U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that the U.S. role in Ukraine is not changing and Russia has no cause for concern about a U.S. decision last week to supply new weapons to Kyiv. “As long as no one wants to invade Ukraine, hopefully it won’t have any big impact. They’re defensive weapons,” Mr. Mattis said on December 29, 2017, in his first remarks since the U.S. State Department announced approval of “enhanced defensive capabilities” for Ukraine on December 22. Moscow has denounced the move, saying it “crossed a line” and was “clearly pushing [Ukraine] towards new bloodshed.” The United States has not specified what new weapons it will provide to Ukraine, but U.S. media reports have said they could include Javelin anti-tank missiles, which Ukraine has urged the United States to supply. Mr. Mattis said providing new weapons for Ukraine does not signal any plan to expand the U.S. presence there, despite speculation that the move will force the United States to get more deeply involved in the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,300 people since it broke out in 2014.
The United Nations General Assembly on December 19 approved a resolution strongly condemning human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and referring to Russia as an “occupying power” there. The resolution, put forward by Ukraine and 30 other countries, was approved by 70 states. Twenty-six, including Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and China, voted against. Seventy-six countries abstained from voting. Ukraine’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations said that the resolution confirms there is an armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia, and condemns the retroactive application of Russian laws to the territory, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief reiterated the EU’s “unwavering” support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity as the bloc considered moves to extend economic sanctions on Russia for its aggression in Ukraine. Federica Mogherini, speaking in Brussels on December 8 after meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, condemned Russia’s continued militarization of the Crimea region, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014. She also assailed Russia for the deterioration of human rights in the region and restated the EU’s “call for the immediate release of all Ukrainian citizens illegally detained in illegally annexed Crimea and in Russia.” The EU, along with the United States, has imposed economic sanctions on Moscow for its actions in Ukraine, where it also backs separatists fighting Kyiv’s forces in the eastern part of the country in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people since it began in April 2014. The EU sanctions, which mainly target the Russian banking and energy sectors, were imposed in the summer of 2014 and have been extended every six months since then. EU diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL on the sidelines of the meeting that French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will recommend at the December 14 EU summit that the sanctions be extended a further six months through July 2018.
The head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate has said the Ukrainian church will never go back under the control of the Moscow Patriarchate. Patriarch Filaret told journalists in Kyiv on December 1 that the Russian Orthodox Church was “deceptive” on November 30 when it said he had written a letter to Russian Patriarch Kirill asking for forgiveness. The Moscow Patriarchate excommunicated Patriarch Filaret after he broke his Kyiv Patriarchate from Moscow in 1992. “They now want to call us again to talks on a return to the Moscow Patriarchate,” he said. “First of all, I want to tell the Moscow patriarch and the Russian bishops that the Ukrainian Church will never go back to the Moscow Patriarchate.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called on Russia to recognize the famine of 1932-1933 that killed millions of people in Ukraine under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as genocide, “or at least repent for it.” He made the call at an event in central Kyiv on November 25, the official Holodomor Remembrance Day. He also said that “the time has come” for Ukraine to adopt legislation against denying the genocide. “Not recognizing the Holodomor is as immoral as denying the Holocaust,” the president said. Ukraine and about a dozen other countries have recognized the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. The Holodomor Remembrance Day is marked in Ukraine every year on the fourth Saturday of November.
Ukraine marked the Day of Dignity and Freedom, a holiday commemorating the beginning of the Euro-Маidan protests that started in November 2013 and pushed President Viktor Yanukovych from power three months later. President Petro Poroshenko and his wife, Maryna, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, and Verkhovna Rada Chair Andriy Parubiy placed flowers and lit candles at a monument on Kyiv’s Independence Square (Maidan) on November 21. The monument honors the Heavenly Hundred, or Heavenly Brigade, a term for protesters who were killed in crackdowns by security forces during the protests. A day before the ceremonies, a senior prosecutor said that murder investigations launched in an effort to hold people responsible for the deaths of protesters are on hold because the cases have been transferred to an investigative body that does not yet exist. Serhiy Horbatyuk, chief of the directorate for in-absentia investigations at the Prosecutor General’s Office, said that cases involving corruption accusations against senior officials in the Yanukovych administration were also effectively halted.
After talks on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, U.S. and Russian envoys say their countries have “different concepts for how to make peace” but will continue to work to achieve that goal. “Both sides agreed to reflect on the discussions… and to think about further ways to address this challenge,” said a joint statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow after special envoy Kurt Volker and Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov met on November 13. It said the meeting in Belgrade included a “thorough discussion of the current diplomatic state of play concerning efforts to end the war” between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Mr. Volker had indicated before the meeting that it would focus on the possibility of an international peacekeeping force being deployed in the parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that are held by Russia-backed separatists.
A lawmaker from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s party has told RFE/RL he plans to propose legislation that would sever diplomatic relations with Russia. Ivan Vinnyk spoke to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service on November 8, after reports that he had already submitted the proposal prompted criticism from Moscow. The proposal comes as the Verkhovna Rada considers a bill governing what lawmakers hope will be the “reintegration” of parts of eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists whose war against Kyiv has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014. The single-chamber Parliament approved the bill in its first of two required votes on October 6. The second and final vote, which would send the bill to President Poroshenko if it is approved by the Rada, is expected next week.
On October 26, U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) issued a statement after the Trump administration issued guidance for implementation of the Russia sanctions legislation adopted in July by the U.S. Congress. Sens. McCain and Cardin stated, “The administration’s announcement is a step in the right direction toward holding Russia accountable for its attack on our election. By issuing guidance for the implementation of the sanctions legislation, the administration is slowly but surely carrying out the law that Congress passed overwhelmingly this summer.
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has called upon his supporters in Ukraine to protect him from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. “Poroshenko wants to extradite me,” Mr. Saakashvili said in a statement broadcast on the NewsOne television outlet on October 24. “I ask Kyiv residents and all other honest people for protection.” Earlier in the day, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko announced that the country’s migration service had rejected Mr. Saakashvili’s application for refugee status. “As a result, he is now a stateless person and there are no special obstacles excluding him from deportation or extradition,” Mr. Lutsenko said. Mr. Saakashvili’s lawyer, Pavlo Bohomazov, told Russia’s RIA Novosti that his client has not received a rejection from the migration authorities.