August 28, 2020



Biegun reasserts U.S. support for Kyiv

United States Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv, assured that the United States supports the Ukrainian government’s efforts to implement reforms. “In a meeting with Prime Minister Shmyhal, Deputy Secretary Biegun reiterated U.S. support for the Ukrainian government’s efforts to implement reforms that strengthen its democratic institutions, improve the investment climate and ensure Ukraine can fulfill its Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” the Embassy said in a statement on its Facebook page on August 27. It also said that the United States is deeply committed to reinforcing Ukraine’s continued progress on reforms to further integrate into Europe, including via cooperation with international partners to strengthen its judicial, regulatory and financial institutions. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Deputy Secretary Biegun discussed the development of the strategic partnership between Ukraine and the United States, as well as the situation in Belarus, the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry said. “I am glad to welcome U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun to Kyiv. We discussed in detail the further development of the strategic partnership between Ukraine and the United States in the areas of security, energy, reforms, trade and investment, and exchanged views on the situation in Belarus,” Minister Kuleba wrote on Twitter. (Interfax-Ukraine)


About Biegun’s meetings in Vilnius

During his August 24 visit to Vilnius, Lithuania, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun met with Foreign Affairs Minister Linas Linkevicius, Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis and other officials to discuss the situation in Belarus, countering threats posed by Russia and the People’s Republic of China, and the promotion of human rights and democracy. According to the State Department, the deputy secretary reaffirmed the long-standing U.S.-Lithuania friendship and the two nations’ shared commitment to security, economic and global interests. Deputy Secretary Biegun also met with Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanou­skaya to discuss the situation in Belarus and how civil society can strengthen democracy and human rights in the country. Mr. Biegun affirmed the U.S. commitment to Belarus’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to the sovereign right of its people to elect their own leaders and determine their own future. (U.S. Department of State)


Zelenskyy comments on election in Belarus

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelens­kyy said on August 23 that, if he were in Belarusian President Alyaksandr Luka­shen­ka’s place, he would call fresh elections in one month with international observers present. “Let’s imagine that I am confident about myself, I am confident in the people’s vote, that I am a confident person. How can I calm everyone down?” Mr. Zelenskyy said. “I would definitely say: ‘In one month there will be a new vote. And I am running for the new election. Whoever wants to run – go ahead.’ ” He added that he would invite in “all international observers.” Euronews released excerpts of the interview on August 23 ahead of the broadcast of the full interview on August 25. The Ukrainian leader’s remarks came after the European Union and other Western countries said they did not recognize the result of the August 9 presidential election giving Mr. Lukashenka 80 percent of the vote. Svyat­lana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate, has claimed that she was the true winner. She has since departed for Lithuania, saying she fears for her safety, amid mass protests in Minsk and other cities. Mr. Zelenskyy said any candidate should be allowed to run in a repeat election. “I’d tell the people of Belarus: ‘Please, elect whoever you want,’ ” he said. “And after that result, there would be no more questions. I’m convinced of that.” It would be a way to avoid bloodshed, he said and would “be fair and would make history.” (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Euronews)


Iran: Airliner was hit by two missiles

Iran says analysis from the black boxes of a downed Ukrainian passenger plane shows it was hit by two missiles 25 seconds apart and that those on board were still alive after the first strike. The announcement by the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization on August 23 marks the first official report on the contents of the cockpit voice and data recordings, which were sent to France for reading in July. Tehran has said it accidentally shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on January 8, at a time of tension with the United States. All 176 people aboard the plane were killed. “Nineteen seconds after the first missile hit the plane, the voices of pilots inside the cockpit indicated that the passengers were alive… 25 seconds later, the second missile hit the plane,” Touraj Dehghani-Zanganeh was cited as saying by state television. Iran has been in talks with Ukraine, Canada and other nations that had citizens aboard the downed plane and who have demanded a thorough investigation into the incident. “The data analysis from the black boxes should not be politicized,” Mr. Zanganeh said. Iran’s Revolution­ary Guards Corps shot down the flight with ground-to-air missiles just after the plane took off from Tehran, in what Iran later acknowledged as a “disastrous mistake” by forces on high alert during heightened tensions with the United States. Iranian and Ukrainian officials have held talks on compensation for families of the victims. Another round of talks is set for October. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AP and Reuters)


Ukraine closes border to foreigners

The Cabinet of Ministers has decided to close Ukraine’s borders to foreigners until the end of September. The decision was made at a government meeting on August 25. According to Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov, it is proposed to refuse entry into Ukraine for foreigners, except for persons who transit Ukraine and have documents confirming their departure within two days; persons who study at Ukraine’s educational institutions; those who serve in the Ukrainian Armed Forces; persons who permanently reside in Ukraine and have a relevant certificate; refugees or persons in need of additional protection; employees of diplomatic missions and consular institutions of foreign states; representations of official international missions; organizations accredited in Ukraine and members of their families; or those who come to Ukraine at the invitation of the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry. As well, Mr. Avakov said, entry will allowed for persons who are instructors of the armed forces of NATO member states and states participating in the Partnership for Peace program, persons who train Ukrainian Armed Forces servicemen or arrive in Ukraine at the invitation of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry; cultural figures who arrive in the country at the invitation of cultural institutions together with an accompanying person; those who come to participate in official sports competitions held in Ukraine, and their accompanying persons; persons who transport stem cells for transplantation; and those who come for treatment to Ukraine’s health care facilities. According to Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, the restrictions and are in force from August 29 to September 28. As of August 26, Ukraine reported 110,085 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 1,670 new cases recorded over the past 24 hours. According to data provided by the coronavirus epidemic monitoring system of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, 36 deaths and 584 recoveries were reported over the past 24 hours. Overall, Ukraine has confirmed 2,354 deaths and 53,454 recoveries since the start of the pandemic. (Ukrinfrom)


Tymoshenko tests positive for coronavirus

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has tested positive for the coronavirus and is in serious condition with a fever, her party’s spokeswoman said on August 23. Marina Soroka, a spokeswoman for the Batkivshchyna Party, confirmed that the 59-year-old Ms. Tymoshen­ko is ill, saying on Facebook, “Yes, unfortunately, it’s correct.” She added that Ms. Tymoshenko is “fighting” with a temperature of 102.2 degrees, but did not say whether she had been hospitalized. Ms. Tymoshen­ko is the first high-profile Ukrainian politician known to have contracted COVID-19. Ms. Tymoshenko rose to prominence as co-leader of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 amid widespread protests against corruption and election rigging. She ran for president in 2010, losing to Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych, and was imprisoned from 2011 to 2014 on abuse-of-office charges that the international community widely condemned as politically motivated. She was freed from prison in early 2014 after Mr. Yanukovych was toppled in a popular uprising that put Ukraine on a path toward closer ties with the European Union and the United States. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Reuters and DPA)


Zelenskyy comments on Ukraine and EU

European leaders must clearly declare the conditions for Ukraine to gain full membership in the European Union, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an interview published on August 25. “I believe that an understandable position of Europe towards Ukraine is very important for Ukrainians And I asked many European leaders this question: what do you want Ukrainians to do, step by step, to become an EU member?” the head of state told the Euronews television channel. According to Mr. Zelens­kyy, after receiving a specific list of steps, it will be clear what needs to be done and how long it will take for Ukraine’s European integration. “Both Ukraine and Europe should have an understanding of what we need now. It seems to me that we just need to make the kind of country that Europe really wants, but Ukraine must decide,” the president said. In his opinion, despite the fact that not all EU countries want to see Ukraine in the EU, the European Union as a whole wants Ukraine to be a partner and have membership. Mr. Zelenskyy said that the countries of Europe and the EU support Ukraine and stand firm on protecting its territorial integrity and sovereignty. “We see how Europe acts with sanctions today, how it supports us, losing money due to sanctions against the Russian Federation. I am grateful to them for that,” he stated. (Interfax-Ukraine)


Special anti-corruption prosecutor resigns

The head of Ukraine’s Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office says he has resigned after five years in the post. Nazar Kholodnytsky made the announcement in a Facebook post on August 21, saying he had quit of his own free will. “Today I can say with confidence that the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine will fulfill their mission,” Mr. Kholodnytsky wrote. “I thank my team for their dedication, honesty and integrity – we do our job with dignity.” He also said that his office has “systematically faced political attempts to encroach on our independence and manipulate the results of our work.” Mr. Kholodnytsky posted a copy of Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova’s August 21 order to dismiss him ”in connection with the application for voluntary dismissal.” Mr. Kholodnytsky, the first head of anti-corruption investigations at the prosecution service in Ukraine, has been embroiled in a scandal over allegations that he helped officials suspected of corruption evade prosecution. In July 2018, Ukraine’s Qualification and Disciplinary Commission of Prosecutors rejected a request by the Prosecutor General’s Office to fire Mr. Kholodnytsky and ruled that he should be reprimanded. In June, Ukrainian officials said they were offered $6 million in bribes to end a criminal investigation into the head of a gas company where the son of former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden served on the board. Mr. Kholodnytsky, however, said that neither of the Bidens was connected to the alleged bribe attempt. The Burisma natural gas company was at the center of a scandal leading to U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial earlier this year. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Suspects detained in attack against RFE/RL

Ukraine’s Intenal Ministry says it has detained two suspects for questioning about a recent arson attack in Kyiv that targeted a car used by investigative journalists from RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service. The attacker’s “clothes, incendiary devices and other evidence” have been seized, and searches were continuing on August 26 as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the attack, Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov said in a Twitter statement. Internal Affairs Ministry spokesman Artem Shevchenko told RFE/RL that one of the detainees was a resident of Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region and the other was from Kyiv. Mr. Shevchenko also said on August 26 that two other suspects were being sought in the case. Media watchdogs have been calling on Ukrainian authorities to investigate complaints of intimidation and attacks against journalists from the Skhemy (Schemes) program, a joint investigative project by RFE/RL and UA: Pershy television, after one of their cars was torched in Kyiv on August 17. Investigators have concluded that the fire was caused by “an external ignition source.” No one was hurt in the incident, but the International and European federations of journalists said on August 18 that a campaign of harassment and intimidation, including surveillance and arson attacks, were aimed at “muzzling” the journalists’ investigations. “It is essential that investigative journalists can freely and critically report on corruption and wrongdoing of state officials,” said General Secretary Anthony Bellanger of the International Federation of Journalists. “Surveillance and the attack against this team are worrisome blows against press freedom that can’t go unpunished,” Mr. Bellanger said. “We stand in solidarity with the victimized journalists and call on the authorities to protect them from these attacks.” The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged Ukrainian authorities to find the perpetrators of the arson attack and “hold them to account.” Schemes reporters were recently working on a story revealing how the transport of high-level state officials breaks traffic rules. During the production of the program, the journalists repeatedly voiced concerns about being under surveillance. Schemes reporter Mykhaylo Tkach said earlier in August that he found what he thought were signs of hidden-microphone surveillance in his apartment. “Authorities also must thoroughly investigate the surveillance allegations” made by Mr. Tkach, according to Gulnoza Said, the CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “By reporting on corruption, investigative journalists at ‘Schemes’ are doing an important service for the public, and the authorities should ensure their safety,” Ms. Said added. RFE/RL acting President Daisy Sindelar has expressed concern about the arson attack. While no one was injured, Ms. Sindelar said, “this incident appears aimed at intimidating RFE/RL’s reporters and contributing to a threatening environment for journalists across Ukraine.” She noted: “Schemes is an award-winning investigative team whose work is vital to the public interest of all Ukrainians,” adding, “We urge Ukrainian authorities to ensure that our colleagues can work safely and without fear.” (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)