September and October saw a fresh wave of house searches, arrests and increasing oppression of regime critics on the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula. But on October 25, two Crimean Tatar political prisoners, Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov, were freed and extradited to Turkey after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan brokered a deal with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for their release. Their emergency release was unexpected and became possible based on a signed protocol between Turkey and Russia (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, October 30).
Vladimir Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea gave him a big political boost, and Russians still overwhelmingly support the annexation of that Ukrainian peninsula. But support for Russian forces and their clients in the Donbas is declining, with ever more Russians against backing these breakaway groups and expressing fears that the conflict there could grow into a major war with the West (Levada.ru, October 30).
ByIana Polianska and Christopher Miller / RFE/RL |
KYIV – Ukrainian prosecutors intend to ask the U.S. Justice Department for permission to interview President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort following his indictment on October 30, an official said.
Prosecutors also want U.S. authorities to share any evidence they might have pertaining to an ongoing criminal investigation of a former justice minister, Serhiy Horbatyuk, prosecutor for special investigations, told RFE/RL.
WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department has targeted more than three dozen major Russian defense and intelligence companies under a new U.S. sanctions law, restricting business transactions with them and further ratcheting up pressure against Moscow. The new list, released on October 27, came after weeks of mounting criticism by members of Congress accusing the White House of missing an October 1 deadline. That deadline was set by legislation that was signed into law reluctantly by President Donald Trump in August. Passed by Congress overwhelmingly, the law seeks to punish Russia for what the U.S. intelligence community concluded was its meddling in last year’s U.S. election, among other things. The new list includes some of the best-known companies in Russia’s military-industrial complex, most of which are state-owned.
Despite Western diplomatic efforts and sanctions against Russia, Moscow continues to attack and put pressure on the last vestiges of organized political and social opposition in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in early 2014. Indeed, September and October brought renewed persecution on the peninsula. The latest wave of harassment and intimidation began right after the opening of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) annual Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) conference in Warsaw. On September 13, Crimean Tatar Renat Paralamov was kidnapped by unidentified Russian authorities and, he says, severely beaten. However, thanks to international pressure, he was released the next day and found at a bus stop in Symferopol (Krymr.com, September 14) – the first instance, since 2014, that a disappeared individual in Crimea was found within 24 hours of having gone missing.
KYIV – Ukrainians long angered by Paul Manafort’s work to bring what they regard as a kleptocratic, pro-Russia administration to power in Kyiv celebrated news of the American political consultant’s indictment on October 30. Mr. Manafort, who spent months as chairman of U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, surrendered to the FBI along with his longtime business partner Rick Gates after days of speculation as to who was targeted in a sealed indictment from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The charges from Mr. Mueller – who was tasked by the U.S. Justice Department with investigating alleged Russian attempts to meddle in the election and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials – maintain that Mr. Manafort laundered millions of dollars in Ukrainian payments through overseas shell companies and used the money to buy real estate, luxury cars and fancy suits. Already a seasoned Washington hand, Mr. Manafort was widely credited with masterminding the political comeback in Kyiv of Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, six years after Mr. Yanukovych’s flawed election victory sparked Ukraine’s pro-democracy Orange Revolution. The indictment is chiefly about Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine and does not directly tie him to Moscow or name him as a suspected collaborator in the alleged Russian operation to disrupt the election.
The annual meeting of the Valdai discussion club provides a unique opportunity for many Western experts to “meet” with President Vladimir Putin. This year, the Kremlin sought to build up expectations by divulging that Mr. Putin was working on a draft of a particularly important speech (RIA Novosti, October 13). However, the Russian president’s performance turned out to be distinguished only by his demonstrative lack of interest in the proceedings (Kommersant, October 20). He recycled a number of clichéd observations about the growing challenges to the global order, stated that the United Nations needed reforms on the basis of broad consensus and expressed a preference for gradual evolution rather than revolution (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 19). The absence of any meaningful content would have been noteworthy were it not so typical of the way Mr. Putin has behaved for months, in the course of his yet-to-be-announced campaign for a fourth term as president of the Russian Federation (New Times, October 20).
Across the former Soviet empire, non-Russians have been taking down the Soviet-era statues that Moscow had imposed on them. The Baltic countries did so in 1991. Ukraine recently eliminated all Lenin statues, and now Poland is being sharply criticized by the Russian government for eliminating monuments to the Red Army. But now a district in Lithuania has come up with a clever strategy, one that moves between the Scylla of leaving these monuments and their messages in place and the Charybdis of taking them down and being attacked by Moscow or by others who decry the destruction of something they view as part of the historical record. At a cemetery in a district in northern Lithuania, local officials have not taken down the monuments Moscow erected near the graves of Red Army soldiers but rather put up new signs indicating that “the ideological inscriptions of the Soviet period do not correspond to historical truth” (zinios.lt/lzinios/Gimtasis-krastas/prie-paminklu-sovietu-kariams-specialios-lenteles/252739).
Crimea is Ukrainian territory. Full stop. Russia violated international law when it annexed the peninsula. And the Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov – a resident of Crimea who publicly opposed the annexation and was subsequently imprisoned for “terrorism” – is a political prisoner who should be released. Saying any of these things – or even reposting or liking such remarks on social media – could get most Russians prosecuted for supporting separatism and extremism.
KYIV – Protesters calling for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to enact anti-corruption reforms or step down notched a small victory on October 19 as the Verkhovna Rada sent a bill on lifting lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution to the Constitutional Court for review. Hundreds of demonstrators aligned with opposition parties cheered the news when it was announced in front of the legislature, where they have been camping out in tents since October 17 to ratchet up pressure on Mr. Poroshenko to clamp down on what they see as rampant corruption in government. Mustafa Nayyem, a reformist deputy and Poroshenko critic, called it “a small victory” for the opposition that is likely to appease the protesters for the time being. Thousands of demonstrators have gathered outside the Verkhovna Rada in recent days in a mainly peaceful protest, though minor clashes with police have been reported. In addition to setting up more than half a dozen tents in front of Parliament, they have also managed to bring metal shields into the security area, echoing measures taken by activists in the massive Euro-Maidan protests that pushed Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych from power in February 2014.