, potential of new Russian invasion

“Three Ways the West Can Get Tougher on Russia for Crimea Land Grab,” by Taras Kuzio, Atlantic Council’s “Ukraine’s Alert,” April 3 (http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/three-ways-the-west-can-get-tougher-on-russia-for-crimea-land-grab):

Russia’s occupation of Crimea has reached its third anniversary, and there is no evidence in sight that President Vladimir Putin will withdraw his occupation forces. Both the United States and Canada have reiterated their support for continued sanctions against Russia as long as Crimea continues to be occupied. Still, ending Russia’s illegal occupation could take decades. To increase the effectiveness of Western pressure on Russia, three additional policies are necessary. First, Ukraine must stop expecting the West to assume the heavy lifting of sanctions against Russia while Ukraine itself continues to trade with Crimea and the two Russian proxy enclaves, the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR).

The West should not abandon Ukraine

“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.

Decline of freedom continues in 2016 amid rising populism and autocracy

WASHINGTON – Populist and nationalist forces made significant gains in democratic states in 2016, while authoritarian powers engaged in brazen acts of aggression, according to “Freedom in the World 2017,” Freedom House’s annual report on political rights and civil liberties. The report finds 2016 to mark the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. “We see leaders and nations pursuing their own narrow interests without meaningful constraints or regard for the shared benefits of global peace and freedom,” said Arch Puddington, one of the report’s co-authors. “These trends are accelerating and starting to undo the international order of the past quarter-century, including the general respect for long-established norms for fundamental freedoms and democracy.”

“In past years we generally saw declines in freedom among autocracies and dictatorships, but in 2016 it was established democracies that dominated the list of countries suffering setbacks,” Mr. Puddington said. Among the countries rated “free” by the report, there were declines in Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Tunisia and the United States.

Scoring Ukraine in ‘Freedom in the World’

Given Ukraine’s occupied territories, ongoing conflict, and complex political arena, assessing the state of freedom in the country is no easy task. The release of Freedom House’s annual “Freedom in the World” report generated considerable debate about the findings for Ukraine, and specifically about the report’s handling of Russian-occupied Crimea and the portions of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – known collectively as the Donbas – that are controlled by Russian-backed separatists. In the dialogue below, Arch Puddington, Distinguished Fellow for Democracy Studies, answers questions about Ukraine’s standing in “Freedom in the World 2017.”

The report assesses Crimea as a separate territory. Doesn’t this imply that there is a genuine dispute over Crimea’s status and that the two sides’ claims have equal legitimacy? There is undeniably a dispute over Crimea, but it is a lopsided one.

Current Time network launches news on 24/7 digital and TV stream

WASHINGTON – Current Time, whose mission is to bring real news to Russian-speaking audiences everywhere, on February 7 formally launched its 24/7 digital and TV stream. An up-and-coming player in the Russian media market, Current Time is engaging audiences from Lithuania to Kazakhstan and providing an alternative to Kremlin-sponsored media. The day-long video stream builds on the successes of individual daily news programs started in 2014 and 2015. First and foremost a digital news and current affairs network, Current Time’s daily line-up features hourly live newscasts and sharp political debate, in addition to innovative programs covering business, entrepreneurship, civil society and culture. It is also a leading destination for documentary films that are otherwise unavailable inside Russia.

Ukrainian Caucus co-chairs condemn escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine

WASHINGTON – The co-chairs of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, Reps. Andy Harris (R-Md.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Sander Levin (D-Mich.), on February 2 issued a statement on the escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine. They wrote:

“We call on Russia-controlled separatists to immediately stop the violence in eastern Ukraine, honor the ceasefire and withdraw heavy weapons. We reaffirm our support for the Minsk accords and stand in strong opposition to all efforts that would encourage military action against Ukraine. “As co-chairs of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, we are deeply concerned with loss of life and the deteriorating humanitarian condition in Avdiyivka, in eastern Ukraine, since heavy fighting broke out on January 28.

Bipartisan group of senators introduces comprehensive Russia sanctions legislation

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.

European allies of U.S. warn Trump about “new grand bargain with Russia”

WASHINGTON – A group of 17 decision-makers and public figures from countries across Central and Eastern Europe sent a letter on January 9 to U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump warning him about any potential “new grand bargain with Russia.”

According to a news story in The Washington Post, they wrote: “Have no doubt: Vladimir Putin is not America’s ally. Neither is he a trustworthy international partner. Both of the presidents who preceded you tried in their own ways to deal with Russia’s leadership in the spirit of trust and friendship. Big mistake: Putin treated their good intentions as opportunities.”

“Russia’s continuing efforts to destabilize Ukraine, and its illegal annexation of Crimea, threaten the peace, predictability and security that Americans and Europeans created together through our victory in the Cold War,” the letter-writers pointed out. “As your treaty-bound allies, we appeal to Americans in the new U.S. Administration and Congress to stand firm in the defense of our common goals and interests: peace, Atlantic strength, and freedom,” the pro-American leaders stated.