Kyiv attracts attention as it marks Independence Day with a different focus

KYIV – On August 24 Ukraine celebrated the 28th Independence Day anniversary and although festivities were held all around the country, attention was focused on the capital to see how the country’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, would impose his new style on proceedings, and what the reaction would be.
There were indeed plenty of surprises and innovations in what turned out to be a colorful yet poignant symbiosis of the new and the old.  And the occasion was not without controversy, or wonder, either.

Lviv celebrates 28th anniversary of Ukraine’s renewed independence

This weekend Ukrainians celebrated Independence Day. Twenty-eight years ago, Ukraine’s Parliament adopted the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine on August 24, 1991. Since then, an annual massive celebration has been held on August 24. However, after the Russian annexation of Crimea and occupation of some parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the value of independence is considered differently. We have visited some events of the celebration in Lviv – the largest city in the west of Ukraine – and asked people on the streets about their thoughts on Ukraine’s independence in view of recent events.

New Peace Corps volunteers arrive in Ukraine

KYIV – U.S. Chargé d’Affaires William Taylor welcomed and swore in nine new Peace Corps volunteers who will be serving across Ukraine. Addressing the new group of volunteers on August 9, Mr. Taylor said, “I think that the Peace Corps in Ukraine is one of the best things that Americans do here. I was here as ambassador from 2006 to 2009, and I have the great honor and the great opportunity to come back leading the U.S. mission here in Ukraine.” Noting that this is the largest Peace Corps program anywhere in the world, Mr. Taylor underscored: “…this program allows Americans to live with Ukrainians, and it allows Ukrainians to understand the United States better. It also will allow — and this is a charge to Peace Corps volunteers when they go home, back to the United States, to explain Ukraine to Americans.”

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Oleksiy Honcharuk confirmed as PM

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed the Verkhovna Rada’s appointment of Oleksiy Honcharuk as the country’s next prime minister during the first session of Parliament following elections that swept his Servant of the People party to an unprecedented mandate. The decision was backed by 290 MPs registered out of 450 seats (not all the seats are filled, because Russia occupies Crimea and the conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts). Mr. Honcharuk, a 35-year-old deputy head in the Presidential Office, was chosen as the candidate by Mr. Zelenskyy, according to a parliamentary draft resolution at the August 29 inaugural session, where the former comedian-turned politician is to deliver a state-of-the-nation address where he will outline his political and economic goals, along with key Cabinet posts. Mr. Honcharuk has spent much of his career as a lawyer, eventually becoming a lead partner at a firm that specializes in real estate development.

Ukraine’s petroleum-sector challenges: Raising domestic output, cutting corruption

Volodymyr Zelenskyy inherited formidable challenges when he was elected Ukraine’s sixth president this spring, including a Kremlin-backed war with “separatists” in the east, deep-rooted corruption and an ongoing natural gas dispute with Russia. Ukraine is now responding to the gas discord by trying to negotiate an extension of a long-term contract with Russia, filling its storage tanks in case Russia cuts gas shipments to it this winter, and trying to increase domestic production.

Russia brings criminal charges against members of expedition honoring Stalin’s victims

MOSCOW – They came, they say, to clear the debris-strewn cemetery of an abandoned village once inhabited by Lithuanians exiled to the area under Joseph Stalin, and to honor the memory of deceased relatives. They’re now charged, authorities say, with defacing the area and flouting Russian migration laws.
Prosecutors in the Perm region have launched criminal charges against members of a commemorative expedition organized in August by Memorial, a Russian NGO that documents victims of Stalin-era repression and hosts regular trips to sites of memory across the country.
“We’re shocked. Really shocked,” Vladas Ulinskas, a Lithuanian member of the group, told local media.

Kremlin’s obsession with Ukraine cripples Russia, says commentator

The Kremlin’s “obsession” with Ukraine, commentator Liliya Shevtsova writes, was once again very much on display in the wake of the Verkhovna Rada elections. That obsession not only prevents Moscow from understanding what is in fact taking place in Ukraine and the West, but is crippling Russia by focusing on the past, not the future, and on others, rather than itself.
Those problems have been very much on public view, the Russian political commentator says, as many close to the Kremlin have argued the parliamentary vote in Ukraine was a victory for Moscow, given that it shows Europe is tired of Ukraine and that Ukrainians are tired of war and now have a government that wants some kind of a settlement.

About the “Normandy format”: Putin will not change his conditions

During the August 19 meeting of the presidents of France and Russia, Vladimir Putin once again repeated the conditions under which a meeting of the leaders of the “Normandy format” countries [Germany, Russia, Ukraine, France] can take place.
This is the full implementation of decisions, which will give autonomy to the occupied territories of the Donbas and an amnesty for the leaders of the militants. If we simplify these conditions of the Russian president, we will see that Putin wants to maintain complete control over the Donbas (and possibly the expansion of the territories under his control – the decision to simplify the issuance of Russian passports is not a coincidence). Yes, the Donbas will nominally be considered Ukrainian territory, but will in reality be a state within a state.

Quotable notes

“On Russia and the G-7, that is an issue that Canada has a very clear position on and that I personally have a very clear position on. Early in my career as a journalist, I lived and worked in Moscow – in Moscow at a time when Russia was building a democracy and a market economy. And it was entirely appropriate as part of that process to admit Russia to the G-7. That was the G-7 community of nations extending a hand to a democratizing, reforming Russia and saying the doors are open to you to join this important, I would say essential, group of likeminded nations.

Biden says he’d make Ukraine a U.S. foreign policy priority

Former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the 2020 presidential election, responded to a questionnaire from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The CFR asked, “What, if any, steps would you take to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine?” Here is Mr. Biden’s response (as reported by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)
First, I would make Ukraine a U.S. foreign policy priority. On the military side, I would provide more U.S. security assistance – including weapons – to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. I would also expand the successful training mission for the Ukrainian Armed Forces that was initiated by the Obama-Biden administration.