August 16, 2019



New Rada to be sworn in August 29

Ukraine’s new Parliament will be sworn in on August 29, Kyiv-based Dragon Capital investment bank wrote in a note to investors, citing the national legislature’s website. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to deliver his first state of the nation speech to the 424 elected lawmakers that day. As required by law, the president addresses Parliament after it appoints the speaker and two deputy speakers. A plenary session will be held on the same day as well. Since Mr. Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party won an outright majority of 254 seats on July 21, no delays are expected regarding the formation of a new Cabinet of Ministers. A new government will likely be formed by the first week of September, Dragon Capital said. This will be Ukraine’s ninth parliamentary convocation. Twenty-six seats are still vacant because those mandates are in Russia-annexed Crimea and parts of the easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, which are controlled by Kremlin-backed militants. Half the parliamentary seats get distributed proportionally based on party lists and the other half in single-mandate election districts based on simple-majority voting. (RFE/RL)


Kyiv protests Putin’s visit to Crimea

The Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry has protested Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest visit to Ukraine’s Crimea region, calling a it a “gross violation” of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. “Attempts by the Russian side and the mass media to describe such ‘visits’ as ‘ordinary’ domestic trips by Russian officials are futile,” the ministry said in a statement on August 11, adding that Crimea is an “integral part” of Ukraine. On August 10, Mr. Putin was shown on state television in a leather jacket at a biker show organized by the Night Wolves motorcycle club in Sevastopol. The Night Wolves club is known for its allegiance to the Kremlin. Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed from power by the pro-European Maidan protest movement the previous month. The Russian president’s visit to Sevastopol took place as tens of thousands of opposition supporters gathered in Moscow to demand fair municipal elections. More than 250 people were detained by police. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Ukrainian is Europe’s youngest diving champ

Thirteen-year-old Ukrainian Oleksiy Sereda became the youngest European aquatics diving champion on August 11 by winning the 10-meter platform event in the European Diving Championships in Kyiv.
He won by a nearly 14-point margin ahead of Frenchman Benjamin Auffret and Russian Ruslan Ternovoi. The teenager also won a silver medal with Oleh Serbin on August 8 in the 10-meter synchronized diving competition behind Russians Aleksandr Belevtsev and Nikita Shleikher.
Ukraine on August 5-11 hosted the diving championships, which were held under the auspices of LEN, Europe’s governing body for aquatic sports. Russia led the overall medal count with 12, followed by Germany with eight and Ukraine with seven. Russia took gold six times – the most of any country. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Ukraine’s spy agency is top reform priority

The reform of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) was high on the agenda at the August 13 meeting between the head of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) and an international advisory group composed of representatives of the European Union, NATO and the United States. NSDC Secretary Oleksandr Danylyuk said the group supported “the Ukrainian authorities’ stance on the need to urgently reform the Security Service of Ukraine,” according to a statement on the NSDC website. Acting SBU chief Ivan Bakanov and Ruslan Ryaboshapka, deputy head of the Presidential Office, also attended the meeting. Mr. Danylyuk, a former finance minister and McKinsey & Co. consultant, told the BBC’s Ukrainian Service on August 13 that a law is being finalized to revamp the SBU in order to “make its core functions of counterintelligence and combating terrorism stronger, not weaker.” The SBU is the country’s least reformed security or law enforcement agency. It employs more than 30,000 people and is considered continental Europe’s largest intelligence service. It has little civic oversight and has powers far beyond what its Western counterparts have. Unlike other public officials, the SBU staffers are exempt from having their asset declarations accessible to the public. Mr. Danylyuk said he wants to either shift or take away the agency’s investigative powers on anti-corruption as well as economic and foreign intelligence – functions that are duplicated elsewhere. “It’s paramount that, this time, reform will be successful and effective,” Mr. Danylyuk said. New laws and amendments to existing ones should accompany the makeover, he said, to eliminate legislative overlaps and for functions to coalesce across different agencies. When asked to address the SBU’s reputation for shaking down businesses and the documented lavish lifestyles of some of its high-ranking officers, Mr. Danylyuk said changes should take place in a such a way that the “public trusts it, so that all its actions are understood.” To succeed in the makeover, the NSDC chief said “we [must] act as one team upon the instructions of the president of Ukraine.” (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by the BBC’s Ukrainian Service)


Netanyahu to visit Ukraine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Ukraine on August 18-20, becoming the first foreign leader to visit the country since Volodymyr Zelenskyy became president. Mr. Netanyahu will also become the first Israeli prime minister to visit Kyiv in 20 years and will repeat his trip of March 1999 when he was then the country’s government leader, The Times of Israel reports. He will meet Mr. Zelenskyy and pay a visit to the Babyn Yar memorial, the site in Kyiv where Nazis killed more than 33,000 Jews in 1941, as well as Ukrainian nationalists, Roma, homosexuals and others whom they considered “undesirables.” Mr. Netanyahu’s visit comes less than a month before elections to the Knesset, Israel’s unicameral national legislature. Ukraine and Israel are the world’s only two countries in which the president and prime ministers are Jews. Ukraine’s prime minister is Volodymyr Groysman, and Israel’s president is Reuven Rivlin. Mr. Zelenskyy signed a free-trade pact with Israel on August 7 that Parliament ratified a month earlier.
Trade turnover between the two countries last year equaled $1.34 billion, consisting mostly of grain, ferrous metals, chemicals and mineral fuel. According to the deal, duties will be cancelled for approximately 80 percent of Israeli goods and 70 percent of Ukrainian ones. Mr. Netanyahu was one of the first foreign leaders to congratulate Mr. Zelenskyy on his landslide victory in April. During his phone call, the Israeli prime minister expressed hope in “continuing good relations between the countries” and invited him to Israel. After his victory, Mr. Zelenskyy met with rabbis in Ukraine and Israel’s environment minister in Jerusalem. When Ukraine and Israel officially signed their free-trade deal in January, Mr. Netanyahu announced relations with Kyiv are “strong” and are based on “deep historical and cultural roots.” Ukraine ranks fourth among what Israel calls “righteous nations” that helped save lives during the Holocaust when Nazi Germany killed more than 6 million Jews. More than 2,600 Ukrainians are listed as “righteous.” Israel’s fourth prime minister, Golda Meir, was born in Kyiv and lived there until she was 8 before emigrating to the United States. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by The Times of Israel)


Poroshenko questioned in tax-evasion case

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been questioned as a witness by the State Bureau for Investigations (DBR) in a tax-evasion case. After the questioning lasted for more than two hours on August 12, Mr. Poroshenko told reporters that he was ready to answer investigators’ questions, but in the studio of the Pryamiy (Direct) television channel. He also said he would be willing to take a lie-detector test. “I do not trust the DBR and its leadership. I do not believe that investigators are objective and unbiased,” Mr. Poroshenko said. “And I am ready to pass a polygraph test during a Pryamiy live broadcast.” Earlier in the day, the DBR’s director, Roman Truba, said that a polygraph will be used at Mr. Poroshenko’s next questioning. According to Mr. Truba, the former president was questioned as a witness in a case related to alleged tax evasion connected to the purchase of the Pryamiy television channel. This is Mr. Poroshenko’s second questioning by the DBR in weeks. Mr. Poroshenko lost a re-election bid in April to Volodymyr Zelenskyy. A day after Mr. Zelenskyy’s inauguration in May, Andriy Portnov, a former deputy head in the administration of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, returned to Ukraine from self-imposed exile abroad and filed several lawsuits against Mr. Poroshenko, accusing him of crimes including economic misdeeds and illegal attempts to retain power. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by UNIAN, Ukrayinska Pravda and Gordon)


Trial focuses on work for Ukraine

Jury selection started on August 12 at the U.S. District Court in the trial of former White House counsel Greg Craig, who is accused of misleading authorities in relation to the work he performed for the benefit of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The trial is in relation to work that Mr. Craig and his law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom did for Mr. Yanukovych in 2012 which involved compiling a 187-page report on behalf of Paul Manafort, who was advising the Russia-friendly president at the time. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Craig intentionally misled the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in order to avoid registering as a foreign agent based on his Ukraine-related work. Mr. Craig’s defense lawyers have rejected the allegation in an interview with Politico. His co-owned law firm was paid $4.6 million for a 2012 report that largely vindicated the prosecution of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was found guilty of abusing her office. Internationally, her prosecution at the time was considered payback by Mr. Yanukovych, who wanted to remove a political enemy. She was released early from prison in the wake of the pro-European Maidan protests in 2014 that saw Mr. Yanukovych abandon office and flee to Russia. The order for the report came from Mr. Manafort who, after working in Ukraine, briefly headed U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign before his work for Mr. Yanukovych, his allies and political party came to light. Politico reported that, according to prosecutor Fernando Campoamor-Sanches, after Mr. Craig’s report was released, Mr. Manafort praised him. “Well done,” he wrote to Mr. Craig. “The pro has emerged again… The initial rollout has been very effective and your background has been key to it all.” Mr. Craig’s trial grew out of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation that also led to the prosecution of Mr. Manafort for lobbying violations and financial crimes. He is currently serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence. Earlier this year, Skadden agreed to turn over the $4.6 million it was paid for the 2012 report as part of a settlement with the Justice Department and registered under FARA. Mr. Craig was indicted in April on two counts, but a federal judge in August dismissed one of the counts, which alleged Mr. Craig had made false statements to the government in violation of FARA. Mr. Craig is a well-known attorney in Democratic political circles and is a former lawyer in ex-President Barack Obama’s administration. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Politico, The New York Times, NPR and Reuters)


Ukraine, Turkey mull free trade deal

Ukraine and Turkey are considering a free trade agreement that could see two-way commerce more than double to $10 billion yearly, a statement says on the website of the Presidential Office of Ukraine. The statement cited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a joint news conference he gave on August 7 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, following their meeting in Ankara. “Bilateral trade volume in 2018 was more than $4 billion,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. “I’m certain that this is far from the limit of our potential.” Mr. Erdogan noted the two spoke about “all aspects of Turkish-Ukrainian relations,” saying that “now is the time to finalize the negotiation process for a free trade agreement” that has been going on for many years. Mr. Zelenskyy was on a two-day visit to Turkey. He also met with members of the Ukrainian and Crimean-Tatar community, as well as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service)


Alleged sabotage at Ukraine military site

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) says it has detained a Russian man on suspicion of preparing an act of sabotage at a “strategically important military site.” The man, who was not identified, was detained at his residence in the central Ukrainian city of Cherkasy, according to a statement on August 8. The SBU said the suspect was in possession of three homemade explosive devices, two kilograms of chemicals, an electronic detonator, two types of explosives, notes with chemical formulas and explosives-making literature. The statement said he had gathered intelligence at a military airfield and was found to have materials that prove he had been collecting information about the facility.
It didn’t specify which military site the Russian was allegedly targeting.
The man, who is now in pretrial detention, is facing charges of conducting subversive activity and illegally handling weapons, ammunition, and explosives. If found guilty, he faces between eight and 15 years in prison for the greater charge of subversion. (RFE/RL)


OSCE takes steps regarding Russian monitor

On August 9, Ukrainian TV channel 1+1 aired a report about member of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who posted anti-Ukrainian, aggressive views. Russian citizen Nikolai Alekseev, according to the report, called for violence and voiced support for Russian hybrid forces in the Donbas on his social media account. On August 12, Radio Svoboda reported, “The OSCE SMM stated that it has ‘taken measures’ regarding a member of the SMM, Russian citizen Nikolai Alekseev, who shared aggressive statements about Ukraine in social media. The OSCE SMM press service gave this response to a question from Radio Svoboda. ‘Regarding the statements of one of the monitors of the OSCE SMM, the OSCE SMM states that the mission has taken appropriate measures.’” The OSCE did not share any other details. Radio Svoboda had asked what steps will be taken by the OSCE SMM regarding a member of the mission who violates the rules of the organization. Radio Svoboda is also awaiting a response from the Security Service of Ukraine and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)


Kolomoisky plans on being a ‘nuisance’

Ihor Kolomoisky, the Ukrainian billionaire with ties to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says he plans on being “a nuisance for many” in the country for at least the next five years. Mr. Kolomoisky, who faced investigations and government pressure in Ukraine during the presidency of Mr. Zelenskyy’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, has lived outside of Ukraine for almost two years, splitting his time between Israel and Switzerland. In a wide-ranging interview with the RBK media group, his first with a Russian media outlet in the last five years, Mr. Kolomoisky played down his relationship with Mr. Zelenskyy, who he said he had seen only once since the president’s inauguration. “Sometimes we correspond via WhatsApp, we joke, talk about nothing important. But we rarely speak now because he has so much to do,” said Mr. Kolomoisky, who returned to Ukraine four days before Mr. Zelenskyy’s inauguration. “I wouldn’t give him any advice until at least 100 days pass since the inauguration. Although, maybe, if I were to say something, it would be a wish, not exactly advice: When you choose your appointees, choose those you trust, and bring professionals in next to them,” he added. Questions about the extent of ties between the president and the billionaire who owns the TV station that has hosted Mr. Zelenskyy’s comedy programs and his hit sitcom “Servant of the People” have swirled since Mr. Zelenskyy swept to a landslide victory in an April presidential election. Mr. Kolomoisky said he had known Mr. Zelenskyy since 2008 and the two started talking about a possible run for the presidency in 2017. But he added that he did not give financial support to the Zelenskyy presidential campaign, though he acknowledged that the entertainer had a contract with the tycoon’s 1+1 television channel, which “was the only help.” He also confirmed that the president’s chief of staff, Andriy Bohdan, used to be one of his main lawyers in the last five years. The tycoon also said there were people in Ukraine and elsewhere who’d like to see him disappear from the scene, which he maintained isn’t going to happen. “There are many people who would like me to leave and go somewhere else, but they’ll have to wait. I’ll be a nuisance here for the next five years,” he said. Talking about his conflict with Mr. Poroshenko, Mr. Kolomoisky still praised the former president, saying that he “saved the country from you [Russians]” after Moscow illegally annexed Crimea and fomented separatism in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in 2014. “[Poroshenko] stopped [Russia’s] aggression. I can criticize him in any way, but not in front of you. We will mend fences ourselves, without you,” Mr. Kolomoisky said, adding that he did not have any business in Russia and did not plan to have any “until Crimea is returned to Ukraine.” He noted: “[Russia] is a major sponsor and a source of this civil conflict. If Russia was not there and left the place alone, we would end the matter in a peaceful manner to satisfy all sides in two weeks, maximum.” (RFE/RL, with reporting by RBK)


Measles crisis hits Ukraine hard

Measles outbreaks are continuing to spread around the globe, with Ukraine among the nations reporting the highest number of new cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. Measles cases over the first six months of 2019 are at the highest level since 2006 – substantially a result of uneven availability and misleading information regarding vaccinations, the WHO said in a report published on August 13. WHO said the crisis is putting great strains on “health-care systems, and leading to serious illness, disability and deaths in many parts of the world.” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva that almost 365,000 measles cases were reported around the world in the first seven months of the year, up from just under 130,000 during the same period a year ago. WHO also cautioned that only one in 10 cases are likely reported worldwide. Measles is a preventable but highly contagious disease that can kill a child or leave it disabled for life. WHO stressed that it is “almost entirely preventable” with two doses of “a safe and highly effective vaccine.” But health experts worldwide have expressed concerns about the so-called “anti-vax” movement spreading on social media and elsewhere that has raised fears among some parents that vaccinations can be harmful for children.” In a number of countries, measles is spreading among older children, youth, and adults who have missed out on vaccination in the past,” it added. WHO said Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Madagascar have reported the highest number of cases this year. The Ukrainian Health Ministry reported earlier this month that 56,861 people – 26,748 adults and 30,113 children – have been diagnosed with measles in the country so far in 2019, with 18 fatalities registered. (RFE/RL)


Lviv plant starts making upgraded T-64s

The Lviv Tank Plant has become the second Ukrainian factory to start manufacturing the modernized model of T-64 tanks complete with new thermal vision equipment, digital radio communication, satellite navigation systems and new explosive-reactive armor, according to an August 12 news release by Ukroboronprom, the state-owned company that oversees the defense industry. “As a result, we’ve managed to significantly expand its combat capabilities,” Ukroboronprom said. The T-64 tank is the Ukrainian military’s main combat vehicle. The latest model was modernized in 2017. During the upgrade, a new sighting gun complex was installed that allows it to detect, recognize and destroy a target by firing a 125-millimeter cannon any time of the day and in all weather conditions. Before, only the Kharkiv Armored Plant, also a part of Ukroboronprom, made the modernized T-64 tanks. It has supplied nearly 150 tanks to the military. (RFE/RL)