July 28, 2017



Russia, EU concerned about sanctions 

PRAGUE – Russia and the European Union are both expressing concern about proposed new U.S. sanctions against Moscow, focusing in particular on how they might affect joint energy projects. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman and EU officials spoke on July 24, a day after the White House said that President Donald Trump is open to new legislation that would slap fresh sanctions on Russia and limit his ability to ease or lift them by himself. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives reached agreement on the legislation last week, and the House passed it on July 25 by a vote of 419-3. Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Russia is “working with our European partners on implementing a number of large-scale projects,” when asked about the possible impact of the new U.S. sanctions on projects like Nord Stream 2. “It goes without saying that we and our European partners attach great importance to finishing these projects and we will work towards this,” Mr. Peskov said in response to a question about the potential effects of sanctions on projects such as Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that is to carry Russian gas across the Baltic Sea to Europe. In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the EU is “activating all diplomatic channels to address these concerns [about] the U.S. measures with our U.S. counterparts.” He added, “For us, G-7 unity regarding sanctions is of key importance, as… is respect of the implementation of the Minsk agreement.” Mr. Schinas told a news conference, “So we in the European Union will have interest in this discussion and we expect these interests to be addressed by the… legislative process which is ongoing in the U.S.” On July 23, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “We support where the legislation is now and will continue working with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved.” The bill would require President Trump to send a report to Congress outlining why the administration wants to suspend or terminate any sanctions against Russia. Lawmakers would then have one month to decide whether to allow such a move. His refusal to do so would be likely to trigger political backlash in Washington, given the ongoing FBI and congressional investigations into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election and contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials. But two senior U.S. senators said on July 23 that the legislation is likely to pass the Senate with enough support to override a possible presidential veto. (RFE/RL, with reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, Reuters and TASS)

Trump accuses Ukraine of ‘sabotage’ 

WASHINGTON – A tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump on July 25 accused Ukraine of trying to “sabotage” his campaign, without offering any evidence. Ukraine’s Embassy in Washington denied Mr. Trump’s allegations with a tweet of its own saying, “We stand by our words that the government of Ukraine didn’t help any candidate” in the U.S. presidential election. The Ukrainian Embassy also said “Ukraine is proud of bipartisan support” in the United States. Ukraine’s permanent representative to the Council of Europe, Dmytro Kuleba, also responded on Twitter to the U.S. president’s allegations. “Trump writes that we interfered in the elections in the USA, while Putin says that we threaten Russia,” Mr. Kuleba said. “There was a time when we were peaceful buckwheat sowers who kept themselves to themselves.” (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters, AP and AFP)

New round of talks held in Minsk

KYIV – A new round of talks aimed at fostering implementation of a ceasefire and peace deal for the conflict in eastern Ukraine was held in Minsk, Belarus, on July 19. The talks involved representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which are participants in the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG). OSCE Ambassador Martin Sajdik said that there had been some progress in implementing aspects of the 2015 Minsk accords, which called for a ceasefire and steps to resolve the conflict. In particular, Mr. Sajdik cited progress on prisoner exchanges between the Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces. Officials in Ukraine, Russia and the West said that the July 18 declaration by separatists in the Donetsk region of a new state called Malorossiya, or Little Russia, ran counter to the Minsk accords and could jeopardize the already slow movement to implement them. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, RFE/RL’s Belarus Service)

Four leaders hold telephone talks…

KYIV – President Petro Poroshenko demanded that Russia stop sending weapons to separatists as the Ukrainian head of state and the leaders of France, Germany and Russia discussed a fraying plan to end the three-year conflict. The July 24 telephone conversation among the four leaders lasted around two hours, and was the first for Emmanuel Macron since his election as France’s president. The February 2015 peace plan known as the Minsk accords has failed to stop fighting in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 10,000 people since erupting in April 2014. The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin “presented in great detail Russia’s approach on all key points of the… agreement.” Mr. Poroshenko’s office said in a statement that President Macron criticized the previous week’s announcement by a separatist leader who said he wanted to establish a new state in Ukraine called Malorossiya, or Little Russia. The talks came as the newly appointed U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, traveled to Kyiv in an effort to revitalize the Minsk deal. (RFE/RL)

…agree on “immediate measures”

BERLIN – The German government says Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine have agreed on a number of “immediate measures” to push forward with a peace deal brokered in 2015 to end the bloody fighting in eastern Ukraine. The government in Berlin said late on July 24 that the so-called Normandy Group called for the immediate halt to all violations of the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists are fighting forces of the central government in Kyiv. A statement after a two-hour phone conversation by the leaders of the four countries said separating Ukrainian troops and Russia-aligned fighters and the withdrawal of heavy weapons also are priorities. Details on specific measures were not immediately provided. All previous ceasefire calls have failed, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the Group of 20 meeting in early July that progress in efforts to end the violence had been “very, very slow.” In the July 24 phone call, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko demanded that Russia stop sending weapons to the separatists and called for deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force in the conflict regions near the Russian border. A representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which independently monitors the conflict, also participated in the call, officials said. (RFE/RL, with reporting by DPA, The Kyiv Post and AP)

Poroshenko blames Russia for deaths

KYIV – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has blamed Russia for the recent deaths of eight Ukrainian soldiers in its eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, where Moscow-backed separatists have intensified shelling of Ukrainian forces. Mr. Poroshenko told reporters in Kyiv on July 21 that “Ukraine will adequately respond to the death of every Ukrainian citizen,” without being specific. Mr. Poroshenko said he planned to raise the issue of Russia’s actions during July 24 telephone talks of the Normandy group consisting of leaders of Ukraine, Germany, France and Russia. The Ukrainian president called Russia “an aggressor country,” and claimed that “11,000 Ukrainians were killed” in the ongoing military conflicts in Luhansk and Donetsk, where some districts have been controlled by pro-Russia separatists since April 2014. Mr. Poroshenko said he will “demand the immediate and genuine provision of a ceasefire along the entire frontline” on the terms of the so-called Minsk agreements. A deal brokered by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany in the Belarusian capital Minsk in 2015 calls for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the frontlines and constitutional reform to give eastern Ukraine more autonomy, although it has yet to be solidified on the ground. According to the United Nations, the conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 10,000 lives since it began in 2014, shortly after Moscow illegally annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea and offered support to pro-Russia separatist in the east. Russia has denied its involvement in eastern Ukraine. (RFE/RL, with reporting by AFP and Reuters)

Ukrainian-Moldovan border checkpoint 

KYIV – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip opened a joint border checkpoint whose Moldovan side is in the breakaway region of Transdniester. Mr. Poroshenko said after the ceremony at the Kuchurgan-Pervomaisk checkpoint on July 17 that Kyiv is ready to contribute to “the full restoration of Moldova’s territorial integrity.” Separatist authorities in mainly Russian-speaking Transdniester and Russian lawmakers have condemned the plans to open the joint Ukrainian-Moldovan border checkpoint alleging it is a step toward an economic blockade. Mr. Filip rejected the allegation calling it “mere speculation.” Moscow-backed Transdniester, which borders on Ukraine’s Odesa region, declared independence from Moldova in 1990. The two sides fought a brief war in 1992 that ended when the Russian military intervened on the side of Transdniester, which is not recognized as an independent nation by any country. Russia maintains a 1,200-strong military force in the region despite Moldova’s repeated calls for it to be withdrawn and replaced with international peacekeepers. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)

Semena trial resumes in Symferopol 

KYIV – Russian-appointed judges at a court in Ukraine’s occupied Crimea region have conducted a new hearing in the trial of Mykola Semena, an RFE/RL contributor who is fighting what he says is a politically motivated separatism charge. Witnesses and experts called by the defense testified at the trial on July 18. The judge agreed to include the U.N. General Assembly’s December 2016 resolution on human rights in Crimea – which was seized by Russia in 2014 – in the case documents. The trial in the Crimean capital, Symferopol, has been delayed several times since it started in late March. Mr. Semena faces up to five years in prison if convicted. The charge against the 66-year-old Semena stems from an article he wrote for RFE/RL’s Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities) website in 2015. The Kremlin-installed prosecutor in Crimea charged that the article had called for the violation of Russia’s territorial integrity. Mr. Semena contends that the accusation is baseless and politically motivated, and that Russian authorities have based the case on an inaccurate Russian translation of his original Ukrainian text. Activists say Mr. Semena’s trial is part of a systemic Russian clampdown on independent media and dissent in Crimea since Moscow’s armed occupation and takeover of the peninsula. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Raids in $800M corruption probe 

KYIV – Ukrainian law enforcement agents on July 14 raided property allegedly controlled by a former official under toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych as part of an $800 million corruption investigation. Ukraine’s chief military prosecutor, Anatoliy Matios, said investigators carried out 183 raids in the capital Kyiv on property owned by former Income and Tax Minister Oleksandr Klymenko, who now is believed to live in Moscow. Investigators carried out raids in the Gulliver shopping mall and the pro-Russian Vesti media holding, of which Mr. Klymenko is a beneficiary. Mr. Klymenko on Facebook described the raids as “banal banditry” by the government, while saying they had a “political rationale.” The military prosecutor accused Mr. Klymenko of registering a number of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and Cyprus between 2011 and 2013, and using offshore accounts to launder money stolen from the Ukrainian state budget. The illegal scheme saw $788 million transferred to private companies and then spent on luxury apartments, cars, and office and retail premises, Mr. Matios said. Ukrainian Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page that “nine of the main suspects are under arrest in a temporary detention facility.” He said that Mr. Klymenko’s assets would be “frozen until a final court decision that I expect will confiscate them for the benefit of the state.” In May, law enforcement agents arrested 23 former high-ranking tax administration officials in the same investigation. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AFP and Interfax-Ukraine)

Siemens fallout downplayed by Moscow

MOSCOW – Russia’s energy minister downplayed any risk to the country’s oil sector following the disputed delivery of gas turbines built by Siemens to the Crimea peninsula. The German industrial giant said last week it would stop delivering power plant equipment to Russia after the four turbines were shipped to Crimea against the company’s policy and in violation of a contract with a Russian partner. Asked by reporters in St. Petersburg on July 24 whether the Siemens decision could affect Russia’s oil industry, Aleksandr Novak said it would not. “We have a competitive market in the country. So what Siemens supplies can be delivered by other companies,” he was quoted as saying. “As for electricity generation, we… have now learned to produce the necessary equipment,” he added. Germany has urged the European Union to add four more Russian individuals and companies to the EU sanctions list over the dispute. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, prompting the EU and the United States to impose a series of economic sanctions. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)

EU adds sanctions over Siemens case 

BRUSSELS – RFE/RL has learned that the European Union has added four Russian individuals and three Russian entities to its sanctions list after revelations that four gas turbines from the German company Siemens were illegally diverted from Russia to Ukraine’s occupied Crimean peninsula. Sources in Brussels on July 26 told RFE/RL that EU ambassadors had backed a push by Germany for the additions to the EU’s existing sanctions list. Those sources told RFE/RL that the fresh sanctions will likely go into force next week. The identities of the individuals and entities have not been released, but a person familiar with the matter told RFE/RL that they are likely to include Russian firms and corporate leaders responsible for transferring the Siemens turbines from Russia to Russia-occupied Crimea. Crimea has been subjected to EU sanctions on energy technology since Russian military forces seized control of the Ukrainian region in March 2014 and the Kremlin staged a referendum that has been deemed as illegitimate by most countries in the world. The EU has 150 people and 37 entities on a current sanctions list that has been in place since 2014. That list was renewed in March 2017 for six months and is expected to be extended again in September. Siemens has said the turbines were “illegally” diverted “against our will” to Crimea and that it was cutting some of its ties to Russia following revelations of the illegal shipments. It said the turbines originally had been sold for use at the Taman power plant in southern Russia. Siemens on July 21 said it would halt deliveries of power-generation equipment under its existing contracts with Russia’s state-controlled entities “for the time being” in response to the revelations. (Rikard Jozwiak of RFE/RL, with reporting by AFP)

Saakashvili stripped of Ukraine citizenship

KYIV – Ukraine’s migration agency says Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who later served as governor of Ukraine’s Odesa region, has been stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship. In a statement posted on July 26 on its website, the State Migration Service said the decision to revoke a person’s citizenship could be made only by Ukraine’s president. It also explicitly mentioned Mr. Saakashvili, and suggested that paperwork received from Georgian officials had been included in the decision. Ukraine’s TSN news agency quoted unnamed officials in the migration agency as saying that Mr. Saakashvili gave false information when he filled out application forms to obtain citizenship in 2015. There was no comment or announcement by President Petro Poroshenko about the migration statement, or Mr. Saakashvili in particular. Mr. Saakashvili also did not immediately offer any public comment about the development. But officials with the Ukrainian political party he headed, called the Movement of New Forces, said in a post to Facebook that “Poroshenko, in the spirit of his predecessor, has irrevocably gone down the path of unconstitutional action for usurpation and holding onto power at all costs.” Davit Sakvarelidze, a former deputy prosecutor-general and a representative of the Movement of New Forces, said Mr. Poroshenko’s decision to revoke Mr. Saakashvili’s citizenship would not impede the activities of the party. “Ukraine is on the brink of survival and preserving itself as a state,” Mr. Sakvarelidze said in a Facebook post on July 26. “The man who had spoken about that louder than anyone else was left without Ukrainian citizenship and the right to enter Ukraine today. But it will by no means stop us… We will coordinate with the established headquarters in terms of further joint actions and go forward, taking all necessary measures.” Mr. Sakvarelidze also said Mr. Poroshenko’s decision would “bring the end of the regime under his leadership closer.” (RFE/RL, with reporting by RFE/RL’s Mike Eckel, Interfax, Strana.ua, TSN and RIA)

Kyiv cuts electricity to separatists 

KYIV – Ukraine’s state power company says it has terminated electricity supplies to the parts of the Donetsk region that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists. Vsevolod Kovalchuk, acting head of the power distributor Ukrenergo, said on Facebook on July 26 that “the power supply to the districts in the Donetsk region that are temporarily not controlled [by the government] was cut” overnight. According to Mr. Kovalchuk, the districts controlled by pro-Russia separatists in the region stopped receiving energy produced by power stations located in Kyiv-controlled regions of Ukraine. Earlier in April, Ukraine cut electricity supplies to the districts controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in another eastern region, Luhansk. (RFE/RL)