Zelenskyy ‘biggest disappointment’ of 2020 as more controversial Cabinet appointments made

KYIV – As the year ends, a moderate reshuffle in the Cabinet of Ministers and at the executive branch took place over the past 10 days in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s administration amid the political newcomer’s dwindling popularity 19 months into his term.

Oleh Tatarov, the president’s deputy chief of staff responsible for law enforcement, said on December 21 that he would recuse himself of certain duties in order to cooperate with investigators and avoid a conflict of interest in a large-scale corruption case in which he is a suspect.

Protests begin over appointment of education minister in Ukraine

KYIV – Several hundred people, including students from Kyiv’s leading universities, members of youth and student organizations, academics, and parents, gathered in front of the presidential office here on December 21 to protest Parliament’s decision to appoint Serhii Shkarlet to the position of minister of education and science of Ukraine.

On December 17, 226 national deputies – the minimum required – voted to appoint Mr. Shkarlet to the position.  Members of the Holos Party, however, claimed that eight deputies whose votes had been counted in favor of Mr. Shkarlet’s appointment were not present when the vote took place, which Holos Party deputies said meant that those eight votes were not cast legally.

Christmas celebration in Ukraine

The country’s main Christmas tree was lit up on Saint Sophia’s Square in Kyiv on December 19. To Eastern rite Christians, the day falls on Saint Nicholas Day, according to the Julian calendar. Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko presided over the tree-lighting ceremony. While speaking on stage, Mr. Klitschko called on Kyivans and guests of the capital to thank the front-line “defenders” of Ukraine, and to also thank the health care workers and first responders “who continue to work on holidays and weekends and save people’s lives” amid a coronavirus pandemic that has led to the deaths of nearly 17,000 people and infected nearly 1 million more in Ukraine.

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Investors file case over Motor Sich investment

Chinese investors have brought a $3.5 billion arbitration case against Ukraine for blocking the sale of a strategic aircraft engine maker whose fate Washington is closely following. The Chinese investors behind Skyrizon filed the arbitration case earlier this month, accusing Kyiv of expropriating its investment in Motor Sich after the government froze its shares in the company, the Kyiv Post reported December 17. Motor Sich owner Vyacheslav Bohuslayev agreed in 2017 to sell a majority stake in the company to Skyrizon, triggering concerns in Kyiv and Washington over the transfer of its advanced technology to Beijing. Former national-security adviser John Bolton told Ukrainian officials last year during a trip to Ukraine in 2019 that the U.S. opposes the sale of the company to China. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that message this year.

While reaching out to incoming U.S. administration, Kremlin signals resumption of bilateral arms race

In the wake of the December 14 vote by the Electoral College, which officially confirmed the election of Joseph Biden as the next president of the United States and Kamala Harris as vice-president, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally, and reluctantly, congratulated the U.S. president-elect. In November 2016, Mr. Putin was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Donald Trump on his victory; in 2020, he was apparently the last head of state of a major world power to extend the same gesture to Mr. Biden. Mr. Putin sent his congratulations via telegram, expressing hope that Moscow and Washington can work together constructively to solve global problems “despite their differences” (Interfax, December 15).

Baku’s success in using Turkish drones raises question: Could Ukraine use them against Russia in Crimea?

The Azerbaijani military’s use of Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), purchased from Turkey, played such a prominent role in Baku’s victory over Armenian forces during the Second Karabakh War (September 27–November 9, 2020) that defense analysts around the world are now focusing on how their countries may utilize similar unmanned systems and how they could respond if such drones are used against them (Regnum, accessed December 16; Ecfr.eu., November 24; see EDM, November 9). Notably, Azerbaijan employed its Bayraktars to identify and attack Armenian forces as well as to provide a real-time picture of the battlefield that was useful for both strategic planning and propaganda (see EDM, October 15).

Russia to “return” icon gifted to Lavrov in Balkans amid signs it’s stolen Ukrainian heritage

Russia announced on December 19 that it is returning a centuries-old Orthodox icon that was given to Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov during a visit this week to the Balkans after revelations that it might have been a protected cultural treasure stolen from Ukraine.

The embarrassing episode began when Milorad Dodik, the Republika Srpska representative of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, presented Moscow’s top diplomat with the artwork on December 14.

Putin threatens to increase Russia’s “support” for occupied Donbas

A week after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced grounds for investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity on occupied Ukrainian territory, Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened a further build-up in what he termed “support” for Russia’s proxy Donbas “republics.” Such “support” since 2014 has resulted in the Russian and Russian-controlled armed formations having vast stockpiles of tanks and other military hardware.

Russia has, of course, always denied any military involvement in eastern Ukraine, and has particular reason to do so, given the claims now against it in international courts over the downing on July 17, 2014, of Malaysian airliner MH17 by a Russian BUK missile from Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile brigade. During his annual press conference on December 17, Mr. Putin spoke only of other “support.”

The Very Rev. Archpriest John Michael Fields

The Very Rev. Archpriest John Michael Fields of Frackville, Pa., entered into eternity on Friday, November 27. The son of the late John “Jack” Fields and Olga Uhryn Fields, John was born on February 19, 1950, in Butler Township, Pa., and is survived by his sister Diane M. Berkheiser and her husband Dennis, and sister MaryAnn Fields-Whyne; nephew Keith John Berkheiser and his wife Shawn, niece Kristen A. Berkheiser, niece Katharine A. Whyne and her husband Chris, and niece Maria A. Whyne; great-niece Caroline G. Berkheiser and great-nephew Wyatt “Jack” Berkheiser.

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