KYIV – Ukraine last week took a legislative step closer to reflect the fact that Russia is waging war against this nation of 42.5 million people – an unprovoked invasion that saw Crimea annexed and 3 percent of the easternmost Donbas region occupied by Kremlin-led forces nearly four years ago.
On October 6, the Verkhovna Rada passed a law in the first of two readings that names Russia as an aggressor state pursuant to international conventions and enables the armed forces to better defend the nation’s sovereign territory.
On September 20, the Kharkiv City Council sent an appeal, addressed to Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, regarding concerns over recent actions by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Specifically, the appeal cites a draft bulletin allegedly sent by the EASA to the Ukrainian State Aviation Service (SAS), proposing restrictions upon international aviation in eastern Ukraine (City.kharkov.ua, September 20). Neither the EASA nor the SAS have released the document in question into the public domain. Though the SAS confirmed receipt of the EASA document, the Ukrainian agency has stated only that it will liaise with the Ukrainian government to adopt an official position (Avianews.com, September 20). To date, the aforementioned appeal by the Kharkiv City Council against the adoption of the EASA proposal is the sole official notification and documentation by a government body that exists in the public domain.
Veteran career diplomat Ambassador John Tefft, 68, who was pulled out of retirement to man the United States’ Moscow mission in 2014, following the acute crisis precipitated by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the onset of the war in the Donbas, left the Russian capital at the end of September. His replacement, Jon Huntsman Jr., 57, the former Utah governor and ambassador to Singapore and China, arrived from Washington on Monday, October 2, immediately after being confirmed by the Senate. On Tuesday, October 3, he delivered his credentials to President Vladimir Putin, at a ceremony in the Kremlin, with Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov and presidential foreign affairs advisor Yuri Ushakov present. Under Russian protocol rules, the formal introduction of new ambassadors is held twice a year, and some arrivals may wait many months before meeting Mr. Putin. Some 20 ambassadors from various countries assembled in the Kremlin that Tuesday.
“The worst thing we can do to the people of Crimea is to leave them in isolation from the broader world.” – Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe. PRAGUE – The Council of Europe’s human rights chief says there is a “lot of work to do” in Russia as he criticized Moscow’s lack of cooperation amid reports of rights abuses in Chechnya and Russia-occupied Crimea. “Russia is the only country that has not cooperated with my office in the last couple of years; every other country has cooperated,” said Nils Muiznieks, the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe, which has 47 member countries. “And I would like to see that [uncooperativeness] change. I think there is a lot of work to do in Russia,” he told RFE/RL in an interview in Prague on September 26.
MOSCOW – The public reception of Russia’s new “Crimea” movie blockbuster about its invasion of the Ukrainian peninsula is being hotly contested, with Kremlin-tied media suggesting it’s a box-office hit and independent media and review sites calling it a flop playing in empty cinemas. Backed by Russia’s Defense Ministry, the movie premiered to fanfare in the annexed territory on September 27, but had an inauspicious start amid accusations that hackers had infiltrated a popular Russian movie website to inflate Crimea’s public review ratings. “Nice try,” Yelizaveta Surganova, chief editor of KinoPoisk, wrote on Facebook on September 28, saying her site had deleted tens of thousands of fake reviews that had artificially cranked the film’s rating up to 6.2 out of 10. “It would be better to spend those efforts on the quality of films.”
KinoPoisk now gives Crimea a meager 2.4 rating on a 10-point scale, and ranks it as one of its 10 most-unpopular films ever. IVI.Ru, a Russian online video site, grades the film at 2.1 out of 10, while the popular Internet Movie Database (IMDb) gives the film a 1.1 rating out of 10.
KYIV – Ukraine’s new law on education, which the Presidential Administration says is more inclusive towards minorities and will improve their integration into society, has received backlash from at least three countries in the region.
Russia, Hungary and Romania, all of which have sizable or concentrated minority enclaves in the country, have criticized the law that President Petro Poroshenko signed on September 25 and which went into effect three days later.
Ukraine has placed 15-year Eurobonds in the amount of $3 billion, President Petro Poroshenko announced on September 18. Mr. Poroshenko, who was on a visit to New York at the time for the United Nations General Assembly, noted that Ukraine had never borrowed so much for so long before. Investors’ newfound confidence in Ukraine stemmed from its reforms in the energy sector and other fields, as well as deregulation and privatization (Interfax, September 18). The interest on the bond is 7.375 percent, and the proceeds will be used to fill the state budget and, more importantly, repurchase $1.6 billion worth of 7.75 percent Eurobonds maturing in 2019-2020, said the Ukrainian Ministry of Finance (Minfin.gov.ua, September 19). This is a clever move by Kyiv, easing pressure on public finances in 2018-2019, when payments on foreign debt will peak.
President Petro Poroshenko recently announced that the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) would issue instructions to tighten and strengthen Ukrainian borders, a major feature of which would be the stringent requirement that Russian citizens possess biometric passports when entering Ukraine (President.gov.ua, September 1). This NSDC decision announced by the president on September 1 put an end to a longstanding internal debate with that body. The hardliners within the NSCD had robustly lobbied for an introduction of visas for Russian citizens (112.ua, June 23). An introduction of a visa regime, the argument went, would have theoretically presented Ukraine with the opportunity to vet applicants for all manner of nefarious and national security issues, regardless of whether the Russian citizen held a biometric or old-style passport, prior to issuing an entry visa. However, that would have also required those granting visas in numerous embassies and consulates to have access to sensitive Ukrainian Security Service (SSU) information and/or lists, perhaps beyond any security clearance they may hold.
BRUSSELS – The European Union aspirations of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are expected to be the main bone of contention among member states ahead of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit in Brussels on November 24, a draft statement seen by RFE/RL suggests. Most of the controversial items in the text concern the future relationship between the three states and the European Union, according to the draft version of the summit declaration. The draft of the document seen by RFE/RL, titled “Elements for the EaP summit joint declaration,” has so far been discussed among lower-ranking diplomats from the 28 EU member states, but it is expected to be moved in the coming weeks to the countries’ EU ambassadors, where it can be further altered and turned into a declaration that leaders of the EU countries and the six Eastern Partners are expected to endorse on the day of the summit. The EaP consists of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. According to several sources close to the discussion with whom RFE/RL has spoken but who are not authorized to speak on the record, the main disagreement among member states involves maintaining or altering the tone of the previous Eastern Partnership summit in Riga two years ago.
The Russian Duma has declared that Kyiv’s decision to make Ukrainian the language of instruction in Ukrainian schools is “an act of ethnocide” of the ethnic Russian people in Ukraine, thus denouncing in another country what Moscow is itself doing in Russia and ignoring who is really responsible for the shift away from Russian ethnic identity in Ukraine. In a Kasparov.ru commentary, Russian analyst Igor Yakovenko notes that “ethnocide is the policy of the intentional destruction of national identity and the self-consciousness of a people” that can be achieved either by genocide or by forced assimilation into another human community (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=59CD 203BD5D3A). There is no genocide of ethnic Russians going on in Ukraine except in the fevered imaginations of some Russian commentators, Mr. Yakovenko says, but there is assimilation of ethnic Russians into the Ukrainian nation. This, he notes, is not as a result of Kyiv’s policies but rather because of the actions and statements of the Russian government. In Soviet times, the share of ethnic Russians in the Ukrainian population rose from 9.23 percent in 1926 to 22.07 percent in 1989, the result of the mass murder of the Ukrainian peasantry by Joseph Stalin and the Moscow-organized in-migration of ethnic Russians and Moscow’s encouragement of Russian as opposed to Ukrainian identity.