Anti-Corruption Bureau launched with young investigator in charge

KYIV – The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine was finally launched on April 16 by President Petro Poroshenko at a ceremony in which he revealed its first head will be Artem Sytnyk, a 35-year-old former prosecutorial investigator who has distinguished himself with investigations that led to incarcerations. The announcement came after months of delay in creating the bureau – with Mr. Poroshenko promising its launch as early as January – and criticism that the government wasn’t doing enough to address corruption, which is estimated to have cost the state hundreds of millions of hryvni in 2014, following the bloodshed on the Euro-Maidan. Few know what to expect from the political novice. “Everything’s in the hands of the new chair. He has time, society’s support and healthy forces,” said Mustafa Nayyem, a national deputy with the Poroshenko Bloc.

Nadiya Savchenko’s mother launches global campaign

PARSIPPANY, N.J. – The mother of Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian pilot currently imprisoned in Russia, has launched a global campaign to free her daughter. Nadiya Savchenko, who has been in Russian custody since mid-June 2014 when she was captured in the war zone in Ukraine, is awaiting trial on charges of complicity in the killing of two Russian journalists during the conflict. She denies the charges and has spent 83 days on a hunger strike to protest her detention. Her mother, Maria Savchenko, 78, told the Associated Press on April 20 that Nadiya is a political prisoner. Mrs. Savchenko said Russian prosecutors have showed “no evidence” that her daughter provided guidance for a mortar attack that killed two Russian state TV journalists at a checkpoint in eastern Ukraine, as Moscow claims.

Mrs. Savchenko launched her global campaign in Germany, where she pleaded for help from lawmakers and wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Top ministers in charge of Ukraine’s economy visit Washington

WASHINGTON – Three top Ukrainian government officials in charge of improving their country’s economy and its international economic relations spent four days in Washington in mid-April, meeting with leaders of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, as well as officials at the U.S. Department of Commerce, to discuss Ukraine’s current financial-economic situation, its progress in reforming the economy and plans for additional reforms in the future. And, as Ukrainian Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius noted at the conclusion of the visit, they were returning to Kyiv satisfied with the results. “Ukraine is high on everybody’s agenda these days,” he told members of the press at the Embassy of Ukraine on April 20. “There is a clear support for our government and our Parliament in Washington among the American politicians, businesspeople and bankers, and also among the international community,” he said, noting that “it is very obvious that everyone wishes us success and understands our difficult situations on the security and economic fronts.”

Minister Abromavicius was accompanied to the Washington meetings by Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko and the governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, Valeriya Hontaryeva. Among the issues they discussed here were the sanctions put in place when Ukraine was not yet a market economy and was getting gas at a very cheap price from Russia.

Continued confrontation with the West will prop up Putin’s regime for years

A fragile ceasefire is partially holding in the Donbas (eastern Ukrainian region encompassing Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts). Massive offensive operations have ceased, and some heavy weapons have been withdrawn from the front line. But the truce is constantly broken by gun battles and bombardments. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) mission, tasked with monitoring the truce, reports on the violations but cannot do much else. As the warring parties continue to blame each other, the Russia-backed separatists threaten to resume a large-scale offensive if the ceasefire finally collapses (Interfax, March 21).

Russian Orthodox activists: value in deniability for the Kremlin

The Moscow Patriarchate’s subordination to the political will of the Kremlin has been evident for so long that it no longer attracts much attention. Patriarch Kirill and his entourage can generally be counted on to follow every twist and turn in the Kremlin line just as their predecessors did in Soviet times. But there is another aspect of Russian Orthodoxy that has received less attention, although it may be playing an equally important part in President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda offensive: the role of self-proclaimed “Russian Orthodox activists.”

These Orthodox “activists” are regularly used to promote Kremlin ideas or even suggest more radical ones to test the waters with regard to Russian foreign policy – and Moscow can deny their activities, if problems emerge. Furthermore, the Orthodox activists can provide many of the foot soldiers of Kremlin-organized groups like the Anti-Maidan (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, February 24), thus tying the Church itself even more closely to Mr. Putin’s agenda than, at least some, of its top leaders and many of its parishioners would be inclined to do. Evidence of both of these uses of Russian Orthodox “activists” were very much on display in recent days.

U.S., Ukraine in training exercises

YAVORIV, Ukraine – U.S. and Ukrainian troops have begun joint training exercises in western Ukraine in a bid to strengthen government forces that are fighting Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said at the exercise’s inauguration ceremony on April 20 that Ukraine’s armed forces must be rebuilt from scratch to deter foreign threats. The U.S. Army said that 300 U.S. paratroopers would train 900 members of a National Guard reserve unit that brings volunteers and pro-government militia under Kyiv’s control. The exercises are 1,000 kilometers from fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has criticized the exercises, saying they would destabilize a shaky peace process and were a “first step” toward the possible delivery of U.S. weapons to Ukraine.

Lavrov: Ukraine’s neutrality important

MOSCOW – Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Ukraine’s unity and neutrality are in Russia’s best interest. In an interview on April 22 with Moscow-based radio stations Ekho Moskvy, Govorit Moskva and Sputnik, Mr. Lavrov said, “It is in our interest not to divide Ukraine. It is in our interests to keep it neutral, primarily in a military-political sense.” He added that Russia wants “Ukraine to be peaceful and quiet” and not “dismembered” by what he described as some European countries “that once gave some of their territories to the current Ukrainian state after World War II.” Mr. Lavrov also accused the United States of using the Ukrainian crisis to reach what he claimed was a “strategic goal” of Washington to “hinder the development of Russia’s cooperation with the EU, especially with Germany.” He expressed doubts about the effectiveness of a U.S. program to assist Ukrainian military forces with instructors, claiming that such attempts were unsuccessful in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Russian Foreign Affairs Minister also accused the United States of breaching the Non-Proliferation Treaty by placing tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. According to Mr. Lavrov, the Kremlin does not see any threats from the East, noting, “I don’t see any threats from China; I don’t see any threats from the East generally, except for one: the missile-defense system, which is a global U.S. system and which is being created on U.S. territory [and deployed in] Europe and Northeast Asia.” (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Ekho Moskvy and Interfax)

Biden and Poroshenko confer

WASHINGTON – The White House, Office of the Vice-President, on April 20 released a readout of Vice-President Joe Biden’s telephone call that day with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine. According to the White House, the two leaders spoke about the situation in the east and Ukraine’s reform agenda. The readout noted: “The vice-president informed President Poroshenko that the United States will provide the government of Ukraine with an additional $17.7 million in humanitarian assistance for vulnerable populations, including shelter, health and sanitation support, food vouchers and potable water. The two leaders welcomed efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to negotiate permanent ceasefires in specific areas where fighting is still ongoing, and called on Russia to abide by the terms of the Minsk agreements and to stop the transfer of heavy weapons into Ukraine and massing of troops along the international border. Finally, the two leaders discussed Ukraine’s reform efforts and the vice-president welcomed the appointment of a new head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau and encouraged the further implementation of rule of law reforms, including anti-trust measures and judicial reform.” (White House, Office of the Vice-President)

Kyiv lists Russian units in Ukraine

KYIV – The Ukrainian army’s chief of staff has listed for the first time some of the specific Russian military units alleged to be fighting against Kyiv alongside pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine. Viktor Muzhenko, in an interview published by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry on April 18, said, “Regular Russian army troops are still in Ukraine” despite a ceasefire agreement signed in February which ordered the withdrawal of foreign fighters from the front line. Russia has repeatedly denied claims by Kyiv and the West that it is arming and sending troops to help separatists who have gained control of parts of the east. Mr. Muzhenko named the Russian army’s 15th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, the 8th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, the 331st Airborne Regiment and the 98th Airborne Division. He said he had “proof” that Russian regular troops had fought in three clashes in the east in February, including a fierce battle for the rail hub of Debaltseve, which is now controlled by the separatists.

Kremlin criticizes U.S. trainers’ arrival

MOSCOW – Russia has criticized the arrival of 300 U.S. paratroopers in Ukraine to train troops from the National Guard, saying their presence could destabilize the situation in the conflict-torn country. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on April 17, “The participation of instructors or specialists from third countries on Ukrainian territory, where the domestic Ukrainian conflict is unresolved… could destabilize the situation.” It was unclear why Mr. Peskov used the term “third countries,” since Moscow has consistently described the Ukraine conflict as a civil war and insisted all along that it is not a party to the Ukrainian conflict despite Kyiv and Western governments accusing it of active involvement. U.S. Army Major Jose Mendez, a brigade operations officer, said the U.S. trainers would be “conducting classes on war-fighting functions, as well as training to sustain and increase the professionalism and proficiency of military staffs.” Troops from the same U.S. unit were deployed to Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 2014 to train forces there and alleviate concerns raised by those countries over Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. The Kremlin said on April 17 that diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving Ukraine’s conflict were continuing “at the high level of foreign ministers” from Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany.