Dutch-led investigators name Russian military unit in 2014 downing of MH17

KYIV – A Dutch-led international probe has concluded that a sophisticated anti-aircraft Buk missile system that was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, came from Russia. 

It allegedly originated at a Russian military base in Kursk, some 216 kilometers from Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, and belonged to the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said on May 24 in the Utrecht province city of Bunnik during a briefing. Dutch authorities led the Joint Investigative Team (JIT) because the flight nearly four years ago to Kuala Lumpur originated in the country’s capital of Amsterdam and 63 percent of the passengers who perished were from Holland. Investigators from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine also comprise the JIT. “The JIT is convinced that the BUK-TELAR that was used to down MH17, originates from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, … a unit of the Russian army from Kursk in the Russian Federation. The JIT reached this conclusion after extensive comparative research,” The Netherlands Public Prosecution Service said on its website. 

According to the Associated Press, “Mr. Westerbeke said the JIT is not yet ready to name suspects, but added: ‘I can say that we are now entering the…

Direct flights between Toronto and Kyiv to begin in June

OTTAWA – Canadians will soon again be able to fly direct to Ukraine between the largest Canadian and Ukrainian cities. Ukraine International Airlines (UIA), the country’s largest airline, will inaugurate its first nonstop flight from Kyiv to Toronto on June 6. 

Fifteen years ago, AeroSvit added Toronto to its routes, but ceased flying to the Ontario capital in 2012 when the airline ran into financial difficulties and ceased operations a year later. UIA will now pick up the slack and run three flights between Kyiv and Toronto each week – on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays until October, when the schedule will be reduced to two flights per week, until the following May. 

But an inter-airline agreement between UIA and Canada’s two major carriers – Air Canada and WestJet – will allow Canadians to fly from other cities in Canada to connect with UIA in Toronto or elsewhere in its routing – such as New York or London – and travel to Ukraine any day of the week. And UIA doesn’t just fly to the Ukrainian capital. Last month, the 26-year-old airline added daily non-stop service to Vinnytsia, bringing the number of cities the airline flies to in Ukraine to 10.

Ukraine to resume privatization according to new rules

The Ukrainian government will resume its privatization campaign in October, the acting head of the local privatization body, the State Property Fund, Vitaly Trubarov, announced on May 10. Speaking after a meeting of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, which discussed privatization, Mr. Trubarov said all the large state-owned stakes slated for sale this year should change hands by the end of the year. Addressing his Cabinet, Mr. Groysman vowed to put an end to “shadow privatization,” apparently meaning certain past privatization schemes in which lucrative businesses were sold to local oligarchs cheaply and without competition (UNIAN, Kmu.gov.ua, May 10). The privatization list approved by Kyiv includes majority shares in several power generation and supply companies; turbine maker Turboatom and the manufacturer of electric equipment Electrovazhmash, both based in Kharkiv; the chemical plants Sumykhimprom and Odesa Portside Plant (OPZ); and the United Mining and Chemical Company, which is a player on the international titanium market (Spfu.gov.ua, accessed on May 16). The privatization of most of those companies has been delayed for years.

Quotable notes

“Canada condemns the construction and partial opening today of the Kerch Strait Bridge. The bridge, which links Russia to illegally annexed Crimea, represents yet another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by the Russian Federation. It aims to harden Russia’s unlawful hold on the peninsula and to forcibly isolate it from the rest of Ukraine.

“Canada reiterates its commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We call on the Russian Federation to cease its violations of this fundamental tenet of the rules-based international order.””

– Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, speaking on May 16.

Russian naval exercises in Sea of Azov: A prelude to ‘hybrid’-style invasion?

On May 18, Moscow released a navigation alert (NAVAREA 0423/18 – reprinted by the Ukrainian government as coastal warning PRIP 173) for a section of the Sea of Azov, cautioning that Russian naval training exercises would make the area dangerous for maritime passage from 0500 to 1700 UTC, on May 21-23 (Hydro.gov.ua, May 22). The zone, which occupies 2,000 square kilometers, has been closed to shipping traffic. Though the announcement quickly drew the attention of Ukrainian news outlets (Obozrevatel.com, May 21), the Russian state media has so far kept silent. According to the NAVAREA 0423/18 warning, the training area is located in the northern part of the Sea of Azov, in close proximity to Ukraine’s coastline; notably, it intrudes several kilometers into Ukrainian territorial waters. The Kremlin’s position is that Russian naval assets are allowed to carry out military drills in this area based on a bilateral agreement between Ukraine and Russia signed in 2003 (Zakon.rada.gov.ua, December 24, 2003).

Poroshenko: BBC report on secret payment to Trump lawyer a “blatant lie, slander”

Ukraine’s president has lashed out at a BBC report that asserted a secret $400,000 payment was made to U.S. President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer last year to set up talks between the two leaders. Petro Poroshenko’s office released the statement on May 23, hours after the BBC published a report saying the payment to the lawyer, Michael Cohen, was arranged by intermediaries acting for Mr. Poroshenko who wanted to open a back channel to Mr. Trump. The BBC report cited unnamed sources in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. “Blatant lie, slander and fake. This is how we perceive the disinformation,” the president’s press office said in the statement.

UCC calls on Canadian government to stand up for Ukrainian political prisoners

OTTAWA – The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) on May 17 called on the government of Canada to take a strong stand in support of Ukrainian political prisoners illegally jailed by Russia. The UCC urged Canada to immediately implement sanctions against Russian officials responsible for these deplorable violations of inalienable human rights. In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, UCC National President Paul Grod outlined that “the Russian regime has illegally imprisoned over 50 Ukrainian citizens, including Oleh Sentsov, Volodymyr Balukh, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Stanislav Klikh and many others.” 

Mr. Grod called on Prime Minister Trudeau to “demand that Russia immediately release these Ukrainian political prisoners and that Canada utilize the Magnitsky Act to implement sanctions against Russian officials responsible for gross violations of human rights.”

The UCC also called on Canada, which holds the G-7 Presidency in 2018, to ensure that one of the priorities of the upcoming G-7 leaders’ summit focuses on ending Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. On May 14, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in a farcical show trial, declared a hunger strike. In a letter to his lawyer, Mr. Sentsov stated, “The only condition for ending it is the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners held by Russia.

Looking back and looking ahead

The following is a guest editorial by Stefan Kaczaraj, newly re-elected president and CEO of the Ukrainian National Association. It is adapted from his Ukrainian-language remarks at the opening of the 39th Regular Convention of the UNA on Friday, May 18. Welcome to all of you, convention delegates of the Ukrainian National Association, as we once again gather here at our dear Soyuzivka as we did four years ago. These years have flowed by so quickly, like the water in a rushing mountain stream. We once again have the opportunity, indeed the need, to exchange ideas and feelings about our community and organizational life, to weigh its plusses and minuses, to carefully and responsibly look toward the future.

May 27, 2015

Three years ago, on May 27, 2015, the major press outlets ran scathing reports of corruption within FIFA in the selection of Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022 as FIFA World Cup hosts. An editorial in The Washington Post, “FIFA’s ugly stains on the beautiful game,” noted the U.S. investigation against FIFA led by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and called FIFA “a cesspool of corruption and bribery.” It stated: “Soccer fans have long been mystified at FIFA’s choice of Vladimir Putin’s increasingly aggressive and repressive Russia over several Western European candidates to host the World Cup in 2018, and rich but tiny and climactically unsuitable Qatar over the United States, Australia and a joint Japanese-Korean bid for 2022.” The editorial also noted that a criminal investigation was opened by Switzerland, and Swiss agents were helping U.S. prosecutors by arresting several indicted FIFA officials in Zurich. The New York Times editorial, “FIFA’s Corruption Stains World Soccer,” dated May 27, pointed out that 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives were charged with “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption, and seven were promptly arrested by Swiss authorities in Zurich. Investigators also seized electronic data and documents at FIFA headquarters. “Those selections [of Russia and Qatar] immediately raised suspicion of foul play when they were announced in December 2010, and the controversy has only deepened with reports about the appalling treatment of foreign laborers working on World Cup facilities in the blistering heat of Qatar.” The editorial called for the ouster of FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the restructuring of FIFA, as well as a rigorous re-examination of the selection of Russia and Qatar as host countries.