April 12, 2019



Canada’s largest airport says it’s K-Y-I-V

Toronto Pearson International Airport has changed the transliteration of the Ukrainian capital according to the national standard: Kyiv. The correct transliteration is now featured both on the arrival/departure board as well as on the airport website. Toronto Pearson International Airport is the largest airport in Canada and the only one in country that has direct flights to Ukraine. In 2018, the airport served nearly 50 million passengers and became the 30th largest in the world. Last October, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine launched the #CorrectUA online campaign appealing to foreign media and foreign airports to correct the spelling of Ukraine’s capital (#KyivNotKiev). Many European capitals and cities have already supported this initiative. The difference in spelling of Ukraine’s capital comes from the fact that earlier it was transliterated from Russian. Ukrainian is a state language in Ukraine, therefore the correct spelling in English should be Kyiv. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)

Candidates’ supporters briefly clash 

Supporters of the two candidates in Ukraine’s April 21 presidential election scuffled in Kyiv, forcing police to intervene and detain at least two people. Backers of President Petro Poroshenko and challenger Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and political newcomer, clashed in front of Zelensky headquarters in Kyiv, police said on April 9. Authorities said the incident occurred when the two groups each tried to seize campaign posters from the other side. Officials from Mr. Zelensky’s office said the candidate was not in the headquarters at the time. Mr. Zelensky secured 30.24 percent in the first round of the election on March 31; Mr. Poroshenko finished second with 15.95 percent. (RFE/EL, based on reporting by AP and Interfax)

Rivals propose different dates for debate

President Petro Poroshenko and rival Volodymyr Zelensky have proposed different dates for a public debate ahead of their presidential runoff on April 21. Political newcomer Mr. Zelensky said in a video statement on Facebook on April 8 that the debate at Kyiv’s Olympiyskiy Stadium should be held on April 19. During a televised interview on April 7, Mr. Poroshenko proposed to hold the debate on April 14. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Russian state media mock Ukraine’s election

As Ukrainians voted for a new president, Russians keeping track of the election on state TV were bombarded with coverage of Ukraine’s failures as an independent state and reports of alleged electoral fraud. “It’s unclear how one can accept the results of such an election,” presenter Dmitry Kiselyov said as the results came in, echoing a sentiment advanced on other state channels. “The election campaign itself was the dirtiest in Ukraine’s history, and the violations even before the vote were brazen.” The flagship news channel Rossia-24 said, “Foreign monitors are severely criticizing how the elections were organized.” By 7 p.m. local time, Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Ministry had recorded 1,768 complaints regarding the electoral process, it said in a Twitter post. “The vote was disorderly,” Russia’s government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta concluded, citing “signs of mass fraud and falsifications.” That stood in stark contrast to comments made on April 1 by the special coordinator of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). “The election day was assessed positively overall and paves the way to the second round,” the coordinator, Finnish lawmaker Illka Kanerva, said at a Kyiv news conference. “Fundamental freedoms were generally respected and candidates could campaign freely,” he said, while acknowledging that “numerous and credible indications of misuse of state resources and vote-buying undermined the credibility of the process.” The OSCE contingent was among some 2,300 official observers from 17 countries monitoring Ukraine’s presidential election, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC). Aleksei Makarkin, deputy head of Moscow’s Center for Political Technologies, suggested that a victory by comedian Volodymyr Zelensky would be preferable to Moscow. Mr. Zelensky would be a “weak president,” Mr. Makarkin told Vedomosti, noting that he had little experience in politics and no team behind him. Incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, who has consistently played on the threat from Russia to rally his supporters, was not a popular choice in Moscow. “The nation is against Poroshenko – that’s the essence of the second round,” Aleksei Pushkov, chairman of the information committee at Russia’s Federation Council, tweeted. (Matthew Luxmoore of RFE/RL) 

OSCE accused of whitewashing report 

The European Parliament has accused the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) of whitewashing a press release about the Ukrainian presidential election by watering down critical wording about Russia, according to a sternly worded letter seen by RFE/RL. The letter, dated April 4 and signed by two senior members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on behalf of the European Parliament, describes “an unprecedented and unacceptable incident” involving the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR), which monitors elections. According to the letter, ODIHR’s press service urged the head of the European Parliament’s delegation to the March 31 election, Polish MEP Dariusz Rosati, to tone down the delegation’s contribution to a joint press release by removing wording about “the ongoing Russia-waged war against Ukraine” and replacing it with a reference to “the ongoing conflict in the east.” Mr. Rosati “made it clear that he understood the constraints faced by the OSCE… but stressed he would not depart from his original text,” the letter said. “He therefore agreed that the European Parliament would not be quoted at all in the joint press release prepared by the ODIHR.” Despite reassurances from ODIHR, it said, copies of a joint press statement with the “unacceptable” watered-down wording were made available throughout the joint press conference by the monitors in Kyiv on April 1 and were “distributed to the numerous journalists present.” The letter was addressed to Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, the director of ODIHR in Warsaw. It was signed by British Labor Party MEP Linda McAvan, who chairs the European Parliament’s Development Committee, and German center-right MEP David McAllister, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee. The “issue at stake is extremely serious. It infringes on the right of the European Parliament, as an independent and sovereign international organization, to express its own views on a specific topic,” the letter said. It asked ODIHR to provide an explanation ahead of the April 21 runoff vote between incumbent President Petro Poroshenko and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky. Reached by telephone on April 5, ODIHR spokesman Thomas Rymer told RFE/RL the organization would respond directly to the European Parliament, saying that “the proper way is to respond to their concerns directly to them.” He added, “As I understand we’ve received the letter, and in any case with any partner organization of course we would send a reply and we would… work with them.” He did not comment on the substance of the accusation. (Rikard Jozwiak of RFE/RL)

Balukh placed in solitary confinement 

Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh, who is serving a five-year prison term in Russia on charges he and his supporters say are politically motivated, has been placed in solitary confinement. The Crimean Rights Defense Group nongovernmental organization quoted Mr. Balukh’s sister, Nadia, as saying that officials at the Correctional Colony No. 4 in the western Russian town of Torzhok had informed her on April 9 that her brother had been placed in solitary confinement for 15 days on April 4. She said the colony guards refused to pass food and clothing parcels to Mr. Balukh, and told her that inmates placed in solitary confinement could not receive items from their relatives. It is not clear why Mr. Balukh was placed in solitary confinement. The 48-year-old activist was initially arrested in December 2016 in Russia-annexed Crimea. He was convicted on a weapons-and-explosives possession charge in August 2017. His conviction and nearly four-year prison sentence were reversed on appeal and returned to a lower court, which issued the same verdict and sentence in January 2018. A new case against Mr. Balukh was opened in March 2018, after the warden of the penal facility in Crimea where he was held sued him, claiming that Mr. Balukh attacked him. In July, a court found Mr. Balukh guilty of the second charge and ruled that he will serve a total of five years in prison for both convictions. In October, the top regional court reduced Mr. Balukh’s five-year prison term by one month. (Crimea Desk, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Two Ukrainians sentenced to 14 years 

A Moscow-controlled court in Crimea has sentenced two Ukrainian citizens to 14 years in prison after convicting them of plotting sabotage on the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula. The Sevastopol City Court pronounced the verdicts and sentences on April 4 against Volodymyr Dudka and Oleksiy Bessarabov. The two went on trial in early August 2018 in a proceeding that was held behind closed doors. Messrs. Dudka and Bessarabov, and a third Ukrainian man, Dmytro Shtyblykov, were arrested in Crimea in November 2016 and charged with attempted sabotage. At the time of their arrests, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) accused the three of being members of a Ukrainian “saboteur group from the main intelligence directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry rejected the FSB’s allegations, calling them “another fabrication of the Russian secret services aimed at justifying its own repressive measures against local residents and discrediting Ukraine in the international arena.” Mr. Shtyblykov was tried separately. In November 2017, the Sevastopol City Court found him guilty of attempted sabotage and illegally possessing weapons. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Human rights activists say Russian-installed authorities in Crimea have jailed numerous Ukrainian citizens on politically motivated charges since Russian military forces occupied the Ukrainian peninsula in early 2014 and, less than a month later, illegally annexed the territory through a dubious referendum. (RFE/RL, with reporting by TASS and Interfax)

NATO increases aid to Ukraine 

On April 4, in a meeting in Washington, NATO foreign affairs ministers approved a series of measures aimed at countering Russia in the Black Sea region and agreed to provide Georgia and Ukraine with increased maritime cooperation, patrols and port visits. They also renewed demands for Russia to end its annexation of Crimea, release Ukrainian sailors and ships it seized in a confrontation last year in the Sea of Azov and respect the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Kurt Volker, former U.S. ambassador to NATO and current special representative for Ukraine negotiations, speaking with Nick Schifrin on the “PBS News Hour,” discussed NATO’s major steps to support Ukraine, including stepped-up presence of NATO ships, surveillance of the Russian navy, and training of Ukrainian troops, $250 million of assistance in the U.S. defense budget, as well as radar systems, refurbished Coast Guard cutters and tactical vehicles. In addition, they talked about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, consequences of “poking the Russian bear,” and Ukraine’s presidential candidates. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)

Putin’s circle wants him to stay beyond 2024 

Former Russian oil tycoon and Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky says political and business circles close to President Vladimir Putin want him to remain in power after his fourth term ends in 2024. Talking via video-link from London on April 4, Mr. Khodorkovsky told RFE/RL that Mr. Putin’s inner circle feared for their “safety” and were trying to convince him to stay in power. Mr. Khodorkovsky said it was “very likely” that Mr. Putin could decide not to seek another term or some in his circle could “push him out” if his health deteriorated. But Mr. Khodorkovsky added that others in the president’s circle understood that their “safety could not be guaranteed” and “therefore those people will talk Putin into a new term, either by Belarus joining [Russia] or something else.” In recent months, Mr. Putin has held talks with Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka on the countries’ “further integration” through the Union State of Russia and Belarus – the alliance established in the 1990s that exists mostly on paper. “Putin’s circle has learned how to manipulate him and shape his views and ideological approaches,” Mr. Khodorkovsky said. “They are driven purely by business interests – either to rip off a market competitor or to acquire an official position that gives them access to economic resources.” He added: “For those [Russians] who are in their 40s, to say nothing about those who are in their 30s or 20s, Putin is very archaic, obsolete, and surely none of them want to live their whole lives under him.” Mr. Khodorkovsky also cited recent data from independent opinion polls in Russia that suggested Mr. Putin’s popularity had reached near-record lows amid ongoing economic woes. He also said the Russian president was “interested in entrenching the state of a frozen conflict” in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting government forces since 2014. Mr. Khodorkovsky noted that, if the war ended, Mr. Putin would face “thousands of armed people who will seek refuge in Russia,” a prospect he said the president “cannot allow to happen.” Mr. Khodorkovsky said political newcomer Volodymyr Zelensky’s victory against President Petro Poroshenko in the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election illustrated a “global trend that brings good and bad populists to power.” Mr. Khodorkovsky also said that, although “Ukraine’s political system is far from perfect,” it was more “efficient than what exists in Russia after 20 years of Putin’s reign.” Once Russia’s wealthiest tycoon, Mr. Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 and served 10 years in prison after being convicted of tax evasion and other financial crimes in two trials widely seen as politically motivated. He now lives in Europe after leaving Russia when he was pardoned by Mr. Putin and released from prison in 2013. (RFE/RL’s Russian Service)