December 22, 2017



U.N. on rights violations in Crimea 

The United Nations General Assembly on December 19 approved a resolution strongly condemning human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and referring to Russia as an “occupying power” there. The resolution, put forward by Ukraine and 30 other countries, was approved by 70 states. Twenty-six, including Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and China, voted against. Seventy-six countries abstained from voting. Ukraine’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations said that the resolution confirms there is an armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia, and condemns the retroactive application of Russian laws to the territory, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin said the resolution was the “toughest one” yet to pass the U.N., which adopted its first resolution condemning human rights abuses in Crimea with a similar vote a year ago. “The pressure on Russia is being increased,” Mr. Klimkin said on Twitter. Ukrainian diplomats at the U.N. said Russia, which claims that Crimeans voted to join Russia in a March 2014 referendum that has not been internationally recognized, put “enormous pressure” on U.N. member states to reject the resolution or abstain from voting. Ukraine’s Permanent Mission to the U.N. said the resolution condemns the compulsory naturalization of Ukrainian citizens under the Russian occupation and calls for the immediate release of unlawfully detained Ukrainians. The measure calls for an immediate end to all rights violations, including “arbitrary detentions, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” and demands that Russia fulfill the interim decision of the International Court of Justice on the restoration of rights and freedoms for Ukrainian citizens on the peninsula. It urges Russia to revoke its decision declaring the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar people’s assembly, an extremist organization and banning its activities. It also called on Moscow to reverse other limitations imposed on Crimean Tatars. The resolution also appeals to Russia to maintain the teaching of the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages on the territory of Crimea. The measure condemns Russia for failing to provide access to Crimea for the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission while it commends Ukraine for providing unhindered access to Crimea for journalists and human rights activists, and for supporting media and non-governmental organizations that were forced out of Crimea after Russia’s takeover. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko thanked those who co-authored and voted for the resolution, calling them the “real friends of Ukrainian Crimea” in a Twitter post. (RFE/RL, with reporting by UNIAN and Kyiv Post)

Canada’s Defense Committee reports

On December 11, Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defense tabled its report, “Canada’s Support to Ukraine in Crisis and Armed Conflict.” Among its 17 recommendations to the government of Canada, the committee urged: “That the government of Canada advocate for a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Ukraine that respects its territorial integrity. … That the government of Canada provide lethal weapons to Ukraine to protect its sovereignty from Russian aggression, provided that Ukraine demonstrates it is actively working to eliminate corruption at all levels of government. …That the government of Canada expand Canada’s sanctions, including implementing the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law), against those responsible for contributing to the armed conflict in Ukraine and work with its allies, including NATO, to maintain and enhance their sanction regimes against Russian operatives.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)

Turchynov meets with Stoltenberg

Oleksandr Turchynov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC) met with NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels on December 14. The NSDC reported that the two leaders discussed the issue of countering Russian aggression in the east of Ukraine and the hybrid threats faced by Ukraine. According to the NSDC secretary, in comparison with 2014, today Ukraine has a qualitatively new army capable of defending the country. “Based on the challenges facing the state today, a significant part of state budget funds are directed at the defense and security of Ukraine. Total spending on security and defense in 2017 has exceeded 5 percent of GDP,” he said, adding that the situation is similar with the budget for 2018. Messrs. Turchynov and Stoltenberg also considered the issues of reforming the security and defense sector of Ukraine, the transition to NATO standards and the difficulties on this path. Mr. Turchynov thanked Mr. Stoltenberg for the recent statement at the International Security Forum on November 17 in Halifax indicating that the NATO door is open to Ukraine and Georgia. He noted that Ukraine, to move toward the alliance, “is now focused on reforms, on modernizing defense institutions, fighting corruption, and strengthening democratic institutions.” Mr. Turchynov stressed that a new significant stage of interaction between Ukraine and NATO can come through Ukraine’s participation in the Enhanced Opportunities Program. “According to military experts from partner countries,” he pointed out, “Ukraine meets all the criteria the prospective program participant should meet.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)

Court upholds Semena verdict 

The top court in Ukraine’s Russia-controlled Crimea region has upheld a separatism conviction against journalist Mykola Semena in a case that has been criticized by media freedom advocates and Western governments. The court, which Russia calls the Supreme Court of Crimea, left the conviction and suspended two-and-a-half-year sentence in place in its ruling on December 18. At the same time, it shortened – from three years to two – the period of time during which Mr. Semena is prohibited from working as a journalist. Mr. Semena, an RFE/RL contributor, was sentenced in a case described by rights groups and Western governments as politically motivated. RFE/RL President Tom Kent condemned the verdict and sentence when they were imposed in September, describing them as “part of an orchestrated effort by Russian authorities in Crimea to silence independent voices.” A contributor to RFE/RL’s Krym.Realii (Crimea Realities), Mr. Semena was arrested by the Russia-imposed authorities in April 2016 and charged with acting against the “territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.’’ Mr. Semena says the accusation was politically motivated and violated fundamental freedoms and that Russian authorities based their case on an inaccurate translation of one of his stories from Ukrainian into Russian. The United States, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and international media watchdogs have all condemned the trial and verdict. (Crimean Desk, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Crimean Tatars fined over protests 

Courts in Russia-controlled Crimea on December 18 fined dozens of Crimean Tatars over single-person demonstrations, in a move which Amnesty International called “a brazen crackdown.” The Crimean Tatars staged the demonstrations in October to protest pressure imposed on practicing Muslims by the Moscow-installed authorities. The Foreign Affairs Ministry of Ukraine condemned the hearings, calling them part of a Russian effort to “break, suffocate and ruin” the mostly Muslim group whose homeland is Crimea. Ministry spokesman Maryana Betsa wrote on Twitter that the hearings were intentionally being held a day before an expected vote in the U.N. General Assembly on the human rights situation in Crimea. “The Russian Federation’s cynicism has no limits” she wrote. Hearings were held in the cases against some 70 Crimean Tatars in the cities and towns including Symferopol, Dzhankoy, Alushta and Sudak. At least 45 were fined up to 15,000 rubles ($255 U.S.) over the protests, and at least five hearings were postponed. Russian law does not forbid single-person protests, and they have frequently been used by activists to avoid arrest as President Vladimir Putin’s government has tightened restrictions on public gatherings in recent years. But Russian investigators in Crimea argued that as the protests in October against searches and detentions of Crimean Tatars were held simultaneously across the peninsula, they may have been organized centrally and thus were in violation of the law. Crimean Tatars rejected this claim. Refat Chubarov – chairman of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatars’ self-governing body that Russia has outlawed – wrote on Facebook that Russia “demonstrates disregard for the norms of the international law.” Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they called a persistent campaign of oppression targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar minority and others who opposed Moscow’s seizure of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014. In a December 18 statement, Amnesty International called the trials “a brazen crackdown.” Oksana Pokalchuk, Amnesty International Ukraine’s executive director, said, “The occupying Russian authorities push ever further the limits of their remorseless reprisals against the Crimean Tatar minority.” She added: “Russian authorities have already forcibly exiled or jailed Crimean Tatar leaders, banned their representative body, Mejlis, and stifled the Crimean Tatar-language media. With this latest move they are aiming to shut down individuals’ expressions of dissent and deprive them of the right to voice their dissatisfaction.” The majority of Crimean Tatars opposed the Russian takeover of their historic homeland. (Crimean Desk, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Saakashvili refuses to be questioned

Opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili appeared at the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kyiv on December 18 but refused to answer questions from investigators. Ukrainian authorities have accused the former Georgian president and ex-Ukrainian governor of abetting an alleged “criminal group” led by former President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after his ouster in February 2014. They also have suggested that protests led by Mr. Saakashvili are part of a Russian plot against Ukraine. Mr. Saakashvili has strongly denied all the charges. Outside the Prosecutor General’s Office in the Ukrainian capital, Mr. Saakashvili told reporters he would give testimony only when the case is handed over to the Security Service of Ukraine, “as required by law,” Interfax reported. A spokesperson for the prosecutor general said Mr. Saakashvili had “disrupted the investigative procedure” by failing to be questioned by the investigator who summoned him, according to Interfax. (RFE/RL, with reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and Interfax)

Saakashvili backers try to seize building

Western diplomats have expressed concern after supporters of Mikheil Saakashvili briefly attempted to seize a public building in Kyiv during a rally to demand the impeachment of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Mr. Saakashvili’s followers marched through Kyiv on December 17 and then rallied with him on Independence Square to call for Mr. Poroshenko to be officially removed from office. During the rally, Mr. Saakashvili suggested setting up a headquarters for the protest in the October Palace, a performing arts and conference center overlooking the square. People in the crowd shattered windows and tried to break the doors down to the building but were prevented by police from getting inside. At the time, hundreds of children were reported to be attending an event in the October Palace. The attempt to seize the building drew rebukes from some Western diplomats. On Twitter, Canadian Ambassador Roman Waschuk said that “attempts to seize and damage public buildings are an abuse of the right to peaceful protest.” British Ambassador Judith Gough seconded his assessment. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv joined in later on Twitter. “We agree with our colleagues from Canada and the U.K. Attempts to capture and destroy public buildings are an abuse of the right to peaceful protest,” it wrote. After the protesters’ attempts to enter the building failed, MR. Saakashvili said he wanted to “rent two rooms there” and that the clashes were “President Poroshenko’s game and provocation.” In an interview with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, he later added: “I denounce any [attempts] to break windows, because once there are millions of us, these doors and these windows will open themselves. We don’t need to break them, people.” Kyiv police said at least 32 security officers were injured in confrontations with protesters near Independence Square. With police looking on, the demonstrators on December 17 marched through central Kyiv toward Independence Square. They urged Parliament to adopt legislation on a presidential impeachment and called on Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko to step down. (RFE/RL, with reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, AP and Interfax)

Three soldiers killed in the Donbas 

Ukraine’s military said on December 18 that three of its soldiers were killed amid multiple ceasefire violations by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in the last 24 hours. According to the Defense Ministry’s statement, the separatists violated the ceasefire 14 times using mortars and heavy artillery. Separatists claimed on December 18 that Ukraine’s armed forces violated the ceasefire 17 times, using assault rifles, grenade launchers, mortars and artillery. Fighting between Kyiv’s forces and the Russia-backed separatists who hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014. Several ceasefire deals announced as part of the Minsk accords – September 2014 and February 2015 pacts aimed to resolve the conflict – have failed to hold. The latest ceasefire was agreed on August 22 in a phone call between the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Interfax)

EIB supports upgrade of Kharkiv metro

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is lending Ukraine 160 million euros to finance improvements to the public transport system in Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city. EIB funds will support the extension of the Kharkiv metro network to a residential area with a high population density, making it more attractive for commuters. ”The EIB loan will facilitate the shift away from an excessive car use to a more sustainable transport system with positive consequences on climate and the quality of the urban environment in the city. It will contribute upgrading public transport in the southern part of the city of Kharkiv, an area which is currently only served by trolleybuses, buses and minibuses,” the EIB reported. The head of the EU delegation in Ukraine, Hugues Mingarelli, stated, “Much-needed new investment in the Kharkiv metro will connect the city’s business, universities and daily commuters via a modern and environment-friendly transport link, which later could be extended to Kharkiv airport. I have no doubt that this project will also help build this city a stronger economy – something that we consider one of the key foundations of the EU-Ukraine partnership.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)

EU leaders agree to extend sanctions 

European Union leaders have agreed to extend economic sanctions against Russia for six months over Moscow’s aggressive actions in Ukraine. The decision, announced on December 14 at an EU summit, will extend current restrictions against Moscow until July 2018. The EU measures, which mainly target the Russian banking and energy sectors, were first imposed in the summer of 2014 and have been extended every six months since then. The EU, along with the United States, imposed the sanctions in retaliation for Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014 and for its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 10,300 people since it began in April 2014. EU diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL on December 8 that French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel would recommend at the EU summit that the sanctions be extended a further six months. Ms. Merkel said after the leaders met that they “had a very intense discussion on the question of prolonging sanctions” and all agreed that more progress was needed carrying out the peace process outlined in the 2015 Minsk agreement. “We have prevented an escalation, but we have not enough progress in order to remove the sanctions,” Ms. Merkel said. “But we all agree that we must do everything to move on with the Minsk process.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed the EU decision to extend the sanctions. “[It is] an important political decision by the leaders of the European Union to continue economic sanctions against Russia for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity and unwillingness to stop hybrid aggression against our country,” Mr. Poroshenko wrote on his official Facebook page. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Rikard Jozwiak, DPA and Reuters)

Russia criticizes EU decision

Russia has hit back at a decision by leaders of the European Union to extend for another six months the economic sanctions imposed on Moscow over its “destabilizing” actions in Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on December 15 described the sanctions as “illegal and unjust” and said Russia “did not consider such decisions beneficial to either EU member states or the Russian Federation.” He added, “Despite this, we, of course, are still set on improving relations with Brussels, which currently leave something to be desired.” EU leaders on December 14 agreed at a Brussels summit to extend the sanctions against Russia for six months, until July 30, 2018. When imposing the sanctions, the EU said they were “in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and deliberate destabilization of a neighboring sovereign country.” Russia denies interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, despite compelling evidence that Moscow has provided military, economic and political support to separatists fighting against Kyiv. The sanctions extended on December 14 are among three sets of EU measures against Moscow for various Ukraine-related activities. The other two sets – one in force through March 2018 and the other through June – are eligible to be extended independently. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AFP, Reuters and TASS)

Court rejects claim over turbines

A Russian court has rejected a claim by German conglomerate Siemens that the sale of power turbines that were delivered to Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Crimea region was invalid. The Moscow Arbitration Court rejected a reversal of the deal in a December 14 ruling, about four months after the same court denied a request by Siemens to seize the gas turbines and to ban their installation ahead of preliminary hearings. Siemens lodged a lawsuit against Russian state firm Technopromeksport in July, after it emerged that four turbines sent to a power plant in Russia ended up in Crimea. The transfer of the equipment to Crimea contravened European Union sanctions imposed after Russia’s illegal annexation of the Black Sea peninsula in March 2014. The turbines, manufactured in Russia by a joint project involving Siemens, were sold to Technopromexport in 2015. The Munich-based conglomerate said the equipment was to be installed at a plant in Taman, in southern Russia, and that the Russian company breached contract conditions by sending them to Crimea. Russian authorities and Rostec, Techno-prom-export’s owner, insisted that the turbines were transferred to Crimea legally. In August, the EU widened sanctions against Russian companies and persons, including Technopromeksport, in response to the transfer of the turbines to Crimea. The Russian Foreign Ministry called the decision an “unfriendly and unjustified” step. Moscow needs the turbines for two Crimean power plants in order to ensure a stable power supply for Crimea’s residents. The region used to rely on the Ukrainian power grid but is now dependent on Russian electricity. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters, TASS and Interfax)

Broadcasts in Crimean Tatar language

The BBC reported that Ukraine will start broadcasting the news in the Crimean Tatar language to the population in Russian-occupied Crimea. The BBC noted that the state radio company’s general producer, Dmytro Khorkin, said regular broadcasts should start next year. “These people, who are facing persecution for their nationality, religion and political views, will be able to listen to broadcasts in their own language,” he told the Crimean service of Radio Liberty. The Muslim Crimean Tatars, who make up about 12 percent of the population, enjoyed considerable cultural autonomy under Ukrainian rule, but Russia has since banned their Mejlis national council as an “extremist organization.” Mr. Khorkin said Radio Ukraine has been broadcasting in Russian to get its message across to the mainly Russian-speaking Crimea for the last three years, but now wants to recruit “presenters and announcers with a good knowledge of Tatar, as the language needs to be protected and encouraged.” The State Broadcast Committee has been making determined efforts to boost Ukrainian-language television signals to Crimea over the last year, and Mr. Khorkin said regular medium-wave radio broadcasts are audible in parts of the peninsula after sunset. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)