February 1, 2019



Poroshenko announces re-election bid

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has announced he will seek re-election in the March presidential election, and vowed to press for European Union and NATO membership. Speaking to thousands of supporters on January 29, the confectionary magnate said that a “feeling of deep responsibility before the country and… before past and future generations” led him to decide to run for a second five-year term in the March 31 vote. The 53-year-old Mr. Poroshenko, one of Ukraine’s richest men, came to power in the aftermath of the pro-European Maidan protests that pushed Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych out in February 2014. He has vocally advocated closer integration with the West and criticized Russia following Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region and amid a continuing war against Russia-backed militants in the eastern region known as the Donbas. “I would like to ask voters for a mandate to ensure the irreversibility of the country’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration and our independence, as well as to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity, bring back peace, and complete the construction of a strong state capable of providing prosperity to every Ukrainian,” Mr. Poroshenko said at a forum in Kyiv. “We will submit a bid to join the European Union in 2024,” he said, adding that Ukraine would also take further steps to join NATO if he was re-elected. “Strengthening our armed forces and modernizing them… will remain our priority over the next five years,” Mr. Poroshenko said. But with Russia keeping the pressure on, he said, “Only full EU and NATO membership would completely and irreversibly guarantee the independence of our Ukrainian state and Ukrainian national security.” Mr. Poroshenko, who critics say has failed to tackle pervasive corruption, also vowed that a special court to try corruption cases would be up and running this year. Western officials say graft is a huge hurdle to the prosperity and security of Ukraine. In what was widely seen as an effort to bolster his sagging public support ahead of the election, Mr. Poroshenko spearheaded successful efforts to secure the creation of an independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The incumbent’s popularity rating is low, but polls suggest he and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who announced her presidential bid on January 22, are the likely front-runners. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by Reuters, Kommersant, UNIAN and Interfax)

PACE condemns Kerch attack

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on January 24 adopted a resolution, “The Escalation of Tensions Around the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait and Threats to European Security,” in which it “condemns the use of military force by the Russian Federation against Ukrainian warships and their crews.” PACE urges the Russian Federation to: “immediately release the Ukrainian servicemen and ensure they are granted the necessary medical, legal and/or consular assistance in accordance with relevant provisions of international humanitarian law such as the Geneva Conventions; ensure freedom of passage in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait in accordance with the above-mentioned treaty and any other mutually agreed procedures and to respect the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.” The Parliamentary Assembly also said it “reiterates its commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders; …expresses great concern about the construction by Russia of the bridge over the Kerch Strait, which it considers illegal and another breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty, as well as about Russia’s policy regarding the selective search of Ukrainian and international ships, which hinder navigation to and from the Sea of Azov; …calls on the international bodies which have competence in the field, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), to visit the Ukrainian servicemen in prison, pending their release, and supports any diplomatic action taken by member states aimed at their release.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Ukraine Daily Briefing)

Poroshenkos visit Yad Vashem

During his official visit to Israel on January 20-21, President Petro Poroshenko and his wife, Maryna Poroshenko, visited the World Holocaust Remembrance Center Yad Vashem. They placed a wreath at the monument to the victims of the Holocaust and visited the Children’s Memorial, and they honored the memory of the deceased with a moment of silence. “ ‘We remember’ and ‘Never again’ – this is what Ukrainians, along with other nations, say commemorating January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day and honoring the memory of the millions of victims of the Nazis,” Mr. Poroshenko said. He commented: “Ukraine, as a state that suffered from the Holodomor of 1932-1933, when millions of Ukrainians were tortured by the Communist Stalinist regime that committed genocide against the Ukrainian people, reverently keeps the memory of the Holocaust victims as well.” The president also noted that the memory of those who saved people sentenced to death at the risk of their own lives is also honored. Among them there were more than 2,500 Ukrainians. “Today, on behalf of the Ukrainian people, I would like to bow my head in memory of every victim of the Nazi regime, in memory of the millions of victims of the Holocaust innocently tortured and killed in dreadful years of the Holocaust in Ukraine and around the world. We cherish their memory.” (Presidential Administration of Ukraine)

Ukraine, Israel sign free trade agreement

In the framework of the official visit of the president of Ukraine to Israel, a free trade agreement was signed between the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and the government of the State of Israel. The signing ceremony took place on January 21 after the bilateral meeting of President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. The document was signed by the First Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine Stepan Kubiv and acting Minister of the Economy and Industry of Israel Eli Cohen. The agreement creates the legal basis for the liberalization of markets for industrial and agricultural products of the parties. It aims to promote the development of bilateral trade and economic cooperation between the countries, allow domestic producers to benefit from the liberalization of the goods market of Israel, open up opportunities for both expansion of markets and development and modernization of production of the Ukrainian business. In addition, a memorandum of cooperation between Ukraine’s State Concern Ukroboronprom and Elbit Systems Ltd, an Israel-based international company for the development and modernization of various types of weapons, was signed in Israel. Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak, having become acquainted with advanced defense technologies from Elbit Systems, expressed interest in deepening cooperation with the Israeli company. The memorandum of cooperation defines further development of joint projects in the following areas: communications, surveillance and reconnaissance systems for ground and air forces, air rescue equipment, radar stations, equipment for port protection and modernization of armored vehicles. The memorandum provides that the implementation of further projects will be carried out using mechanisms for the exchange of technologies and practical experience in the use of new weapons. During the meeting, the parties also noted that the memorandum was a real breakthrough in the relationship between the defense agencies of the partner countries. The Ukrainian delegation included representatives of the National Security and Defense Council, the Defense Ministry, Ukroboronprom and the State Enterprise SpetsTechnoExport. (Presidential Administration of Ukraine, with reports from Ukrinform)

‘Hacked e-mails’ from Russia published

A self-described “transparency collective” has released a massive trove of hacked e-mails and leaked documents from what it describes as “Russian politicians, journalists, oligarchs, [and] religious, and social figures.” The materials were published online on January 25 by a group calling itself Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDOS), which says it is “aimed at enabling the free transmission of data in the public interest.” The co-founder of the group, U.S. journalist Emma Best, said the materials would include various archives of hacked and leaked materials related to Russia that have been difficult for researchers to locate, the Daily Beast reported on January 25. The group’s website would bring together these materials into one location online, Ms. Best said. A day before the release, Ms. Best, a transparency activist focusing on national security matters, told RFE/RL that some of the documents slated for release had not “previously” been found by the group. “The rest is rather obscure and largely unknown or forgotten,” she said. “We can’t certify that any portion of it has never been released, though,” Ms. Best added. Numerous batches of private e-mails and documents from Russian officials and businessman have been published online in recent years, including those purportedly from the e-mail account of senior Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov. Ukrainian hackers claimed responsibility for an alleged 2016 hack of Mr. Surkov’s e-mail account, the contents of which appeared to show his office’s involvement with Russia-backed militants in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin at the time did not explicitly say that the contents of those materials were fraudulent but suggested they may have been forged. DDOS said the documents it released on January 25 included materials from “nationalists,” “separatists,” and “terrorists” operating in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Carl Schreck and The Daily Beast)

Reference to Roksolana’s origin corrected

The mention of the Russian origin of Sultan Suleiman I’s wife Roksolana (c. 1502-1558) has been removed from the visitor panel near her tomb at the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul at the request of the Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey. “We are gradually restoring the historical truth: at the request of our Embassy, the Turkish side has removed the text of the inscription about the supposedly Russian origin of Sultan Suleiman the First’s wife Roksolana near her tomb at the Suleymaniye Mosque,” the Embassy said on January 25 on Facebook. Although her real name and exact place of birth are unknown, historians are not questioning the Ukrainian origin of Roksolana, who was initially the concubine and later wife of Sultan Suleiman I and named Hurrem after converting to Islam. She was the mother of Sultan Selim II. (Interfax Ukraine)

Gas deal possible by end of 2019 

Ukraine and Russia should be able to reach an agreement by the end of 2019 on the transportation of natural gas to the European Union, a top EU official has said. “If all goes well and if all actors work toward the same goal, I am confident that this process will be successfully completed by the end of this year,” European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said in Brussels on January 21 after chairing a meeting with Russian and Ukrainian officials. The talks were attended by Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak, Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin, and executives from Ukrainian state energy company Naftogaz and Russian gas giant Gazprom. Mr. Sefcovic said he had proposed a compromise for the sides to work on before the next trilateral meeting scheduled for May. The EU official also said he expected no problem with supplies of Russian gas via Ukraine to Europe this winter. Kyiv fears losing revenue once the current 10-year contract expires at the end of 2019, amid tensions with Moscow over its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. Sources from the negotiation teams told RFE/RL that Mr. Sefcovic floated a proposal for the parties to agree to a new 10-year transit contract, with a guaranteed minimum yearly transit volume of 60 billion cubic meters. Before the meeting, Naftogaz Deputy Chief Executive Yuriy Vitrenko accused Russia of delaying the talks until the Moscow-backed Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline is built under the Baltic Sea. “Then they will say, ‘We are OK without any Ukrainian transits at all,’ “ Mr. Vitrenko told Reuters. Washington has strongly opposed the planned pipeline to bring Russian gas directly to Western Europe, bypassing the existing networks running through Ukraine. Moscow and Kyiv have clashed about gas since 2005, leading to supply interruptions. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters, DPA and Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels)

Vakarchuk not running for president 

Musician and public figure Sviatoslav Vakarchuk said that he would not run for president of Ukraine in the next presidential election on March 31. “I have said repeatedly that power as such and the presidential post as such do not interest me. Real changes in the country interest me. I, Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, will not take part in the 2019 presidential election,” he wrote on his Facebook page on January 28. He said he is convinced he can do more for Ukraine wearing “jeans” than “wearing a tie,” and “And I am not going to stand aside.” He wrote: “When I talk to people every day, I feel their disappointment and despair. I see corruption and injustice eroding our country from inside. I see unprincipled politicians and greedy officials making our country weaker. It shouldn’t be this way! And we have the power to change that.” The musician said he and his team will work to ensure “that pro-European forces win.” National Deputies Mustafa Nayyem and Svitlana Zalishchuk earlier called on Mr. Vakarchuk, Samopomich leader Andriy Sadovy, and Civil Position leader Anatoliy Hrytsenko to decide which of them would become the sole presidential candidate in the election. Pollsters had treated Mr. Vakarchuk, the frontman of the Ukrainian rock band Okean Elzy, as a potential presidential candidate. He had long avoided answering questions about his political plans. (Interfax Ukraine)