September 27, 2019



Zelenskyy warns about Russia’s war

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on September 25 kicked off the second day of speeches at this year’s United Nations General Assembly by warning world leaders that they won’t feel safe as long as Russia is waging war “in the center of Europe.” In a globalized world “there is no such thing as someone else’s war,” Mr. Zelenskyy said in his first address before the world body. “Every leader shares responsibility for the destiny not only of their country but of the whole world.” Moscow continues to back separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced almost 2 million people since April 2014. Russia also took over Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014 in a move that has been condemned by most countries. Kyiv seeks to “secure peace in a civilized manner,” the Ukrainian president said. “Recovering all occupied Ukrainian territories are my primary objectives, but not at the cost of the lives of Ukrainians,” he added. Mr. Zelenskyy on September 24 cited the Kremlin’s actions as one of the two main factors that are keeping the country from realizing its full potential.
He told the U.N. Summit on Sustainable Development Goals in New York that “Russian aggression against Ukraine” is a barrier that prevents Ukraine from achieving “sustainable development goals” and that Kyiv can’t overcome it “without international support.” A tradition of political “resistance” to much-needed reforms was the other obstacle he mentioned. In his address to the Leaders Dialogue at the summit, the Ukrainian leader expressed hope that diplomatic channels in tandem with “international partners” can help Ukraine regain territories it has lost to Russia and achieve peace. “No state can achieve sustainable development without peace and a sense of security,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. “Sustainable development is impossible under the sounds of gunshots and explosions, it is impossible where aggressive geopolitical strategies applauding the invasion of other states and violation of human rights and freedoms prevail.” (RFE/RL, with reporting by AP and DPA)


Sentsov: focus on fighting Putin regime

Oleh Sentsov, the Ukrainian film director who was held in Russian prisons for more than five years, has accused Russian authorities of wanting to “enslave” Ukraine, and he called on all Ukrainians to work to end the ongoing war in the eastern part of the country. Speaking just 16 days after his return to Ukraine, Mr. Sentsov also told RFE/RL in an interview that for him the fight was not against Russia or Russians themselves, but against what he called President Vladimir Putin’s regime. “[When I say] fight, as I said, it means, in general, to work and struggle to counteract Putin’s regime that wants, in the first place, to enslave Ukraine,” he said in the September 23 interview. “This means an end to the war in the Donbas, the return of our prisoners, the return of Crimea. They are all things that every Ukrainian is obliged to fight for. It does not mean that someone is obliged to go somewhere and blow up things. That is not it,” he said. A native of Crimea, Mr. Sentsov was a vocal opponent of Russia’s seizure and annexation of the Ukrainian region in March 2014. The film director was arrested on May 11, 2014, and a Russian court convicted him the following August on terrorism charges and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Human rights activists and Western governments repeatedly called on the Russian authorities to release Mr. Sentsov, saying his arrest and trial were politically motivated. On September 7, Mr. Sentsov was released as part of a swap of dozens of prisoners between Ukraine and Russia. “I am not fighting against Russia. I am fighting against Putin’s regime. This is not the same. These things should not be confused,” Mr. Sentsov told RFE/RL. “You need to understand that the problem is not in prisoners. The problem is the fact that prisoners exist because we have been attacked. That is, there is a specific issue of prisoners and a broader issue of the aggression against us. Without the aggression, there would not have been any prisoners,” he said. There’s no definite figure for how many Ukrainians are being held in Russian prisons, though activists and reporters estimate the number to be in the dozens. (Crimea Desk, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


PM: Land market could open up in 2020

Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk says the government could allow the sale of agricultural land from October 2020, after Parliament votes to lift the 18-year moratorium. “We have consulted with farmers and decided to [open the land market] from October 1 next year,” Mr. Honcharuk told a group of farmers on September 19. Amid concerns that the move could lead to a foreign land grab, he said that Ukrainians, especially small farmers, would get preferential treatment. “We’re creating an affordable loan program that will go into effect starting in 2020,” Mr. Honcharuk said, expressing hope that the central bank will continue cutting interest rates to make it easier for Ukrainians to buy land. Speaking at the same meeting, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said concerns that “Chinese, Arabs, or aliens from outer space will come and take our land by railway wagons is nonsense.” The absence of a land market has favored big agribusinesses and hurt small-scale farmers who can’t use the land as collateral to borrow money. They also complain that the prices they get for leasing their land is far below the market rates in the EU. Ukraine has 43 million hectares of arable land containing one-third of the world’s nutrient-rich black soil or “chornozem.” About 11 million hectares is state-owned. The country already is a top world grain producer and exporter. In a 2017 report, the World Bank estimated that Ukraine could see gross domestic product grow by 1.5 percentage points yearly if the land sale ban is lifted. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AFP and RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Kaptur statement on whistleblower complaint

On September 20, Co-Chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) released a statement after reports emerged that a whistleblower complaint filed by a member of the Intelligence Community, which is being withheld from Congress in violation of federal law, is said to involve Ukraine. “Today, press reports indicate that a U.S. intelligence officer’s whistleblower complaint regarding President Trump’s possible breach of national security may involve the nation of Ukraine,” said Rep. Kaptur. “As co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Ukraine Caucus, I fully support the efforts by Chairman Adam Schiff and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to seek a detailed accounting of the complaint and transcript of the incident(s), and call upon the speaker and minority leader to take all courses of action for appropriate Congressional oversight to obtain the relevant documents and necessary testimony to establish confirmation of fact and circumstance.” Rep. Kaptur also stated: “Following Ukraine’s historic elections and continued democratic struggles, the Ukrainian people deserve our full support. We must know to what extent the President and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, are using the weight of U.S. foreign policy, including holding critical security assistance, to advance their own narrow personal interests. The American people deserve a government free of malign foreign influence. The American people deserve to know the full truth.” (Office of Rep. Marcy Kaptur)


NBU board on terror against reformers

On September 17, the board of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) released a statement in which it “publicly declare(d) the unacceptability of these purposeful, systematic attacks on the ex-governor of the central bank, Valeria Gontareva, and, through her, all reformers who worked and work for the benefit of Ukraine.” The statement went on to note: “This is no longer a series of incidents, it is terror. Its purpose is to intimidate reformers, past and present, and to paralyze our activities, to silence us. …This is a direct and undisguised threat to democracy and the reforms that Ukraine’s future and the well-being of its people depend on. But it is not just a threat to the reforms. It is a threat to every citizen, and their constitutional rights and freedoms, which the state has committed to protect. Furthermore, it threatens the complete destruction of the moral values of a democratic society in favor of terror. We call for action. Law enforcement authorities must promptly and impartially investigate this series of attacks, as well as offenses against the owners and shareholders of insolvent banks of which the NBU has previously informed these authorities. We insist that the constitutional rights of all the citizens of Ukraine, for the protection of life and health, should be secured not by words – but by actions.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)


U.S. lawmakers invite Gontareva

The former governor of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) has been invited to the United States to address lawmakers after she was nearly run over and her home set ablaze. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) told a Washington conference on September 18 that she was troubled by the attacks against Valeria Gontareva, who fought corruption as Ukraine’s top banker. “I am trying to get her here to address us in some manner,” said Rep. Kaptur, who is a co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. “We are following those events very closely, and the idea that fear and crime and murder and destruction are the path of the future is one that we simply don’t accept.” Ms. Gontareva and her family have faced a series of attacks over the past month in what she says is retaliation for her actions to clean up the banking sector as chief of the central bank from June 2014 to May 2017. Ms. Gontareva told RFE/RL earlier this week that she believed that her enemies, including tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky, are going after her over her decision in 2016 to nationalize PrivatBank. Mr. Kolomoisky is now contesting that decision in court. Rep. Kaptur also said she was concerned about reports that Mr. Kolomoisky had scooped up a lot of assets in the state of Ohio. PrivatBank filed a lawsuit against Mr. Kolomoisky in Delaware in May, claiming he laundered money from his own bank to buy real estate and metal plants in the United States. The bank claimed that Mr. Kolomoisky and his Ukrainian partner were the largest owners of commercial real estate in the city of Cleveland. “It is very hard to get information on that. We have been trying to find who represented his interests inside of Cleveland, Ohio,” Rep. Kaptur told RFE/RL on the sidelines of the conference, adding that reports indicated his representatives were from Florida. “But everything seems to have just evaporated, so I have no documentation at the present time of whether those investments are actually current, if they ever existed, and to what extent they existed. But am I concerned? Very.” (Todd Prince of RFE/RL)


U.S.: Moscow used ‘sham’ NGOs at OSCE forum

The United States has accused Moscow of using “sham organizations” to promote its “spurious claim” that Ukraine’s Crimea region is part of Russia during an annual human rights conference of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Russia attempted to “exploit civil-society registration procedures” at the OSCE’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw by “flooding the zone” with “government-supported ‘nongovernmental organizations,’” the U.S. mission to the 57-member organization said in a statement on September 18. These organizations “attempted to use their speaking slots at a session on freedom of expression and the media to promote the spurious claim that Crimea was part of Russia,” it said. The move prompted the Ukrainian delegation to leave the hall in protest, while representatives of Britain, Canada, France, the United States and the European Union “forcefully” rebutted the “false claim.” U.S. Ambassador James Gilmore said, “Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine, and the United States never will recognize Russia’s purported annexation of it,” adding that U.S. Crimea-related sanctions against Russia will remain in place “until Moscow returns full control over the peninsula to Ukraine.” The U.S. statement said the remarks drew applause from “legitimate” nongovernmental organizations in the hall, and the Ukrainian delegation returned for the following conference session. The HDIM conference is organized by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and was scheduled to take place through September 27. (RFE/RL)


Canada, Ukraine to step up defense cooperation

Ukrinform reported on September 23 that Defense Minister of Ukraine Andriy Zahorodniuk and the Canadian delegation led by Canada’s Ambassador  to Ukraine Roman Waschuk discussed cooperation in reforming the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the need to involve foreign experts in the priority areas of the Defense Ministry reform. “During the meeting, the parties discussed the current state of cooperation in the reform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in particular, [they] focused on the preparation of military law enforcement personnel, the implementation of Operation UNIFIER and the reform of the Ukrainian Armed Forces management system in accordance with Alliance standards,” the press service of the Defense Ministry reported. The parties also discussed cooperation in reforming the education and training of the Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel. As noted, the current priorities of the Defense Ministry are: to revise strategic defense documents, change the structure and function of the defense agency, and amend and introduce legislative initiatives such as the military police law. (Ukrinform, as cited by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)


Facebook removes over 160 fake accounts

Facebook says it has deleted 168 accounts, 149 pages and 79 groups based in Ukraine for “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” its head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said in a September 16 statement. He emphasized the reason behind the removals was “not the content they posted.” Mr. Gleicher said the “people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis of our action.” Some groups and pages in Ukraine “changed their names over time,” and to increase engagement, they disseminated content and drove “people to off-platform sites posing as news outlets.” The social media platform concluded that the activity in Ukraine was linked to Pragmatico, a Ukrainian public-relations firm. Two Ukrainian news outlets whose accounts were deleted protested Facebook’s move. and Politeka countered that certain politicians wanted to limit freedom of speech through Facebook. In a September 17 statement on its website, said that every “member of its team can verify their identity, has passports, and is a living person, not virtual.” Similarly, Politeka said its team was composed of “journalists and programmers, search-engine-optimization experts, and content managers – this is a huge team, every one of whom can verify their identity.” Facebook also said that 4.2 million accounts joined at least one of the 79 Ukrainian groups that were deleted and that about $1.6 million was spent on Facebook and Instagram advertisements paid for in U.S. dollars. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Ukrayinska Pravda)


Former separatist fatally shot in Mariupol

A 28-year-old man who fought alongside Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine was on September 16 found dead with seven gunshot wounds on a stairwell inside a residential building in the Donetsk region city of Mariupol. Local police confirmed Roman Dzhumayev’s death to RFE/RL and the UNIAN news agency said homicide detectives are investigating it as premeditated murder. When the armed conflict started in Ukraine’s easternmost Luhansk and Donetsk regions in April 2014, Mr. Dzhumayev was employed in Kyiv as a programmer. He joined the Kremlin-backed militants that summer and took part in fighting for the Donetsk airport and the battle of Debaltseve in early 2015. Afterwards he moved to Belarus, where he gave an interview to RFE/RL in March 2016. The reason he went to fight was because “my great-grandfather fought [in World War II] and passed through all of Ukraine… we were always for Russia,” Mr. Dzhumayev said. “And now… I took the Donetsk region’s side because I’m from Mariupol.” He moved to Russia before returning to Ukraine in autumn 2017. Authorities arrested him when he crossed into government-controlled territory and charged him with terrorism and “participating in illegally armed groups.” In May 2018, Mr. Dzhumayev was released under house arrest and had to be home at nights. While living with his mother, he opened a small pizzeria and was arrested again in December 2018 after pepper-spraying the face of a police officer. In that case, he was released under house arrest on August 5. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by, Ukrayinska Pravda and UNIAN)


Talks on gas transit inconclusive

With winter approaching, Russia and Ukraine have held a third round of European Union-mediated talks in Brussels about the transit of Russian natural gas to Europe. Moscow and Kyiv are negotiating a new long-term agreement on gas flows upon which the EU partially relies on, before the current deal expires in January. After the September 19 meeting, attended by the Ukrainian and Russian energy ministers and the heads of their biggest gas companies, EU Energy Commissioner Maros Sefcovic said that “a certain sense of urgency was really present in the room.” Mr. Sefcovic said the sides had “agreed in principle that the future contract will be based on EU law and on EU rules.” Agreement must still be found on the duration of the contract, transit volumes and tariffs, according to the EU official. At stake is about $3 billion in annual gas transit fees that Ukraine usually gets from Russia for transmitting gas to EU countries. However, these flows could diminish or stop altogether as Moscow pursues the Nord Stream 2 project to build a pipeline under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine, that could go online as soon as spring 2020. Kyiv entered the gas talks in Brussels supporting the EU’s proposal to receive at least 60 billion cubic meters (bcm) of flows a year, or about 75 percent of what Russia sent through Ukraine last year. The meeting came a day after the Ukrainian government passed a resolution to separate the country’s 38,000-kilometer gas-pipeline network from state-run oil and gas conglomerate Naftogaz. From January 1, a new state-owned entity will handle gas transit through Ukraine to eliminate possible conflicts of interest and increase transparency on the energy market. As a member of the EU’s Energy Community, Ukraine is committed to abide by EU energy regulations. “We have created an independent operator in full compliance with European [Union] legislation,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk said on social media on September 18. “This will open up the opportunity to attract investment in the Ukrainian gas transmission system.” Naftogaz will retain gas storage facilities and a financial interest in the new gas transit operator. As part of the sale, Naftogaz will receive installments from the new operator over the next 10 to 15 years. Last year, Ukraine’s gas transit operator accounted for 45 percent of Naftogaz’s operating cash flows, or nearly $1 billion. It is connected to pipeline systems in neighboring Russia, Belarus, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. Kyiv also came to Brussels in a better negotiating position having stored nearly 20 bcm of natural gas in preparation for winter. Kyiv hasn’t bought gas directly from Russia since 2015 after Moscow the previous year sent troops into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and subsequently took it over while backing separatists in eastern Ukraine. Instead, Ukraine relies on home-produced gas and so-called reverse flows from Europe that is essentially Russian gas that Ukraine sends and buys back. After the talks in Brussels, the energy ministers of Russia and Ukraine, Aleksandr Novak and Oleksiy Orzhe, said the sides had agreed to meet again by the end of October. (RFE/RL)