May 13, 2021



World Bank approves $90 million loan
The World Bank has approved a $90 million project to help Ukraine’s health sector respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The international financial institution announced the loan on May 11, saying the project will help Ukraine buy COVID-19 vaccines and improve infrastructure for vaccine storage and logistics. “This new loan will help Ukraine with purchasing and deployment of vaccines, including through, but not limited to, the COVAX global initiative,” said Arup Banerji, World Bank regional country director for Eastern Europe. The World Bank has already provided $57 million in lending to support Ukraine’s COVID-19 response. Earlier on May 11, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said that Ukraine had contracted to purchase 42 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from several producers to be received by the end of this year. He said that with previous batches of vaccine doses, the new shots would be enough to inoculate a majority of adults in the country of 44 million people by the end of 2021. Last month, Ukraine recorded the highest number of new infections as a second wave smashed the country, but new cases have dropped significantly in the past two weeks. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

NATO members worry of provoking Russia
Kyiv says it does not expect that next month’s NATO summit will produce a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine because some members of the military alliance worry that such a move would provoke Russia. “Regarding the obstacles, unfortunately, there are still several countries among the allies who are guided by the logic of not provoking Russia and believe that sitting and doing nothing is the best way to keep Russia calm,” Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba told the Ukraine 24 TV channel on May 11. Ukraine joining the alliance, which Moscow has fiercely opposed, “is historically inevitable,” Mr. Kuleba said. “It will happen. I am absolutely convinced of that.” The MAP is a program of “advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join” NATO, according to the alliance’s website. Participation in the MAP “does not prejudge any decision by the Alliance on future membership,” it adds. Mr. Kuleba’s comments come after Russia earlier this year deployed more than 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine and in occupied Crimea – the biggest mobilization since Moscow seized the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014 and war broke out in eastern Ukraine. The buildup prompted alarm in Western capitals over Moscow’s intentions amid an uptick in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Kremlin-backed separatists in the country’s east. The conflict has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014. Russia says its troops have returned to their permanent bases after participating in massive drills, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on May 11 that Russia had not withdrawn military hardware. Mr. Zelenskyy told Ukraine 24 he believed Russia won’t resort to a “powerful escalation” because it could lead to “a world war.” During a visit to Kyiv last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “strongly” reaffirmed Washington’s “commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence,” and called on Russia to cease its “reckless and aggressive actions” against its neighbor. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters, UNIAN and RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Medvedchuk not detained after hearing charges
Viktor Medvedchuk, the Kremlin’s most prominent ally in Ukraine, left the office of the Prosecutor General on May 12 after reading the charges against him without being detained, Interfax news agency reported. Ukrainian authorities on May 11 put Mr. Medvedchuk under formal suspicion for high treason as part of a crackdown on his circle that has fueled tensions between Kyiv and Moscow. Prosecutors have said they are seeking to detain the opposition party leader and businessman on suspicion of treason and the attempted plundering of national resources in Crimea, the territory that was annexed by Russia in 2014. “I read (the suspicion) and took a copy,” Interfax quoted Mr. Medvedchuk as saying after leaving the prosecutors’ office. “The accusations are unfounded, unsubstantiated and, in general, they can be called political,” he added. Mr. Medvedchuk’s party has said the treason investigation and raids on his home were revenge for the politician’s exposure of the government’s failings. In a separate statement, Mr. Medvedchuk said the treason case was “fabricated.” Mr. Medvedchuk’s party co-chair, Vadym Rabinovich, said in a statement that “today Mr. Medvedchuk is the most annoying element for the authorities. The accusations that were brought against him are erroneous and criminal.” Tuesday’s move was part of a widening crackdown against Mr. Medvedchuk that began in February when he and associates were put under sanctions by Ukraine’s president and three television channels owned by an ally were forced off air. It comes after months of tensions between Kyiv and Moscow over a build-up of Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and rising clashes in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin has sharply criticized the crackdown on Mr. Medvedchuk. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on May 12 that Moscow would not interfere in Mr. Medvedchuk’s case, but that it is “watching this in the most careful way and would like to make sure that there are no political motives behind this case.” Mr. Medvedchuk is a Ukrainian citizen but has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has said the Russian leader is godfather to his daughter. (Reuters)

More NATO presence needed in Eastern Europe
Eastern European NATO states would like a bigger allied military presence on the bloc’s eastern flank, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on May 11 after a virtual summit that was joined by U.S. President Joe Biden. The summit of the Bucharest Nine, a group of countries on the eastern edge of NATO, was jointly hosted by Mr. Iohannis and Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and was aimed at coordinating their security positions ahead of a full NATO summit in June. “As allies on the Eastern flank, we need to continue consolidating deterrence and defense. We all recently witnessed the worrying military build-up by Russia in our close neighborhood, in the Black Sea, in and around Ukraine,” Mr. Iohannis said. “This is why I have argued, including in discussions with President Biden, for an increase of allied military presence in Romania and … the south of the Eastern flank.” Mr. Biden, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the presidents of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia joined the video conference. “President Biden expressed his support for enhancing NATO’s deterrence and defense posture, as well as the importance of Allies increasing their resilience against harmful economic and political actions by our strategic competitors,” the White House press office said in a statement. Mr. Biden was also seeking closer cooperation with the nine states on challenges “including global health security, climate change, energy security, and global economic recovery.” Earlier this month, Washington said it could increase security help for Kyiv after Russia moved troops near its border with Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, where Ukrainian troops are in conflict with Moscow-backed separatists. Moscow announced the withdrawal of its forces on April 22. Mr. Stoltenberg did not publicly address the call for a bigger presence in eastern Europe, but had said in his opening remarks that Mr. Biden’s participation demonstrated “the U.S. commitment to rebuilding alliances and strengthening NATO.” (Reuters)