June 4, 2021



Lawmakers urged to adopt ‘anti-oligarch’ law
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged parliament on June 2 to adopt a proposed law he said would curb the influence of ‘oligarchs,’ or politically powerful business figures who have dominated the country for decades. The text has not been released, but the authorities say the bill will include a definition of oligarchs that applies to a small number of wealthy businessmen, and restrict their ability to shape policy. Ukraine’s allies and major donors have consistently criticized Kyiv for not reining in oligarchs, who own the leading television channels and influence political decision-making. “The bill does not violate the fundamental rights of people who fall under the definition of an oligarch, but only defines the circle of these people and establishes the rules of their transparent relations with government officials,” the office said. “In particular, it will regulate meetings and other relationships between government officials and those with significant assets.” Local media have said more than 10 Ukrainians may fall under the definition of an oligarch, but the authorities have not named even one of them. The office said the law, limited to 10 years, should be “the first step towards the elimination of the oligarchic system” in Ukraine. The law should become the basis for antitrust and lobbying legislation, it added. During his presidential campaign two years ago, Mr. Zelenskyy promised to step up the fight against corruption, a major obstacle to economic development in the country with a population of 41 million. (Reuters)

Ball in Moscow’s court to improve NATO ties
NATO is ready for dialogue with Russia, but the ball is in Moscow’s court, Germany said on June 1, two weeks before leaders of the military alliance are due to meet in Brussels with ties between Moscow and the West at post-Cold War lows. “Our message remains clear: We are prepared for dialogue, and we have made proposals, but the key to a better relationship lies clearly with Moscow,” German Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas told reporters before a video call with his NATO counterparts. He was echoing remarks by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who on May31 underscored the alliance would continue to seek dialogue with Moscow, while also exercising troops for defensive purposes. “We are there to prevent conflict and war. But the best way of doing that is to send a clear message to any potential adversary that if one ally is attacked, the whole alliance will be there,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. His comments were a reaction to Russia saying it would deploy around 20 new military formations and units close to NATO’s borders by the end of the year, which Moscow justified by calling out increased military activity on its western flank. Mr. Stoltenberg, however, said NATO had stepped up its exercises and ramped up its readiness in response to Russia’s interference in Ukraine and an increased Russian military presence in the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad and the Black Sea. “This is one of the main reasons why NATO over the last years has increased the readiness of our forces and also why we have deployed battle groups to the eastern part of the alliance,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. NATO’s Russia policy follows a two-track approach of deterrence and dialogue, though the alliance suspended all practical cooperation with Moscow in April 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. (Reuters)

Crimean Tatar leader gets six years
A Moscow-imposed court in the Russian-annexed Ukrainian region of Crimea on June 1 sentenced the leader of the Crimean Tatars’ self-governing body to six years in prison and issued a fine after finding him guilty of organizing mass riots in 2014 and of issuing calls to violate Russia’s integrity. Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov, a citizen of Ukraine, was tried in absentia at Crimea’s main court in Simferopol. He left Crimea shortly after Russia’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula in March 2014 and is currently living in Kyiv. The Mejlis was labeled an extremist organization and banned in Russia following Moscow’s takeover of Crimea. Russia took control of Crimea after sending in troops, seizing key facilities and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries. Moscow also backs separatists in a war against government forces that has killed some 13,200 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. Moscow’s takeover of Crimea was fiercely opposed by many Crimean Tatars, who are a sizable minority in the region. Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they describe as a campaign of repression by the Moscow-imposed authorities in Crimea who are targeting members of the Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar community and others who have spoken out against the annexation. (RFE/RL’s Crimea.Realities)

Diplomat dies suddenly in Thailand
The Foreign Affairs Ministry in Kyiv has confirmed that a Ukrainian diplomat has died suddenly while on holiday with his family at a resort island off Thailand’s southern coast. Authorities in Kyiv did not immediately announce the cause of death for Andriy Beshta, 45, who had served as Ukraine’s ambassador to Thailand from November 2015 until he was relieved of the post in April. Police in Thailand quoted Mr. Beshta’s teenage son, Ostap Beshta, as saying that his father had been feeling fine before he went to sleep on May 29 at about 11 p.m. local time in their shared hotel room on the island of Koh Lipe. Police said the diplomat’s son told investigators that his fathewr woke up vomiting at about 4:30 a.m. and then fell unconscious. “Prelimi­nary investigations showed no signs of him being attacked, no signs of a raid, or violence,” a statement attributed to National Police deputy spokesman Kissana Phathana­charoen said. Thai authorities were questioning other witnesses in the case. Ekkarat Leesen, the governor of Thailand’s southern Satun Province, said Mr. Beshta’s body was taken to a police hospital for an autopsy. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted on May 30 that Mr. Beshta “was a friendly man and a highly professional diplomat.” Mr. Zelens­kyy also said he had spoken by telephone to Mr. Beshta’s four surviving family members in Thailand – who, according to the Ukrainian Embassy’s website, include his wife, a daughter and two sons. Since 2017, Mr. Beshta had also served part-time as Ukraine’s ambassador to Laos and Myan­mar, the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry said. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by AP and AFP)

Court frees former far-right leader
A Ukrainian court on May 31 commuted the prison sentence of a controversial former leader of a far-right paramilitary group and set him free on probation. Serhiy Sternenko, who once led the Right Sector group in the city of Odesa, was found guilty in February of kidnapping, robbery and the possession of an illegal weapon in the case of the abduction of a local lawmaker in 2015. At the time, the court ruled that due to the statute of limitations, Mr. Sternenko could not be sentenced for the kidnapping. It did, however, sentence him to seven years and three months in prison on the other two charges. After he was sentenced, hundreds of Mr. Sternenko’s supporters violently protested in front of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office in Kyiv, demanding he be freed. In the May 31 decision, an Odesa appeals court acquitted Mr. Sternenko of robbery and sentenced him to three years in prison for possession of an illegal weapon. But the prison time was dropped in favor of a one-year suspended sentence. The court upheld the kidnapping verdict. Mr. Sternenko and his supporters say his legal troubles are politically motivated because he is a critic of top Ukrainian officials, particularly in Odesa. Mr. Sternenko is also a suspect in another high-profile case that has been challenged by his supporters for years. He is accused of premeditated murder and possession of an illegal bladed weapon in the killing of a man almost three years ago. Mr. Sternenko claims he acted in self-defense while being attacked by two men late in the evening in May 2018. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Senators pledge support amid ‘Russian aggression’
A U.S. bipartisan Congressional delegation visiting Kyiv has encouraged Ukraine to continue reforms to solidify its democracy and expressed solidarity with the country in the face of Russian “aggression.” “Ensuring Ukraine continues key reforms to strengthen its democracy is critical to our enduring partnership & to counter Russian aggression,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who is heading the U.S. delegation, tweeted from the Ukrainian capital on June 2. “Appreciated meeting w/government reps & civil society members on their work to root out corruption & build a better tomorrow for Ukraine,” she added. The visiting delegation includes Ms. Shaheen and two other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “We talked about the importance of increasing our ties, providing even more effective military assistance, so Ukraine can defend itself,” Mr. Portman told reporters after the talks. The United States has provided nearly $5 billion in financial, humanitarian and military aid to Kyiv since 2014, when Russia forcibly annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed separatists in two of its eastern provinces, sparking a war that has killed more than 13,200. The senators “reaffirmed bipartisan U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that long-term bipartisan support for Ukraine in the U.S. Congress is “vital to our strategic partnership at a time when our state continues to resist Russian aggression and implement reforms.” The three senators traveled to Ukraine from Lithuania, where they met with exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya. They called for harsher economic sanctions against the regime of Belarus’s authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka and for the release of political prisoners. The delegation is set to travel to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi after it leaves Kyiv. Ahead of the bipartisan trip, Ms. Shaheen said it would send “a clear message that the United States is committed to rebuilding our transatlantic relations and reasserting U.S. global leadership to promote democratic values.” “We support Ukraine and Georgia in their desire to achieve their Euro-Atlantic ambitions, and the U.S. is eager to play a supporting role to make NATO and EU membership a reality.” Ukraine and Georgia are seeking closer ties with the West, including membership in NATO that Moscow adamantly opposes. Russia maintains troops in two breakaway regions that comprise about 20 percent of Georgian territory, in what Tbilisi considers an occupation. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by AP)