December 20, 2019



U.S. envoy to Ukraine set to leave post

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, will be leaving his post next month, following a short term marked by the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. In an e-mail to The New York Times on December 17, Ambassador Taylor said he would step down in early January because his temporary appointment to Ukraine in June is set to expire. The Trump administration “will nominate a permanent ambassador soon,” he wrote, without elaborating. Earlier media reports quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying that Ambassador Taylor, the chargé d’affaires at the Kyiv Embassy, would leave his post by the end of the month or in early January. He will be replaced on an interim basis by his current deputy, Kristina Kvien, according to the Associated Press. Ambassador Taylor’s testimony before the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee last month helped build the case for impeaching President Trump, who is accused of pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate the U.S. president’s political opponent Joe Biden by withholding military aid. The diplomat said he thought it was “crazy” to withhold military aid that Ukraine needed to fight Russia-backed forces in its eastern provinces. Ambassador Taylor was sent to Ukraine after the State Department unexpectedly recalled Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in May. He had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in 2006-2009. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by The New York Times and AP)


Senate approves Nord Stream 2 sanctions

The U.S. Senate on December 17 voted overwhelmingly to impose sanctions on companies working on a Russian pipeline in a move likely to be criticized by European nations counting on receiving the project’s natural gas. The Senate passed the bill with an overwhelming majority of 86-8. The measure, which is part of a defense spending bill, easily cleared the House of Representatives last week. It aims to halt further construction of the $10.6-billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline being built under the Baltic Sea and set to double shipments of Russian natural gas to Germany. The pipeline, which will have the capacity to carry up to 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, is more than 80 percent built and is expected to be completed early next year. U.S. lawmakers have warned that the pipeline would send billions of dollars to Moscow and help President Vladimir Putin widen his influence in Europe. After the bill was passed in the House on December 12, the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that Kyiv was “grateful” to the United States. Ukraine has long protested the project and has lobbied Washington to pass the bill as the pipeline would deprive the country of more than $2 billion in transit fees. Ukraine also sees the pipeline as undermining existing economic sanctions imposed by the West to compel Russia to resolve a conflict in eastern Ukraine and end its occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. Germany, however, reacted with irritation last week, with Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas calling the U.S. move “foreign interference.” He tweeted on December 12: “Decisions on European Energy Policy are taken in Europe.” The German-Russian Chamber of Commerce said last week that Nord Stream 2 was important for the energy security of Europe and called for retaliatory sanctions on the U.S. if the bill passes. The sanctions target pipe-laying vessels and include asset freezes and the revocation of U.S. visas for the contractors. One major contractor that could be hit is the Swiss-based Allseas, which has been hired by Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom to build the offshore section. (RFE/RL, with reporting by AFP and DPA)


Yelchenko named ambassador to U.S.

Ukraine’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Volodymyr Yelchenko, has been named Kyiv’s new ambassador to the United States. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued the relevant decree late on December 18. Mr. Yelchenko, 60, is a seasoned diplomat with nearly four decades of experience. He was Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N. in 1997-2000 and again since December 2015. He also was the ambassador to Austria in 2005-2006, and to Russia in 2010-2015. He will replace Ambassador Valeriy Chaly, whose tenure in Washington had expired. Mr. Yelchenko gave his last speech at the U.N. on December 18, when the General Assembly adopted an updated resolution on Russian-occupied Crimea that seeks to protect human rights on the Ukrainian peninsula. “Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine,” Mr. Yelchenko underscored. (RFE/RL)


Prosecutor is new anti-corruption chief

A selection commission has named a new chief for Ukraine’s National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPZK), an independent body that outlines and implements policies to prevent fraud. The six-member commission unanimously supported Oleksandr Novikov on December 16 as the NAZPK’s new head. Mr. Novikov is a prosecutor who led a department in Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office. The final confirmation of the nomination must be made by the government before January 1, the day the new chief is expected to start work at the post. The selection committee’s staff was approved by the government in late October. The body is co-chaired by Tilman Hoppe, a former anti-corruption expert with the European Council, and Kateryna Ryzhenko of Transparency International Ukraine. The NAPZK has been functioning since 2016. It was established to eradicate deep-rooted corruption in Ukraine along with the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Kuleba: Relations with U.S. ‘unshattered’

The first Ukrainian administration official to visit Washington in months says bilateral relations remain strong despite the central role Ukraine has played in the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump. The deputy prime minister for Europe and Euro-Atlantic integration, Dmytro Kuleba, told a press conference on December 13 that the strategic relationship remained “unshattered.” Mr. Kuleba, who met with members of Congress, and officials at the State Department and the White House, said his top priorities in the U.S. capital were to lobby the United States to impose sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline and enhance relations with NATO. “We want NATO to be more ambitious toward Ukraine. We don’t only want to receive support, we want to contribute [to missions],” he said. As signs of the strength of the bilateral relationship, Mr. Kuleba pointed to the decision by Congress to increase annual military support to $300 million and include sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 project in the National Defense Authorization Act. The Ukrainian official said he discussed with Trump administration officials a possible visit by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Washington – not the contents of the impeachment process. Mr. Kuleba also defended President Zelenskyy’s decision to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss peace in eastern Ukraine, saying it is the only way to make progress. (Todd Prince of RFE/RL)


Violence against police near Rada condemned

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the violence on December 16 near the Verkhovna Rada, where protesters clashed with police, injuring 17 officers and two journalists. Several thousand people had assembled into four groups of protesters, one of which opposed the government’s plans to lift the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land. Police detained 26 people during the clashes and removed tents that had been erected near the national legislature. “I’m for the right to peacefully assemble. Every person has the right to express their opinion,” Mr. Zelenskyy said on Facebook. “And every person should be held accountable if someone suffers as a result of that person’s actions.” He added that “discussions about legislative initiatives shouldn’t break the law.” Mr. Zelenskyy promised that the law to create an agricultural land market will be discussed with the wider public, and as such, “Ukraine will move towards a better life, despite the resistance of the old ‘elites.’” The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv also denounced the violence. “The United States supports the right to peaceful protests. We condemn violence against police and journalists, such as transpired outside the Rada today,” the U.S. Embassy said in a tweet. Kyiv police chief Andriy Khryshchenko said video footage of the clashes is being evaluated and a criminal investigation is open on resisting police. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Donbas special status law extended

Ukrainian lawmakers have approved a bill extending the law on the special status of local self-governance in areas of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk regions until December 31, 2020. The bill was approved by 320 lawmakers at the Parliament’s session on December 12. The document was offered to the Verkhovna Rada by Davyd Arakhamia, the head of the ruling Servant of the People party’s representation, and his first deputy, Oleksandr Korniyenko, on December 10. The law on the special order of local self-governance in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, generally known as the Donbas, was first adopted in September 2014 for a period of three years after Russia-backed militants incited an insurgency in the Donbas, where more than 13,000 people have been killed in the ongoing conflict since. The law has been prolonged twice since then and was set to expire on December 31, 2019. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


EU extends sanctions against Russia

European Union leaders on December 12 decided to prolong economic sanctions against Russia over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine by another six months. The decision comes days after the first face-to-face meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in Paris in which the pair committed to a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine by the end of the year, a prisoner exchange, and a withdrawal of forces from three additional “disengagement areas” along the frontline. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who mediated the talks on December 9, briefed the other European leaders in Brussels about the summit and then recommended a rollover of the restrictive measures against Moscow. The sanctions, which mainly target Russia’s financial, energy and defense industries, were first imposed in July 2014 as a response to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and its support for the separatists holding parts of the easternmost Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in a war that has killed more than 13,000 people.
The sanctions have been extended every six months ever since. The current measures expire on January 31 and were extended to the end of July 2020. (Rikard Jozwiak of RFE/RL)


Poroshenko: No ‘red lines’ were crossed

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said his successor, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, did not cross any “red lines” in his recent talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine. In an interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service in Kyiv on December 11, Mr. Poroshenko said the December 9 meeting in Paris was neither “a step forward, nor two back.” The talks in the French capital, sponsored by France and Germany, lasted eight hours but did not produce a breakthrough. Mr. Poroshenko said President Zelenskyy had not compromised Ukraine’s national interests and argued this was due in large part to actions by Ukraine’s political opposition. “I can state that it’s already positive that no red lines were crossed. At the same time, I can confirm that the firm government position of our political forces and parliamentary partners in the opposition were delivered and heeded.” Mr. Poroshenko, leader of the European Solidarity party, told a Kyiv rally on December 8 that “we cannot make any concessions until the last sliver of Ukrainian land is free.” In his interview with RFE/RL, the former president said time would tell whether the Paris summit between Messrs. Zelenskyy and Putin had been a success. “A more objective assessment of the summit can be made in four months: We’ll see first if the next summit takes place and when, and also what kind of work is done over the next four months.” He underscored that in any future negotiations Ukraine’s European, Euro-Atlantic orientation could not be questioned, nor its territorial integrity, including Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed in March 2014. He also ruled out any form of federalization for Ukraine, as Russia has been pushing. “Ukraine is a united, single state and we will not allow it to be divided,” he said. (RFE/RL’s Russian Service)


IMF agrees to three-year lending plan

International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Kristalina Georgieva says the lender has reached agreement with Ukraine on a new three-year loan program worth $5.5 billion. Ms. Georgieva said in a statement on December 7 that the agreement was finalized following “a very constructive” phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in which she commended the new leader with reforms carried out in recent months. Ms. Georgieva, a Bulgarian economist, assumed her IMF role on October 1, while Mr. Zelenskyy took office in Ukraine on May 20. “During our conversation, I commended [Zelenskyy] for the impressive progress that he and his government have made in the past few months in advancing reforms and continuing with sound economic policies,” Ms. Georgieva said in her statement announcing the loan deal. She said the three-year plan is subject to approval by the IMF executive board and that the “effectiveness of the arrangement will be conditional on the implementation of a set of prior actions.” She noted, “The president and I agreed that Ukraine’s economic success depends crucially on strengthening the rule of law, enhancing the integrity of the judiciary, and reducing the role of vested interests in the economy.” The IMF chief also said it was “paramount to safeguard the gains made in cleaning up the banking system and recover the large costs to the taxpayers from bank resolutions.” In September, the IMF said that fighting corruption would be a key component of any new lending program that Ukraine receives. Before his appointment in August, Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk said Kyiv wanted to replace the existing $3.9 billion standby arrangement with the IMF that expires at year-end and replace it with a longer-term program. One “important element of the discussions,” IMF Communications Director Gerry Rice said at the time, was the “importance of creating an effective anti-corruption framework,” which has been a “critical element of our engagement with Ukraine for the last few years.” (RFE/RL)


Death toll in Odesa college fire rises

Rescuers in Ukraine found three more dead bodies amid the rubble of a burned-out technical college in the Black Sea port city of Odesa, bringing the number of deaths to 16. The State Emergency Service said on December 12 that the bodies were extracted from the debris overnight. The regional police said there are no more missing people. The fire broke out on December 4 at 10:12 a.m. local time on the third floor of the six-story Odesa College of Economics, Law, and Hotel and Restaurant Business, eventually engulfing an area of 4,000 square meters. The building was completed in 1914 and has landmark status. A fire inspection of the building conducted in June 2014 found gross violations with orders to correct them, prosecutors said. Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk has said that each family that lost someone in the fire will receive the equivalent of $8,500. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)