March 1, 2019



Poroshenko seeks U.N. peacekeeping 

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on February 20 called on the U.N. secretary-general to draw up options for a peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine, saying such a mission could be a “decisive factor” in ending the conflict there. Mr. Poroshenko told the U.N. General Assembly that Ukraine is ready to discuss a multinational, U.N.-mandated peacekeeping operation with “a clear objective to end the Russian aggression and restore Ukraine’s sovereignty.” Ukraine has been pressing for the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine as long as they are placed along the border with Russia to monitor and ensure Russian troops and weapons do not come over the border to aid the separatists. Russia has said it would support a limited U.N. peacekeeping mission to protect observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who are on the ground in eastern Ukraine. In his address to the General Assembly in New York, Poroshenko said that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should send a fact-finding mission for a peacekeeping mission to eastern Ukraine in order to outline “elaborate respective options” that could be discussed. The Ukrainian president accused Russia of conducting an “undeclared war.” He also called for Moscow to be deprived of its veto power in the U.N. Security Council on issues related to the “Russian aggression against Ukraine.” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya later told the General Assembly that Mr. Poroshenko was “the president of war, a war which continues to this day.” He added, “Today, this General Assembly hall has become nothing other for him than an election campaigning rostrum.” (RFE/RL, with reporting by AFP and AP)

Support for peacekeeping mission

James Bezan, the Conservative shadow minister for defense, on February 21 issued a statement in support of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s request to the United Nations General Assembly for a peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine. “Conservatives have always stood with Ukraine even in the face of ongoing aggression from Russia. As President Poroshenko reiterated yesterday, a U.N. peacekeeping mission would go a long way to making sure that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is safe from further aggression from Vladimir Putin’s regime. …The defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty should be a priority for Canada’s government on the international stage.” This past summer Canada’s Minister of National Defense Harjit Sajjan amplified that the Canadian government was fully committed to providing assistance to Ukraine, helping to preserve and protect its sovereignty through Operation UNIFIER and through Canada’s defense reform assistance efforts.” Back on November 28, 2017, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told Maclean magazine that “A peacekeeping force that helps to solve the problem in the Donbas will do its job, and will be acceptable to Canada, only if those peacekeepers are at the Ukrainian border.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)

Death toll up to 13,000 in Ukraine war

Some 13,000 people have been killed, a quarter of them civilians, and as many as 30,000 wounded in the war in eastern Ukraine since it broke out in April 2014, the United Nations says. The estimated toll includes more than 3,300 civilian deaths, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a document dated February 25 and provided to RFE/RL the same day. It comes as the simmering conflict between Russia-backed separatists and government forces approaches its sixth year, with little progress toward the implementation of a Western-brokered ceasefire and political-settlement deal known as the Minsk Accords. “OHCHR estimates the total number of conflict-related casualties in Ukraine… at 40,000-43,000” from April 14, 2014, to January 31, 2019, the statement said, including “12,800-13,000 killed.” The estimated death toll includes 3,321 civilians, among them the 298 passengers and crew members who died when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down on July 17, 2014, on route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The estimated death toll also includes 4,000 members of Ukrainian forces and 5,500 “armed groups,” the OHCHR document said. OHCHR estimates the total number of people wounded at 27,500 to 30,000, including 7,000 to 9,000 civilians. The proportion of civilians in the casualty figures has declined sharply, with the estimated share of civilians in total conflict-related deaths at 33-34 percent in 2014 and 10-11 percent in 2018, the OHCHR said. In the past, OHCHR released updated casualty figures from the conflict several times a year. But the new document said that the “previous conservative estimate of total conflict-related casualties was as of 15 November 2017.” That report said that the OHCHR had recorded 35,081 conflict-related casualties – 10,303 people killed and 24,778 wounded – and said the real toll could be higher. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Christopher Miller)

Resolution on Revolution of Dignity

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), co-chairs and co-founders of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, on February 22 introduced a bipartisan resolution commemorating the fifth anniversary of Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity. The resolution recognizes the bravery of the people of Ukraine who participated in the Maidan protests and honors the memory of the more than 100 protesters who were killed. Additionally, it encourages Ukraine to continue its progress over the past five years in implementing crucial reforms to strengthen the rule of law and align the country with Euro-Atlantic norms and standards. Finally, the resolution condemns continuing efforts by Russia to destabilize Ukraine and hamstring its efforts at Euro-Atlantic integration. Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) also co-sponsored the resolution. (Office of Sen. Rob Portman)

Constitutional amendment on NATO, EU

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed a constitutional amendment committing the country to becoming a member of NATO and the European Union. Addressing the Verkhovna Rada on February 19, Mr. Poroshenko said he saw securing Ukraine’s membership in NATO and the EU as his “strategic mission.” Ukraine should “submit a request for EU membership and receive a NATO membership action plan no later than 2023,” the president told the Verkhovna Rada. However, he acknowledged that his country needs to come a “long way” to meet the criteria of joining both institutions. European Council President Donald Tusk attended the signing of the constitutional amendment in the Parliament building. Addressing the lawmakers in Ukrainian, Mr. Tusk, who is Polish, said that “there can be no Europe without Ukraine.” [Editor’s note: The text of his address appears on page 9 of this issue.] The EU official also warned lawmakers against “internal conflicts,” which he said only benefit “that third country,” hinting at Russia. Mr. Tusk was on a three-day visit to Ukraine, which is commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Euro-Maidan protests, which led to the ouster of Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. (RFE/RL, with reporting by DPA, AFP and AP)

Ex-chief of NATO on Belarus scenario 

Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says that Russia’s plans include the annexation of Belarus and movement closer to the borders of Western Europe. “The key risk is the repetition of the Ukrainian scenario with war and annexation in Belarus,” he said in an interview with the Ukrainian news portal on February 21. “Such a scenario is awaiting that country if it does not start reforms.” He advised the Belarusians to begin reforms leading to democracy and freedom “in order to protect themselves from Russian aggression,” adding, “Only these things will create protection from Russian aggression.” Mr. Rasmussen says he well remembers statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Belarus should be included in a “large Russian state,” and this is very similar to the illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. “And I would like Belarus to get more assistance from the West. But we need to see Belarus’ reorientation towards freedom and democracy,” he said. At the same time, the ex-head of NATO said he realizes that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka does not want to reform the country and move toward the West. “Yes, he does not want to. But also Lukashenka does not want to live under [Vladimir] Putin’s oppression. He needs to choose: either reforms, or the constant oppression by the Russians,” Mr. Rasmussen said. (UNIAN)

Thousands demand prisoners’ release 

On February 24 Moscow, together with a number of other cities in Russia, witnessed marches and campaigns in memory of the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was killed on February 27, 2015, near the Kremlin. During the peaceful march in Moscow which involved more than 10,000 people according to the White Counter organization, the participants sang the Ukrainian anthem and carried posters demanding the release of Ukraine’s political prisoners including the 24 recently illegally detained sailors who were crossing the Kerch Strait in Crimea. The protest was organized by the Solidarity movement, the Parnassus and Yabloko parties, the anti-corruption fund and other opposition organizations. The event featured Mikhail Kasyanov, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Alexei Navalny, Ilya Yashin, Vladimir Kara-Murza and other opposition politicians. Some of the posters read “Heroes do not die,” “Russia will be free,” and “Russia without Putin.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)

Russia moved 500,000 to Crimea 

According to the Mejlis (representative body) of the Crimean Tatar people, about 500,000 people have entered Crimea from Russia. This information was presented at the Fifth International Forum “Occupied Crimea: Five Years of Resistance” in Kyiv on Friday, February 22. Emine Dzhaparova, Ukraine’s first deputy minister of information policy, emphasized that the policy of “squeezing out” people is classic for a repressive system like the current one in Russia. On the one hand, active, patriotically minded people in Ukraine, or even those capable and ready to resist, are being displaced from Crimea. On the other hand, military, FSB officers, special forces, consultants who help integrate Crimea into the Russian space, bureaucrats and “correct” teachers are being moved to the peninsula, she added. Those who have left Crimea have mostly settled in three regions: Kyiv, Kherson and Lviv. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)