MOSCOW – Russia is preparing to move the date of the 2018 election that is expected to hand President Vladimir Putin a new term from March 11 to March 18 – the day Russia celebrates its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. The State Duma approved a bill on the date change on April 12 in the first of three votes on the issue in the lower house of Parliament. It is certain to pass. Russian law says that presidential elections are held on the second Sunday in March unless that is a working day, in which case the voting must be held a week earlier. The authors of the bill said that March 11 was likely to be a working day after the March 8 International Women’s Day holiday.
KYIV – Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman says his government will continue to implement reforms in 2017. Addressing a press conference in Kyiv on April 11, five days before the first anniversary since his appointment to the post, Mr. Groysman said he and his team were now focused on reforms in the pensions system, education and medical-services sector. In the field of energy security, he said Kyiv was seeking opportunities to buy coal from different countries to get rid of Ukraine’s dependence on Russian coal. Kyiv is also looking at ways to increase production of electricity by the country’s nuclear plants and hydropower stations, Mr. Groysman said. Calling Russia “an aggressor country,” the prime minister noted that Ukraine was no longer dependent on Russian natural gas.
NEW YORK – Populists’ recent successes at the polls in the West have increased fears of instability in post-Communist Europe and Eurasia against a backdrop of setbacks for democratic governance, democracy monitor Freedom House has warned. It says that over the past year, the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union, Dutch voters’ opposition to an EU Association Agreement with Ukraine, and political outsider Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president “all raised fresh doubts about the fragile post-Cold War order.” The findings are published in the New York-based group’s latest annual “Nations In Transit” report, subtitled “The False Promise of Populism.” Freedom House calls 2016 a triumph for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who for the past decade “has backed populists in Europe and the United States as part of a covert effort to destabilize the transatlantic order.” The report says that despite Russia’s continuing economic stagnation, Mr. Putin “seems tantalizingly close to his goal of a new division of Europe into Western and Russian spheres of influence.” The “Nations in Transition” report covers 29 post-Communist countries of the former Soviet Union and in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The report says 18 of them suffered declines this year in their so-called democracy scores, leaving more “consolidated authoritarian regimes” in the region than “consolidated democracies.” The group called Ukraine, Kosovo and Romania “bright spots” in the “Nations in Transition 2017” report. In Ukraine, corruption is still widespread and the ongoing military conflict in its eastern regions undermines the country’s economy. But despite the setbacks, it says, there have been “significant changes” as civil society in Ukraine – with the backing of the United States, European Union, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – has kept pressure on the government.
KYIV – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed into law controversial amendments to the country’s anti-corruption legislation that require representatives of nongovernmental organizations to file assets declarations. Mr. Poroshenko on March 27 signed the amendments, which also relieve military officers of the obligation to file such declarations. The president said the measure acknowledges “the necessity of taking into account the interests of hundreds of thousands of servicemen who currently defend Ukraine from Russian aggression.” Earlier, British Ambassador to Ukraine Judith Gough described the reporting requirement for NGOs as “a serious step back” for Ukraine that could “limit NGOs’ capacity” and “expose them to pressure.” The reporting requirement for NGOs takes effect in 2018, and Mr. Poroshenko agreed to create a working group with NGO representatives to discuss its implementation. In a meeting with NGOs in Kyiv on March 27, Mr. Poroshenko expressed his support for their efforts to fight corruption and said any political pressure or restrictions on their activity was inadmissible. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by the Kyiv Post and UNIAN)
Russian court issues warrant for Yatsenyuk
KYIV – A municipal court in the southern Russian town of Yessentuki has issued an arrest warrant for former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
KYIV – Denis Voronenkov, a former Russian lawmaker who defected to Ukraine and aired damning criticism of Russia’s leadership, has been gunned down in broad daylight in the heart of Kyiv in what Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko called “an act of state terrorism by Russia.” A city police spokesman told RFE/RL that the ex-Duma deputy was killed by a gunman as he and his bodyguard were approaching the five-star Premier Palace Hotel on March 23. An Internal Affairs Ministry spokesman at the scene, Artem Shevchenko, said the attacker fired at least eight shots at the 45-year-old Mr. Voronenkov with an “old Soviet pistol.” He said the incident was caught on security cameras. The attacker was shot in the ensuing gun battle with Mr. Voronenkov’s lone bodyguard and apprehended by police on the street nearby. He later died in the hospital, officials said, but there was initially no word on his identity. The Internal Affairs Ministry spokesman said the bodyguard, who was wounded in the exchange of gunfire with the assailant, was provided by Ukrainian authorities in the past month because there was “reason to fear” that Mr. Voronenkov’s life might be in danger.
BRUSSELS – The European Union has extended sanctions against dozens of individuals and entities over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. EU ambassadors agreed on March 13 to prolong the sanctions against 150 individuals and 37 entities that, according to Brussels, are responsible for actions against Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The existing sanctions were due to expire on March 15. Asset freezes and visa bans were first imposed by the EU in March 2014 after Russia illegally annexed Crimea. Those sanctions have been continued and expanded by a series of additional votes by EU officials in Brussels.
WASHINGTON – Envoys from six European countries that border Russia have pushed for more U.S. military and economic support, as they repeated warnings to U.S. senators about an increasingly aggressive Russia. Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin, speaking after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs on March 7 that he had been assured of U.S. support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia-backed separatists. Lithuanian Ambassador Rolandas Krisciunas pointed to new U.S. and NATO military deployments in the three Baltic states, saying the deployments were essential to deter Russian aggression. U.S. armored brigades have begun deploying to Poland, and other NATO members are sending battalions of between 800 to 1,200 troops to each of the three Baltic states and Poland. “Uncertainty and insecurity best describes the current environment we are in,” Polish Ambassador Piotr Wilczek told the panel.
MOSCOW – The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry has raised the possibility of “new tragedies” if Washington moves to supply lethal aid to Ukraine, according to an UNIAN correspondent in Russia who cited Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Ryabkov as making the comment. The Russian side will “explain” to the new U.S. administration “the history and status of the conflict in Ukraine,” Mr. Ryabkov said at the State Duma’s roundtable on U.S-Russia relations. “The U.S. Congress demands that deliveries of the so-called lethal aid [to Ukraine] start, therefore it is important that the White House and the State Department realize that this could result in new tragedies, and feel the responsibility,” said Mr. Ryabkov. He said the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry will contribute to Washington’s “adequate perception” of what is happening in the Donbas. As reported by RFE/RL earlier in February, two U.S. lawmakers (Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Mike Quigley [see story on page 3]) said the time had come for the United States to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons to better defend itself against Moscow-backed separatists, saying that a “confrontational” Russian President Vladimir Putin shows no sign of easing the pressure on Kyiv.
KYIV – Thousands of activists marched in Kyiv to honor protesters who were killed during the pro-European Maidan demonstrations in 2013-2014 and to challenge the government. The March of National Dignity was organized by three nationalist parties – Svoboda, the National Corps and Right Sector. Activists gathered on Kyiv’s central Maidan Nezalezhnosty (Independence Square) early on February 22 and began marching toward Parliament, where they planned to announce their demands to lawmakers, the Cabinet and President Petro Poroshenko. Organizers said their demands include calls for full investigations of the deadly dispersal of demonstrators in Kyiv in February 2014 and the immediate cancellation of all trade with Russia, which demonstrators called “the aggressor country.” Hundreds of police officers were on the scene. They also plan to demand a halt to all economic ties with the portions of eastern Ukraine that are currently controlled by Russia-backed separatists.
WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump has said on Twitter that “Crimea was taken by Russia” during the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and added, “Was Obama too soft on Russia?” In a series of tweets on February 15 two days after he called for and accepted the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn amid questions over Mr. Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington in December, Mr. Trump also lashed out at the media. “The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred,” the president said on Twitter. “This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign.” The tweets followed a February 14 report in The New York Times that quoted current and former U.S. officials as saying members of Trump’s campaign and other associates had contacts with Russian intelligence officials in the months before the November 2016 presidential election. “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” Mr. Trump tweeted.