July 31, 2020



Preliminary analysis of black boxes completed

International investigators in France have completed the download and preliminary analysis of data from the black boxes recovered from the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) jet shot down by Iran in January, killing all 176 people on board. Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said on July 23 that the download and preliminary analysis of the cockpit voice and flight data was an “important milestone” in the investigation into the doomed flight. “The work in Paris is finished, but the investigation is far from over. There are still many key questions that need to be answered,” Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Kathy Fox said. Ms. Fox did not say what the analysis had revealed, but she urged Iranian authorities leading the investigation to be transparent and credible. Iran agreed in June to send the black boxes to France’s civil aviation investigation bureau, ending a long dispute with Canada, Ukraine and France over access to the data. Many of the crash victims were Canadian citizens or permanent residents, or had Canada as their final destination. Iranian forces say they downed the Boeing 737 on January 8 after mistaking it for an incoming missile at a time of high tensions with the United States. Iran later called it a “disastrous mistake” by forces who were on high alert. Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization’s interim report blamed the tragedy on the misalignment of a radar system and lack of communication between the air-defense operator and his commanders. (RFE/RL)


Arson suspected in attack on activist’s home

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on law enforcement to find those responsible for a suspected arson attack on the home of a prominent anti-corruption activist that has caused deep concern among Western countries. Vitaliy Shabunin, who serves as the head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center’s executive board, showed reporters on July 23 the remains of his home in Kyiv, which burned down overnight. “The culprits must be found and punished,”Mr. Zelenskyy said in a statement, adding that such attacks “cast a shadow on the reputation of our state, on our institutions of power and especially on our law enforcement agencies.” No one was injured in the fire, which the anti-corruption organization described as an “assassination attempt” on Mr. Shabunin. Mr. Shabunin said his parents, who were in the house at the time, were able to escape unharmed. A neighbor told Mr. Shabunin that he saw an explosion before the home was engulfed in flames. The activist said workers had inspected the gas meter and pipes just two weeks ago. The police suspect arson and are investigating. In a statement, the Anti-Corruption Action Center called on President Zelenskyy to personally take control of all investigations into attacks on anti-corruption activists, saying that they did not trust the police or Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov. If the fire at Mr. Shabunin’s home was the result of arson, it would not be the first time that he has been targeted. In 2018, he suffered chemical burns when attackers threw a green antiseptic in his face as he took part in a demonstration outside a prosecutor’s office in Kyiv. Mr. Shabunin said such attacks against activists continue under President Zelenskyy, who won last year in a landslide on a promise to fight corruption, because the new head of state hasn’t taken any serious steps to thwart them. “These are the consequences of his silence and inaction,” said Mr. Shabunin, referring to his destroyed home. Mr. Shabunin has lobbied for anti-corruption legislation and the recovery of assets stolen by officials. He said an arson attack would only make him work “even harder” to fight corruption. The suspected arson attack caused concern among Western diplomats, who have pressured Ukraine to fight corruption and clean up its justice system. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said it was concerned about suspected attacks targeting political and civil society leaders. “In thriving democracies, citizens must be able to voice opinions without fear for their physical security,” it wrote on Twitter. Matti Maasikas, the European Union’s ambassador to Ukraine, wrote on Twitter that he was “very disturbed” by the suspected attack on Mr. Shabunin’s home. “I call on the authorities to investigate this case and if a deliberate act – to bring the perpetrators to justice. Civil activists must feel safe to carry on their mission,” Mr. Maasikas wrote. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by the Kyiv Post and Reuters)


Iranian delegation to visit Ukraine

An Iranian delegation will visit Ukraine to discuss compensation for a Ukrainian jet shot down by Iran on January 8, the Ukrainian foreign affairs minister has said. “Given the circumstance of what happened, there are all reasons to ask from Iran to pay the highest price for what it did,” Dmytro Kuleba said at a news conference during a visit to Warsaw. “I cannot disclose final numbers of the compensation… numbers will be the result of the consultations,” he said. Mr. Kuleba said Ukraine would represent all countries and groups affected during the talks, which were to take place on July 29-30. Iran’s military says it downed the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) passenger jet after mistaking it for a missile amid heightened tensions with the United States. All 176 people on board, including 57 Canadians, were killed. Iran’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau is leading the investigation, which is being observed by Canadian, U.S., Swedish and British experts and representatives from UIA, aircraft manufacturer Boeing and engine maker Safran. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters)


Kuchma resigns as envoy to TCG

Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has left the post of presidential envoy in the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) on resolving the ongoing conflict between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian armed forces in the country’s east. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office said on July 28 that Mr. Kuchma had decided to end his activities in the group. The office did not give any reasons for the decision. Mr. Kuchma, who ran the country between 1994 and 2005, served as Ukraine’s presidential envoy in the trilateral group consisting of representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) from 2014 to 2018. On June 3 last year, days after Mr. Zelenskyy was inaugurated as Ukraine’s president, Mr. Kuchma returned to the group that has been involved in negotiations on a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. Some parts of the region have been under the control of Kremlin-backed separatists since April 2014. The armed conflict in Donbas started after Russia forcibly annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014. Kyiv and Western governments have accused Moscow of armed support for the pro-Russian separatists. Russia insists it has nothing to do with the conflict, saying that some “volunteers” from Russia may have gone to fight in the Donbas. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


Swiss, Ukrainian presidents visit Donbas

Visiting Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, known as the Donbas, parts of which have been under the control of Russia-backed separatists since April 2014. On July 23, during the last day of Mr. Sommaruga’s three-day visit to Ukraine, the two presidents met with the governor of the Kyiv-controlled part of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, and visited the Donbas water company, according to the Ukrainian president’s website. Mr. Zelenskyy thanked Switzerland for humanitarian aid that was used to keep the water company functioning to help avoid a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the war-torn region. The company provides drinking water to about 4 million residents of the region, including people residing in separatist-controlled districts. The presidents also inspected a Swiss humanitarian convoy of 17 trucks with equipment and chemical reagents for purifying water under the Donbas water project and COVID-19 medical devices for hospitals in the city of Slovyansk. “Switzerland is, in fact, the only country that provides humanitarian assistance for people on both sides of the line of contact in eastern Ukraine. The main humanitarian projects are drinking water supplies in the Donbas and delivery of medicines and medical equipment to the area,” the presidential website said. The two presidents laid flowers at a memorial honoring employees from the water company who were killed by shelling by Russia-backed separatists. Since April 2014, about 13,200 people have been killed in the ongoing conflict. (RFE/RL)


PrivatBank: Kolomoisky, partner laundered $800 M

PrivatBank, the Ukrainian lender nationalized by the state in 2016, now claims its former owners laundered nearly $800 million through the United States. After analyzing additional bank records, PrivatBank filed an amended complaint in a Delaware court on July 21 against tycoons Ihor Kolomoisky and Hennadiy Boholyubov, claiming the men laundered $660 million through a group of U.S. companies called Optima and an additional $100 million through other U.S. entities. The Kyiv-based lender is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation from the tycoons. PrivatBank filed its original Delaware lawsuit against the two men in May 2019, accusing them of laundering about $623 million in the United States. The case is ongoing. The majority of the increase relates to $86 million that PrivatBank claims was laundered by the men between 2008 and 2010 into two offshore accounts held by an arm of Renaissance Capital, a Moscow-based investment bank. Privat­Bank has been at the center of a fight between the National Bank of Ukraine and Mr. Kolomoisky, who is one of Ukraine’s most powerful tycoons. The fight had held up international lending to Ukraine. Mr. Kolomoisky’s media holding backed the campaign of comic-turned-politician Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who won the April 2019 presidential election in a landslide, raising concerns the tycoon has enhanced his influence in Kyiv. Messrs. Kolomoisky and Boholyubov owned and controlled PrivatBank until December 2016, when the state nationalized it amid fears it would soon collapse due to a capital shortfall of $5.5 billion. The National Bank accused the tycoons of using PrivatBank as their personal piggy bank, claiming that more than 90 percent of its loan book went to related parties. The Delaware lawsuit claims the tycoons acquired hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of assets in the United States, including real estate and steel companies, through fraudulent loans issued by PrivatBank to various companies controlled by the two men. The money was then laundered in the United States through a dizzying array of transactions, the lawsuit claims. PrivatBank said in the complaint it had received “no consideration in exchange for these transfers, and the loans associated with the transfers were never actually repaid.” Messrs. Kolomoisky and Boholyubov deny the accusations and claim the takeover was politically motivated. They have sued in various courts to regain control of the bank and for compensation. Ukraine in May cut off the first option, passing a law that blocks former owners from acquiring banks that were bailed out by the state. The law, sometimes referred to as the “anti-Kolomoisky bill,” was a requirement to receive funding from the International Monetary Fund. Western officials and lending institutions want Ukraine to recoup some of the billions in losses borne by the state that they claim were caused by the tycoons’ actions. The two men, so far, have not faced any criminal charges. (RFE/RL)


Germany rejects Russia’s return to G-7

German Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas has rejected allowing Russia’s return to the Group of Seven (G-7), after U.S. President Donald Trump raised the prospect of Moscow rejoining the club of leading economic powers. “The reason for expelling Russia was its annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine,” Mr. Maas said in an interview to be published on July 27 in two German newspapers, Rheinische Post and Bonner General-Anzeiger. “So long as we don’t have a solution there, I don’t see any chance” of Russia rejoining the G-7, Mr. Maas said. Mr. Trump suggested that Russia return to the G-7 in May, when he announced plans to postpone the annual summit until September because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said he would like to expand the list of invitees to include Australia, Russia, South Korea and India. At the time, the U.S. president said it was “common sense” to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to an expanded G-7 summit because countries needed to talk to Russia despite its policies on the international stage and illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Russia was formerly in the group but was expelled in the wake of its forcible annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Mr. Maas said the relationship with Russia right now is difficult “in many dossiers.” “Russia itself can make the largest contribution to opening such doors,” Mr. Maas said of the idea to allow Moscow back into the elite group. “The G-7 and G-20 are two sensibly coordinated formats. We don’t need a G-11 or G-12,” he said. The G-7 includes the United States, Canada, Germany, Japan, France, Britain and Italy. The German minister noted that Russia is needed to reach solutions to conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Ukraine. A solution to these issues “will happen with Russia, not against Russia,” he said. Germany currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union and has been involved in diplomacy to end the conflicts in Libya, Syria and Ukraine. It is also a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Tagesschau, DPA and Reuters)