July 16, 2021



Attempt to block Tupytskiy rejected
Ukraine’s Supreme Court has overturned President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s decree annulling the appointment of Oleksandr Tupytskiy to the Constitutional Court. Mr. Tupytskiy’s lawyer, Oleksandr Leshchenko, informed Ukrayinska Pravda of the Supreme Court’s decision on July 14. An adviser at Mr. Zelenskyy’s office said the president would appeal the decision. Mr. Zelenskyy dismissed Mr. Tupytskiy and another judge, Oleksandr Kasminin, in late March for what he called threatening “Ukraine’s independence and national security.” Both judges were appointed by pro-Russian former President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in 2014 following the Euro-Maidan protests. Mr. Zelenskyy’s move to oust the two judges came after the Constitutional Court in October 2020 struck down anti-corruption legislation and curbed the powers of the National Anti-Corruption Agency. The court decision dealt a blow to reforms demanded by the West and threatened to impact lending from the International Monetary Fund. In response to the court ruling, Mr. Zelenskyy vowed to reverse the decision and continue with his anti-graft reform agenda. In the decree, Mr. Zelenskyy invoked a parliamentary decision calling Mr. Yanukovych’s rule from 2010 to 2014 a “usurpation of power.” In December, Mr. Zelenskyy issued a decree suspending Mr. Tupytskiy, who was facing a preliminary investigation over suspected witness tampering and bribery. The Constitutional Court then ruled that the president had exceeded his powers, in what Mr. Tupytskiy called an attempted “constitutional coup” against the judges. According to Ukraine’s Constitution, Constitutional Court judges can only be dismissed by a vote of two-thirds of its 18 members. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Ukrayinska Pravda and Zerkalo Nedeli)

Kyiv police tear gas protesters
Police in Kyiv have used tear gas in an attempt to disperse hundreds of retired law enforcement officers as they tried to storm parliament during a protest for higher pensions. Some of the retired law enforcement officers from across the country who had gathered in the capital on July 14 managed to force their way inside the Verkhovna Rada after parliamentary speaker Dmytro Razumkov did not meet with them outside the building. After retreating amid volleys of tear gas, the demonstrators blocked streets in the area around the nearby government building. The demonstration comes a day after Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who had run the police force since 2014, unexpectedly offered his resignation without publicly providing an explanation. The retired officers warned they will continue to hold rallies in front of the parliament until their demands for improved pensions are met. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Zelenskyy trolls Putin
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has trolled his Russian counterpart, saying he was “envious” that Vladimir Putin had enough free time on his hands to research the history of their peoples. Mr. Zelenskyy made the comment on July 13 in response to a question from journalists seeking his reaction to Mr. Putin’s more than 5,000-word article contending that Ukrainians and Russians are one people. The assertion seems meant to sound like a positive statement of fraternity but is an affront to many in Ukraine who see it as an attempt to minimize their unique culture and history. The Ukrainian president said he didn’t have enough time to analyze the entire article – which was also published in Ukrainian on the Kremlin website a day earlier – but snarked that he could see that the Russian president “spent a lot of time” on it. “I am envious that the president of such a great power can permit himself to spend so much time [writing] such a volume of detailed work,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. He said that, despite Mr. Putin’s mention of “brotherly” populations, Russia’s actions had been anything but brotherly. “It looks more like Cain and Abel,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. Mr. Putin has for years been seeking to cast doubt on Ukraine’s legitimacy as a nation and an independent state in an effort to keep Ukraine in its orbit, reportedly telling U.S. President George W. Bush that Ukraine was “not even a country.” However, many in Ukraine long to see their country integrate with Europe, preferring Western values and institutions of governance to those offered by the Kremlin. When former President Viktor Yanukovych attempted to reorient the country toward Moscow, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets of Kyiv in 2013 and 2014 to protest, eventually toppling his government. Mr. Putin exploited Mr. Yanukovych’s overthrow to forcibly seize Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, the first post-World War II land grab in Europe, claiming it was historically Russian land. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Putin began backing separatists in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, the Donbas, in a conflict that has left more than 14,000 dead, according to estimates by Kyiv. In his July 12 article, Mr. Putin said he was “convinced that the true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.” The Ukrainian president told reporters the following day that it would have been better had Mr. Putin used his free time instead to meet face to face. Mr. Zelenskyy has been seeking a summit with Mr. Putin to discuss outstanding issues, including ending the conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine. Mr. Zelenskyy told reporters that Mr. Putin never seemed to have time to meet and now he understands why. “The things he wrote about – we could have talked about it,” he said. (RFE/RL)

Gas will still transit Ukraine
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has sought to assure Kyiv that Ukraine will remain a transit route for natural gas even after completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline linking Russia to Germany. Ukraine and the United States have opposed Nord Stream 2’s construction under the Baltic Sea, which will allow Russian suppliers to bypass land routes through Ukraine and thus deprive it of billions of dollars in transit fees. “Ukraine is and will remain a transit country even once Nord Stream 2 is completed,” Ms. Merkel told a press conference in Berlin on July 12 alongside visiting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Germany has refused to halt the project, arguing that it is a commercial venture and a sovereign issue. Critics have said it will increase German dependence on Russian energy supplies and make Berlin more susceptible to Russian influence. “There are big worries about this on the Ukrainian side, and we take those seriously,” Ms. Merkel said, adding that Germany would do “everything we can” to guarantee the key revenue source for Ukraine. The State Department announced in May that it would place sanctions on neither the pipeline’s Russian-owned operator, Nord Stream 2 AG, nor its CEO, Matthias Warnig, who is regarded as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Speaking in Berlin, Mr. Zelenskyy reiterated that Nord Stream 2 posed “a potential security threat to Ukraine and the region.” Ms. Merkel said Germany would strive to keep Russian gas flowing through Ukraine “in the future.” “That’s what we promised Ukraine,” she said, “and I keep my promises and I think any future German chancellor will as well.” The controversial project is likely to figure prominently in talks at the White House on July 15 when Ms. Merkel meets U.S. President Joe Biden. It will be Ms. Merkel’s first visit to Washington since Mr. Biden took office in January. Ms. Merkel, now in her fourth term, will step down after German national elections in September. But on July 12 Ms. Merkel expressed doubt that the upcoming talks with Mr. Biden would resolve the disagreement between Berlin and Washington over Nord Stream 2. “I don’t know whether the papers will be fully finalized, so to speak. I believe rather not,” Ms. Merkel said, adding that “these will be important talks for developing a common position.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 23 reiterated warnings about Nord Stream 2 during meetings in Berlin with Ms. Merkel and Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas. Mr. Blinken said he and Mr. Maas agreed that concrete steps were needed to “ensure that Russia cannot use energy as a coercive tool directed at Ukraine or anyone else in Europe.” (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by AFP, dpa and AP)

Torture continues in eastern Ukraine
The United Nations said torture and ill-treatment of detainees in territory controlled by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine is happening every day. Deputy U.N. rights chief Nada al-Nashif said on July 9 that there are “egregious violations” committed in the Izolyatsia prison in Donetsk and other places of detention in separatist-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine. The violations “continue on a daily basis, and are carried out systematically,” Ms. Nashif told the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council. Kyiv has been battling pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014, when Moscow also seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The conflict has killed more than 13,000 people. Ms. Nashif was presenting reports on detention, torture and ill-treatment in eastern Ukraine, as well as on human rights in Crimea. The deputy high commissioner for human rights said the report estimated that since the beginning of the conflict, around 4,000 conflict-related detainees have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment in both government-controlled territory and separatist-controlled territory. “There has been little accountability for violations committed on either side of the contact line. While we can count victims in the thousands, perpetrators who have been brought to account only number in the dozens,” she said. Ms. Nashif said torture and ill-treatment was greater in the initial stages of the conflict and has decreased over time, especially in government-controlled areas. “From late 2016, the use of unofficial places of detention to hold conflict-related detainees for longer periods, lasting more than a few days, substantially decreased” in government areas, she said. However, she said the U.N. was still able to document cases in government areas of arbitrary detention of conflict-related detainees in rented apartments or hotels lasting up to several days before they were transferred to official facilities. But in separatist-controlled territory, “a large majority” of conflict-related detentions amounted to arbitrary detention and this practice continues, she said. “In armed group-controlled territory, detention during the initial stages of the conflict lacked any semblance of legal process and often amounted to enforced disappearance,” Ms. Nashif said. On Crimea, Ms. Nashif said her office was unable to conduct its mission on the ground and had to rely on information collected remotely. Nonetheless, the report said Russian authorities regularly harassed lawyers defending clients and that courts delivered guilty verdicts in high-profile cases without a fair trial. There were also documented allegations of torture and ill-treatment committed by Russian authorities against individuals in their custody in order to coerce them into self-incrimination or to testify against others. “The report highlights the continuing failure of the Russian Federation to uphold its obligations as the occupying power in Crimea under international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” Ms. Nashif said. Other issues of concern include poor conditions in detention facilities and the arbitrary arrests of 19 persons, including 11 Crimean Tatars. Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is banned in Russia, faced extremism-related charges and convictions for practicing their faith, the report said. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine is also under threat, Ms. Nashif said, with the number of church parishes decreasing from 49 prior to Russia’s occupation of Crimea to only five in 2020. (RFE/RL)

Ukraine blames Russian hackers
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Russian government hackers attacked the website of the Ukrainian Navy to spread disinformation about the ongoing multinational Sea Breeze military exercises in the Black Sea. In a July 9 statement, the Defense Ministry said the “entire Kremlin propaganda machine” was involved in the hacking operation, which published false documents and fake news on the Navy’s website related to the Sea Breeze drills. “The threat has now been eliminated and the Navy’s website will be restored in the near future,” it said, adding that there have also been unsuccessful denial-of-service attacks (DDoS) on the Defense Ministry portal. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of being behind a string of cyberattacks, something Moscow denies. A total of 32 countries, including most Black Sea nations, NATO allies and partners, are attending the Sea Breeze exercises, which kicked off on June 28 amid rising tensions between Russia and the West following an incident involving Russia and a British warship off the coast of Crimea. The exercises include 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft and 18 special operations and dive teams and will last through July 10. Russia opposes the drills and has said it is monitoring the actions of military forces taking part in the exercises. Late last month, Russia tested its air-defense systems in occupied Crimea. Moscow seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries. Moscow is also backing separatists in a war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014. (RFE/RL)