February 4, 2021



U.S. pledges economic, military support
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pledged continued U.S. economic and military support to Ukraine under President Joe Biden’s new administration. In a phone call with Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba on February 1, Mr. Blinken “emphasized strong bipartisan support for Ukraine and the priority the United States places on Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” the State Department said in a readout of the call. “He pledged to continue robust U.S. economic and military assistance to Ukraine,” it added, while working on a diplomatic resolution to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Mr. Blinken also called on Ukraine to maintain progress on fighting corruption and implementing rule of law and economic reforms. The two also discussed the coronavirus pandemic. Ukraine relies on Washington’s support against Russia since Moscow illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

EU questions president’s sanctions
The European Union has questioned a move by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to sanction three television stations nominally owned by a member of a pro-Russian faction. In a written statement on February 3, the spokesperson of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, said that “while Ukraine’s efforts to protect its territorial integrity and national security, as well as to defend itself from information manipulation are legitimate, in particular given the scale of disinformation campaigns affecting Ukraine including from abroad, this should not come at the expense of freedom of media and must be done in full respect of fundamental rights and freedoms and following international standards.” The statement added that “any measures taken should be proportional to the aim” and that Brussels would be in touch with Ukrainian authorities to receive more information on the issue. Mr. Zelenskyy on February 2 signed off on the sanctions proposed by his national security team. Although Taras Kozak, a member of the pro-Russian Opposition Platform For Life (OPFL), is listed as the owner of the three outlets, Ukrainian media claim that the broadcasters – Ukrainian television channels 112, NewsOne, and ZIK – are actually owned by Vicktor Medvedchuk, the head of OPFL’s political council and one of the richest and most influential individuals in the country. The EU statement contrasts with the response from the United States, which said that “the U.S. supports Ukraine’s effort to counter Russia’s malign influence in line with Ukrainian law, in defense of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Mr. Medvedchuk, who heads the Opposition Platform For Life’s political council, was sanctioned by the United States in March 2014 following the overthrow of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych for his role in undermining democracy in Ukraine. He has denied that he owns the TV stations. (RFE/RL)

Ruling party expels Dubinsky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s party has voted to expel a lawmaker after he was put under U.S. sanctions over alleged U.S. election interference. A majority of lawmakers from the Servant of the People party on February 1 voted to remove Oleksandr Dubinsky from the ruling party’s parliamentary faction. Deputy Olha Vasylevska-Smahlyuk wrote on her Telegram channel that Mr. Dubinsky was expelled in “the shortest meeting of the Servant of the People faction ever.” The faction voted 198 to 29 to remove the controversial lawmaker from the party. Nineteen party members abstained. Mr. Dubinsky denies the election meddling allegations and in a statement after the decision condemned the party. “We have seen the true face of political actors in both the president’s office and the Ukrainian Parliament, and we are well aware that this is a manipulative result that was needed by specific people to receive specific political dividends and to solve their own problems,” he told the press. The U.S. Treasury on January 11 imposed sanctions on seven individuals and four entities, accusing them of U.S. election interference and involvement in a Russia-linked foreign-influence network associated with Ukrainian Parliament deputy Andriy Derkach. Among those blacklisted was Mr. Dubinsky. Mr. Derkach, who was sanctioned separately in September, has been linked to efforts by then-President Donald Trump’s allies to find compromising information on President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Mr. Trump’s request to Mr. Zelenskyy during a July 2019 call led the U.S. House of Representatives to impeach the former president for two crimes. Mr. Trump was eventually acquitted by the Senate in early 2020, but the case damaged his administration’s relationship with Kyiv. Ukraine relies on Washington for support against Russia since Moscow illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. In late January, Ukraine’s presidential office said it had launched a criminal investigation into attempts to interfere in the November U.S. presidential election and would do everything in its power to bring to justice those who attempted to damage relations between Ukraine and the United States. (RFE/RL, with reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and Reuters)

Ukraine launches probe of election meddling
Ukraine has launched a criminal investigation into attempts to interfere in the November 2020 U.S. presidential election. Andriy Yermak, the head of the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on January 28 that Ukraine would do everything in its power to bring to justice forces within the country and outside it who attempted to damage relations between Ukraine and the United States. “The State Bureau of Investigation has opened a criminal case,” Mr. Yermak was quoted as saying in an interview with the Ukrainian news outlet NV that was posted on the presidential website. “The investigation is under way, and we are waiting for its results. The investigation must answer a lot of questions,” Mr. Yermak added. The U.S. Treasury Department on January 11 imposed sanctions on several Ukrainian individuals and entities, accusing them of U.S. election interference and associating with a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker linked to efforts by then President Donald Trump’s allies to find compromising information on President Joe Biden and his son. Mr. Trump’s request to Mr. Zelenskyy during a July 2019 call led the House of Representatives to charge him with two crimes. Mr. Trump was eventually acquitted by the Senate in early 2020, but the case damaged his administration’s relationship with Kyiv. Among those blacklisted was Oleksandr Dubinsky, from Mr. Zelenskyy’s ruling Servant of the People party. Mr. Dubinsky denied interfering in the election. Servant of the People may vote to expel Mr. Dubinsky from its parliamentary faction. Mr. Biden, who oversaw Ukraine policy while serving as vice president from 2009 to 2017, including traveling to Kyiv six times during that period, has yet to speak with Mr. Zelenskyy since taking office on January 20. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters)

U.S. sends third ship into Black Sea
The U.S. Navy has sent a third warship into the Black Sea as it steps up its presence in the strategic region. The destroyer USS Porter entered the Black Sea on a routine patrol on January 28, joining destroyer USS Donald Cook and replenishment oiler USNS Laramie, the U.S. Navy said in a statement. It is the largest U.S. Navy presence in the Black Sea in three years, according to Breaking Defense, and comes days after President Joe Biden spoke for the first time with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Porter’s entrance demonstrates “our continued commitment to security and stability in the region with our NATO allies and partners,” Commander Thomas Ralston said in the statement. The Black Sea has taken on greater strategic importance for the United States and NATO after Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, giving Moscow a larger presence in the region. NATO allies Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria border the Black Sea as do Ukraine and Georgia, which have both expressed interest in joining the Western military alliance. Russia quickly responded to the increased U.S. presence in the Black Sea, activating its mobile coastal-defense anti-ship system in Crimea. (RFE/RL)

SBU raids firm’s board meeting
Ukraine’s state security service (SBU) is investigating a shareholder meeting of Motor Sich, the maker of jet engines for the defense industry, after the government-imposed sanctions against Chinese investors seeking to purchase a stake in the company. Law enforcement raided Motor Sich on January 31 in the southern industrial city of Zaporizhia, where the board meeting was scheduled and where the company’s massive production plant is based. Ukraine on January 29 slapped sanctions on four Chinese companies seeking to buy a controlling stake in Motor Sich after the United States added one of them – Beijing Skyri­zon Aviation – to its own sanctions list two weeks earlier. The United States has been pressuring Kyiv to block the sale of the defense company to companies in China, which Washington sees as its primary global competitor. Vyacheslav Bohuslayev, the 82-year-old owner of Motor Sich, has backed the Chinese investors saying his company desperately needs new capital to modernize and stay competitive. However, some officials in Ukraine and the United States worry the investors will steal the company’s technology, hurting the Ukrainian company in the long term. Defense and aviation firms in the United States have looked at Motor Sich, but none have officially announced an interest in buying a stake in the company to counter the Chinese offer. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Bloomberg and Reuters)

Parliament bans approval of Russian vaccines
Lawmakers in Ukraine’s Parliament have overwhelmingly voted to ban the approval of vaccines made in Russia. At the same time, the Parliament on January 29 eased the process for registering vaccines from the United States, the European Union, China, India, and Mexico. Ukraine has so far not started vaccinating its citizens. The government has said it expects to receive 100,000 to 200,000 doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech under the global COVAX initiative in February. Authorities have repeatedly said Kyiv will not approve or use vaccines from Russia, with which the country’s ties are strained over the illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and its ongoing support to separatists in eastern Ukraine. The conflict has killed more than 14,000 people. “One political force just created some hysteria over the registration of the Russian vaccine,” Ukraine’s Health Minister Maksym Stepanov told a televised briefing. “I’ll say this once: You can be hysterical for a very long time, no one will register the Russian vaccine in the country.” The Health Ministry has recorded a steady decline in new infections, deaths, and hospitalizations in recent weeks. More than 1.2 million coronavirus cases have been recorded since last March. More than 22,000 people have died from the virus. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by dpa and Reuters)

Ukraine makes progress in getting vaccines
COVID-19 vaccination programs in Ukraine, Georgia, and Iran were given a boost over the weekend as health officials announced progress in getting their populations inoculated. Ukraine’s deputy health minister, Viktor Lyashko, said on January 30 that his country will receive 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot in February via COVAX, a facility coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to support lower-income countries in accessing vaccines. The vaccine will be immediately distributed to inoculate employees of hospitals who provide care to patients with COVID-19, Mr. Lyashko said on Facebook. Ukraine will also receive between 2.2 and 3.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the first half of 2021. The latest vaccine announcements come as governments in Europe and elsewhere move to curb international travel amid already tight restrictions as virus mutations show signs of spreading to dozens of countries around the globe. Health officials have expressed concerns over whether vaccines will provide sufficient protection, particularly against virus mutations originally detected in South Africa and Brazil. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters, AFP, dpa, and AP)