Ukraine’s foreign-born ministers at the forefront of reforms

KYIV – When Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov told Mikheil Saakashvili to “Get the hell out of my country!” to conclude their nasty shouting match at the December 14 meeting of the president’s National Reforms Council, he struck a nerve in the country. Ukrainians have been critical of the unprecedented number of foreigners serving in key government posts. Some don’t like their dogged pursuit of reforms, while others don’t like their style. Some are accused of looking for a scapegoat. “We have ministers and governors [oblast state administration heads] from abroad that we’re going to call prime minister and president.

EU-Ukraine trade agreement goes into effect January 1

Last-ditch talks with Russia fail to resolve impasse over trade

BRUSSELS – Last-ditch negotiations aimed at addressing Russia’s concerns about a free-trade agreement between the European Union and Ukraine ended without result on December 21. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said the landmark trade agreement will go into force as planned on January 1 after three-way talks failed to reach a breakthrough at a daylong meeting in Brussels. The trade deal has been at the heart of a battle for influence between Brussels and Moscow in Ukraine, and played a role in triggering Kyiv’s conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the east. Moscow claims the trade accord undermines its economic interests in Ukraine, a former Soviet-era satellite, and will allow a flood of cheap EU products into Ukraine that could eventually make their way onto the Russia market unless they are barred or taxed heavily. With that in mind, Russia on December 21 announced a ban on food imports from Ukraine starting next year, which Ukraine estimated would cause about $600 million in economic losses.

Ontario ribbon-cutting launches Holodomor Mobile Classroom

TORONTO – The Holodomor Mobile Classroom, a new initiative for teaching about the Famine of 1932-1933, was the focus of a commemoration at the Ontario Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park on November 24. The customized RV, with the words “Holodomor – The Ukrainian Genocide” emblazoned across 40 feet of blue sky and wheat fields, was a striking sight against the background of the legislative building. The Holodomor Mobile Classroom will tour the province of Ontario and then the country, teaching about the man-made famine that starved to death millions of Ukrainians. Ontario Minister of Education Liz Sandals and Member of the Provincial Parliament Yvan Baker, who has supported the project since its inception, cut the ribbon to launch the mobile classroom, which is the centerpiece of the Holodomor National Awareness Tour project. Bohdan Onyschuk of the Canada-Ukraine Foundation, which spearheaded the project, said, “We are excited that the Holodomor Mobile Classroom is ready to begin visiting schools, community events and other venues, where it will promote awareness of the Holodomor and the consequences of hate, oppression and discrimination.”

Paul Grod, national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), addressed the gathering, noting that Ukraine again faces forces determined to undermine it.

Destruction of Donbas economy supports local Russia-backed ‘insurgency’

The Donbas presents ample evidence that the Kremlin and  local authorities support the economy’s dysfunction. Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov’s key energy company DTEK announced the restructuring of its $750 million and $160 million Eurobonds, which are set to mature in 2018 (Interfax-Ukraine, December 1). One of the main reasons for the company’s continuing financial troubles has been the war in Ukraine’s eastern region of the Donbas, which has caused extensive damage to local energy transmission infrastructure, as well as disruptions in the supply of coal and other business operations. The war has also affected Mr. Akhmetov’s mining and metals giant Metinvest. Operations of its key coke producing facility, the Avdiyivka Coke and Chemical Plant, suffered repeatedly from interruptions and even artillery shelling.


EU extends Russia sanctions 

BRUSSELS – European Union ambassadors have agreed to extend economic sanctions against Russia for another six months over its role in the Ukraine conflict. The agreement on December 18 means sanctions will stay in place until July 31, 2016, against Russia’s financial, oil and military sectors – as well as against specific individuals linked to the Ukraine conflict. The recommendation by EU ambassadors was formally ratified on December 21. The sanctions were first imposed in July and September 2014 in response to the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula by the Kremlin and Moscow’s support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Without an extension, the existing sanctions would expire on January 31.

Conserved conflict: Russia’s innovations in Ukraine’s east

Russia’s conflict undertaking in Ukraine’s east fits within patterns familiar from other post-Soviet conflicts initiated by Russia and conserved on Russian terms with international assistance (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, December 17). However, Russia’s war in Ukraine’s east involves a number of major political and military innovations in terms of conflict-conservation. These stem for the most part from the Minsk armistice and the processes of its implementation. • The armistice, by definition a military document, is largely political in content. Apart from the ceasefire-related clauses, the Minsk armistice imposes changes to Ukraine’s Constitution and prescribes semi-sovereign powers for the Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine’s east.

Plast scouts share Bethlehem Peace Light with Poroshenko

KYIV – Plast Ukrainian scouts on December 19 visited the Presidential Administration of Ukraine to present the Bethlehem Peace Light to President Petro Poroshenko. Lighting the president’s icon lamp with the flame of the Peace Light, Andriy Luzan, a member of the national supervisory board of Plast – National Scout Organization of Ukraine, said: “We urgently need peace and that is why we brought this symbol of peace to you, Mr. President.”

The Peace Light is from the birthplace of Jesus Christ, and is shared by scouts worldwide before Christmas. This marked the first time the light was shared with the Presidential Administration of Ukraine. President Poroshenko expressed his hope that the Peace Light will bring hope for a better future for everyone. “Let this light be lit in homes in Chernihiv and Crimea, Zakarpattia and Luhansk.

“We should have given defensive lethal weapons to Ukraine. If we’d given them defensive weapons, many lives could have been saved. There are major human consequences here. …

“Ukraine is a work in progress by Putin. He has multiple channels to attack Ukraine, economically, politically, diplomatically, militarily.

UCU charity evening in Kyiv raises more than $180,000

KYIV – Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) held its eighth annual Charity Evening and Silent Auction in Kyiv on December 5. What began as a modest get-together of mostly diaspora and native Lviv professionals in Kyiv has swelled to become among the most well-attended and highly sought-after charity events in the capital city – so much so that demand exceeded available tickets. The evening’s emcees were television star and Ternopil Oblast native Serhiy Prytula, who passed the microphone for part of the evening to UCU founder and former rector, Bishop Borys Gudziak of St. Volodymyr Eparchy in Paris, who called upon the guests to make a pledge this holiday season. “Do we have the right to complain?” Bishop Gudziak asked rhetorically.

Putin’s “military tasks”

In his annual year-end press conference on December 17, President Vladimir Putin admitted the presence of Russian military personnel in Ukraine. In response to a question posed by a Ukrainian journalist about two Russian military intelligence officers captured in Ukraine and now on trial, Mr. Putin said: “We never said there were no people there who carried out certain tasks, including in the military sphere.” He insisted, however, that this was not the same as regular Russian troops. Of course, Russia has repeatedly denied that its troops are in Ukraine. Reuters reported the news as follows: “After years of denials, captured Russian soldiers and indiscreet military selfies, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally ‘fessed up to the presence of Russian military personnel in Ukraine on Thursday.” Similarly, The Guardian noted: “Vladimir Putin has for the first time admitted the presence of Russian military specialists in east Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly denied a military presence in the conflict, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

Our readers – indeed, most of the world – know all about the evidence of Russian troops and materiel in Ukraine.