May 11, 2019



Zelensky: Relations far from ‘brotherly’ 

Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky has said that current ties between Kyiv and Moscow cannot be called “brotherly,” and the two countries now have little in common outside a shared border. In a Facebook post on May 2, Mr. Zelensky reacted to recent comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said that Russians and Ukrainians had “lots in common.” Mr. Zelensky wrote: “The reality is that today, after [Russia’s] annexation of Crimea and [its] aggression in [Ukraine’s eastern region of] Donbas, the ‘common’ thing that is left is the state border: 2,295 kilometers and 400 meters. And Russia must give back to Ukraine control over each millimeter. Only after that can we look for what is still ‘common’ between us.” He said Russian actions such as banning oil exports to Ukraine, holding Ukrainian citizens in Russian jails, issuing passports to residents in territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists “do not bring our countries’ relations one bit closer,” adding, “And it is definitely impossible to call such relations ‘brotherly.’ ” On April 29, Mr. Putin said that Russians and Ukrainians “may at the end of the day have common citizenship, as we have lots in common.” Mr. Zelensky’s Facebook statement came a day after the Russian president signed a decree to fast-track passports and citizenship for people in Ukraine and Soviet-era deportees. (RFE/RL)

 Poroshenko meets with Freeland

President Petro Poroshenko on May 8 met with Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland. Mr. Poroshenko thanked Canada, in particular at the G-7 level, for its full support, both in terms of reforms and counteraction to Russian aggression. The president and the foreign affairs minister discussed the deterioration of the situation in the Donbas in the context of new provocative actions of Moscow. Mr. Poroshenko called on Canada to support the strengthening of sanctions against Russia in response to the so-called passport decrees. The president stressed the importance of deploying a peacekeeping mission under the aegis of the United Nations in the temporarily occupied part of the Donbas, including the uncontrolled section of the state border between Ukraine and Russia. He thanked Canada for introducing the so-called Azov package of sanctions in March in coordination with the European Union and the United States. Particular attention was paid to securing the release of 24 sailors and all Ukrainian hostages illegally detained by Russia. Ukraine’s president also noted Canada’s important role in building up the defense capabilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The parties discussed potential directions for deepening security cooperation between Kyiv and Ottawa, as well as Canada’s support for the possibility of Ukraine to obtain a NATO Membership Action Plan. Minister Freeland praised the free and democratic nature of the presidential elections in Ukraine and noted the personal role of President Poroshenko in ensuring the vote was free and fair. (Presidential Administration of Ukraine)

Media watchdogs appalled by attack

International media freedom watchdogs said they were “appalled” by the recent brutal attack on Ukrainian journalist Vadym Komarov and urged the country’s authorities to do their utmost to ensure that it does not go unpunished. In a statement on May 7, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that Ukrainian authorities “should leave no stone unturned” in identifying the motive of the attack on Mr. Komarov and bringing the assailants to justice. Gulnoza Said, CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said that her organization was “appalled by the brutal assault,” which she said comes amid “a range of threats faced by investigative reporters in Ukraine.” Mr. Komarov was hospitalized and underwent unspecified surgery following the May 4 attack in the city of Cherkasy, about 200 kilometers south of Kyiv, and as of May 7 remained in a coma. Police are treating the case as attempted murder, but did not say whether Mr. Komarov was targeted for his reporting. In Paris, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that Mr. Komarov is well known in Cherkasy for his coverage of “local corruption, real estate issues, and administrative incompetence.” Sergiy Tomilenko, head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, said that Mr. Komarov had been investigating official corruption in local sports schools prior to the assault. The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Desir, said that the attack against an investigative journalist known for his reporting on corruption “is particularly alarming and cannot remain unpunished.” Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, noted that “Quickly identifying its perpetrator and any instigators is the only way to dispel this murder attempt’s chilling effect.” In its statement, RSF said Mr. Komarov was shot in 2016 and was beaten the following year “while participating in a protest…against a company that executes public works contracts.”
Ukraine is ranked 102nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Investigative journalists in Ukraine have recently faced “surveillance, harassment, and assault from government and private entities,” according to the CPJ. (RFE/RL)

Ukraine at OSCE on Russia’s moves

On May 2, Ukraine’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, Ihor Prokopchuk, addressed the OSCE Permanent Council, reiterating Ukraine’s position regarding the April 24 decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This decree is a gross violation of the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and political unity of Ukraine, as well as a powerful blow to the Minsk agreements,” Mr. Prokopchuk said, according to Ukrainian media. After condemning Russia’s actions, he underlined that “the Russian Federation has resorted to the illegal issuing of Russian passports in order to justify and legitimize its military presence in the occupied parts of the Donbas.” The Ukrainian diplomat reminded his listeners that the Kremlin employed a similar approach during the provoked conflicts in Georgia and Moldova. As “Russia has made an intentional step towards the destruction of the Minsk agreements it should be responsible for the consequences,” Mr. Prokopchuk said. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daly Briefing)

Kolomoisky’s lawyer on Zelensky presidency

Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky has worked hard to publicly distance himself from one of the country’s wealthiest and most controversial oligarchs, Ihor Kolomoisky, and show a public eager for change that he is the antiestablishment insurgent chosen by 73 percent of voters in last weekend’s election. But comments made to Ukrainian media by a lawyer working for both Mr. Kolomoisky and Mr. Zelensky who appeared by the candidate’s side throughout his campaign could undermine that effort. Andriy Bohdan, a typically secretive lawyer and former deputy minister, has claimed that he was among the first people to plant the seed in the comic Zelensky’s mind to run for the presidency. “I am one of those who persuaded him [to enter politics]… It was more than five years ago,” Mr. Bohdan said in a joint interview with reporters from independent Ukrainian news outlets Novoye Vremya and Ukrayinska Pravda published on April 26. The comments, coming from someone with presumably intimate knowledge of Kolomoisky’s thinking and operations, are likely to fuel criticism suggesting Mr. Zelensky, a political neophyte, is the oligarch’s project. Mr. Zelensky is linked to Mr. Kolomoisky through the oligarch’s ownership of TV station 1+1, which hosts Mr. Zelensky’s comedy programs and hit sitcom, “Servant of the People.” Reporters have found other links between the two, including shared security details and vehicles and possible meetings abroad in the run-up to Mr. Zelensky’s candidacy. Mr. Bohdan told the reporters that he and Mr. Zelensky met often, in Kyiv and elsewhere, in 2015. He called their early contacts “ideological, philosophical meetings, about the war, about the future, about Russia, about what is happening [in Ukraine].”
It was late 2015 when Mr. Bohdan floated the idea to Mr. Zelensky to run for Parliament, he said, adding that his plan was to convince Mr. Zelensky to win a seat in parliament and then use it as a launchpad to the presidency. But according to the lawyer, Mr. Zelensky turned down the offer, saying it would be “wrong” and fearing that by the time the next presidential election came around he would be seen as merely another of the political elite. The idea arose again in March 2018, when Mr. Bohdan said he ordered a presidential poll that included Mr. Zelensky. When the poll results came back with the comedian in sixth place, Mr. Bohdan knew he might have a real chance. He declined to say whether his decision to push Mr. Zelensky to run was coordinated with Mr. Kolomoisky. “He never took it seriously,” Mr. Bohdan claimed of his oligarch boss. But he said Mr. Kolomoisky began to believe in October or November 2018 that Mr. Zelensky had a shot at knocking out the incumbent or, if not, of at least laying the groundwork for a political party ahead of parliamentary elections slated for October of this year. The press office of Mr. Zelensky, who announced on April 26 his departure for a two-day vacation in Turkey, did not respond to RFE/RL’s request for comment on Bohdan’s remarks. (Christopher Miller of RFE/RL)

Kyiv ends CIS arms standards agreement

On April 17, Ukraine declared that it was withdrawing from an agreement on standardized weapons and military equipment between members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). “Today, on April 17, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine supported the initiative of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and terminated for Ukraine the effect of an agreement aimed at strengthening and developing cooperation between the CIS states in the field of standardization of armaments and military equipment” the statement reads. After a thorough analysis by the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, it was concluded that the agreement was no longer viable as Ukraine cancelled more than 90 percent of the Soviet standards, replacing them with the European Standards, as reported by Stepan Kubiv, first deputy prime minister and minister of economic development and trade. In addition, Ukraine has recently secured its strategic course toward NATO in the Constitution, added Mr. Kubiv. The Commonwealth of Independent States is a regional organization of former Soviet republics that was formed after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. It coordinates trade, finance, lawmaking and security in member states. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)

Textbook to remove Tatar collaboration slur

The Russian authorities who control Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula have promised to remove a section of a high-school history textbook that claims many Crimean Tatars collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II. The senior education official in the Russian-imposed government of Crimea, Natalya Goncharova, said on May 6 that the pages in question would be removed from the 10th grade textbook “History of Crimea” by the end of the month. Educators and lawyers – some of them members of the indigenous, mainly Muslim Crimean Tatar minority – have urged the authorities to remove the book from the curriculum, saying that it threatens to incite ethnic and religious hatred among teenagers. The pages that are to be removed include a claim that the majority of Crimean Tatars “were loyal to” the Nazis, and that “many actively helped them.” That claim echoes the pretext that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s government used when it deported Crimean Tatars en masse from the Black Sea peninsula in 1944, asserting that they were collaborators. Many died on the journey or in exile in Central Asia and the steppes of southern Russia. Crimean Tatars were allowed to begin returning to their homeland in the late 1980s, and make up some 12 percent of its population. Russia seized control of the peninsula in March 2014, sending in troops without insignia, securing key facilities, and staging a referendum deemed illegitimate by Ukraine and most other world countries. Rights groups and Western governments say Russia has conducted a persistent campaign of oppression targeting Crimean Tatars and other citizens who opposed Moscow’s takeover of the peninsula. (Crimea Desk, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by TASS and Interfax)

Canadian envoy receives honorary degree

Canada’s ambassador to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk, was awarded the title Honorary Doctor of National Aviation University during a meeting of the National Aviation University’s (NAU) Academic Council. At the ceremony in late April, Ambassador Waschuk addressed the audience, noting that “Ukraine has a huge potential for cooperation with Canada both in aircraft engineering and in the space industry, including the capabilities of a spaceport in Canada, where Ukrainian rockets could be launched.” The ambassador mentioned NAU’s cooperation with Canadore College and a memorandum signed between NAU, the Antonov State Company, and North Bay Airport (Canada) on the modernization of An-2 aircraft. Ukrainian representatives spoke highly of Ukraine-Canada cooperation in the aviation sector, which includes using Canadian-made engines for An-132D aircraft and modernization of AnN-2 aircraft. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)

Russia frees two Ukrainian fishermen 

Two Ukrainian fishermen detained last year by Russian border guards after their boat broke down off the coast of the Crimea Peninsula have been released. Lyudmyla Denisova, the human rights ombudsman for Ukraine, said in a post to her Facebook page on May 7 that she had been informed that Ruslan Kondratyuk and Andriy Morosov “are now on the way back to their families in the Kherson region.” Ms. Denisova said Russian border guards detained the fishermen in September 2018 after their motorboat broke down, forcing them to land the craft in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014. An official with the Russia-backed government in Crimea confirmed to the Russia news agency TASS that the fishermen had been released. Lyudmila Lubina, identified as a Crimean human rights ombudsman, said a court had fined the men an undisclosed sum, although she said they had faced up to five years in prison. Meanwhile, Russia continues to hold 24 Ukrainian seamen who were jailed after Russian border guards seized their vessels near the Kerch Strait between Russia and Crimea in a flare-up of tension in November 2018. Moscow accused them of illegal entry into Russian territorial waters, which they deny, and they are formally charged with illegal border crossing. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Facebook removes more fake pages

Facebook said it has removed more pages and accounts that are believed to have originated in Russia and were involved in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” In an announcement posted on its corporate blog on May 6, the world’s largest social-media company said it targeted groups and pages that were being deceptive about who was behind them and what they were up to. The takedown included accounts on its Instagram photo-sharing platform, Facebook said. “We found two separate, unconnected operations that originated in Russia and used similar tactics, creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, wrote in the post. The “coordinated inauthentic behavior” was “part of a small network emanating from Russia that focused on Austria, the Baltics, Germany, Spain, Ukraine and the United Kingdom,” he said. Ukraine was the focus of 97 Facebook accounts, pages, or groups removed from the social network, he wrote. Posts by the account typically involved local and political news, the military conflict in eastern Ukraine, the war in Syria, and Russian politics. Facebook did not disclose the identities of those behind the accounts. The move is part of the latest effort by the social-media giant to cut down on the number of false and deceptive accounts that have proliferated on the platform in recent years. U.S. intelligence agencies say Facebook and other social-media platforms were used by a Russian company called the Internet Research Agency to sow discord and spread misinformation in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted the company, its purported owner, and several others for their use of fake Facebook accounts during the 2016 election. (RFE/RL)