Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko (left) and Deputy Justice Minister Denys Chernyshov (right) during an inspection of the Lukyanivska Prison in Kyiv on April 18.

Banker embarks on overhauling Ukraine’s Soviet-era prison system

KYIV – The dimly lit cavernous hallways of the tsarist-era Lukyanivska Prison emit a dank and musky smell. Unmitigated mold growth and years of neglect have rendered a whole cell wing and the basement uninhabitable, even by Ukraine’s Soviet-era prison standards. Called “Katka” by its inmates – after Catherine II of Russia who ruled the tsarist empire when the facility was built in 1863 – the prison has had several units added since, the latest being the women’s ward built with Swiss-funded money in 2007. Notoriety always accompanied the Lukyanivska Prison. Used mostly to hold prisoners in between court appearances for alleged crimes, it has a history of prisoner mistreatment and inhumane conditions associated with sanitation, overcrowding, and poor health care and food.

ICJ rejects Kyiv’s call to halt Russian support for separatists

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague has refused Ukraine’s request to impose provisional measures against Russia to block what Kyiv says is Russia’s monetary and military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. But the court on April 19 did issue a provisional ruling calling for a halt to what it says is “racial discrimination” against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in Russia-occupied Crimea. “The conditions required for the indication of provisional measures,” as requested by Ukraine in order to block Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, “are not met,” the United Nation’s highest court said in its April 19 ruling, read out by ICJ President Ronny Abraham. Moscow seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014 and has supported the separatists in a war that has killed more than 9,900 people in eastern Ukraine since April of that year. When it lodged its case in January, Kyiv said that Russia has stepped up its interference in Ukraine’s affairs since 2014, “intervening militarily” and “financing acts of terrorism and violating the human rights of millions of Ukraine’s citizens, including, for all too many, their right to life.”

It said Ukraine was seeking “full reparations for…

Georgia and Ukraine welcome new thaw in bilateral relations

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili traveled to Ukraine on March 27, meeting with the host country’s President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman. The visit occurred within the framework of a GUAM summit. GUAM, a loose economic and political cooperation organization, brings together Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova (Civil Georgia, March 28). Mr. Kvirikashvili’s visit and its warm, business-like rhetoric, emphasizing the need to deepen economic and political ties, represented a noteworthy break from Kyiv and Tbilisi’s not-so-friendly relations over the last two to three years. Historically, Georgia and Ukraine have largely enjoyed exemplary, close ties.

April ceasefire in Donbas: Opportunity for renewed Russian gains?

The truce was broken almost immediately: Russia-backed separatists started firing on Ukrainian positions just hours after the ceasefire went into effect. “Despite the declared truce, our forces have lost several [the exact number depends on the day] soldiers, several others have been wounded over the past day… Notwithstanding the casualties, the Ukrainian army has not returned fire.” This is how a typical daily press release put out by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has read since April 1, when the armed forces declared a ceasefire (at 00:00 hours) in the conflict area of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region (Mil.gov.ua, April 12). Thus, from April 11 to April 12, the Russian occupation forces and their local proxies fired at Ukrainian positions over 45 times, using various weapons, including heavy artillery prohibited by the Minsk agreements (Mediarnbo.org, April 12). The Ukrainian army stopped firing on enemy positions by the order of President Petro Poroshenko, following the agreement on a full ceasefire reached during the meeting of the trilateral Contact Group in Minsk on March 29. According to Mr. Poroshenko, resolute actions were necessary to ensure the ceasefire, including a withdrawal of heavy weaponry and artillery (President.gov.ua, March 30).

American citizens should care about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Many commentators have now answered U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s question, “Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” But they have failed to point out why that is the wrong question – and why it reflects a profound change in the United States with far larger and more dangerous implications than some might think. It is quite clear that American citizens have a profound interest in supporting Ukraine as a fellow democracy that has been invaded by a dictatorship that is dedicated to overthrowing the basic principles of the West – the rule of law, the supremacy of citizenship over ethnicity and the right of nations to self-determination. And while is also quite clear that Americans as taxpayers have an interest in supporting Ukraine because those basic political principles have contributed to the growth of the U.S. and the world economy, focusing on, or more precisely reducing, Americans and their interests from citizens to taxpayers reflects a dangerous habit of mind. Not only does it detract attention from political questions that are central in the Ukrainian case, but it encourages a selfish and individualistic rather than generous and collective spirit that so often has informed American actions in the world at their best. And that shift, if it continues, makes such noble actions not just in support of Ukraine far more unlikely.

Why should Russian taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?

Eight days ago, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson posed a rhetorical question to his G-7 counterparts, “Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” There are both compelling reasons why they should be and even more why the real question is why U.S. citizens should be (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/04/american-citizens-should-care-about.html). But when people, be they senior officials or ordinary citizens, begin asking questions like that, it is a clear indication that they are increasingly focusing on themselves rather than on broader issues and are tired of bearing the burdens that the situation or their leaders have demanded. That makes a poll result from the Russian Federation, the country that has invaded Ukraine, especially interesting, because it suggests that Russian taxpayers are beginning to define the Ukrainian issue in much the same way Secretary Tillerson has. That is, they are asking why they should be interested in Ukraine if it is taking money away from them. According to the Levada Center, Russians still view the Anschluss of Crimea positively and dismiss Western criticism of it as a violation of international law.

Ambassador speaks about U.S. support for Kyiv, importance of reform

…we believe that that reform path will lead to a Ukraine that is more prosperous, democratic and ultimately secure. And I think will also make for a more confident and reliable partner for the United States and for NATO. Following is the text, slightly abridged, of remarks by U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch on April 6 at the 2017 Kyiv Security Forum, where she spoke on a select panel with former Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer. The text was released by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. … over the last 25 years, Ukraine and the United States have been steadfast partners, and I think that relationship has been strong and deep across all spheres, including, of course, in the security sphere.

The chief of the National Bank of Ukraine, Valeria Gontareva, on April 10, when she announced her resignation.

Gontareva, fearless head of NBU, resigns after tackling ‘zombie’ banks, oligarchs

KYIV – As the outgoing central bank governor, Valeria Gontareva will be a hard act to follow. Her resignation on April 10 expectedly came after the International Monetary Fund released an additional $1 billion as part of its $17.5 billion country support program, and after three years as head of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU). Under her watch, 87 out of some 180 banks lost their licenses because they couldn’t meet the stricter regulations she put in place in one of Europe’s most corrupt and shaky banking systems. As a result, total banking sector assets shrank to $53.8 billion by year-end 2016 from more than $120 billion three years earlier. Put another way, if the ratio of corporate loans to gross domestic product was around 50 percent before Ms. Gontareva’s tenure, and the household loans to GDP ratio was 13 percent, then today they are 35 and 7 percent, respectively. “I came here to implement reforms.  My mission is fulfilled – the reforms are implemented,”  Ms. Gontareva told journalists on the day of her resignation.

Russian agitprop pervades Central and Eastern Europe

The outbreak of the mass Euro-Maidan street protests in Kyiv (2013) and Russia’s subsequent aggression against Ukraine convinced the Kremlin of the need to project Russian “soft power” to blunt any response from Europe. However, Western countries ostracized Russia, particularly after it illegally and forcibly annexed Crimea. Consequently, Russia could no longer easily rely on large Russian corporations to influence mainstream European politicians and members of civil society “to see things from Moscow’s point of view,” as used to be the case. Instead, European extremists and radicals became the Kremlin’s main allies on the continent (Svoboda.org, July 28, 2016; see Eurasia Daily Monitor, September 5, 2014). A recent case in point has been the March 28-29 grenade-launcher attack on the Polish Consulate in Lutsk, western Ukraine, by unknown individuals but made to appear like an effort by home-grown Ukrainian nationalists to politically divide Kyiv from Warsaw.

Moscow’s laughs not to be trusted in the Baltics

A STRATCOM study shows that Ukraine had success with countering Russia’s humor attacks by launching its own “laugh offensive.”
The Baltic governments and non-governmental organizations (NGO) can draw lessons from this Ukrainian experience. Humor is a much more powerful “soft warfare” weapon in Russia’s hands than one might think. This month (March 2017), a team of academics from Latvia and Ukraine, in collaboration with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Strategic Communications Center of Excellence (STRATCOM), presented their study on how humor can be used as a tool for strategic communication. The study, “Stratcom Laughs – In Search of an Analytical Framework,” concludes that as a part of its “soft power” toolkit, Russia utilizes humor to undermine the credibility of Western political leaders, as well as challenge the values and principles on which the West’s decisions and policies are based (Stratcomceo.org, accessed March 27). Kremlin-owned TV channels enjoy a near-monopoly on Russian-language coverage in the Baltic states, each with a sizable Russian-speaking minority.