ByChristopher Guly Special to The Ukrainian Weekly |
PM announces his first official visit to Ukraine OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will make his first official visit to Ukraine next month, and will likely bring the same message he delivered to the Canada-Ukraine Business Forum in Toronto on June 20 that Canada remains “a staunch ally” of Ukraine. Mr. Trudeau told the audience that Canada would continue to defend Ukrainian sovereignty “in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, as well as its support to insurgents in eastern Ukraine,” and that Canada stands “firmly” beside Ukraine in its efforts to “strengthen democracy, respect the rule of law, and encourage economic growth.”
“We will continue to contribute assistance and expertise whenever possible,” said the prime minister, “because we understand that a strong democracy is at the heart of economic prosperity.”
“Ultimately, we want to help create stability in Ukraine so that the middle class can grow and thrive,” he added. Mr. Trudeau will visit Ukraine on July 11-12 and will meet with both President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, after attending the NATO Summit of Heads of State and Government in Warsaw. The Canadian PM met with Mr. Poroshenko at last year’s Paris Climate Conference, and his ministers of foreign affairs (Stéphane Dion) and defense (Harjit Sajjan) have met several times with their Ukrainian counterparts since Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals formed the government last November. One of Prime Minister Trudeau’s top priorities while he’s in Ukraine will be to sign the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA), which International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, a Ukrainian Canadian, who also spoke at the forum, has been finalizing.
WASHINGTON – Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman urged Western governments to maintain tough sanctions on Russia until it withdraws its forces from eastern Ukraine and cedes control of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow seized from Kyiv in 2014. Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington on June 16, Mr. Groysman also heralded his government’s steps toward institutional and economic reforms, saying changes to the customs service, public procurement procedures, and the courts will make the country more attractive to investors. “Ukraine needs reforms, and my message is that the new government… is ready to reform the country, is ready to lead the changes and implement the changes that are needed for Ukraine,” he told reporters. Mr. Groysman’s visit to Washington – his first since becoming prime minister in April – comes amid struggling efforts by Kyiv to shore up support financial and technical support for its fragile economy. Ukraine’s economy has been battered by the precipitous drop in trade with Russia that followed Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 after its military seizure of the peninsula.
KYIV – Ukraine’s Parliament voted on June 16 to set quotas for Ukrainian language content on commercial radio, approving legislation that served as a compromise between two bills – one favored by radio lobbyists and the other by language activists – that were rejected two weeks earlier. The measure earned 268 votes and was strongly supported by all five of the Verkhovna Rada’s pro-Western factions, two of which (the Radical Party and Batkivshchyna) didn’t support the earlier drafts. They were sent back to committee, where the approved version was drafted by a working group that included deputies, lobbyists and activists. “These aren’t quotas for Ukrainian songs on the radio. This is vital space for the Ukrainian song,” Petro Poroshenko Bloc National Deputy Viktor Kryvenko told Parliament following the vote.
WASHINGTON – Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 21, Marie L. Yovanovitch, nominee for U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, stated that “more progress has been made in Ukraine in the past two years” than in the past 25 years of Ukraine’s renewed independence. She was one of three nominees for ambassadorial posts throughout the world who appeared at confirmation hearings before the committee. Also on the docket were nominees for Lithuania, Anne Hall; and Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt (the current U.S. ambassador to Ukraine). The nominees were greeted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who thanked them for their public service to the country. The nominee proceeded with opening statements about their anticipated roles in their respective countries and how to bolster and enhance their relationship with the United States.
KYIV – Documentation of the expenses of the Party of Regions on its political activities have been made public, National Deputy Sergii Leshchenko and editor-in-chief of Ukrayinska Pravda Sevgil Musayeva-Borovyk revealed at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center on May 31. “These are expenses on Ukrainian politics from corrupt sources. They demonstrate how the Party of Regions was being financed and what the money in question was spent on,” explained Mr. Leshchenko. He said there are documents certifying the receipt of large sums in cash for accomplishing defined activities. The documents contain surnames, the sums received and the goals that they were set to achieve, and they are accompanied by signatures.
Shortly before his court appearance in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, investigators stopped by Hennadiy Afanasyev’s holding cell to make sure he still planned to implicate his fellow Ukrainians, film director Oleh Sentsov and left-wing activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, as “terrorists.”
“I told them all ‘yes, yes,’ so they’d think that everything was fine,” Mr. Afanasyev, 25, told RFE/RL’s Russian Service in a recent interview. But Mr. Afanasyev, a photographer from Crimea who was arrested months after Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula and convicted of plotting a terrorist act against the Russian-imposed authorities, had a surprise in store. When he was brought before the judge on July 31, 2015, he recanted his earlier testimony that served as the basis of Russia’s case against Messrs. Sentsov and Kolchenko, saying he had been coerced into implicating them. Mr. Sentsov, whose jailing drew appeals from prominent figures in international cinema, responded with applause from his courtroom cage and yelled, “Glory to Ukraine!” Mr. Afanasyev replied, “Glory to the heroes!”
“Returning to my holding cell, I already felt free,” said Mr. Afanasyev, one of two Ukrainians released from Russian prison in mid-June in Kyiv’s second recent high-profile prisoner exchange.
BRUSSELS – The European Union has agreed to extend its investment ban and other economic sanctions on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which was forcibly annexed by Russia in 2014. The EU sanctions package against Crimea includes a ban on the import of goods originating in Crimea unless they have Ukrainian certificates; a ban on exports to the peninsula related to transport, telecommunications, and the energy sectors – including the exploration of oil, gas and mineral resources. EU companies are also prohibited from investing in Crimea or financing Crimean companies. Furthermore, cruise ships that are owned or controlled by a European company or flying the flag of an EU member state may not dock at Crimean ports, including Sevastopol, a naval port city that Russia considers a separate administrative district. The ban was first imposed when Russia illegally annexed the Ukrainian peninsula two years ago and it has been prolonged every year by the 28 EU member states.
Ahead of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) July 8-9 summit in Warsaw, commentators widely expect the alliance to adopt a range of measures to boost security on its northeastern and eastern flanks. Moscow, however, notes a number of “signals,” such as the movement of United States aircraft carriers into the Mediterranean Sea or the activation of the missile defense base in Romania, as sending messages to Moscow in the context of rising NATO-Russia tensions. Yet, such moves also highlight NATO’s concern about sub-state threats from its south. Nonetheless, Moscow sees the Warsaw summit as continuing a pattern of reinforcing the alliance against Russia that was cemented in Wales in 2014. Meanwhile, there is little doubt that in the aftermath of the Warsaw summit, Moscow could choose to generate an upsurge in violence in Donbas; though, for now, the Kremlin seems content with a simmering conflict, and at least in recent months (see Eurasia Daily Monitor, June 13), has generally been careful to avoid conflict escalation (Izvestia, June 10; Novaya Gazeta, June 6; RIA Novosti, May 22).
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, led five of his bipartisan colleagues on June 20 in a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, urging the council to roll over European Union sanctions on Russia. The co-signers are U.S. Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). The text of their letter follows. * * * Dear President Tusk:
We write to urge the European Council to roll over EU sanctions on Russia this month.
“Sanctions can be costly, but happily European countries have suffered much less than Russian propaganda makes it out to be. Some have been hit harder than others, the Baltic states in particular, [and] Finland. So we need to stick together. American companies have also been hit. But this is the price we all need to pay if we’re to successfully resist Russian aggression.”
“If it weren’t for sanctions, things would be much worse.