July 21, 2017



CPJ criticizes Sheremet probe 

NEW YORK – A Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report is critical of a Ukrainian investigation into the killing of journalist Pavel Sheremet, with no arrests in the case and more questions than answers nearly one year after his car-bomb death in Kyiv. The report, “Justice Denied: Ukraine Comes Up Empty In Probe Of Pavel Sheremet’s Murder,” suggests an independent investigation is needed, as Ukrainian officials have provided no evidence to back claims that Russia was behind the assassination and to ensure a complete probe into possible Ukrainian involvement. “Authorities say they are committed to solving Sheremet’s murder,” Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, writes in the introduction to the report. “But [they] offer no clear evidence to back their primary line of investigation of Russian involvement.” The report, written by Kyiv-based reporter Christopher Miller, an RFE/RL correspondent, adds that “a greater amount of circumstantial evidence points to a Ukrainian trace [in the killing], raising questions about why authorities are pushing the Russian narrative and whether they may be covering up evidence to protect someone powerful.” Sheremet, 44, was a well-known reporter who had worked at prominent media outlets in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine during his career and was often the subject of threats and harassment for his hard-hitting journalism that was often critical of political leaders. The native Belarusian died early on July 20, 2016, when his car blew up at an intersection a few minutes after he left his central Kyiv apartment on his way to Radio Vesti, where he had a morning program. The shocking attack brought pledges by Ukrainian officials of a swift investigation. “It is a matter of honor to take all measures to solve this crime as soon as possible,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said after the killing, which he called “a terrible tragedy.” But with no public announcements of progress in the case after one year, observers have blamed officials for “incompetence, negligence, sabotage – or a combination of all three,” the report says. Critics of the investigation point out, the report says, that a man and a woman seen on security cameras outside of Sheremet’s apartment at various times in the days leading up to his death have not been identified. (CPJ)

Poroshenko proposes adding investigator

KYIV – President Petro Poroshenko has proposed incorporating an internationally recognized investigator into the Ukrainian team investigating the killing of journalist Pavel Sheremet, in hopes of jumpstarting a probe that has produced no significant leads in a year. At a July 11 meeting with members of Sheremet’s family and a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) delegation in Kyiv to assess the probe, Mr. Poroshenko said he would “happily accept” a “professional, trustworthy” investigator, such as someone “from the FBI or Scotland Yard” to oversee the high-profile case “if it is agreed by the family.” Sheremet, a Belarusian-born journalist, was killed by a car bomb in central Kyiv on July 20, 2016. No one has been arrested or prosecuted. Sheremet’s mother, Lyudmila Sheremet, his daughter, Elizaveta Sheremet, and his partner, Olena Prytula, who is also owner and co-founder of the independent Ukrainian news site Ukrayinska Pravda where Sheremet worked as a columnist – all of whom were present at the meeting – accepted the president’s proposal. (Christopher Miller of RFE/RL)

Australia to Russia: cooperate in MH17 case

CANBERRA – Australia has urged Russia to cooperate with new moves to prosecute suspected perpetrators, who brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 aboard. Dutch investigators concluded in 2015 that the jet was shot down by a Russian-made Buk missile over conflict-torn eastern Ukrainian territory held by Russia-backed separatists. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop urged Russia to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2166, authored by Australia. “That calls on all states to cooperate to ensure that those responsible for the killing are brought to justice,” Ms. Bishop said on July 16. Last month, the Netherlands said that suspects in the case would be tried in a Dutch court, and under Dutch law. Russia, which denies any involvement in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, also denies one of its rockets could have been used to bring down MH17. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Reuters and perthnow.com)

U.S. special envoy to return to Kyiv

KYIV – U.S. Special Envoy for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker will visit Kyiv again in the next few days, Ukrainian presidential administration deputy head Konstantyn Yelyseyev said on July 13. “It was his first visit. We agreed that he will come to Ukraine again in the next few days. Of course, this will depend on his schedule, because he wants to intensively engage in the process not only of consultations with the Ukrainian side, but also, in particular, with our partners in the Normandy format,” Mr. Yelyseyev told TV’s Channel 5. During his first visit Ambassador Volker had meetings with a vast range of statesmen. After the special envoy gets in touch with the situation, he can forward certain proposals to the U.S. leadership in order to give an impulse to a peaceful dialogue in Donbas, Mr. Yelyseyev said. “I cannot disclose some things yet, but the president and Kurt Volker have had a quite frank and, I would say, intensive and strategic conversation, at which certain innovative elements, which we could undertake jointly with our partners in order to bring peace to Donbas after all, were discussed,” he added. (Interfax-Ukraine)

Army offers course for medical officers

HEUBERG, Germany – U.S. Army Europe reported that, in conjunction with the U.S. Army Europe’s Office of the Command Surgeon, Regional Health Command Europe staff recently visited Ukraine to host a Basic Leadership Course for some of the country’s junior medical officers. The focus of the weeklong course was Army values, leadership, doctrine and troop leading procedures. “We did basic instruction on trust, shared values and progressed to a role play exercises where they demonstrated what they learned,” said Col. Sara Breckenridge-Sproat, RHCE Regional Nurse Executive. She said this training was an important part in continuing to build the RHCE partnership with Ukraine. ”As a clinician, we need to sustain our skills and really we learn from one another,” she said. “And learning from each other in a classroom environment as well as a clinical environment is really a way to sustain us all into the future. Because of the current conflict there, they have a large number of very complex patients. Learning from each other is really so vital.” Ukraine has been an active contributor to the European-Atlantic security by deploying troops that work with peacekeepers from NATO and other partner countries. It is the only partner country that has contributed, at one stage or other, to all ongoing NATO-led operations and missions. Col. Breckenridge-Sproat says she has visited and worked with the Ukrainian military many times. “I am always so impressed when I visit Ukraine by what a sovereign, stoic, prideful, independent nation Ukraine is. They are firmly committed to democracy.” She went on to say, “this is one of the most meaningful things I have ever done. It is pretty magical to be given the opportunity to play a part in this amazing country’s transformation, while contributing to junior leaders and their readiness for the future.” (Regional Health Command Europe)

EuroParliament OKs trade preferences

BRUSSELS – The European Parliament has overwhelmingly backed a decision to grant Ukraine temporary trade preference for some agricultural and industrial products. The measures passed on July 4 will apply for three years from the end of September. The proposal was made by the European Commission to improve access for Ukrainian exporters to European Union markets following the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area that provisionally entered into force at the start of 2016. EU officials told RFE/RL they hope the measure will help boost Ukraine’s economy, which has suffered greatly since 2014 when Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and began supporting pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s preferential trade treatment includes annual quotas for tariff-free imports on agricultural products such as honey, wheat, corn and barley as well as industrial goods like copper, aluminum, and fertilizers. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels)

EU ministers endorse trade measures

BRUSSELS – The European Union’s 28 foreign affairs ministers on July 17 unanimously backed a decision to grant Ukraine temporary trade preference for some agricultural and industrial products, following a similar decision by the European Parliament announced earlier. Representatives of the European Parliament and the European Council are to sign the agreement during a plenary session of the parliament in Strasbourg in September, and the measures will apply for three years from the end of September. “With today’s decision, we are allowing more Ukrainian products to be exported to the EU. It is our duty to support Ukraine and strengthen our economic and political ties, also in the face of the ongoing conflict on its soil,” said Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser, whose country currently holds the European Council presidency. (RFE/RL)

Hague court to hear Ukraine case 

PRAGUE – The Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague says that it has jurisdiction and will hear the case of a Ukrainian company seeking to recover damages for property lost when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. PJSC Ukrnafta, one of Ukraine’s largest oil and gas companies, launched the case and is seeking damages for expropriated gas stations. The Hague-based court ruled on July 4 that the case was covered by a 1998 bilateral investment treaty between Ukraine and Russia that was meant to encourage economic cooperation and expansion. In a related decision, the court said it would also hear claims brought against Russia by Stabil LLC and 10 other companies. An attorney who filed the cases for the Ukrainian firms, John Townshend, said the private gas stations and Ukrnafta made “the same claim that by April 2104, thugs organized by the Russian Federation seized the administrative office” that ran the firms and “took the stations, took the cash, took the petrol [gasoline], [and] kicked our people out.” Russia previously told the court that it had no authority to form an arbitral tribunal to settle the claims and that Russia did not consent to participate in arbitration proceedings. But the court ruled that the bilateral investment treaty permitted investors of one country whose property has been appropriated by the other country to launch private arbitration proceedings. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters)

Agreement near on military equipment

KYIV – Ukraine and the United States are close to signing new defense agreements enabling Kyiv to purchase more defensive U.S. military equipment and play a role in manufacturing such equipment, a Ukrainian defense executive said on June 30. The agreements were announced during Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s June 20 visit to Washington, but details are still being negotiated. They are aimed at facilitating military sales and promoting joint research and development, and will be signed soon, said Denys Hurak, an executive at Ukroboronprom, a Ukrainian defense conglomerate. Ukraine needs equipment such as radar systems, drones and secure communications as it battles Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014. The first agreement aims to free up Ukraine’s access to the U.S. defense market as well as make it easier for Ukraine to sell its own defense equipment to the United States. The agreements do not contemplate the sale of U.S.-made lethal weapons to Ukraine. But Ukraine anticipates receiving U.S. funding to develop new military technologies under the second joint research agreement, which would also pave the way for some U.S. Army equipment to be partly manufactured in Ukraine, Mr. Hurak said, noting that the agreements “will show that we are a strategic partner for America in the defense complex.” Mr. Hurak noted: “We are asking for help, but we are also ready to be America’s partner and we have something to offer – namely, production capacity, outsourcing production, [and] cheaper production of components for them.” He told Reuters that he has negotiated with U.S. companies about setting up facilities in Ukraine to manufacture, for example, radio and communications gear. He told Interfax that the agreements are intended to “implement the initiatives the U.S. announced in 2014 to compensate for losses to the Ukrainian defense-industrial complex from the break-off of its military-technical cooperation with Russia.” (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters and Interfax)

Ukraine detains two Russian FSB agents

KYIV – Ukrainian authorities detained two men identified as Russian security agents after they came ashore in a small boat on Ukrainian-government controlled territory along the Black Sea, officials of both countries say. Ukraine’s border police on June 30 said the two men claimed to be Federal Security Service (FSB) personnel who became lost in the waters of the Black Sea during a training exercise. Russia’s state-run Interfax news agency quoted the FSB as confirming that the men were with the agency. The FSB said the men had taken a “wrong route” during “drills.” The statement also said the FSB hoped the men would be returned to Russia “in the near future.” Ukrainian border guard spokesman Oleh Slobodyan said the men would be jailed for 15 days. It was not immediately clear where the men washed ashore, but officials said they were detained near the city of Armyansk. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Reuters, Interfax and Newsweek)

Czech court closes separatist mission

PRAGUE – A court in the Czech city of Ostrava has shut down the representative office of Russia-backed separatists from the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk because it was illegal, Ukraine’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, Yevhen Perebyinis, said on June 28. Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Lubomir Zaoralek expressed his satisfaction and support for the decision. “I welcome the ruling by a district court in Ostrava to ban the ‘Diplomatic center of the Donetsk people’s republic,’” Mr. Zaoralek wrote on Twitter. The head of the separatist office, Nela Liskova, protested the court decision and said the office was set up to help the “victims of war” in eastern Ukraine such as by obtaining permits and work opportunities for refugees. On September 1, the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry sent a note of protest to the Czech Embassy in Kyiv after reports were confirmed of the registration in Ostrava of the so-called DPR mission. On the same day, the Czech Foreign Affairs Ministry said that it would ask a local court to shut it down. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka later reassured his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Groysman, that separatists in eastern Ukraine will not be allowed to have representative offices in the Czech Republic. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Ostrava.idnes.cz and Interfax)

Activist flees Crimea fearing for safety 

SYMFEROPOL – Ukrainian activist Natalya Kharchenko says she fled the Russian-annexed Ukrainian region of Crimea, fearing for her safety. Ms. Kharchenko told the Crimean Human Rights Group on June 21 that she moved from Symferopol to Kyiv to avoid “persecution” from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). Ms. Kharchenko is the wife of the former director of the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Crimea, Andriy Vinohradov. In January, the FSB searched their apartment in Symferopol, the Crimean capital, and confiscated their computers. After that, Mr. Vinohradov lost his job and the FSB launched a preliminary investigation against Ms. Kharchenko, accusing her of making statements that violate Russia’s territorial integrity, charges she denies. As part of the probe, investigators interrogated Ms. Kharchenko four times. Her husband left Crimea several weeks ago and is also now in Kyiv. Their young children remain in Crimea with relatives. (Crimean Desk of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Tatar activist to remain under supervision

PRAGUE – A leading Tatar activist will remain under police supervision for eight years after his expected release from prison later this year. In what lawyers are describing as an unprecedented decision, a court in Russia’s Komi region ruled on July 11 that Rafis Kashapov, chairman of the Tatar Public Center, be barred from political and public activities for eight years under parole-like supervision. Mr. Kashapov’s lawyer, Ruslan Garifullin, told RFE/RL on July 13 that Russian law allows post-sentence restrictions placed on those who “systematically violate penitentiary regulations,” but being placed under police supervision for eight years is unprecedented in Russia. Mr. Kashapov was convicted of calling for separatism and inciting ethnic enmity in his native city of Chally in September 2015. He was sentenced to three years in prison, including time served, and is set for release in December. He posted several articles on the Internet in 2014 that harshly criticized Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and its treatment of Crimean Tatars, as well as Moscow’s involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine. Mr. Kashapov says his case was politically motivated. Mr. Kashapov’s Tatar Public Center is an NGO in Tatarstan’s second-largest city, Chally, which campaigns to preserve Tatar national identity, language and culture. (RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service)

Prison for British man who joined separatists

PRAGUE – A British man was sentenced to prison after a court in Britain ruled he illegally entered eastern Ukraine in 2015 to fight alongside Russia-backed separatists against the central government. Benjamin Stimson was sentenced on July 14 to five years and four months in prison by the Manchester Crown Court after pleading guilty to a charge of assisting others in committing terrorism, officials said. Various reports put his age at 41 to 43 years old. Police say Stimson traveled to Moscow in August 2015 before illegally entering eastern Ukraine to fight alongside separatists against Ukrainian forces. He was arrested in November 2015 upon returning to the Manchester Airport after earlier giving an interview to the BBC in which he said he was prepared to kill people if necessary in an act of war. Police said they seized paramilitary clothing from him at the airport. Detective Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson said Mr. Stimson went to Ukraine “with the intention of joining militia groups fighting against the Ukrainian government, and the images of him holding a rifle and wearing military clothing are deeply concerning.” (RFE/RL, based on reporting by ITV and the BBC)

Tbilisi, Kyiv to coordinate EU integration

TBILISI – The presidents of Georgia and Ukraine have agreed to coordinate their efforts toward integration into the European Union. Giorgi Margvelashvili and Petro Poroshenko announced the move in a declaration of strategic partnership in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, on July 18. Mr. Margvelashvili told reporters after the talks that the declaration “reflects the real mood of the two nations.” He noted, “We agreed to intensify our efforts in terms of integration into the European space.” Mr. Poroshenko said, “we have to defend our sovereignty, territorial integrity and democracy together.” He added that the two countries face the same challenges and threats. “[The] international community must increase its pressure on Russia until it fully fulfills the Minsk [peace] agreements and removes its armed forces for the occupied territories,” Mr. Poroshenko said. “For Georgia it is about occupied territories of Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia, and for Ukraine it is about the annexed Crimea and the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine.” Moscow illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and has been supporting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s east in a war against Kyiv’s forces that has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014. In 2008, Russia recognized Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries shortly after fighting a brief war against Tbilisi, and Moscow maintains thousands of troops in both regions. (RFE/RL’s Georgian Service, with reporting by apsny.ge)