February 26, 2021



U.S. awards Ukrainian anti-corruption figure
The editor-in-chief of a Kyrgyz investigative website and a former Ukrainian prosecutor general are among 12 people who have been recognized by the U.S. State Department as anti-corruption champions. The winners of the new International Anti-Corruption Champions Award were announced on February 23 by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said in a statement that the award recognizes people who have worked tirelessly, often in the face of adversity, to combat corruption in their own countries. Bolot Temirov, editor-in-chief of the Kyrgyz investigative website FactCheck, and Ruslan Ryaboshapka, who was forced out of his job as Ukraine’s prosecutor general last year in a parliamentary no-confidence vote, were among the recipients. Mr. Ryaboshapka was well-regarded by anti-corruption activists for his efforts to streamline and professionalize the scandal-ridden Prosecutor General’s Office in Ukraine. He served as prosecutor general from August 29, 2019, until he left the post on March 5, 2020. Mr. Blinken said in the statement announcing the awards that corruption threatens security, hinders economic growth, undermines democracy and human rights, destroys trust in public institutions, facilitates transnational crime, and siphons away public and private resources. “The Biden administration recognizes that we will only be successful in combating these issues by working in concert with committed partners, including courageous individuals who champion anti-corruption efforts and countries working to fulfill their commitments to international anti-corruption standards,” Mr. Blinken said. (RFE/RL)

Iran tried to ‘mislead’ after downing jet
A U.N. special rapporteur has accused Iran of misleading denials and inadequate investigations after the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet after takeoff from Tehran’s international airport in January 2020. Agnes Callamard, a special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, said in a 45-page letter on the findings of a six-month inquiry on February 23 that “Iran committed multiple human rights violations in shooting down Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 and in the aftermath of the deadly attack. The inconsistencies in the official explanations seem designed to create a maximum of confusion and a minimum of clarity,” Ms. Callamard said in the text, which was reportedly delivered to Iranian officials two months ago. “They seem contrived to mislead and bewilder.” After days of official denials following the crash, Iran admitted that its forces had inadvertently shot down the Kyiv-bound plane, killing all 176 people on board, after firing two missiles amid heightened tensions with the United States. But Iran’s civilian aviation authority in its final report from July 2020 cited “human error,” saying a broken radar system created communication problems with a military unit. “The Iranian government claims it has nothing to hide, yet it has failed to carry out a full and transparent investigation in line with its international obligations. As a result, many questions are left unresolved,” the U.N. rapporteur said. The majority of the victims were Iranians and Canadians, but Afghans, Britons, Swedes, and Ukrainians were also among the dead. Ukraine said last month in connection with the first anniversary of the tragedy that all five of those governments would “hold Iran to account to deliver justice and make sure Iran makes full reparations to the families of the victims and affected countries.” Iran announced in December 2020 that the government had allocated $150,000 for the families of each of the victims – an offer rejected by the Ukrainian and Canadian governments, as well as some of the families of the victims, who see it as an attempt to close the case and escape accountability. Human Rights Watch (HRW) marked the anniversary of the crash by accusing Iranian authorities of harassing and intimidating the victims’ families instead of conducting a “transparent and credible” investigation. Flight 752 was downed the same night that Iran launched a ballistic-missile attack that targeted U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Tehran’s air defenses were on high alert in case of retaliation. Iran’s missile attack was in response to a U.S. drone strike that killed the powerful commander of the Islamic Revolutio­nary Guards Corps, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad five days earlier. (RFE/RL, with reporting by dpa)

Ukraine takes Russia to human rights court
Ukraine has accused Russia of the “targeted assassinations” of “perceived opponents” in a case filed at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the latest in a series of legal complaints against Moscow. The case, filed last week and published on the court’s website on February 23, accuses Moscow of carrying out assassinations “in Russia and on the territory of other states… outside a situation of armed conflict” in what Kyiv says is a violation of the “right to life” as stipulated in Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the application, Ukraine also alleges that Russia’s failure to investigate such alleged assassinations amounts to “an administrative practice” that is also sustained through “deliberately mounting cover-up operations aimed at frustrating efforts to find the persons responsible.” The court did not provide details of the alleged assassinations. It is the ninth case taken by Ukraine against Russia at the ECHR, which hears complaints over alleged breaches of the convention on human rights. Four of those cases are still pending and refer to the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, human rights violations in the Crimea Peninsula, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian Navy vessels in the Kerch Strait in 2018. The case on the human rights violations in Crimea was declared partly admissible by the Grand Chamber of the Court on January 14. A Grand Chamber judgment on the case will be delivered at a later date, according to court documents. The other three cases are still to be reviewed by branches of the court. Russia has been supporting separatists who are fighting Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has claimed more than 13,200 people since April 2014. (RFE/RL, with reporting by AFP)

Ukraine says hackers attacked state system
Ukraine accused an unnamed group of Russian hackers on February 24 of trying to disseminate malicious documents through a web-based system on which government documents are circulated, but did not say whether any damage was caused. Kyiv has previously accused Moscow of orchestrating large cyber-attacks as part of a “hybrid war” against Ukraine, which Russia denies. The aim of the attack was to contaminate information resources on the System of Electronic Interaction of Executive Bodies, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said in a statement. “The methods and means of carrying out this cyber-attack allow [us] to connect it with one of the hacker spy groups from the Russian Federation,” the council said, without identifying the group. It was the second cyber incident reported by the Ukrainian authorities this week. On February 22, Kyiv accused unnamed Russian internet networks of attacks on Ukrainian security and defense websites. Ukraine and Russia have been at loggerheads since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and involvement in a conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region which Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people. (Reuters)

Call for U.S. to help stop Nord Stream 2
Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Zbigniew Rau have appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden to prevent the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, which they called a “dangerous, divisive project.” The pipeline would affect Ukraine by depriving it of transit fees from existing pipelines that transverse its territory. The U.S. Congress last year passed the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act (PEESCA) to widen the list of sanctionable services against the project to include providing insurance, reinsurance, pipeline testing, inspection, and certification services. PEESCA became law on January 1. “Poland and Ukraine have long warned against the dangers associated with the construction of Nord Stream 2. Our calls for vigilance and boldness were heard in the U.S. Congress, which pressed on with measures designed to stop this dangerous, divisive project,” Messrs. Kuleba and Rau said in a joint article published in Politico on February 22. “We call on U.S. President Joe Biden to use all means at his disposal to prevent the project from completion,” the two ministers said. Some 150 kilometers of pipe under Danish and German waters in the Baltic Sea must be laid to complete the pipeline, controlled by the Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom. It is expected to carry 100 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year from Russia to Germany. “On this issue, the U.S. continues to be critically important. It needs to dismiss claims that Nord Stream 2 has become ‘too big to fail’ and that it simply needs to be finished,” they wrote in the article. “If the project is successful, Russia could try to convince the Ukrainian public that the West doesn’t care about its own principles, and ultimately, about the security and prosperity of Ukraine.” Nord Stream 2 is “not about the energy security of Germany, our close ally and partner,” Messrs. Kuleba and Rau said. “We respect Germany’s right to express their point of view. But we also strongly believe that these kinds of projects cannot be viewed narrowly through the lens of bilateral relations, but should instead be approached from a broader perspective of Europe’s interests and security as a whole,” they said. The Biden administration on February 19 imposed additional sanctions on a Russian vessel and the ship’s owner for their work on the pipeline. However, the move was immediately criticized as inadequate by Republican lawmakers, who denounced the administration for failing to impose sanctions on additional targets and demanded the administration explain what it is doing to oppose the completion of the pipeline. The two foreign ministers warned that “a lot remains at stake” in the project. “Autocratic rulers in the Kremlin and elsewhere can and should be held accountable. The West, led by the United States, cannot afford to cower in the face of blackmail that runs counter to everything that we stand for,” they concluded. (RFE/RL)