August 30, 2019



Oleksiy Honcharuk confirmed as PM

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed the Verkhovna Rada’s appointment of Oleksiy Honcharuk as the country’s next prime minister during the first session of Parliament following elections that swept his Servant of the People party to an unprecedented mandate. The decision was backed by 290 MPs registered out of 450 seats (not all the seats are filled, because Russia occupies Crimea and the conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts). Mr. Honcharuk, a 35-year-old deputy head in the Presidential Office, was chosen as the candidate by Mr. Zelenskyy, according to a parliamentary draft resolution at the August 29 inaugural session, where the former comedian-turned politician is to deliver a state-of-the-nation address where he will outline his political and economic goals, along with key Cabinet posts. Mr. Honcharuk has spent much of his career as a lawyer, eventually becoming a lead partner at a firm that specializes in real estate development. In 2015 he ran the EU-funded nongovernmental organization BRDO, which focused on reforms and advised Stepan Kubiv, the first deputy prime minister during ex-President Petro Poroshenko’s administration. According to the constitution, the ruling coalition or majority party in Parliament appoints the prime minister, as well as Cabinet posts, the chief prosecutor, and other positions. Mr. Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party took a solid majority of 254 parliamentary seats in last month’s elections for the 450-seat legislature. That unprecedented mandate is expected to give Mr. Zelenskyy a free hand to “break the system,” as he pledged during his election campaign in April. Mr. Zelenskyy will have to deal with finding a solution to a violent conflict with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, fighting corruption, and launching economic reforms in an ex-Soviet country that remains one of the poorest in Europe. Among the 27 agenda items for the marathon session on August 29 is the consideration of a bill to lift lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution. Because it’s a constitutional amendment, the bill requires a two-thirds majority vote that Servant of the People lacks. For Ukrainians, abolishing immunity has consistently been one of the most desired anti-corruption measures, according to public opinion polls. For a time, it was a condition for a visa-free travel deal with the European Union, but the demand was dropped after a report by the EU’s legal counsel advised against it. The draft resolution showed that Vadym Prystaiko will be nominated as foreign affairs minister, Andriy Zagorodniuk as defense minister, and Ruslan Ryaboshapka as Prosecutor-General. Between 30 and 100 legislative bills will be considered, Servant of the People deputy Yuriy Kamilchuk told the 112 Ukraine channel. “There is a chance that we’ll adopt more than 30, and maybe up to 100 draft laws,” he said. (RFE/RL with reporting by UNIAN, Interfax, 112 Ukraine, and Ukrayinska Pravda)


Death toll at eight in building collapse

The number of people killed in the collapse of an apartment building in western Ukraine rose sharply to eight, including one child, the Ukrainian state emergencies service said on August 29. Most of the apartment building collapsed in the small town of Drohobych in the Lviv region the previous night. Authorities had originally said one person was killed. Lviv regional government officials said the incident most likely was caused by a natural-gas explosion in the early hours of August 28. It destroyed several apartments from the ground floor to the top of the four-story block. The service said it had completed the rescue operation. A probe has been launched into the deadly explosion, officials said. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by UNIAN and Ukrayinska Pravda)


Media reports Sentsov moved to Moscow

Russian media reports say Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov, whose imprisonment has been criticized by Kyiv, Western governments, and human rights groups, has been moved from a remote prison in Russia’s Arctic region to a facility in Moscow. The TASS and Interfax news agencies as well as the Baza and Nezygar online news resources, quoting unnamed sources, said on August 29 that Sentsov had been transferred to Moscow’s Detention Facility No. 2, also known as the Butyrskaya prison, from a penitentiary in the town of Labytnagi in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District. Mr. Sentsov has been imprisoned in Russia since opposing Moscow’s takeover of his native Crimea in March 2014. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of terrorism in a trial criticized by human rights groups and Western governments as politically motivated. Reports about Mr. Sentsov’s transfer to Moscow come a day after a court in Ukraine ordered jailed Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky to be freed on his own recognizance and released from custody before his trial on treason charges. Unconfirmed reports said in recent days that Russia and Ukraine were going to exchange Mr. Sentsov for Mr. Vyshinsky. Mr. Sentsov’s mother, Lyudmyla Sentsova, told RFE/RL on August 29 that her son skipped their usual end-of-month telephone conversation, which had never happened before. “Yesterday, August 28, was exactly one month since he called me. He usually calls for 20 minutes exactly once a month. I was waiting for his call today as well, but he did not call, “ Ms. Sentsova said, adding that for the first time in five years she had received a postcard from her son on August 12, in which he congratulated her on her birthday and wrote “trust me, we will hug each other soon.” Ms. Sentsova also said that she has no information about her son’s current location. Last year, Mr. Sentsov went on a 145-day hunger strike protesting his imprisonment and demanding the immediate release of all Ukrainian citizens held in Russia on politically motivated charges. In December, the European Parliament awarded Mr. Sentsov its 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has recognized Mr. Sentsov as a political prisoner. Kyiv and Moscow have held talks in recent weeks on a prisoner swap that could include dozens of prisoners. Ukraine’s Opposition Platform-For Life party leader Viktor Medvedchuk, a close Kremlin ally, said on August 29 that the talks are ongoing.  “I know that such negotiations are ongoing, but there is no final solution. Also, the question of the person you named, Sentsov, has not been resolved,” Mr. Medvedchuk said during the inaugural session of Parliament. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that he hopes to see the “first results of the prisoner swap” soon. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, Crimea Desk, with reporting by TASS, Interfax, Baza, and Nezygar)


Bolton warns of Chinese buying Motor Sich

U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton says he has discussed Washington’s concerns about the threat of “unfair Chinese trade practices” with Ukrainian officials during his trip to Kyiv. Asked on August 28 about a possible acquisition by China of Ukrainian defense company Motor Sich, Bolton said he did not want to discuss specific companies and that such deals were a sovereign matter for Ukraine, according to Reuters. But he made clear that the U.S. administration disapproved of the transaction, telling reporters: “We laid out our concerns about…unfair Chinese trade practices, threats to national security we’ve seen in the United States.” Speaking to RFE/RL in Kyiv on August 27, Bolton said the possible sale of Motor Sich — a maker of engines for missiles, helicopters, and jets – to the Chinese “is an issue that I think is significant for Ukraine, but [also] significant for the U.S., for Europe, for Japan, for Australia, Canada, other countries.” He accused Beijing of using its “trade surpluses to gain economic leverage in countries around the world, to profit from defense technologies that others have developed.” Earlier this month, Ukrainian media reported that two Chinese companies had reached an agreement with state-owned military concern Ukroboronprom to jointly purchase Motor Sich. The Chinese firms, which are believed to be close to the government in Beijing, would receive a controlling stake, while Ukroboronprom would receive a blocking stake. Motor Sich employs more than 20,000 people in the southwestern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhya. A possible sale to the Chinese provoked a raid of its headquarters by Ukraine’s Security Service in April 2018 and the seizure of its shares. At the time, the company was valued at nearly $500 million. (RFE/RL with reporting by Reuters and RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Bolton and Zelenskyy express hope

During his meeting with John Bolton in Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed hope that the United States will become more involved in the negotiation process aimed at putting an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, according to a statement on the presidential website. Mr. Zelenskyy also said that Ukraine would welcome the United States in the so-called Normandy format of negotiations, which currently involves Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France. Mr. Bolton tweeted that he also met with the acting head of Ukraine’s SBU security service, Ivan Bakanov, with whom he discussed “various ways Ukraine and the U.S. can strengthen collaboration across a wide range of national security activities.” The United States has been a supporter of Ukraine since Russia annexed its Crimean peninsula in March 2014 and started backing separatists in eastern Ukraine in April 2014 in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people. Washington has given Ukraine more than $3 billion in aid, including $1.5 billion in military goods over the past five years, and is advising the country on the reform of its armed forces. Neighboring Belarus’s presidential office said on August 27 that Mr. Bolton was set to travel to Minsk where he would hold talks with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. No date was given for the meeting. The trip, which has not been confirmed by U.S. officials, would mark the highest-level U.S. government visit to Belarus in the past 20 years. (RFE/RL with reporting by Reuters and RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Bohatyrova detained in Kyiv

Ukraine’s former Health Minister Rayisa Bohatyrova has been detained in Kyiv upon her arrival from the Belarusian capital, Minsk, following five years of self-imposed exile in an unspecified country. The State Border Guard Service said that Ms. Bohatyrova was detained at the Zhulyany airport on August 27. Ms. Bohatyrova served as Ukraine’s health minister in the government of President Viktor Yanukovych, who was toppled by pro-European mass protests in 2014 and fled to Russia. Ms. Bohatyrova also left Ukraine after Mr. Yanukovych was toppled and in June 2014 was charged in absentia with embezzling 6.5 million hryvnyas ($260,000) of public funds. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by UNIAN and Ukrayinska Pravda)


Kyiv releases Russian journalist

A Kyiv court has ruled that Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky, who is in detention in Ukraine on high treason charges, can be released on his own recognizance as he awaits trial. The Kyiv Court of Appeal handed down the ruling on August 28, saying he must inform the court about any change of residence and that he must refrain from any contact with witnesses in his case. He will not be required to wear an electronic bracelet, it added. Mr. Vyshinsky, the head of Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti’s office in Ukraine, was arrested in May 2018 and faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty. His arrest came amid accusations in Kyiv that RIA Novosti Ukraine was participating in a “hybrid information war” waged by Russia against Ukraine. Mr. Vyshinsky, who at the moment of his arrest had dual Russian-Ukrainian citizenship, was accused of allegedly receiving financial support from Russia via other media companies registered in Ukraine in order to disguise links between RIA Novosti Ukraine and Russian state media giant Rossia Segodnya. Weeks after his arrest, Mr. Vyshinsky announced that he had given up his Ukrainian citizenship, called his arrest a “political order,” and suggested that he was arrested in order to use him in a swap with Moscow for a Ukrainian being held in Russia. Mr. Vyshinsky’s lawyer, Andrei Domansky, told reporters after his client was released that the defense “will now work on his full acquittal.” Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, said in a statement to the Govorit Moskva radio station that Mr. Vyshinsky’s release is “the first step towards justice for the journalist.” Russian ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova told reporters in Moscow that she considers the court’s ruling “a just decision without political grounds.” “It gives hope to further objective investigation of the case against the journalist,” Ms. Moskalkova said. The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Desir, also welcomed Mr. Vyshinsky’s release, expressing hope that Ukrainian citizens held in Russia will be released as well. “I welcome pre-trial release of RIA Novosti journalist Kirill Vyshinsky today in Kyiv, Ukraine. I called for his release and intervened on this many times. I call for the release of all other detained journalists and authors in OSCE region like [journalist Roman] Sushchenko and [film director Oleh] Sentsov in Russia,” Mr. Desir wrote on Twitter. A Ukrainian journalist, Mr. Sushchenko was sentenced to 12 years in a high-security prison in June in Russia on espionage charges that he says are politically motivated. Mr. Sentsov, who openly protested Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, is serving a 20-year prison term in Russia on terrorism charges, which he and his supporters have also rejected. Unconfirmed reports said in recent days that Moscow and Kyiv were working on the release of Mr. Vyshinsky in exchange for Mr. Sentsov’s release in Russia. Tensions between Moscow and Kyiv have risen sharply since Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and threw its support behind separatists in eastern Ukraine, helping start a war that has killed some 13,000 people. Ukraine’s pro-Western government is wary of Russian media outlets, accusing Moscow of distributing disinformation aimed at sowing tension and destabilizing the country. Kyiv has banned more than a dozen Russian television channels since 2014, accusing them of spreading propaganda. (RFE/RL Ukrainian Service)


Russia bars Sen. Murphy from Russia visit

A second U.S. senator who is critical of Moscow has said Russia denied him a visa to visit the country as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation. Sen. Chris Murphy (D – Conn.) said on August 27 in a posting on his website that the Russian government had refused to issue him a visa, calling it a “shame that Russia isn’t interested in dialogue.” The comments by the member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee follow similar ones a day earlier by Sen. Ron Johnson (R – Wis.). Sen. Johnson’s office said that, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, the lawmaker had planned to speak with Russian government officials, American businesses, civil society organizations, and others. “While I’ve been a tough critic of the Kremlin, I also believe it’s important to maintain dialogue especially during moments of tension,” Sen. Murphy said. “Unfortunately, the Russian government is further isolating their country by blocking our visit and several others in recent months. With the collapse of recent arms-control agreements and significant domestic opposition to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule, this is potentially a perilous moment for our two nations’ fragile relationship, and it’s a shame that Russia isn’t interested in dialogue,” Sen. Murphy added. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Sen. Johnson is on a blacklist created in response to U.S. sanctions. The Russian Embassy called him “Russophobic.” A Senate staffer told CNN that their trip was part of an itinerary next week that includes stops in Kosovo, Serbia, and Ukraine. In a statement posted on Twitter, the Russian Embassy said Johnson’s “groundless accusations against Russia leave no doubt – he is ready not for a dialogue, but a confrontation.” It did not immediately comment on Sen. Murphy’s comments, which came out later. Sen. Johnson has in the past said Russia is taking “a dark turn” under President Vladimir Putin and criticized Mr. Putin in the visa denial announcement. “The path Vladimir Putin has chosen for Russia is a tragedy of historic proportions,” Sen. Johnson said. “Instead of holding free and fair elections, respecting the rule of law, and integrating Russia’s economy with Western democracies, Mr. Putin has invaded Georgia, attempted to illegally annex Crimea, and conducted war in eastern Ukraine where thousands have died.” Sen. Johnson was referring to a series of Moscow protests sparked by a decision by election officials to bar opposition and independent candidates from the September municipal elections in the Russian capital. Police have used force to disperse the demonstrations and detained more than 2,000 people, triggering international condemnation. A five-day war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008 resulted in the occupation by Russian military forces of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In March 2014, Moscow seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula after sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries. Moscow is also backing separatists in a war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014. Sen. Johnson said he had led and supported a variety of legislation aimed at holding “Russia accountable for its aggression in Ukraine and its targeting of dissidents.” Sens. Johnson and Murphy in March were among a group of lawmakers who introduced legislation that seeks to counter Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project with sanctions. In January 2018, Sen. Johnson canceled a trip to Russia because a member of the congressional delegation, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D – N.H.), was denied a visa. Sen. Shaheen’s request was rejected because she is on a blacklist, the Russian Embassy said at the time. (RFE/RL with reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and CNN)


Bolton: No need to rush action on Donbas

U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton says there is no need for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to “rush” into any course of action regarding Russia’s involvement with separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. “I think, from the perspective of a new government in Ukraine, President Zelenskyy would be well-advised to look at how to unfold a strategy of dealing with the Russians very carefully,” Mr. Bolton told RFE/RL in a wide-ranging interview on August 27 in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. “I don’t think there is any reason to rush it into one course of action or another…. I think working this through over a period of time makes sense for the new government in Ukraine. I don’t suppose that the Europeans are going to have a solution that is readily apparent,” he added in reference to the so-called Normandy format of negotiations aimed at ending the Ukraine conflict. More than 13,000 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine after Russia-backed separatists took up arms against government forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in April 2014. After being elected in April this year, Mr. Zelenskyy called for a four-way meeting with fellow Normandy format participants Russia, Germany, and France to revive peace talks with Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin. Moscow has said there is interest in renewing peace discussions, but it did not specify a time frame. On August 26, French President Emmanuel Macron said the Normandy format leaders will hold a summit next month. “We think that the conditions exist for a useful summit,” Mr. Macron said at the end of a Group of Seven (G-7) meeting in the southwestern French coastal resort of Biarritz. Asked if Washington would want to join in Normandy format talks, Mr. Bolton did not answer directly, but said there is “significant American interest” in existing issues between Kyiv and Moscow. “I think that is why we should consider, if President Zelenskyy wants us to be involved [in talks with Russia], whether we should do it.” Mr. Bolton also voiced U.S. concern about Russia’s military buildup in the Black Sea, including in Crimea, which has been unlawfully annexed by Moscow from Ukraine. “The Black Sea has a number of NATO allies that also are part of it,” Mr. Bolton said, adding, “We expect to see access across the Black Sea maintained for all the littoral states and other traders who use the Black Sea.” He said the United States was monitoring Russian activities in other parts of the world as well. “The same is true of the Baltic; the same is true in the Arctic. And these are issues that we have had some difficult discussions with the Russians on, as in many other areas where they are trying to intrude beyond where they have a legitimate interest to be.” Mr. Bolton’s visit is the first to Ukraine by a top U.S. official since Mr. Zelenskyy’s election in April. He is scheduled to meet with the Ukrainian leader on August 28, according to local media reports. Upon his arrival, Mr. Bolton told reporters that “for me, this is an opportunity to talk about some priorities we have and really also, because of the new administration here, to hear their priorities.” Mr. Bolton added that a meeting between President Donald Trump and Mr. Zelenskyy could happen when the U.S. leader travels to Poland early next month. Meanwhile, the presidential administration in neighboring Belarus said on August 27 that Mr. Bolton will travel to Minsk for talks with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka later in the week, without giving an exact date. Mr. Bolton’s trip to Minsk, which has not been confirmed by U.S. officials, would mark the highest-level U.S. government visit to Belarus in the past 20 years. The government of another former Soviet republic, Moldova, said earlier that Mr. Bolton would visit its capital, Chisinau, on August 29. Mr. Bolton’s Eastern European tour will most likely irritate Moscow, which has been trying to restore its influence over former Soviet republics in recent years. (RFE/RL Ukrainian Service with reporting by Reuters and AP)


Speaker Parubiy signs new electoral code

Outgoing Ukrainian Parliament Speaker Andriy Parubiy on August 27 signed a bill that amends the Electoral Code to make political party lists open and eliminates single-mandate constituencies in future elections. Mr. Parubiy posted the 556-page Electoral Code on Twitter. It only requires President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s signature for it to enter into force on December 1, 2023, after the next scheduled vote to Parliament. Changing the Electoral Code was a key element of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement that was ratified in September 2014. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as the Venice Commission, the EU’s constitutional advisory body, have also stressed the importance of making the changes to strengthen the nation’s democratic institutions. Before, half the legislative body’s seats were allocated proportionally based on party lists, but the law stipulated that only the first five candidates on the lists had to be shown. Election watchdogs criticized the nontransparent feature, which enabled dubious candidates to remain unknown and parties to sell seats to the highest bidder seeking a mandate. Ukrainian legislators enjoy immunity from prosecution. Similarly, the other half of seats got allocated to single-mandate election districts where vote-buying was rampant, according to Ukrainian election watchdogs Opora and the Committee of Voters of Ukraine. During its last session, the outgoing parliament voted for the bill in its second and final reading on July 11. The next scheduled election is in October 2023 and will be held under the previous system unless the Electoral Code gets amended before that. Otherwise, elections after that will solely be based on an open-party list proportional system. On July 11, the president’s representative in Parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, said the presidential office will first “analyze” the new Electoral Code before Mr. Zelenskyy decides to sign it. (RFE/RL Ukrainian Service, with reporting by Ukrainska Pravda, Hromadske, and 112)


Court in Crimea releases Tatar activist

A court in Ukraine’s Russia-annexed Crimea has released from detention a Crimean Tatar activist, who is on trial for alleged illegal explosive possession and transportation, a charge he has strongly denied. The Central District Court in Simferopol ruled on August 27 that Edem Bekirov must be released from custody on condition that he will be attending his trial. The detention center’s medical personnel asked the court to release Mr. Bekirov due to his medical condition. Mr. Bekirov was arrested in December after a man told Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) that he had asked him to keep 12 kilograms of explosives and ammunition.
Mr. Bekirov has denied the accusations, saying they were lies. The European Court of Human Rights ruled on June 11 that Mr. Bekirov must be transferred to a civil hospital because of his health condition. The Moscow-based Memorial human rights group has declared Mr. Bekirov a political prisoner. Since Russia seized the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014, Russian authorities have prosecuted dozens of Crimean Tatars on various charges. Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they describe as a campaign of repression by the Russian-imposed authorities in Crimea who are targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar community and others who have come out against Moscow’s takeover of the peninsula. Russia took control of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 after sending in troops, seizing key facilities, and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries. Moscow also backs separatists in a war against government forces that has killed some 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. (RFE/RL Crimea Desk, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Bolton in Ukraine underscores U.S. support

White House national-security adviser John Bolton has arrived in Kyiv – the most senior U.S. official to visit Ukraine since the election of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in April. Speaking to reporters in the Ukrainian capital on August 27, Mr. Bolton said he had traveled there to hear the priorities of the new government, adding that it was in the United States’ interest to see a successful Ukraine, according to Reuters. He also told reporters that U.S. President Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart could meet soon in Poland, but he did not give a date. “Ambassador Bolton is here to underscore U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Euro-Atlantic path. He looks forward to productive meetings with Ukrainian officials,” the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said on Twitter on August 27. A day earlier, Mr. Bolton tweeted that Washington supports Mr. Zelenskyy’s “reform efforts and vision to create a stronger and more prosperous Ukraine,” amid continued fighting between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east. Also on August 27, the presidential administration in neighboring Belarus said that Mr. Bolton will travel to Minsk for talks with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka later in the week, without giving an exact date. Mr. Bolton’s trip to Minsk, which has not been confirmed by U.S. officials, would mark the highest-level U.S. government visit to Belarus in the past 20 years. The government of another former Soviet republic, Moldova, said earlier that Mr. Bolton would visit Chisinau on August 29. Mr. Bolton’s Eastern European tour will most likely irritate Moscow, which has been trying to restore its influence over former Soviet republics in recent years. Moscow has been actively trying to boost its ties with Minsk by developing the so-called Russian-Belarusian Union State that was established in the 1990s and which exists mainly on paper. In Ukraine, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March 2014 and has been supporting pro-Kremlin separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where some 13,000 people have been killed since April 2014. Mr. Bolton’s visit to Kyiv comes after French President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement that the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France will hold talks next month aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine. “We think that the conditions exist for a useful summit,” Mr. Macron said on August 26 at a Group of Seven (G-7) summit in France. He said the quadrilateral talks – known as the Normandy format – would be held in September, but did not give an exact date. (RFE/RL with reporting by Reuters)


ECHR condemns Russia over Magnitsky death

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has condemned Russia for “multiple violations” committed against Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption lawyer who died in custody in 2009. In its ruling on August 27, the court in Strasbourg said the treatment of Magnitsky’s pancreatitis and other medical problems was “manifestly inadequate” and “unreasonably put his life in danger.” The court’s seven judges for the case, including a Russian, ruled unanimously that the tax lawyer had been ill-treated by guards and been unjustly held for too long in pretrial detention. They also denounced an “inherently unfair” posthumous trial that found Magnitsky guilty. Russia was ordered to pay 34,000 euros ($37,800) to Magnitsky’s wife and mother. Russia’s Justice Ministry said it would consider an appeal, noting in a statement cited by Russian news agencies that the court didn’t find evidence to back up claims of Magnitsky’s arbitrary arrest and detention. Still, James A. Goldston of the Open Society Justice Initiative, who represented Magnitsky’s mother in the ECHR case, welcomed the ruling. “Today, the system of laws in which [Magnitsky] placed such faith has finally given him and his family some measure of justice,” Mr. Goldston said. The court ruling was based on a complaint originally filed by Magnitsky himself in 2009, and later taken over by his family. Magnitsky spent almost a year in Moscow’s Butyrka prison before he was transferred to another detention center in the capital, where he died in November 2009. He was arrested and charged with tax evasion in November 2008 after exposing a scheme in which officials allegedly defrauded the Russian state of $230 million. Magnitsky’s death at age 37 sparked U.S. and European Union sanctions, contributing to the deterioration of relations between Moscow and the West. (RFE/RL with reporting by AP and AFP)


Norwegian institute backtracks findings on Russian blast

A Norwegian research institute has walked back earlier findings that there may have been two explosions at a Russian naval test site earlier this month, an incident that killed at least five people and caused a temporary spike in radiation levels. In a statement on August 27, Norsar said that additional analysis of its seismic and low-frequency records from August 8 showed that the second event detected by its monitors may not have come from the Nyonoksa test range, on the White Sea. “Further analysis of the event with additional seismic data indicate that the event also may stem from mining activity in Finland,” the institute said. The institute’s findings add to the mix of evidence that observers have scrambled to gather in an effort to explain what happened at the test site on August 8. Russian officials have given scant and contradictory information about what exploded during what President Vladimir Putin has said was a test of a weapons system. The state-run atomic energy company Rosatom said the test involved an “isotope source of a liquid-fueled propulsion unit.” On August 26, Russia’s state weather agency, Rosgidromet, said that in the hours and days after the explosion, a cloud of inert radioactive gases formed as a result of a decay of the isotopes. That was the cause, it said, of the brief spike in radiation in Severodvinsk, a major shipbuilding port located not far from the Nyonoksa test range. The agency said the isotopes detected included barium, strontium, and lanthanum. Nils Bohmer, who works at a Norwegian government agency that studies nuclear waste disposal, said Rosgidromet’s findings were an indication that a nuclear reactor may have exploded. “The presence of decay products like barium and strontium is coming from a nuclear chain reaction. It is proof that it was a nuclear reactor that exploded,” Mr. Bohmer told The Barents Observer newspaper. Mr. Bohmer’s theory has not been confirmed by officials. In the hours after the accident, some residents of Severodvinsk bought up iodine drops in city pharmacies. Iodine is often taken to protect the thyroid gland from some types of radiation. Russian officials have repeatedly downplayed any danger of contamination for residents of Nyonoksa, Severodvinsk, or the regional center of Arkhangelsk. “I’m absolutely positive, and I have every reason to affirm the absence of any factors endangering the health and lives of people in the Arkhangelsk region, both on August 8 and at the present,” Interfax quoted regional Governor Igor Orlov as saying on August 26. Some U.S. officials have said they believe radioactive elements were involved in the accident, and some analysts have focused attention on a nuclear-powered cruise missile that Mr. Putin announced was under development last year. But a growing number of other analysts have said it’s more likely that the radiation that was released came from another related component or device that was destroyed in the explosion. Dvinsk Bay, where the three communities are located, was ordered closed for swimming and fishing, due to the presence of toxic rocket fuel. (RFE/RL with reporting by The Barents Observer and Interfax)


Weather agency says isotopes found after accident

Russia’s state meteorological agency says it found several radioactive isotopes in samples it took following a recent accident at a northern military base during a weapons test. Rosgidromet said in a statement on August 26 that it found strontium, barium and lanthanum in test samples in nearby Severodvinsk, but added that there was no danger to the public at large. The August 8 accident in the northern Russian region of Arkhangelsk, which killed at least five people and injured several others, raised concerns of atmospheric contamination after emergency officials reported a spike in background radiation levels. “I’m absolutely positive, and I have every reason to affirm the absence of any factors endangering the health and lives of people in the Arkhangelsk region, both on August 8 and at the present,” Interfax quoted regional Governor Igor Orlov as saying on August 26 after the Rosgidromet statement was released. “There are no residents of the region or medical professionals who have been or are exposed as a result of the incident,” Orlov added. Some U.S. officials have said they believe radioactive elements were involved in the accident, and many analysts have focused attention on a nuclear-powered cruise missile that President Vladimir Putin announced was under development last year. The White Sea bay where both the shipbuilding port and the regional capital, Arkhangelsk, are located were ordered closed for swimming and fishing due to the presence of toxic rocket fuel. Following the accident, there were reports of panic buying of iodine drops in the shipbuilding town of Severodvinsk. Iodine is often taken to protect the thyroid gland from some types of radiation. Rosgidromet said a cloud of inert radioactive gases formed as a result of a decay of the isotopes and was the cause of the brief spike in radiation in Severodvinsk. The isotopes were Strontium-91, Barium-139, Barium-140, and Lanthanum-140, which have half-lives of 9.3 hours, 83 minutes, 12.8 days, and 40 hours respectively, it said. (RFE/RL with reporting by Interfax)


Crimeans who show Ukrainian identity get ‘hunted’

People expressing any form of Ukrainian identity in Russian-annexed Crimea can expect prosecution or get on a “hit list,” say two members of the Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG). Displaying the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag or its colors on property can lead to civil fines, criminal prosecution, and land “Ukrainian activists” on an online forum where people “hunt” for them, Olha Skrypnyk, head of CHRG, and group member Volodymyr Chekryhin, told the public broadcaster’s Radio Culture program. An online forum exists in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, home of Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet, called “Burn the Banderites in our city,” a reference to devotees of the mid-20th-century Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera. “There are open calls for the massacre of Ukrainian activists, information is collected — there are 150 pages” on the forum, Mr. Chekryhin said. “There are photos of Ukrainian activists, addresses, information about where the families live, and the routes they take with their children to the kindergarten. And it is suggested to find them and deal with them.” Hanging a Ukrainian flag or displaying its colors can lead to a civil fine, Ms. Skrypnyk said, and usually is prosecuted as an “unauthorized” demonstration. If Ukrainian colors are painted on property, that could lead to criminal charges and jail time for committing “vandalism,” she said. Other times, criminal cases are “fabricated,” Ms. Skrypnyk said, to imprison Ukrainians who “express any form of Ukrainian identity.” Volodymyr Balukh was mentioned as an example. Currently serving a five-year prison sentence in Russia, Mr. Balukh displayed a Ukrainian flag on his farmstead after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014. Mr. Balukh was originally arrested in December 2016 and convicted on a weapons- and explosives-possession charge in August 2017 that he said is false. Rights groups like the Memorial Human Rights Center consider him a political prisoner and maintain the charge against him was trumped up. “On the whole, there are risks in general with the manifestation of Ukrainian identity,” Ms. Skrypnyk said. “As for the flag and directly Ukrainian colors, it can very often be used for persecution.” (RFE/RL)


Macron announces major Ukraine peace summit

French President Emmanuel Macron says the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France will hold talks next month aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine. “We think that the conditions exist for a useful summit,” Mr. Macron said at the end of a Group of Seven (G-7) summit in the southwestern French coastal resort of Biarritz. Mr. Macron said the quadrilateral talks – known as the Normandy format – would be held in September, but did not give an exact date. Ukraine has been locked in conflict with Russia-backed separatists in its east since Moscow forcibly annexed Crimea in 2014. Mr. Macron has already met with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and invited Russia’s Vladimir Putin to France for talks last week ahead of the G-7 summit. Russia was excluded from the club of the world’s most advanced economies after the annexation of Crimea. Macron said after his meeting with Mr. Putin that there was a “real opportunity” for peace in Ukraine following Mr. Zelenskyy’s election. Mr. Zelenskyy has offered to meet Mr. Putin in person for talks and has spoken to him by phone in recent weeks.

Moscow has said there is interest to renew peace discussions. More than 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Ukraine’s east since April 2014. The European Union, the United States, and other countries have imposed sanctions on Russia due to its actions there. An additional 1.5 million people have been internally displaced, the largest migration of people on the European continent since World War II. Sixty-six Ukrainian soldiers were killed through July of this year, according to, a Ukrainian news portal. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AFP and AP)


One KIA, three wounded in Donbas war

One Ukrainian soldier was killed and three were wounded in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine after Russia-backed separatists opened fire with “grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, sniper rifles, and small arms,” according to the Ukrainian military. All the casualties took place in the army’s “north” operational and tactical group, it said. Sixty-six Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the first seven months of this year, according to, a Ukrainian news portal. After getting elected in April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for a four-way meeting with Russia, Germany, and France – known as the Normandy format – to revive peace talks with Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin. Moscow has said there is interest in renewing peace discussions, but no date has been set. More than 13,000 people have been killed in the Donbas conflict since April 2014, when Russian-backed separatists took up arms against government forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula preceded the armed uprising that prompted the European Union, United States, and other countries to impose sanctions on Russia. An additional 1.5 million people have been internally displaced, the largest migration of people on the European continent since World War II. Russia denies involvement in the Donbas conflict and has portrayed events there as Ukraine’s “internal” affair. (RFE/RL based on reporting by Ukrainska Pravda and


Russia test-fires ballistic missiles from subs

Russia says it has fired two missiles — a liquid-fueled intercontinental Sineva and a new solid-fuel Bulav — from submarines in the Arctic Ocean and the Barents Sea, hitting targets in the northern Arkhangelsk region and the Far East Kamchatka peninsula. The August 24 tests, shown in video released by Russia’s Defense Ministry, come in the wake of a ground-launched cruise-missile test by the United States. Russia claims the U.S. test violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) that Washington withdrew from. The United States says it withdrew from the INF treaty because Russia already was failing to comply with the accord. (Based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)


Zelenskyy calls Crimea seizure “kids being stolen”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has likened Russia’s 2014 seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula to “kids being stolen and issued a new birth certificate,” as the country marked 28 years of independence on August 24. In a speech before thousands of flag-waving Ukrainians, Mr. Zelenskyy also vowed that areas of eastern Ukraine under Russia-backed separatist control would be governed again by Kyiv. “One day we will be together because the voice of native blood will prevail,” Mr. Zelenskyy told the crowd at the festivities that included a raising of Ukraine’s flag and the singing of its national anthem. Mr. Zelenskyy, a comic with little formal political experience, was elected president of Ukraine in April amid public frustration with government corruption and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, where more than 13,000 have died since April 2014. Russia began backing separatist forces there shortly after illegally annexing Crimea in March 2014. Despite evidence to the contrary, Russia denies any role in the conflict. This year’s Independence Day in Kyiv is for the first time not being accompanied by a traditional military parade. Mr. Zelenskyy said in July that, instead of holding a parade, Kyiv would allocate the equivalent of nearly $12 million for bonuses to military servicemen. “Usually, on August 24, on Independence Day, we have a military parade. It’s pompous and definitely not cheap. It seems to me that this year, instead of holding a parade, it is better to give this money to our heroes…,” he was quoted as saying by the Ukrainian news agency Unian. Though there was no formal parade, military personnel did march through Kyiv, many with their battalions, in what was billed as a March of Dignity. Ukraine adopted its declaration of independence on August 24, 1991, in the waning days of the Soviet Union. (RFE/RL with reporting by Hromadske TV and UNIAN)


Russia launches floating nuclear power plant

Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant, which Greenpeace has dubbed a “floating Chernobyl,” has set sail on a nearly 5,000-kilometer voyage to its destination in the nation’s northeast. The floating plant, the Akademik Lomonosov, departed the Arctic port of Murmansk on August 23, according to state nuclear company Rosatom. If all goes according to plan, the 140-meter towed platform that carries two 35-megawatt nuclear reactors is to be put into service in 2019 in the Arctic off the coast of Chukotka in the Far East, providing power for a port town and for oil rigs. The project has been criticized by environmentalists, who have also referred to its as a “nuclear Titanic,” saying it is risky and a threat to the pristine Arctic region. Rosatom has dismissed those concerns, insisting that the floating nuclear plant is safe to operate. But fears were heightened further after a deadly blast on August 8 at a northern military base in the Arkhangelsk region during a weapons system test that caused a spike in radiation levels in a nearby city. Analysts say the project is part of Russia’s greater aims to secure the rich deposits of oil and gas in the North Pole region. Due to climate change, new shipping routes are opening up in Russia’s north. As a result, Moscow is strengthening its military position in the area. The reactor’s trip is expected to take between four and six weeks, depending on the weather conditions and the amount of ice on the way. When it arrives in Pevek, a town of 5,000 in the Siberian region of Chukotka, it will replace a local nuclear plant and a closed coal plant. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on August 19 that there was “no threat” of contamination after the deadly blast, which occurred in the town of Nyonoksa, a Dvina Bay port not far from Severodvinsk, at a naval site that has been used for decades to test naval missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Some U.S. officials have said they believe radioactive elements were involved, and many analysts have focused attention on a nuclear-powered cruise missile that Mr. Putin announced was under development last year. (RFE/RL with reporting by AP and AFP)


Anti-vaxxers in Ukraine demand schools admit children

About 200 parents who oppose vaccination have gathered in the center of the Ukrainian capital to demand that their children be allowed to attend school without booster shots. The rally was held outside the presidential office in Kyiv on August 22, with some protesters holding banners that read “Forced medical intervention is a crime.” Ukraine is experiencing its worst measles outbreak since gaining independence in 1991, having recorded more than 57,000 cases since January. Eighteen deaths have been attributed to the disease so far this year. This prompted Health Minister Ulana Suprun and Education Minister Lilia Hrynevych to jointly threaten on August 14 not to let unvaccinated children attend school this year. Authorities and health experts blame ignorance among certain doctors, distrust of vaccines among a segment of the population, as well as earlier shortages of vaccines, for the current outbreak. Dr. Suprun has promoted a vaccine drive in areas most affected by the crisis and at a mid-month briefing she said the ministry had enough vaccines for children and adults. Ukraine has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe, which could lead to outbreaks of diphtheria and tetanus as well, according to Dr. Suprun. Measles is a preventable but highly contagious disease that can kill a child or leave it disabled for life. Worldwide 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 World Health Organization said in a report published on August 13. Measles cases tripled to 365,000 in the first seven months of the year compared to the same period in 2018. 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. An October 2018 report published by the American Journal of Public health concluded that bots and Russian trolls “amplified” the vaccine debate during the period 2014-2017. “Whereas bots that spread malware and unsolicited content disseminated anti-vaccine messages, Russian trolls promoted discord,” the report said. “Accounts masquerading as legitimate users create false equivalency, eroding public consensus on vaccination.” (RFE/RL with reporting by UNIAN, Interfax, and AFP)


Presidential Office head sues RFE/RL for libel

The head of Ukraine’s presidential office is suing an investigative journalism program of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service for libel, the government says. A news release on the government’s judicial web portal says the lawsuit was filed on August 20 in a Kyiv court to defend Andriy Bohdan’s “honor, dignity, and business reputation.” It names Ukraine’s state-run public broadcaster UA:PBC and three members of Skhemy (Schemes) as co-defendants: chief editor Natalka Sedletska, and journalists Maksym Savchuk and Valeria Yehoshyna. Skhemy is a joint project by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and the UA:Pershy television channel, which belongs to UA:PBC. There is no information on the essence of the claims, but the plaintiff is seeking to “refute false information,” according to the judicial web portal. “At present, neither journalists nor the Radio Liberty editorial office have received the text of the lawsuit,” said Inna Kuznetsova, chief editor of RFE/RL’s Kyiv bureau. “Once it arrives, we will analyze it with lawyers and voice our position on Andriy Bohdan’s claims.” A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for September 19 at Kyiv’s Shevchenko district court. Mr. Bohdan was formerly billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskiy’s personal lawyer. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is linked to Mr. Kolomoyskiy through the oligarch’s ownership of Ukrainian TV station 1+1, which hosts the former comic and actor’s comedy programs and hit sitcom, Servant Of The People, as well as through advisers and other resources. Mr. Bohdan has been the subject of Skhemy investigations in the past. In April, the program reported that before his appointment as head of the presidential office, Mr. Bohdan had secretly visited the Constitutional Court the previous month, according to the court’s visitor logbook. At that time, there was legal debate whether Mr. Bohdan could head the presidential office because he was a senior official in former President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration. A lustration law in effect bars senior Yanukovych-era officials from posts in future Ukrainian governments. Another Skhemy investigation found that Messrs. Bohdan and Zelenskyy flew at least five times together starting in January from Kyiv to Tel Aviv, where Mr. Kolomoyskiy was residing at that time in self-imposed exile. (RFE/RL)


Russia ‘discovers’ five new islands in Arctic

A Russian naval research team has claimed to have discovered five islands in the Franz Josef Land archipelago in the Kara Sea area of the Arctic Ocean. Russian news agency RIA Novosti on August 27 quoted Russia’s Northern Fleet as saying the islands range in size from 900 to 54,500 square meters. The land areas are located in Vise Bay, west of Severny Island in the area of the Vylki Glacier, the report said. It added that the islands were first sighted during an analysis of satellite photos three years ago. The expedition to confirm the existence of the islands began on August 15 and is expected to run through the end of September. Russian-owned Franz Josef Land is an archipelago of some 192 islands inhabited only by military personnel. The Arctic region has gained importance in recent years as rising temperatures have made the waters navigable for longer periods and because of the vast reserves of natural gas and minerals. Russia has beefed up its military presence in the Arctic region, modernizing its Northern Fleet and reopening bases that were abandoned following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In March 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to the Arctic archipelago, saying he had ordered the government to step up development of the region and calling for “large infrastructure projects, including exploration and development of the Arctic shelf.” Other countries, including the United States, China, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, have also been looking to increase their activities in the Arctic. (RFE/RL based on reporting by dpa, TASS, and RIA Novosti)


Energy regulator faces price-fixing charges

A former head of Ukraine’s energy regulator accused of taking part in an alleged conspiracy to fix electricity prices for the benefit of the country’s largest privately owned power and coal producer says he will stay away from the country. Dmytro Vovk, who headed the National Energy and Utilities Regulatory Commission for nearly three years until May 2018, said in an August 19 Facebook post that that “as long as the head of the Presidential Office controls” the country’s anti-corruption law enforcement agencies, as well as the judiciary, “I’m not ready to come” back to Ukraine. Mr. Vovk’s whereabouts are unknown. He said, “I would gladly come to court, but am not ready to participate in a kangaroo court.” The National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) earlier this month accused Mr. Vovk and three regulators of colluding with several executives of electricity and coal producer DTEK to manipulate tariffs on electricity generated from coal that forced consumers to overpay by $747 million in 2016-2017. DTEK allegedly benefited by $560 million in the scheme. In a previous Facebook post, Mr. Vovk had dismissed the charges of abuse of office as “a wild goose chase.” There is “no legitimate basis for suspicions set out in the investigation,” DTEK said in an August 8 statement. A Kyiv court on August 14 set bail at $400,000 for one DTEK manager who wasn’t named. Ukraine’s richest billionaire, Rinat Akhmetov, owns DTEK, which is part of his holding company System Capital Management. The so-called Rotterdam+ pricing formula that NABU has been investigating since March 2017 was in place from April 2016 until July of this year. It based the wholesale price of electricity by Ukrainian thermal power plants on coal prices set in the Rotterdam port plus delivery costs to Ukraine. NABU alleges that at certain times it has not seen documented proof that the purchased coal originated in Rotterdam, maintaining that there was no justification for the price hikes. For more than a year, until December 2014, Mr. Vovk was the national manager in Russia for Ukrainian-based chocolatier Roshen, which is owned by ex-President Petro Poroshenko. He was a vice-president of the Kyiv-based Investment Capital Ukraine boutique bank from 2009 to 2013. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Kyiv pursues additional reverse gas flows

Ukraine’s state-run gas-transport company, Ukrtransgaz, is preparing to open another reverse-flow point for the import of an additional 1.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas by January 1 in anticipation of Russia halting gas transit through the country when their contract expires at the end of the year. In an August 19 news release, pipeline operator Ukrtransgaz said the fuel will come from Romania via Ukraine’s shared border with Moldova, where gas-metering stations will be upgraded on both sides to accommodate the expected volume of gas. “For Ukraine and Moldova, this project is of strategic importance, because by diversifying the gas-supply routes, both states will increase their dependability and the uninterrupted supply of gas to their customers,” Ukrtransgaz said. The additional volume is the equivalent of 15 percent of last year’s total imports. However, the 50-kilometer stretch of the modernized gas line will cross the Transdniester, Moldova’s pro-Russian breakaway region. Ukrtransgaz didn’t focus on the issue of Russia possibly interfering with this gas flow. Since Ukraine’s gas-transportation system is designed for output, pipelines need to be upgraded to open so-called reverse gas flows. Ukraine already receives gas this way from Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. Kyiv stopped importing gas from Russia in November 2015 after Moscow invaded Ukrainian territory and annexed its Crimean peninsula the previous year. Ukrtransgaz said it was currently in talks with its Romanian counterpart, SNTGN Transgaz, as well as other countries to receive the gas from the Trans-Balkan pipeline. In 2018, Ukraine imported 10.6 billion cubic meters of gas, or one-third of what the country consumed. Fears that Russia’s Gazprom will completely stop gas transit through Ukraine next year, when Moscow’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline network goes online, are forcing Ukraine to store higher volumes of gas in underground storage facilities ahead of winter. Ukrtransgaz operates 12 gas-storage facilities, all located in western Ukraine, that have a total capacity of 31 bcm. The company has completed upgrading five gas compressor stations that will allow them to pump gas from reservoirs in western Ukraine to eastern and southern Ukraine. The pipeline operator is owned by state-run Naftogaz Group, a vertically-integrated oil and gas company. (RFE/RL)


Russian author boasts of ‘killing many’

Best-selling, award-winning Russian author Zakhar Prilepin has said the military unit in which he served in the Donbas conflict of eastern Ukraine “killed many people” and that he has no regrets having fought. Speaking to Russian TV journalist Aleksei Pivovarov on August 15, Prilepin boasted that the battalion in which he was the deputy commander killed the most people of any other unit. “When all the documents are looked over, they’ll see the most people died where my battalion was stationed,” Mr. Prilepin said. When asked if he sees ghosts of the dead, Mr. Prilepin said, “I don’t agonize over anything.” However, Mr. Prilepin, 44, said he does ponder his combat experience in Ukraine. “I think about how I will come to terms with this in the future… because I led a subunit that killed many people, so now I think about how I will live with this,” he said. The writer, who did tours of duty in Chechnya, boasted he could travel anywhere he wants in Europe and that “I’ll never do jail time, no court will send me to prison” for what he did. The Digital Forensic Research Lab, a project of the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, identified Mr. Prilepin’s unit as the 4th Reconnaissance and Assault Battalion. “My battalion wreaked total mayhem,” Mr. Prilepin said in the interview. Its leader was another Russian, Sergei Fomchenkov, according to the Digital Forensic Research Lab. Messrs. Fomchenkov and Prilepin were members of the banned ultranationalist National Bolshevik Party. When it became widely known that Mr. Prilepin was fighting in Ukraine’s Donbas region, Dmitry Peskov, the Russian president’s spokesman, said on February 13, 2017 that he wouldn’t comment on Mr. Prilepin’s motivation for fighting. “Russian citizens follow their hearts and go to these unrecognized republics. I can only state this as a fact,” Mr. Peskov said. Officially, the Kremlin denies involvement in the Donbas war. Mr. Prilepin also was listed as an adviser to Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the former Donetsk separatist leader, in December 2015. Zakharchenko was killed in an explosion in August 2018. Mr. Prilepin left the conflict and returned to Russia in the summer of 2018, saying “these… years have been like eight or 10 years” and he “grew old, both physically and mentally” during his tour in the Donbas. However, if fighting escalates, “then I’ll return to the battalion,” he added. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, With reporting by Deutsche Welle, the BBC, UNIAN, Novynarnia, Texty and Reuters)


Ukraine catches suspected online drug dealer

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said it had detained an Israeli-American suspected of heading a major online drug-dealing ring a day after he escaped while being extradited to Israel. Amos Dov Silver was apprehended “in one of the regions of our country,” the SBU said on its website. He will be “extradited in the near future in accordance with the current legislation,” the statement noted. Three SBU officers were also detained on suspicion of helping the Israeli escape from Kyiv’s Boryspil Airport to “avoid extradition,” the SBU said. Mr. Silver was arrested in March for allegedly running a network that spanned the United States, Ukraine, Israel and Germany, using Telegram, a popular encrypted messaging application. At the time, Israeli police said the network had a turnover of tens of millions of dollars. The arrest came a day before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official visit to Ukraine on August 18-20. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and AFP)