KYIV – It’s no coincidence that the warring in Donbas has calmed this month, with relatively few casualties and injuries, Kyiv experts said. The Russian government was satisfied with the decision of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament, to approve on August 31 the first reading of constitutional amendments establishing a specific order in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Yet there’s another factor to the reduced fighting, experts said. Russian President Vladimir Putin will be addressing the United Nations this weekend for the first time in 10 years and he wants to present himself as a peacemaker and open the door for more negotiations, experts said. “Putin really wants this meeting” of the United Nations (U.N.), said Volodymyr Fesenko, the director of the Penta Center for Applied Political Reseach in Kyiv.
Ukraine has stepped up its effort to restrict Russia’s use of its veto in the U.N. Security Council, which Kyiv says has enabled the Kremlin to block international action to punish Moscow for “aggression.”
In a resolution unanimously adopted on September 16, the Ukrainian Parliament called for urgent reform of the Security Council, in which Russia holds veto powers as one of the five permanent members. “There is convincing evidence of the urgency to reform the veto [system] to prevent its abuse,” the Verkhovna Rada resolution said. It said the veto has too often been used to “cover up the crime of aggression by a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.”
The resolution urged U.N. member states to take “all possible measures to stop the Russian aggression against Ukraine.”
Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last year after sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced by about 100 U.N. member states as illegitimate; it has supported separatists in a conflict with Ukrainian forces that has killed more than 7,900 people since April 2014. In July, Russia blocked a resolution that would have established a tribunal to try those suspected of responsibility for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, which killed all 298 people aboard. Kyiv and the West suspect separatists shot the jet down with a Russian-supplied missile system.
At Russia’s initiative, the Nord Stream Two natural gas pipeline project has advanced from agreements of intent to a binding agreement; Gazprom has formed the project consortium with several major European energy companies. Planned to connect Russia with Germany through the Baltic Sea by 2019, Nord Stream Two would double the Nord Stream system’s overall capacity to 110 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Russian gas per year, potentially replacing Ukraine as the main transit route for Russian gas to Europe (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, September 10, 14, 15, 17). This project is inseparable from the context of Russia’s efforts to undermine Ukraine, through instruments ranging from military aggression to economic exhaustion. Specifically, Nord Stream aims to eliminate Ukraine from European energy transit systems (strategic goal), and in so doing, to deprive Ukraine of transit revenue (collateral Russian goal). The Kremlin’s even more ambitious goal, however, is to replace the Ukrainian transit route, which is free from Gazprom’s control, with a route to Europe fully controlled by Gazprom.
PRAGUE – The U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says there is a very important lesson for former Soviet republics to have learned from the devastating conflict in eastern Ukraine: Don’t be too reliant on Russia. “Having [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin as your only friend is a terrible position to be in,” Daniel Baer told RFE/RL in an interview in Prague. “I think Moscow has proved time and again that it likes to use and manipulate political forces to its own end and has very little regard for what people actually experience,” Mr. Baer said. “It doesn’t care about the way citizens experience their government – it likes to manipulate governments to meet its own objectives.”
Ambassador Baer suggested that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s release last month of opposition leader and former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich and five other activists was motivated by a desire to improve relations with the European Union and not have Moscow as its only, or best, friend. “Whether [the prisoner releases by Lukashenka are the result of] the continued messaging and engagement from the European Union, as well as the United States, with President Lukashenka to say: ‘Look, there is a different path for Belarus, there is a European path for Belarus, but it requires significant, dramatic changes’ – whether that is happening, [whether there is] some appeal, only [Lukashenka] can answer,” he said.
CHERKASY, Ukraine – An advanced training course for Ukrainian border control officers aimed at increasing their practical abilities to detect forged travel documents began here on September 7. Two back-to-back one-week intensive training courses, organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), are designed to update and sharpen the skills of 42 border control officers in detecting forged travel documents by disseminating knowledge on the security features of passports common in the region, diverse visas, framework of various visa regimes and many other document security features. The first two trainings in a series of five courses aim to build on the existing skills of officers related to travel document security, seek to complement and add to them through in-depth knowledge about the manufacturing process, as well as the latest trends in counterfeiting methods and means of identifying them. “Travel documents are desirable tools for criminals and terrorist groups to facilitate trafficking, financial fraud, espionage, people smuggling or other crimes,” said Simon Deignan from the OSCE Transnational Threats Department. “Without the ability to travel freely that a travel document allows, terrorists and criminals can be impeded, thereby reducing their reach and impact.”
A key focus of the interactive sessions is on exercising practical work on original, forged and false documents, as well as understanding and using forensic equipment to identify document forgery.
Today, on the 15th anniversary of the disappearance of Ukrainian journalist Heorhii Gongadze, we pause to remember Mr. Gongadze and other Ukrainian journalists who have been killed, attacked or suffered intimidation, including of late in eastern Ukraine. Mr. Gongadze was an intrepid investigative journalist who dedicated his professional life to informing the public, exposing corruption and injustice, and holding those in positions of public trust accountable to the people they serve. Ukrayinska Pravda, the media outlet he founded, carries on that legacy today. The anniversary of his disappearance is an appropriate time to reflect on the critical role of a free and independent media in Ukraine’s democratic development and its further integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. – Statement by Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in a statement on September 16, on the 15th anniversary of the disappearance of Heorhii Gongadze.
TORONTO – The 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which runs from September 10 to 20 and features 289 films from 79 countries, again includes a film about the Maidan – “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” by Evgeny Afineevsky. Born in Kazan, Russia, in 1972, Afineevsky had a full film making career in Israel, and now lives in Los Angeles. Although dealing with the same subject matter as the 2014 TIFF selection – Sergei Loznitsa’s “Maidan” – this year’s film has a different treatment. Whereas Mr. Loznitsa’s film was captured from one perspective (the viewer was in one place observing what was around him), Mr. Afineevsky uses 28 cameramen and women who cover various locations throughout the three months of the demonstrations. The film is heavily loaded with imagery – much of it quite harrowing.
KYIV – The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) participated in the 12th Yalta European Strategy (YES) Annual Meeting, held in Kyiv on September 10-12. YES is the “go to” conference for the current state of affairs of Ukraine and brings together many of the top political, defense and finance leaders from around the world. Before the Russian invasion and occupation of Crimea, the YES meeting was held in Yalta. For the last two years, it has been held in Kyiv. The theme of this year’s meeting was “At Risk: How New Ukraine’s Fate Affects Europe and the World,” and the focus was on security, economy and reforms.
“The consensus among presenters and speakers was that the government of Ukraine is making real progress on reforms in a very difficult environment and that Europe and the U.S. must step up their efforts to support Ukraine,” stated UCC National President and Ukrainian World Congress Vice-President Paul Grod.
This week’s issue features the Ukrainian National Association’s student members who received scholarships for the 2015-2016 academic year. This year, there are 56 students who received scholarship funds from the UNA – four of them recipients of special scholarships established by individuals or entities who care deeply about the future of our Ukrainian American community. We salute these students and wish them much success in their studies, and we salute the UNA, as well as donors who support this worthwhile program. Since the formal establishment of the UNA Scholarship Program, this fraternal organization has awarded over $2 million to deserving students. (For information about UNA scholarships and other benefits of membership, we direct readers to http://ukrainiannationalassociation.org/our-benefits/#awards.) The scholarships are a noteworthy benefit of UNA membership and a concrete example of the UNA’s commitment to our younger generations, but they are far from the only example of the UNA’s concern about our youth – a concern that goes back to the organization’s founding in 1894.
Thirty-two years ago, on October 2, 1983, an estimated 18,000 people gathered in the shadow of the Washington Monument to mourn the victims of the Holodomor – at the time known as the Great Famine of 1932-1933 – which claimed the lives of millions of Ukrainians in a policy set forth by the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Attendees from Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Virginia, Toronto and Detroit, as well as other cities and states, carried banners and placards reminding of the ever-present Soviet threat and the Soviet record of its crimes against humanity. At the time, the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and the international community condemned the level of Soviet aggression in the area. Pawlo Malar of Syracuse, N.Y., was an eyewitness to the famine in the Poltava region. “As a 22-year-old student in the city, I saw the trucks coming around to pick up the corpses.