KYIV – Joe Biden’s sixth and last visit to Ukraine as America’s vice-president on January 16 was more symbolic and consultative in nature, Ukrainian experts said just five days before a new president is inaugurated in Washington. In his fifth visit since the Euro-Maidan Revolution, Mr. Biden, 74, came to show that America isn’t forgetting about Kyiv and was a swan song gesture of support, commented political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta Center. “It is a signal that we are remembered. He didn’t have to come to Kyiv. It’s a sign of respect and attention toward us,” Mr. Fesenko said.
KYIV – Victor Pinchuk, the billionaire tycoon known for staging Ukraine’s premiere gathering of leaders and thinkers on Ukraine’s European future, drew criticism for suggesting that his country shelve integration with the continent and temporarily sacrifice Crimea in exchange for peace with Russia. He did so in an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal on December 29. On the commentary titled “Ukraine must make painful compromises for peace with Russia,” Mr. Pinchuk, 56, said that “Ukraine should give up the idea of European Union membership,” including NATO, and that “Crimea is Ukraine, but this position should not be an obstacle on the way of returning Donbas.”
He furthermore advocated for holding local elections in the Russia-occupied Donbas even though there won’t be “conditions for fair elections until Ukraine has full control over its territory.”
For years an advocate for closer ties with the 28-nation European Union, Mr. Pinchuk’s article came exactly three weeks before he holds the Davos Ukrainian Breakfast at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on January 19. CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria is scheduled to moderate a discussion on Ukraine’s future in a “changing world” between former British Prime Minister David Cameron and Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine’s vice prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. President Petro Poroshenko won’t attend the yearly meal that Mr. Pinchuk hosts in Davos, online news publication Leviy Bereg reported, citing anonymous sources in the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
KYIV – Sen. John McCain says that the United States will not strike a “Faustian bargain” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid speculation that President-elect Donald Trump could scrap sanctions in a bid to improve ties. Speaking in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service in Kyiv on December 30 along with two other U.S. senators, Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) said any possible deal with Mr. Putin “would interfere with and undermine the freedom and democracies that exist today.”
The U.S. Congress imposed sanctions on Moscow shortly after Russia forcibly annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and for its ongoing support for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Congress would pursue in 2017 more sanctions against Russia, targeting the energy and banking sectors, as well as “Putin and his inner circle.”
“We’re going to do two things: We’re going after Putin harder with tougher sanctions and we’re going to be more helpful to our friends, like here in Ukraine,” Sen. Graham said. Sens. McCain, Graham and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said there is strong support in Congress to provide Ukraine with “lethal defensive weapons” to help Kyiv in its fight against Russia-backed separatists in the east.
KYIV – The new chairperson-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe chose war-torn Ukraine for his first foreign visit as the leader of the 57-state organization. Having announced that part of his mission would be to “defuse conflicts” during his year-long chairmanship, Austria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sebastian Kurz visited the frontline village of Shyrokyne in Donetsk Oblast along the Azov Sea coast on January 4. Mr. Kurz noted that the OSCE, whose 693 monitors have a mandate to monitor ceasefire efforts in the Donbas war, isn’t satisfied with the current “status quo” in eastern Ukraine. “This visit is supposed to signify in the first place that we aren’t happy with the status quo and we want to put forth effort so that changes lead to improvement,” he said at a news conference in Mariupol, some 30 kilometers west of Shyrokyne. Despite never taking hold since the truce was brokered in Minsk in February 2015, Mr. Kurz reiterated that the agreement is the only option for implementing peace and the measures that Ukraine and Russia agreed to fulfill.
KYIV – Russia extensively used cross-border artillery fire against Ukrainian military targets in July-September 2014 in what are considered “acts of war,” according to a new report by Bellingcat, a group of citizen journalists who use open-source investigation tools and techniques, that was released on December 21. Numbering in the “thousands,” the report says, the cross-border projectiles were the “first and strongest evidence of a direct Russian participation in the fighting.” Although they were already proven to have occurred by Ukrainian officials and the U.S. government, the new report analyzed the extent to which they were used in the summer of 2014, when they largely contributed to stemming a Ukrainian counterattack to retake the border areas near Russia, and cut off and surround the occupied Donbas capitals of Donetsk and Luhansk. In total, at least 279 separate artillery attacks likely were fired inside Russia, targeting 408 Ukrainian military sites in the “entire border area of the conflict zone.”
Using recent additions of satellite imagery to Google Earth, Yandex and Bing map services, Bellingcat said it found evidence of Russian artillery fire in 2014 “to a much fuller extent.” It found that weapons such as howitzers and multiple rocket-launcher systems were used and, based on other open-source evidence, said that “allows for direct attribution of responsibility to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”
Despite mounting evidence, Moscow authorities have consistently denied direct involvement in the Donbas war that has killed nearly 10,000 people and uprooted more than 1.7 million from their homes since April 2014. Instead, the Kremlin has attempted to portray the war as a civil conflict between Ukrainian government forces and indigenous pro-Russian separatists. The open-source investigative group found that Russia’s artillery barrages “escalated” in “magnitude” the more Ukraine’s offensive in summer 2014 succeeded to liberate occupied territory.
KYIV – Nadiya Savchenko is a woman of many firsts. She is Ukraine’s first female military aviator and the first servicewoman to have received the nation’s highest honor – the golden star Hero of Ukraine medal. She was also the most trusted politician in Ukraine, according to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, when Russian President Vladimir Putin released her in May, after holding her in captivity for nearly two years on trumped up charges, in exchange for two Russian intelligence operatives. Now, Ms. Savchenko, 35, faces the dubious prospect of seeing her political star dim the fastest on record. She has faced a swirl of criticism from fellow lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada, including from the Batkivshchyna party on whose ticket she was elected in absentia, for secretly meeting with Kremlin-backed separatists in Minsk on December 11.
BRUSSELS – Ukraine is carrying out intense and unprecedented reforms across its economy and political system, while its democratic institutions have been further revitalized. This is the observation of a joint report released on December 13 by the European External Action Service and the European Commission, ahead of the third European Union-Ukraine Association Council on December 19, which examines the state of play of Ukraine’s implementation of the Association Agenda since January 1, 2015. “Ukraine has taken big steps in the last two years, under very difficult circumstances, not least the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol. Today’s report fully recognizes this work done by the Ukrainian authorities. It is now crucial to move from passing legislation and setting up institutions to full implementation of these reforms so that Ukrainian citizens can reap the benefits.
KYIV – European journalism faced a number of challenges that drew its attention away from the events in Ukraine. This includes inadequate funding that results in editors’ inability to assign their reporters, Brexit, and Syria, which supersedes the war in Donbas, as well as the world of social media, where false information is spread beyond control, said Andrea Rizzi, international news editor at El Pais, Spain’s leading newspaper. He spoke during a December 1 discussion at Ukraine Crisis Media Center that took place as a part of sixth Spanish-Ukrainian Forum of Journalism, whose topic was “Public Opinion and Civil Society in Times of Crisis: The Media Narrative.”
“We need to make changes, to invent new journalism able to communicate with the 21st century audience, producing content it requires. We need to learn to attract bigger audiences. We can’t neglect our principles, though,” he said, referring to unverified information.
More than two years after his election to the Ukrainian Parliament on a wave of popular anger over political and economic rot in the corridors of power, Oleksandr Onyshchenko, by his own account, got his hands plenty dirty. The 47-year-old Mr. Onyshchenko insists he was a loyal political lieutenant of President Petro Poroshenko, serving as a middleman for the wartime president’s inner circle, smearing a prime minister and ensuring that bribes were paid in good order. But it all came crashing down for the former Olympic equestrian-turned-politician in July, when his fellow lawmakers consented to the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s request to strip him of his parliamentary immunity to put him on trial for an alleged massive embezzlement scheme involving a state-owned gas company and millions in kickbacks. Mr. Onyshchenko had fled Ukraine weeks earlier and has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence from abroad. But his counterpunch at Kyiv landed earlier this month, just as the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) launched a treason case against the former lawmaker.
KYIV – The head of investigations in the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has charged that Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko may have been spying for Russia. Hryhoriy Ostafiychuk, head of the SBU’s Main Investigative Directorate, told reporters in Kyiv on December 1 that the SBU had obtained evidence that suggests treasonous activities by Mr. Onyshchenko. Mr. Ostafiychuk alleged that Mr. Onyshchenko obtained a Russian passport from Russian authorities in exchange for assisting Russian secret services to destabilize Ukraine. He also said that Mr. Onyshchenko had been preparing “a mass information attack” against Ukraine. Mr. Onyshchenko left Ukraine for a European country in July after the legislature stripped him of his parliamentary immunity in the wake of an investigation into his alleged involvement in illegal natural-gas sales.