September 25, 2020



Zelenskyy on Russian blackmail in TCG

Ukraine is not yielding to Russia’s blackmail in the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) to resolve the conflict in the Donbas, but is looking for a balance for TCG meetings in Minsk, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on September 24 during an official visit to Slovakia. “Ukraine does not yield to blackmail. And everyone sees this today: both Europe and, by the way, Russia. But we are really finding a balance today for the meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk. Balance in a prudent policy and in dialogue in the TCG meeting mode, and in dialogue with the Russian Federation, the subject of the Minsk process, which, as I said, it is true – it is fragile, unstable. But we are doing everything to ensure that this dialogue goes on…” He added, “We all know the result of these meetings of Minsk or Normandy: a difficult ceasefire, a difficult regime of silence, but it exists.” Mr. Zelens­kyy was speaking at a joint press conference with Slovak President Zuzana Caputova in Bratislava. He said that, “if there were no targeted provocations, we would have saved the lives of all people who died due to combat losses,” noting that on September 6 one person died and one was injured. “Therefore, we will never be able to find the way without dialogue, and we will not get out of this difficult situation, from this corner,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. (Interfax-Ukraine)


EU to Kyiv: Work ‘constructively’ with IMF

The European Union’s top diplomat said on September 22 that Kyiv needs to work “constructively” with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure EU aid to cope with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Threats to the independence of law enforcement bodies and the central bank have hobbled a $5 billion IMF deal since it was signed in June and raised red flags with Kyiv’s main Western backers about progress on reforms. “We also stand ready to provide 1.2 billion [euros] in macrofinancial assistance to help to limit the economic fallout that the coronavirus has created,” visiting EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. “And Ukraine needs to constructively engage also with the International Monetary Fund and also the attached conditions about the rule of law of this help.” There has also been criticism of the process to select a new anti-corruption prosecutor, prompting a member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee to say Ukraine’s visa-free access to EU countries was under threat. Mr. Borrell said the EU had concluded at its latest review in July that Ukraine continued to meet the conditions for that program to remain in place. But he added that the problems associated with picking a new anti-corruption prosecutor highlighted the need for ensuring “the independence, effectiveness and sustainability of the anti-corruption institutional framework and avoid politicization of the work of all law enforcement agencies.” (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Reuters and UNIAN)


New COVID-19 cases exceed 100,000

In Ukraine, there are once again more than 3,000 new cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) disease per day. As of the morning of September 24, some 3,372 new cases of the virus were detected, while 1,788 people recovered and 52 people died, according to data published on the website of the National Security and Defense Council’s (NSDC) Coronavirus Epidemic Monitoring System. On September 23, some 3,497 new infections were detected; there were 2,884 new cases of the disease on September 22; there were 2,675 new patients on Septem­ber 21; on September 20, 2,966 new cases were reported. A record number of 3,584 people infected with COVID-19 was registered on September 17. The number of infected people since the beginning of the pandemic reached 188,106 people as of September 24; 3,757 people have died and 83,458 recovered. As of September 24, 100,891 people in Ukraine are sick with COVID-19. The largest numbers of detected cases over the past day were recorded in the Kyiv (330), Dnipropetrovsk (298), Kharkiv (285), Ternopil (265) and Lviv (205) regions. (Interfax-Ukraine)


Hasidic pilgrims leave Belarus-Ukraine border

Hundreds of followers of the Breslov Hasidic movement, who were trying to reach the central Ukrainian city of Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, have begun leaving neutral territory along the Belarusian-Ukrainian border after they were refused entry to Ukraine over measures banning foreigners from entering the country to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said on September 18 that, of about 1,000 pilgrims who were waiting to cross into the country, only some 600 remain, the rest having left the area after Kyiv upheld the ban on entering the country amid a spike in coronavirus cases. Tens of thousands of followers of the Breslov Hasidic movement come to Uman every year to mark the Jewish New Year by praying at the grave of the movement’s founder, Reb Nachman, who died there in 1810. They began to gather on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border around September 14, trying to get to Ukraine and go to Uman, in the Cherkasy region, to celebrate the holiday that runs from September 18 to September 20. Ukrainian Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov said last week that, due to the coronavirus restrictions, only about 3,000 pilgrims will come to Uman this year. The number of pilgrims traveling to Uman for Rosh Hashanah has increased dramatically since Ukraine gained independence after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. (RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)


EU court upholds sanctions on Russian firms

The European Union’s top court has upheld restrictive measures adopted by the 27-nation bloc against Russian oil and gas companies in connection with Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice announced on September 17 that it had upheld a judgment by a lower EU court dismissing an action against the sanctions slapped on companies that are part of state oil giant Rosneft, saying the measures “have been duly justified and are suitable for putting pressure on Russia because of its role” in the Ukraine crisis. Beginning in July 2014, the European Council adopted restrictive measures on the Russian bank and energy sectors in Russia in response to its annexation of the Crimean peninsula and its support for militants fighting in eastern Ukraine. Those measures include prohibitions on the export of certain products and technologies to the oil and gas sector and restrictions on the access of certain operators in that sector to the EU capital market. A number of Russian companies that are part of Rosneft had brought the action before the General Court and asked for the annulment of the measures. The General Court dismissed that action in September 2018, prompting the companies to appeal further to the Court of Justice. The September 17 ruling noted that the court “dismisses the companies’ appeal in its entirety.” The judges said the companies in question “could not reasonably have been unaware of the reasons why the targeted restrictions at issue were imposed on them” and that both the export prohibitions and the restrictions on access to the EU capital market “clearly contribute” to achieving the objective pursued by the European Council: increasing the costs of the Russian actions against Ukraine’s sovereignty and promoting a peaceful settlement of the crisis. The decision is also in line with two key international agreements: the 1994 EU-Russian Partnership Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, they said. The European Council welcomed the ruling, saying it “demonstrated the legitimacy, legal robustness and strength of the EU’s sanctions in place for Russia’s destabilizing actions in Ukraine.” Spokesman Peter Stano said, “The sanctions in place are a key element of the EU’s efforts to bring a solution to the crisis in Ukraine that respects its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.” (RFE/RL)


Canada’s PM speaks with Ukraine’s president

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke on September 22 with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. According to a release from the Office of the Prime Minister, Messrs. Trudeau and Zelenskyy spoke about ongoing efforts in Canada, Ukraine and around the world, to address the impacts of COVID-19 and to ensure a sustainable and inclusive post-pandemic economic recovery. The two leaders also discussed the current situation in Ukraine. The prime minister reiterated Canada’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They discussed the importance of dialogue and diplomatic efforts focused on restoring peace and security in Ukraine’s Donbas region, and the ongoing challenge of Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. They also discussed the importance of Ukraine’s ongoing reforms, with the prime minister reaffirming Canada’s support for these efforts. Messrs. Trudeau and Zelenskyy also spoke about the need for peaceful and democratic change in Belarus. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)


U.S. Embassy calls on Russia to end conflict

On the occasion of World Peace Day, the U.S. Embassy called on Russia to end the conflict in the Donbas, which it has provoked and supports, to withdraw from the Donbas and Crimea, and to release all illegally imprisoned Ukrainians, said the chargé d’affaires ad interim of the United States in Ukraine, Kristina Kvien. “On World Peace Day we call on Russia to choose peace. Ukrainians, like all people, want to live their lives in peace, and with full recognition of their human rights. Until Russia ends the conflict it manufactured and sustains in Donbas, and fully withdraws from both Donbas and Crimea, Ukrainians cannot enjoy the peace they deserve,” Ms. Kvien said in a video address posted on Twitter on September 21. The chargé d’affaires also stated: “Russia must also free all Ukrainians it has wrongfully imprisoned in retaliation for peaceful dissent. The U.S. remains fully committed to diplomatic efforts to end Russia’s conflict in eastern Ukraine and its occupation of Crimea. We stand with the people of Ukraine and support Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.” (Interfax-Ukraine)


U.S. building anti-Nord Stream coalition

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated in an interview with Germany’s Bild-TV, “The United States believes that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline underwrites Russia, creates risk for Europe by allowing it to become dependent upon gas that’s coming out of Russia and also threatens Ukraine, something I know many German people care deeply about. So we hope that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline won’t be completed.” He continued: “We’re working to make sure we build out a coalition that prevents that from happening. We hope the German government will come to see it this way, whether it’s because of what took place to Mr. [Aleksei] Navalny or because of the real security implications that come from becoming dependent on Russian gas.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)


Banks reported $2 T in suspicious transactions

Global banks moved over a nearly two-decade period more than $2 trillion in payments they believed were suspicious, according to a new investigative report that raises questions about whether financial institutions and governments are doing enough to stop illicit money flows. The report, published September 20 by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), is based on thousands of leaked documents from the U.S. Treasury Department’s arm that investigates money laundering. The documents show how major Western banks, including JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank, helped criminal networks around the world, including from the former Soviet Union, move and hide money. It is at least the fifth major leak over the past six years exposing the depth of global corruption. The 2,100 documents from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) were leaked to BuzzFeed and later shared them with more than 400 reporters around the globe for further investigation. The FinCEN documents consist of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARS) dating from 1999 to 2017. Banks file SARS with FinCEN when they have concerns about the legality of a transaction. In half of the FinCEN reports received by BuzzFeed, the banks didn’t have information about one or more entities behind the transactions, according to the ICIJ, raising concerns about lax enforcement by financial institutions. The U.S. and Western governments have passed legislation in recent years that puts more pressure on banks to clamp down on illicit flows or face hefty fines. Banks globally filed more than 2 million SARS last year. FinCEN, which has 333 employees, is understaffed and underfunded for the fight against corruption, analysts say. The FinCEN documents published by the ICIJ on September 20 show that a company co-owned by Turkish gold smuggler Reza Zarrab made $1.25 billion in suspicious wire transactions involving Russian and offshore entities. The documents also show that $11 billion in suspicious transactions flowed to and from Russia over the two-decade period, while $470 million flowed to and from Ukraine. The news organizations working on the FinCEN documents plan to publish more stories in the coming days about who else was behind the suspicious financial flows. The FinCEN dump is the latest breach of secretive global financial records since the 2017 leak of documents from Appleby and Estera, two offshore legal and corporate service providers. Known as the Paradise Papers, they revealed the offshore financial dealings of politicians, celebrities and business leaders. (RFE/RL)


Ukraine on countering disinformation

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that Ukraine is ready to initiate the creation in Kyiv of the headquarters of an international office to counter disinformation and propaganda. “Ukraine, as one of the countries that has been actively opposing propaganda and information attacks since 2014, is ready to initiate the creation in Kyiv of the headquarters of an international office to counter disinformation and propaganda,” he said in his video speech on Septem­ber 24 at the plenary session of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Mr. Zelenskyy pointed to the danger of information threats to the modern world, when “disinformation and fake news can affect world markets, stock exchanges and even the electoral process.” (Interfax-Ukraine)