June 8, 2018



U.S. calls for anti-corruption court

The United States has highlighted the importance of establishing an independent anti-corruption court in Ukraine as it called on Kyiv to implement comprehensive reforms and put an end to systematic corruption in the country. In a statement issued on June 5, the U.S. State Department said, “The establishment of a genuinely independent anti-corruption court is the most important, immediate step the government can take to meet those demands and roll back corruption that continues to threaten Ukraine’s national security, prosperity and democratic development.” The statement points out that the United States fully supports the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which will determine whether a new law establishing the court is consistent with Ukraine’s commitments under its IMF program. “We agree with the IMF that any legislation establishing an anti-corruption court must include a central role for a council of international experts to ensure the selection of qualified judges,” the statement says. The bill to create an anti-corruption court was approved by Ukraine’s Parliament in its first reading on March 1, and President Petro Poroshenko said it should win final approval before spring ends. The legislation has been demanded by protest groups and international institutions that provide Ukraine with financial support. In March, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told Mr. Poroshenko in Kyiv that establishing an independent anti-corruption court would “help the business environment and the investment climate.” However, some reformists in Ukraine and backers in Europe have said the bill in its current form does not meet standards set by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, a group of independent experts in constitutional law, and the requirements of the IMF. (RFE/RL)

PM vows to resign if court not created

Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman has promised to step down if an anti-corruption court is not established in the country. Mr. Groysman told reporters on June 4 that he will discuss the issue with lawmakers to secure approval of the bill on creation of an anti-corruption court in its second reading on June 7. “As Ukraine’s prime minister I have made a decision: If such a just and independent [anti-corruption] court is not formed, I will step down from the post of the prime minister of Ukraine, I will resign,” Mr. Groysman said. He made similar comments on Twitter. Parliament Chairman Andriy Parubiy, who was also present at the briefing, said that he was “confident that the vote will take place.” The IMF has called the establishment of an anti-corruption court a “benchmark” of Ukraine’s progress toward Western legal standards, and has said it would help ease the release of its loans in the future. Western officials say Ukraine will be far better equipped to resist interference from Russia – which seized the Crimea region in 2014 and backs separatist militants who hold parts of two eastern provinces – if it takes serious steps to combat corruption. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Sentsov could be force-fed, lawyer says 

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who opposed Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and is now on a hunger strike in a Russian prison colony, could be force-fed if his vital organs begin to fail, according to his lawyer. Dmitry Dinze was speaking after visiting his client on June 4 at the correctional facility in the far-northern Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region where Mr. Sentsov is serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted on terrorism charges that he and human rights groups say were politically motivated. Mr. Sentsov’s plight has sparked an international outcry, with some 50 writers and artists being the latest to urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to release him. Before Mr. Dinze visited his client, Mr. Sentsov was taken to a nearby hospital for a medical examination during which doctors ruled the imprisoned Ukrainian filmmaker’s condition “satisfactory.” But speaking to RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Mr. Dinze said Mr. Sentsov had already lost some eight kilograms and his vital organs, including his kidneys, could start to fail as his health continues to deteriorate. “If these effects [of the hunger strike] take place, they will unfortunately subject him to force-feeding. The doctor warned him of this. Oleh didn’t try to argue or compromise,” Mr. Dinze said. “The doctor warned that even with force-feeding, a person who stays on hunger strike and is not consuming normal food won’t last long,” the lawyer added. He also said that Mr. Sentsov thanked all those who had supported him and vowed to continue his struggle. Mr. Sentsov, 41, has been on a hunger strike for three weeks, demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners. He is not calling for his own release. Earlier this month, Sentsov supporters across the globe conducted a two-day #SaveOlegSentsov campaign. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Facebook on June 2 that he was “grateful to everyone who joined” the call for Mr. Sentsov’s release, denouncing what he called the Kremlin’s “lawlessness and totalitarian methods.” (RFE/RL’s Russian Service)

Kolchenko on hunger strike for Sentsov

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) reported on May 31, “Oleksander Kolchenko, the already desperately thin Crimean civic activist imprisoned in the same Russian show trial as filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, has declared a hunger strike, demanding that Russia free Sentsov. According to lawyer Andrei Lepekhin, his formal notification is from May 31, Sentsov’s 18th day of hunger strike. Sentsov has vowed he will not end it until Russia frees all its Ukrainian political prisoners, and has said that if he dies before or during the World Cup being hosted by Russia, his death should serve to help free the others.” Messrs. Kolchenko and Sentsov were seized in Russian-occupied Crimea in May 2014, together with two other opponents of Russia’s annexation of their homeland, Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksiy Chyrniy. All four men were held incommunicado for up to three weeks, first in Symferopol (Crimea), then in Moscow, almost certainly to hide the signs of the torture they were subjected to,” KHPG commented. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)

Sushchenko sentence is condemned

Kyiv and journalism watchdogs have strongly condemned the sentence given to Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko by a Russian court after it convicted him of spying. The Moscow City Court found Mr. Sushchenko guilty of espionage and sentenced him to 12 years in a strict-regime prison in a June 4 decision that Mr. Sushchenko’s lawyer, Mark Feigin, said was fabricated for political reasons and would be appealed. Harlem Desir, a media-freedom representative at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said he deplored the sentence and called on Russia to let Mr. Sushchenko go. “Journalism is not a crime,” Mr. Desir said in a statement. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based journalism watchdog group, also demanded Mr. Sushchenko’s release and said Russian authorities had failed to back up their allegations with “a shred of evidence.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko maintained the court convicted Mr. Sushchenko on trumped-up charges. “The unprecedented cynicism of the Russian court… proves that the Kremlin regime will stop at nothing in its attempts to break Ukrainians’ spirit,” Mr. Poroshenko wrote on social media. The verdict and sentence are likely to add to international scrutiny of Russia ahead of the 2018 soccer World Cup, which it is hosting from June 14 to July 15. (RFE/RL’s Russian Service, with reporting by Rapsinews, Dozhd, AP, Reuters and TASS)

Poroshenko meets with Babchenko

Ukraine’s Presidential Administration reported on May 30 the President Petro Poroshenko met with journalist Arkady Babchenko, an attempt upon whose life was revealed by the Security Service of Ukraine. The meeting was attended by head of the Security Service Vasyl Hrytsak and Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yuriy Lutsenko. The president hailed the successful operation and was quoted as saying, “We finally learned to defend. Defend the country, defend its citizens and do it with extraordinary professional efforts of the new Security Service, which is capable of passing the exams of any complexity.” Mr. Poroshenko also noted that the attack on the journalist was organized from the territory of the Russian Federation by a person who “owns a huge arsenal of weapons, can create arms dumps and organize terrorist acts.” The Presidential Administration also reported that Mr. Babchenko expressed his conviction that such operations are needed so that people and the world finally begin to understand what Vladimir Putin’s regime is. He was quoted as saying: “Thank God that everything has come to the end. The fact that I am sitting here now and that I am alive is all thanks to the Security Service. After all, if there had been no such special operation, they would have killed me and this is obvious. Friends, let’s finally understand who we are dealing with. Let’s finally understand what Putin’s Russia is in 2018, 2014, and 2020, and 2025. Let’s finally understand. Thank God that the West is beginning to understand.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)

PM moves to sack finance minister

Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman has announced that he wants to sack his Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk, who says the prime minister’s move is politically motivated. Mr. Groysman wrote on Facebook on June 6 that he had submitted a motion to the Verkhovna Rada for Mr. Danylyuk’s dismissal, whom he accused of spreading “distorted information amid our international partners.” Mr. Danylyuk, 42, a respected reformer backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has been known for his anti-corruption measures meant to reform Ukraine’s fiscal and customs services. The two officials have been at odds since Mr. Groysman rejected Mr. Danylyuk’s candidate for deputy minister in charge of tax policy last month (May 23). Mr. Danylyuk then accused Mr. Groysman of favoring candidates chosen by President Petro Poroshenko’s inner circle and wrote a letter describing his grievances to the Group of Seven. Mr. Danylyuk wrote on Facebook on June 6 that he had been asked to support “political corruption” or to quit. “I had faced colossal pressure over the past year… I was given a choice – either leave or become an accomplice… I will not sell out my country,” Mr. Danylyuk wrote, adding that he wanted to address lawmakers. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters and AFP)

Poroshenko, Pompeo discuss cooperation

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have discussed ways to boost defense and security cooperation between the two countries during a telephone call, the Ukrainian presidential office said on June 2. Mr. Poroshenko again thanked the United States for delivering Javelin anti-tank missile systems to Ukraine, the statement said. RFE/RL was first to report the delivery of 37 Javelin launchers, including two spares, and 210 missiles to Kyiv in April. The U.S. State Department approved the sale of the Javelin systems to Ukraine at an estimated cost of $47 million in March. According to the president’s office, Messrs. Poroshenko and Pompeo also discussed the impact of the planned Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the controversial natural gas project that would expand the current Nord Stream pipeline that passes along the bottom of the Baltic Sea to deliver Russian gas to Germany. The United States, Poland, the Baltic states and several other European Union countries have expressed concern about Nord Stream 2 – which avoids existing gas pipelines through Ukraine – and the added leverage on energy security it could give Moscow. Messrs. Poroshenko and Pompeo also discussed recent developments in the probe of MH17 – the Malaysian airliner shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people aboard. The Dutch-led criminal probe announced on May 24 that it had concluded that the Buk missile that downed the airliner came from a Russian military brigade that was originally based in Kursk, Russia. Mr. Poroshenko stressed the importance of maintaining sanctions on Russia. The United States and the European Union have sanctioned Russia for its March 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, where more than 10,300 people have died in fighting since April 2014. Mr. Poroshenko also informed Mr. Pompeo of Ukrainian efforts to push through reforms, “in particular with regard to building efficient anti-corruption infrastructure,” according to the statement. (RFE/RL)

Ukraine criticized for banning RIA Novosti

A European media watchdog has criticized Ukraine for putting Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on a sanctions list that bars the news outlet from operating in Ukraine. Harlem Desir, the media freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said that foreign media outlets and representatives “should not be included on sanctions lists.” In statement released on May 25, he said: “Freedom of expression and freedom of the media are fundamental commitments of the OSCE participating states. Any limitations imposed on these rights should be limited in scope, proportional and provide for adequate safeguards against abuse.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko cited “national security” reasons for putting RIA Novosti Ukraine and its parent company, Rossiya Segodnya, on the sanctions list on May 24. They are barred from operating in Ukraine for three years. Russia accused Ukraine of “political censorship” of the media and called on the OSCE to censure the move. Mr. Desir in his statement called on Ukraine to “respect and fulfill the OSCE commitments aimed at improving conditions under which journalists… practice their profession.” He noted that the OSCE has called out Ukraine previously for restricting media, once in September 2015 when Kyiv barred several dozen foreign journalists from entering the country, and another time in August 2014, when Ukraine’s Parliament approved restrictions on media in its sanctions law. Ukraine also recently jailed an RIA Novosti reporter on charges of high treason for allegedly participating in “hybrid information warfare,” in a case that drew angry criticism from Moscow and concern from Western governments and media watchdogs. (RFE/RL)

Ukraine peace talks to restart June 11

Envoys from Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia will gather in Berlin on June 11 to try to revive a stalled peace process in eastern Ukraine, German Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas has said. “Over the past weeks, in discussions with the foreign ministers of Ukraine, France and Russia, we’ve been aiming to organize a new meeting,” Mr. Maas said on a visit to the government-held port city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine with Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin on June 1. Mr. Maas said he was pleased that the foreign ministers of the four countries would get together “to discuss the future development of Ukraine and the Minsk process” in comments released by Berlin. Mr. Maas’s statement came amid stalled efforts to put an end to a four-year conflict between Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed separatists that has claimed more than 10,300 lives since 2014. The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany negotiated a package of measures in February 2015 in Minsk to put an end to the conflict, but since then Kyiv and the separatists have repeatedly accused each other of violating several truces. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by DPA and AFP)

Wildfire breaks out near Chornobyl

Ukrainian authorities say a wildfire has broken out in the exclusion zone around Chornobyl, where the world’s worst nuclear accident occurred in 1986, but radiation levels remained within safe limits. “Radiation levels have not risen either inside the exclusion zone or in adjoining areas,” the zone’s administration said in a statement on June 5. Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman wrote on Facebook that “radiation levels are safe. In Kyiv and in Chornobyl itself, including at the Chornobyl power station site, they are significantly below the acceptable limits. So there’s no need to worry.” He added, “I stress once more: the situation is fully under control.” The fire broke out in dry grass on the morning of June 5 in the area of high radiation less than 10 kilometers from the power station and later spread over some 10 hectares of woodland, the state emergency service said in statements. It published photographs of smoke billowing from woodland and flames spreading along the ground. The state nuclear-industry regulator said the former nuclear power station was not at risk from the flames. More than 130 firefighters were battling the fire as well as two planes and a helicopter that dumped water on the fire, the state emergency service said, adding that the wind was not blowing toward the capital, Kyiv. Wildfires occur regularly in the woods and grassland around the power station. In 2015, a forest fire burned for four days. Scientists have been concerned for decades about potentially catastrophic wildfires inside the exclusion zone around the defunct nuclear power plant in Ukraine. That’s because trees and brush in the zone have absorbed radioactive particles that can be released into the air by the smoke of a wildfire. Not surprisingly, some experts are skeptical about Prime Minister Groysman’s claim on Facebook that “there’s no need to worry” about the June 5 blaze that raced through the so-called Red Forest – one of the most contaminated patches of forest near Chornobyl. (RFE/RL, with reporting by AFP and TASS)