Newsbriefs

Huntsman: Ukraine key to improving ties

The new U.S. ambassador to Russia says restoring Ukrainian sovereignty over all its territory will be a key issue in his dealings with Moscow as he begins his tenure amid a period of high tensions between the two world powers. Speaking in Salt Lake City, former governor of Utah Jon Huntsman on October 7 said he wants to improve relations with Russia, but he insisted the first step would be for Moscow to return Ukrainian control to territory within its internationally recognized borders. “This is an issue not only with the United States, but with Europe, Canada, and virtually every other developed country,” said Mr. Huntsman, who was visiting his home state for a ceremonial swearing-in event. Moscow seized the Crimean Peninsula from Kyiv’s control and has supported separatists in eastern Ukraine in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014. The United States, other Western countries, and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine, just one of many global issues separating the two countries.

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Russian FSB detains Crimean Tatars 

Lawyers say the authorities in Russia-controlled Crimea have detained four Crimean Tatars on suspicion of extremism in what activists and the Ukrainian government said was part of a discriminatory campaign targeting members of the Muslim group. The Federal Security Service (FSB) branch in Crimea, which Russia occupied and seized from Ukraine in 2014, said on October 2 that several members of Tablighi Jamaat, a Sunni Muslim movement that is banned in Russia, were apprehended. The head of the Russian-imposed government’s committee on ethnic issues, Zaur Smirnov, said that three Tablighi Jamaat cells on the Black Sea peninsula were “liquidated.” The FSB did not name the detainees, who it said would be charged with organizing “extremist activities.” But activists and lawyer Edem Semedlyayev told RFE/RL that Renat Suleymanov, Talyat Abdurakhmanov, Arsen Kubedinov and Seyran Mustafayev were detained after police and FSB officers searched their homes in Crimea on October 2. Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Maryana Betsa sharply criticized Russia over the detentions. “The cynical searches and detentions are [like] those that were practiced by the NKVD,” Ms. Betsa tweeted, referring to a predecessor of the Soviet KGB.

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Trump praises Ukraine’s ‘good progress’

U.S. President Donald Trump has praised Ukraine for making “good progress” amid difficult conditions sparked by Russia’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula. Mr. Trump met his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 21. “I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest place to live” but “it’s getting better and better on a daily basis. I do hear very good things. Ukraine is coming along pretty well,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Poroshenko in front of reporters before the start of their private meeting.

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Poroshenko seeks peacekeeping mission

UNITED NATIONS – Ukraine’s president has repeated his call for a full United Nations peacekeeping mission, telling the world body that such a mission should be authorized to patrol Ukraine’s border with Russia. Mr. Poroshenko’s call came on September 20 in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly and followed a proposal floated last week by President Vladimir Putin for such a mission. Mr. Putin said on September 14 that U.N. peacekeepers might be deployed on the contact line separating the sides of the conflict in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. And he said there might be other parts where OSCE monitors could operate parallel to a U.N. mission. In his U.N. speech, Mr. Poroshenko said a full-fledged U.N. peacekeeping operation was welcomed.

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Poland drops controversial passport plan

WARSAW – Poland’s government says it is abandoning a plan to include images in Polish passports of landmarks that are now within the borders of Ukraine and Lithuania. The passport plan had angered both Ukraine and Lithuania, with the government in Kyiv calling it an “unfriendly step that will have a negative impact on the development of the Ukraine-Polish strategic partnership.” The Polish government’s proposal appeared to break a longstanding practice of not making any claim, even symbolic, to territories Poland lost in the redrawing of borders during the 20th century. The disputed images were of a Polish military cemetery in Lviv and the 16th century Gate of Dawn in Vilnius – one of the most important religious, historical and cultural monuments in the Lithuanian capital. Polish Internal Affairs Minister Mariusz Blaszczak says his ministry has picked other images to include in place of the two disputed ones. The new passports are due to be introduced in 2018 to mark the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining its independence after more than a century of foreign rule.

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NATO chief on Russia war games 

TAPA, Estonia – NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said he sees no “imminent threat” from Russia’s upcoming military maneuvers with Belarus, but criticized Moscow for not being more open about the drills. The Zapad (West) 2017 exercise, which Moscow says will involve some 12,700 troops, has caused concern in Poland and the Baltic states. Lithuania and Estonia say that as many as 100,000 soldiers could take part, though Russia insists the event is “purely defensive” in nature. NATO has deployed four battle groups – around 4,000 troops – to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland in recent years in response to growing Russian assertiveness in the region, particularly after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Mr. Stoltenberg, speaking during a visit to a NATO contingent in Tapa, Estonia, said the alliance’s troop presence sent a clear message “that an attack on one ally will trigger a response from the whole alliance.” He added, “We will monitor the [Zapad] activity closely and we are vigilant but also calm, because we don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO ally.” But Mr. Stoltenberg said Russia’s openness about Zapad 2017 did not meet international standards.

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Trump sends congrats to Ukraine

KYIV – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has received congratulations from U.S. President Donald Trump on the occasion of the 26th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, the press service of the head of the Ukrainian state has reported. “From the day Ukraine declared independence on August 24, 1991, and particularly since the Revolution of Dignity, the United States has supported Ukraine’s aspirations of becoming a truly European nation,” reads his letter of congratulations. Mr. Trump said that “the United States will continue to support these goals and work with you, our European partners, and other like-minded countries to restore Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The U.S. president offered best wishes, emphasizing that Independence Day is a special day to celebrate Ukraine’s independence and all that has been accomplished, while many challenges lie ahead. (Ukrinform)

Mattis: defensive arms not provocative

KYIV – U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, on a visit to Ukraine, said he will provide policy options for Washington with a better understanding about what is happening on the frontlines of Kyiv’s battle against Russia-backed separatists. Speaking alongside Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on August 24, Mr. Mattis said that providing defensive weapons to Ukraine should not be seen as provocative “unless you are an aggressor.” Ukraine has been fighting against Russia-backed separatists in eastern regions of the country since 2014, and the United States has already provided $750 million in nonlethal weapons and support to Kyiv, according to the secretary of defense.

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Volker meets with Surkov in Minsk 

MINSK – The new U.S. special envoy for efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Kurt Volker, has met with a Kremlin aide in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. The Belarusian Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Twitter that Ambassador Volker and Vladislav Surkov, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s point man for the conflict in eastern Ukraine, met behind closed doors. The U.S. State Department announced on August 18 that Ambassador Volker and the Russian representative would discuss “Russian-Ukrainian relations.” After the meeting, Mr. Surkov said his discussion with Ambassador Volker was “useful and constructive,” Russian news agencies reported. There was no immediate comment from Ambassador Volker. The U.S. envoy’s talks with Mr. Surkov kicked off three days of U.S. diplomacy on the war between Russia-backed separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014.

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Report: North Korea makes own engines

WASHINGTON – The Reuters news agency is quoting U.S. intelligence officials as saying they believe North Korea can produce its own missile engines and does not need to import the technology from Ukraine. The Reuters report on August 15 provides backing to Ukraine, which has denied supplying North Korea with any missile technology, and runs counter to a new study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies which said that Pyongyang probably obtained the engines used in its latest ballistic-missile tests on the black market from factories in Ukraine or Russia. Reuters quoted one U.S. intelligence official as saying: “We have intelligence to suggest that North Korea is not reliant on imports of engines. …Instead, we judge they have the ability to produce the engines themselves.” An August 14 report in The New York Times, citing an analysis by a missile expert and classified assessments by U.S. intelligence agencies, said that “North Korea’s success in testing an intercontinental ballistic missile that appears able to reach the United States was made possible by black-market purchases of powerful rocket engines probably from a Ukrainian factory.” When asked about the matter on August 15, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that Ukraine has a “very strong nonproliferation record.” (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Reuters and TASS)

Poroshenko orders probe into claims 

KYIV – Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko says he has ordered an “urgent, thorough and full investigation” into a media report alleging that North Korea may have purchased rocket engines from a Ukrainian factory. Mr. Poroshenko wrote on his Facebook page on August 16 that the probe will be led by the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.

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Russia meddling caused ‘serious mistrust

MANILA – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he has told his Russian counterpart that Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election created “serious mistrust” between the two countries. Mr. Tillerson, speaking on August 7 on the sidelines of a regional forum in Manila, said he emphasized in a meeting with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov that interference in the election was “a serious incident.” He said he tried to help Mr. Lavrov “understand just how serious this incident had been and how seriously it had damaged the relationship between the U.S. and the American people and the Russian people, that this had created serious mistrust and that we simply have to find some way to deal with that.” The chief U.S. diplomat also warned Mr. Lavrov that Washington was deciding on a response to the Kremlin’s decision to order a substantial reduction in the size of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia, a move made in retaliation for a new set of sanctions slapped on Russia by the United States. He asked Mr. Lavrov “several clarifying questions” about Moscow’s retaliatory moves and warned his Russian counterpart that the U.S. would respond to these actions by September 1. Nevertheless, the secretary of state said the United States still wants to work with Moscow and that it was “not useful” to cut all ties based on one issue. “We should find places we can work together.