March 3, 2017



Russia warns of “new tragedies” 

MOSCOW – The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry has raised the possibility of “new tragedies” if Washington moves to supply lethal aid to Ukraine, according to an UNIAN correspondent in Russia who cited Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Ryabkov as making the comment. The Russian side will “explain” to the new U.S. administration “the history and status of the conflict in Ukraine,” Mr. Ryabkov said at the State Duma’s roundtable on U.S-Russia relations. “The U.S. Congress demands that deliveries of the so-called lethal aid [to Ukraine] start, therefore it is important that the White House and the State Department realize that this could result in new tragedies, and feel the responsibility,” said Mr. Ryabkov. He said the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry will contribute to Washington’s “adequate perception” of what is happening in the Donbas. As reported by RFE/RL earlier in February, two U.S. lawmakers (Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Mike Quigley [see story on page 3]) said the time had come for the United States to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons to better defend itself against Moscow-backed separatists, saying that a “confrontational” Russian President Vladimir Putin shows no sign of easing the pressure on Kyiv. In December 2016, the U.S. Congress passed the consolidated National Defense Authorizations Act, 2017, boosting U.S. security assistance to Ukraine to $ 350 million. (UNIAN)

U.S. condemns targeting of OSCE

WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department’s acting spokesperson, Mark Toner, on February 26 issued a statement on the increasing violence in Ukraine’s east. It read: “The United States is closely monitoring the growing violence in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks and the continuing failure of the combined Russian-separatist forces to honor the ceasefire called for under the Minsk agreements.  We condemn Friday’s targeting of OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) monitors and the seizure of a SMM unmanned aerial vehicle by combined Russian-separatist forces. It is imperative that these forces halt their attacks on civilian infrastructure, including the Donetsk water filtration station. We call on Russia and the separatist forces it backs to immediately observe the ceasefire, withdraw all heavy weapons, and allow full and unfettered access to the OSCE monitors. (U.S. Department of State)

Avakov seeks to break up blockade

KYIV – Ukrainian Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov says he has requested permission for the police to break up an activist blockade of the country’s transit routes with areas of the east held by separatists. Ukrainian activists, including some members of Parliament and many veterans of the conflict with Russia-backed forces in eastern Ukraine, have been blockading train routes to the east since late January. The blockade has cut off critically needed coal imports from eastern Ukraine that run western Ukrainian power plants, causing power shortages and other harm to the national economy. The disruptions prompted Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko recently to declare an emergency. “A decision needs to be made,” Mr. Avakov told a gathering of metals industry representatives in Kyiv, denouncing the blockade as having no positive result. “Let’s give powers to the law enforcement agencies to fix the situation.” Meanwhile, the pro-Russian forces have threatened to stop supplying coal and to take over Ukrainian companies that do not pay a tax to their two self-proclaimed separatist republics. They have a set deadline of March 1 for companies to register with their so-called “tax authorities.” (RFE/RL, based on reporting by DPA, Interfax, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian Channel 112)

Italy donates 1 M euros to war victims

KYIV – The government of Italy on February 23 donated 1 million euros to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and UNICEF to assist people affected by the conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2017. “The Italian government continues to support the non-stop and commendable efforts carried out by U.N. agencies in Ukraine to assist the population affected by the conflict,” said Davide La Cecilia, Italy’s ambassador to Ukraine. “Our contribution to WFP and UNICEF operations will help ease people’s suffering, in particular for the most vulnerable, providing food assistance, increasing knowledge and building safe behavior practices to deal with the risk of mines.” Italy’s contribution will enable WFP to provide food to the most vulnerable people who do not receive assistance from other humanitarian actors. WFP will also use the funds to implement small-scale early recovery activities to improve local livelihoods. UNICEF will use the funds to provide mine risk education programs for children and families living close to the contact line, a line that divides government and non-government controlled areas where fighting is most severe. “WFP is thankful to the government of Italy for helping us provide much-needed food assistance to vulnerable people affected by the conflict in eastern Ukraine,” said Giancarlo Stopponi, WFP Deputy Country Director in Ukraine. “WFP greatly appreciates Italy’s support at a time when communities across Ukraine continue to experience the negative consequences of the conflict.” Since November 2014, WFP has provided emergency food assistance to internally displaced people, returnees and residents in eastern Ukraine, distributing monthly food packages and food assistance through cash-based transfers or vouchers. To date, nearly 850,000 of the most vulnerable conflict-affected people have received food from WFP, in spite of the ongoing conflict and a volatile security situation that has restricted the movement of humanitarian staff. In 2017, WFP will continue to address the food needs of the most vulnerable people in eastern Ukraine while gradually bolstering recovery. WFP plans to provide food assistance to 220,000 food-insecure people in conflict-affected areas of eastern Ukraine. “UNICEF is grateful to the government of Italy for their contribution supporting UNICEF’s mine risk education program in eastern Ukraine. The funds will help protect 500,000 children and their caregivers from dangers due to mines and other unexploded ordnance,” said Giovanna Barberis, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine. UNICEF provides life-saving mine risk education to half-a-million children and caregivers. It also provides psychosocial support to over 200,000 boys and girls and their caregivers caught in the conflict, rehabilitates schools damaged by fighting and provides 2.5 million people with access to safe water. In 2017, UNICEF is appealing for $31.3 million (U.S.) to meet the urgent health and nutrition, education, water, hygiene and sanitation, and protection needs of the most vulnerable children and families affected by the conflict. (U.N. World Food Program, UNICEF)

“Bitter Harvest” premieres in Kyiv

OTTAWA – The film “Bitter Harvest,” produced by Ukrainian Canadian philanthropist Ian Ihnatowycz, premiered in Kyiv on February 22. The film is the first English-language feature film about the Holodomor. Attending the premiere, Ukraine’s First Lady Maryna Poroshenko thanked everyone who took part in making the film, and stated, “this film will become a revelation for millions of viewers around the world, because for many years this crime against humanity was concealed.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Ukraine Daily Briefing)

Kyiv’s ‘bridges’ with Trump administration 

KYIV – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he was satisfied that he has established a dialogue with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration despite concerns in Kyiv that Mr. Trump might sacrifice ties with Ukraine in favor of a closer relationship with Russia. Mr. Poroshenko told a meeting of Ukraine’s top brass on February 22 that his conversations with President Trump, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice-President Mike Pence have left him optimistic. “At the moment, I am happy how we are building bridges, and how our dialogue is working out for the best with the U.S. administration,” he said. Mr. Poroshenko’s reassurance over ties to Washington came as one of Kyiv’s key European allies expressed concern over the failure of yet another attempt to halt the fighting in the east. A new ceasefire agreement was supposed to go into effect on February 20, with Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists obliged to pull heavy weapons back from the front line. “The truth is as follows: the ceasefire is not holding,” German Foreign Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel said, adding that is “alarming.” He said, “Those who say something on Saturday [February 18] and several days later don’t keep their word are responsible for the failure of the negotiation process.” (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AFP and Interfax)

OSCE: ceasefire not being honored

NEW YORK – The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said there are still “significant” violations of the ceasefire in Ukraine and “no evidence” that either side is withdrawing heavy weapons from the frontline as agreed last week. “There are still a significant number of violations of the ceasefire, so it’s not really quiet… And they have no evidence of the withdrawal of weapons,” Lamberto Zannier, the organization’s secretary-general, said at a press conference in New York on February 21 after he briefed the United Nations Security Council on the conflict. “We will have to keep pushing both sides” to secure compliance, he said. Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed separatists had appeared to be respecting the new ceasefire attempt earlier in the week, with each side acknowledging that the other was complying. However, Mr. Zannier told the Reuters news agency that the situation remains “confused” and he sees the potential for a restart of another intense phase of combat. Last week’s ceasefire agreement was the latest effort to carry out the 2015 Minsk peace protocol, which has failed repeatedly to bring about peace since it was signed two years ago. Mr. Zannier said that, beyond the problems with getting a ceasefire to hold in Ukraine, “the larger picture remains problematic” in Europe, with a new “Cold War mentality” setting in, but without the mechanisms for dealing with potential crises that existed during the Cold War. “There’s no real reconciliation, no trust. Relationships between Russia and the West remain strongly visceral,” he said. “There was dialogue during the Cold War which resulted in a number of things… Now this dialogue doesn’t really exist” and has been replaced by accusations being hurled from one side to the other. “The tools we have are not really working as well as they should to intervene in a crisis situation, to ensure potential crises didn’t turn into conflicts,” he said. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters)

Lavrov on neutrality of Sweden, Finland

MOSCOW – Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov has said the military neutrality of Sweden and Finland is fundamental to the security of the Baltic region. Mr. Lavrov made the comments on February 21 at a joint press conference with Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Margot Wallstrom. “We have reiterated our high opinion on the policy of Sweden and, also, Finland that adhere to the nonaligned course in military affairs,” Mr. Lavrov said. “We see it as an important token of regional stability in the Baltic region and Europe in general.” Ms. Wallstrom, for her part, said that “Sweden’s policy of nonalignment with military blocs is solid.” Public support for Finland and Sweden to boost ties with NATO or even join the bloc has been rising amid growing tensions between Russia and Europe, particularly since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and Moscow’s active political and military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. In January, Lithuanian Defense Minister Jonas Vytautas Zukas announced that Sweden and Finland were considering sending troops to train jointly with NATO forces deployed in the three Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia last year. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by TASS and The Baltic Times)

Ukraine delegation for IJC hearings

OTAWA – The press service of Ukraine’s president reported that President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree to establish a delegation of Ukraine for participation in hearings of the U.N. International Court of Justice regarding Russia’s violation of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Hearings will take place on March 6-9 at The Hague. The delegation is headed by Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Olena Zerkal and includes representatives from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Prosecutor General’s Office, Presidential Administration, Verkhovna Rada and Security Service of Ukraine. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Ukraine Daily Briefing)

Ukraine closer to visa-free travel in EU 

KYIV – Negotiators for the European Parliament and European Union member states have reached a deal to allow Ukrainian citizens to enter Schengen zone countries without a visa. Ukrainian citizens who have biometric passports will be able to enter for up to 90 days during any 180-day period, the European Parliament said in a statement on March 1. The entry is valid for business trips, tourism, or family stays. Ukrainians have eagerly awaited the advent of visa-free travel after being stuck in a conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the east for three years. They see the visa deal as a symbol of closer ties to the EU. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Twitter hailed the move as a “formal, but important step on the road.” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said earlier this month that visa liberalization between the EU and Ukraine is expected to come into force this summer. The deal still has to be endorsed by the European Parliament as a whole and the EU states. The 26 Schengen area countries are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by DPA, Interfax, and TASS)

Crimean court sets date for Semena trial

SYMFEROPOL – A court in Russia-annexed Crimea has set March 20 for the start of a trial against an RFE/RL contributing correspondent who faces separatism-related charges for one of his articles. Symferopol’s Zheleznodorozhny District Court announced the trial date for Mykola Semena on February 28 at his preliminary hearing in a case that Moscow-installed authorities filed against him after Russia seized and annexed Crimea from Ukraine. The 66-year-old Mr. Semena faces a possible five-year sentence on charges of calling for “the violation of the territorial integrity of Russia” in a 2015 article he wrote for RFE/RL’s Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities) website. Mr. Semena’s lawyer Andriy Sabinin on February 28 filed a motion asking for the Symferopol court to return the case to investigators because of what he said were “mistakes by the linguistic experts.” Mr. Sabinin told RFE/RL that the prosecution’s Russian translators “included their own judicial opinions” in the translations they filed as evidence with the court rather than presenting a literal translation of Mr. Semena’s writings. Ahead of the February 28 hearing, Mr. Semena told RFE/RL he would argue that there is no evidence a crime was committed because “the status of Crimea is not clear, even within the framework of the Russian Federation.” Mr. Semena said Crimea “is a disputed territory which is the subject of an animated discussion all over the world,” and that he has the right under international law and Russian legislation “to participate in this discussion” and express his point of view. RFE/RL President Thomas Kent has described the charges against Mr. Semena as “part of a concerted effort by Russian and Russian-backed authorities to obstruct RFE/RL’s journalistic mission to provide an independent press to residents of Crimea.” (RFE/RL, with reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz and RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Savchenko visits areas held by ‘separatists’

KYIV – Ukrainian lawmaker Nadiya Savchenko visited areas of eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists on February 24 to meet with Ukrainian prisoners there, irking many of her compatriots in Kyiv. Ms. Savchenko, a former military navigator who was jailed in Russia for two years before her release last year, visited a prison in Makiyivka. She said on Facebook that her goal is to help free Ukrainian prisoners. Following her visit with six prisoners, she told reporters that her goal is to arrange an “all for all” exchange of prisoners held by both sides. Ms. Savchenko was given a hero’s welcome in Ukraine after being released from Russian prison, but she has since then become a controversial figure due to her criticism of the Ukrainian government and her calls for a dialogue with separatists to end the fighting that has killed more than 9,750 people since April 2014. Following a meeting in December with separatist leaders in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, Savchenko was pushed out of her parliamentary faction. Oleksandr Tkachuk, spokesman for the Security Service of Ukraine said on February 24 that the agency will look into Ms. Savchenko’s trip, which he said is causing “bewilderment.” (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AP, TASS and Interfax)

Dutch lawmakers for EU-Ukraine deal 

BRUSSELS – The Netherlands’ lower house of Parliament has voted on February 23 for the ratification of the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement, leaving a vote in the upper house, the Dutch Senate, as a final hurdle before the deal, which was signed in March 2014, finally can enter into force. It has been expected that the House of Representatives would vote in favor of the deal, as the governing coalition enjoys a majority there. The Senate vote is expected to take place only after the next month’s parliamentary elections in the Netherlands on March 15, despite the fact that the composition of the Senate isn’t affected by the general election. The Netherlands is the only EU country that still hasn’t ratified the Association Agreement with Ukraine after 61 percent voted against it in a citizen-driven referendum in the country in April 2016. Although the result was consultative, the Dutch government decided to negotiate a legally binding supplement to the Association Agreement with the other 27 EU member states. The supplement, which does not change the text of the actual agreement, was adopted at an EU summit in Brussels in December 2016 and outlined, among other things, that the EU-Ukraine deal doesn’t give Kyiv the right to EU membership or guarantees of military support from the EU. (RFE/RL)