January 29, 2016



Council of Europe to go to Crimea

STRASBOURG, France – Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland has announced he is sending a delegation to Crimea to assess the human rights situation on the peninsula. “More than 2.5 million people live in Crimea, they are all covered by the European Convention on Human Rights and should be able to benefit from it,” Mr. Jagland said in a statement on January 25. “However, for more than a year, no delegation from an international organization has been able to go there.” He stressed, “The mission will be conducted with full independence and will not deal with any issue related to the territorial status of Crimea.” Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 after a referendum dismissed in the West as bogus. Since Russia’s land grab, fundamental freedoms have “deteriorated radically” for many in Crimea, especially for pro-Ukrainian activists, journalists and the Crimean Tatar community. That was the finding of a report issued in September 2015 by the two bodies of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the High Commissioner on National Minorities. (RFE/RL)

Ukraine expects $10 B in foreign aid 

KYIV – Ukraine’s finance minister says the cash-strapped country expects to receive up to $10 billion from foreign sources this year, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Natalie Jaresko was quoted by Ukrainian media as making the statement during a Cabinet meeting on January 26. “If we are focused on our program of reforms, then, including the IMF and other bilateral and multilateral sources, it will be up to $10 billion,” Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform quoted Minister Jaresko as saying. The IMF plans to extend at least $1.7 billion in credit to Ukraine next month for the country to replenish its gold reserves, Ukrinform reported. Ukraine is using international loans and financial aid to stave off bankruptcy as the country struggles to bring its economy out of Russia’s direct influence and quell a pro-Russia separatist rebellion in the east of the country. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by DPA)

Kerry on lifting of Russia sanctions

DAVOS, Switzerland – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he believes Washington may be able to consider lifting sanctions it imposed on Russia over its involvement in violence in Ukraine later this year if Moscow complies with the Minsk peace deal. In a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 22, Mr. Kerry said that he and U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden had met this week in the Swiss resort with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to help ensure full implementation of the agreements. Secretary Kerry said, “with effort and with bona-fide legitimate intent to solve the problem on both sides, it is possible in these next months to find those Minsk agreements implemented and to get to a place where sanctions can be appropriately – because of the full implementation – removed.” Washington links a lifting of the sanctions to full implementation of the Minsk accords, which were agreed to last February by Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany after the collapse of a ceasefire between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists. The terms of the deal provide for a ceasefire, a pullback of heavy weapons, prisoner exchanges, local elections in rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine and greater autonomy for these regions. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview this month the sanctions were “severely harming Russia.” The sanctions have reportedly shaved about 1.5 percent off of Russian economic output in 2015. (RFE/RL)

Kyiv levies $3.5 B fine on Gazprom 

KYIV – Ukraine’s state anti-monopoly agency has imposed a $3.5 billion fine on Russia’s Gazprom for allegedly abusing its monopoly control of Ukraine’s natural-gas transit system. Yuriy Terentyev, head of Kyiv’s Antimonopoly Committee, made the announcement in a post on Facebook on January 22, but he did not detail Gazprom’s violations. Earlier that week, Gazprom informed Ukraine it owes $2.55 billion for gas supplied in the third quarter of 2015 and that Kyiv has 10 days to pay. Ukraine disputes the charges, saying a contract clause requiring Kyiv to pay for gas it does not use is “unlawful and void.” Gazprom and the Ukrainian Naftohaz firm have taken the dispute to an international arbitration court in Sweden. Gazprom claims Ukraine owes a total of $29.2 billion. The European Union gets about 40 percent of the gas it purchases from Russia via the transit network in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)

Jaresko: debt deal still possible 

KYIV – Ukraine’s finance minister says there is still a chance to avoid a court battle with Russia over $3 billion of debt that Kyiv defaulted on in December. U.S.-born Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko spoke to Bloomberg News on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Ms. Jaresko said Ukrainian and Russian Finance Ministry officials may meet “in the near future” to discuss the issue, Bloomberg reported on January 23. She said she thinks “it’s still very possible to reach a consensual agreement out of court with Russia.” Russia bought a $3 billion Ukrainian bond late in 2013 as part of an aid package widely seen as a reward for then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to scrap plans for a landmark deal with the European Union and tighten ties with Russia instead. But Mr. Yanukovych was pushed from power in February 2014 by huge protests over that decision. The debt became a bone of contention after Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula and supported separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s Finance Ministry said on January 1 that it had taken measures to start legal proceedings over the debt. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Bloomberg and Interfax)
Poroshenko warns of ‘full-scale conflict’

KYIV – President Petro Poroshenko has warned Ukrainian politicians that the collapse of the Minsk agreements aimed at ending a war with Russia-backed separatists could set off a “full-scale conflict” with Russia. Mr. Poroshenko was speaking at a conference of local leaders in Kyiv on January 23. “Those political forces that want to torpedo the Minsk agreements at any cost… and to block the constitutional process, must clearly understand the consequences of their actions,” he said. “They will lead to the resumption of the ‘hot phase’ of the conflict, including a full-scale – and not local, as it has been so far – conflict with Russia.” His words appeared to be aimed at foes of the “decentralization” legislation that Ukraine is required to pass under the peace deal signed in February 2015 by Ukraine, Russia and separatists who hold parts of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Minsk deal is crucial for Kyiv because it calls for the restoration of Ukrainian control over the state border between the separatist-held territories and Russia, which has backed the separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people since April 2014. Ukraine’s Parliament gave preliminary approval to constitutional changes granting more power to the regions in August 2015, but their adoption requires a two-thirds vote in the 450-seat legislature. Mr. Poroshenko said he hopes the legislation will be passed in the first half of this year, in the next parliament session, which begins after February 1. However, some lawmakers say the legislation must be passed during the current session to be valid, but that is highly unlikely to happen. As a result, the president’s allies have asked the Constitutional Court for a ruling that would effectively extend the deadline for the vote indefinitely. Mr. Poroshenko also said that adopting decentralization obviates any need for laws granting “special status” to the separatist-held regions or any others, a remark that is not likely to please the separatists. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, UNIAN and Interfax)

PM for referendum on Constitution 

KYIV – Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has called for a referendum to be held on a new Constitution for the country. Speaking on January 24 in his weekly televised speech, Mr. Yatsenyuk said it is “high time for the Ukrainian people to have its say about a new Ukrainian Constitution in a new European Ukraine.” He said the Constitution would be a “new agreement on redistribution of powers between authorities, an agreement on relations between the center and the country’s regions, an agreement on a new honest and fair judicial system, and on clear geopolitics” – namely, on the country’s future goals of becoming members of the European Union and NATO. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s remarks came a day after President Petro Poroshenko warned the country’s politicians that the collapse of the Minsk agreements aimed at ending a war with Russia-backed separatists could set off a “full-scale conflict” with Russia. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by UNIAN, Interfax and TASS)

Poroshenko meets with Cyborgs’ families 

KYIV – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on January 16 met with families of the warriors killed during the last days of the defense of the Donetsk International Airport and considered missing, until recently. He said the defenders of the airport demonstrated the unbreakable spirit of Ukrainians to the world and became an example for all militaries. Known by Ukrainians as “Cyborgs” for their unwavering defense of the strategically located airport, Ukrainian troops controlled the airport facility from May 2014 until January 2015, despite non-stop attacks by combined Russian-separatist fighters. Friends and family of Ukrainian volunteer fighters and serviceman who defended the Donetsk International Airport gathered in Kyiv’s House of Officers to remember loved ones. Some 51 Ukrainians died in the bloody siege of the facility. Ukrainian forces finally withdrew after defending the airport for 242 days. Many compare the airport siege to the Battle of Stalingrad. The standoff acquired a symbolic importance for both sides which is above and beyond its strategic value. (RFE/RL)

Soros urges more support for Ukraine 

OTTAWA – In an interview published in the New York Review of Books, George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC and the Open Society Foundations, stated, “Ukraine has done something almost unbelievable in surviving for two years while facing so many enemies. But it needs a lot more support from outside because it’s exhausted. By putting Ukraine on a short financial leash, Europe is repeating the mistake it has made in Greece. …The [Verkhovna] Rada has recently passed a budget for 2016 that meets the conditions imposed by the IMF. Now is the time to hold out the prospect of the additional financial assistance that the new Ukraine needs to carry out radical reforms. That would enable the country not only to survive but to flourish and become an attractive investment destination. Turning the new Ukraine back into the old Ukraine would be a fatal mistake because the new Ukraine is one of the most valuable assets that Europe has, both for resisting Russian aggression and for recapturing the spirit of solidarity that characterized the European Union in its early days.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress)

Health minister on flu epidemic

KYIV – As of January 26 there are 83 confirmed deaths because of the flu. The total number of people infected with the influenza virus in Ukraine is 2.6 million. Over the last week 363,000 people fell ill. That information was provided by Minister of Health Oleksandr Kvitashvili at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. He said the epidemic threshold has been exceeded in 18 regions, in 11 of them – by 50 percent. The highest level is in the Rivne region; the lowest – in Kharkiv. “There is a flu epidemic in the country,” stated Mr. Kvitashvili. Stocks of medicine are sufficient, said the minister, who added: “Lithuania donated 2,000 doses of Tamiflu and 27,000 doses of Relenza. They are already in Ukraine, have gone through customs clearance procedures and are arriving in Kyiv. They will be distributed among the regions that need them most.” Lyubov Nekrasova, director of Ukrainian Center for Control and Monitoring of Diseases at the Health Ministry, said that the incidence of flu is increasing intensively. “The load on hospitals is growing, and more patients are coming because of strong awareness of the need to visit a doctor in the first hours of the disease,” she noted. Svyatoslav Protas, acting chief state epidemiologist of Ukraine, noted a rapid increase in the number of calls for medical help. “More than 9,500 schools stopped teaching as of today. But thousands of schools are restoring the learning process in those areas where due measures were introduced from the beginning,” said Mr. Protas. (Ukraine Crisis Media Center)

Flu outbreak closes Kharkiv schools 

KHARKIV, Ukraine – Authorities in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kharkiv have closed all secondary schools due to a flu outbreak. The mayor’s office announced on January 26 that schools will remain closed indefinitely as of January 27. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Health Minister Aleksandr Kvitashvili said that since the start of the year 83 people across Ukraine have been killed by flu, which he added had been officially categorized as an epidemic. He did not specify if the H1N1 virus, known as swine flu, was the cause of any of the deaths, as some earlier Ukrainian media reports had said. According to Minister Kvitashvili, up to 2.6 million people have been treated in Ukraine for flu and other respiratory diseases since January 1. He also said that an emergency team to tackle the problem has been established within his ministry. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax)

Interpol explains removal from wanted list 

KYIV – Interpol says it has removed the names of several suspects from the time that former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was in power from its public wanted list in response to a legal complaint Mr. Yanukovych has filed. Vasyl Nevolya, head of Ukraine’s Interpol bureau, issued a statement on January 22, saying that information about the Yanukovych-era suspects remains available in Interpol’s restricted-access databases. He said Mr. Yanukovych’s lawyers had filed a complaint in a French court and with Interpol’s control commission asking for the investigation against the suspects to be dropped, leading Interpol to restrict access until the complaint is resolved. Earlier in the day, Ukrainian anti-corruption activists noted that Mr. Yanukovych, former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, former Finance Minister Yuriy Kolobov, and others seemed to have been removed from Interpol’s wanted list. Most are wanted on a variety of corruption and abuse-of-office charges. Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, wrote on Facebook: “Now these monsters can easily enjoy life, for example, on the Cote d’Azur in France.” Interpol had placed 12 Yanukovych-era figures on its wanted list in January 2015, most of them with a “red notice,” indicating an extradition request. The listing came almost one year after the suspects fled Ukraine under pressure from the Euro-Maidan protests. In July 2015, Mr. Yanukovych himself was removed from the wanted list after he argued before Interpol that the case against him was politically motivated. Mr. Yanukovych and most of the other suspects are currently believed to be in Russia. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by the Kyiv Post and the International Business Times)

Crimea issues arrest warrant for Dzhemilev

SYMFEROPOL, Ukraine – A court in Russia-annexed Crimea has issued an arrest warrant for the veteran leader of Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Dzhemilev. The Kyiv District Court in Symferopol issued the warrant on January 21 and added Mr. Dzhemilev to its wanted list, saying three investigations had been launched into his activities. Details about the charges were not made public. In April 2014, just weeks after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Russian authorities barred Mr. Dzhemilev from entering the region for five years. Mr. Dzhemilev, a Ukrainian lawmaker, and other Crimean Tatar activists have said that Crimea’s indigenous Tatar population will never recognize the peninsula’s annexation by Moscow. The 72-year-old Mr. Dzhemilev is a well-known Soviet-era human rights activist who served six sentences in Soviet prison camps from 1966 to 1986. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by RIA-Novosti and Interfax)

Poroshenko: Kyiv will control Crimea

KYIV – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says Ukraine will regain its control over the Russia-annexed region of Crimea and the eastern Ukrainian territory currently controlled by Russia-backed separatists. In a statement to mark the Unity Day holiday on January 22, Mr. Poroshenko said the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian national flag “will return to their legal and natural places in Donetsk and Luhansk, in Symferopol and Sevastopol.” Unity Day marks the 1919 Unification Act of the Ukrainian National Republic and the short-lived Western Ukrainian National Republic. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by Interfax and UNIAN)

Ukrainian hacker pleads guilty 

NEWARK, N.J. – A Ukrainian computer hacker accused of trying to frame a prominent cybersecurity expert has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., to using more than 13,000 computers to steal log-in and credit-card data. U.S. prosecutors said January 20 that Sergei Vovnenko faces a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison and may face additional prison time. Prosecutors said Mr. Vovnenko, whose aliases included “Flycracker,” “Centurion” and “Darklife,” was part of an international conspiracy to hack into computers belonging to individuals and companies between September 2010 and August 2012. They said Mr. Vovnenko admitted to operating a “botnet” that used more than 13,000 computers that had been infected with malware to gain unauthorized access. The group then used malware known as “Zeus” to steal banking information from and record keystrokes of people using infected computers. Mr. Vovnenko was detained by Italian authorities following his June 13, 2014, arrest and had fought extradition. At the time of the extradition, Brian Krebs, a well-known cybersecurity blogger, wrote that Mr. Vovnenko had been behind a 2013 plot to have heroin sent to Mr. Krebs’ Virginia home, and then tell police when the drugs arrived. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Reuters and AP)