July 23, 2021



Relationship of ‘paramount importance’
The current U.S. administration is eager to deepen and strengthen ties with Ukraine, as the two countries’ military relationship is of “paramount importance” for Kyiv’s goal of establishing a closer relationship with NATO, a senior State Department official has told RFE/RL. U.S. State Depart­ment Counselor Derek Chollet also said there would be “a lot of mutual interest at stake” when the U.S. and Ukrainian presidents meet at the White House, a visit that Washington on July 21 announced would take place on August 30. Mr. Chollet was in Kyiv on July 21 to discuss ongoing U.S. support for Ukraine, efforts to counter Russian actions in the region and economic and anti-corruption reform efforts. Mr. Chollet said President Joe Biden was “very keen to see this relationship get deeper and stronger.” Mr. Chollet stressed U.S. concern at Russia’s actions near its border with Ukraine, which is fighting a seven-year war against Moscow-backed separatists in its eastern regions. The State Department official said Russia’s military buildup near the border “is a concern of ours,” and that Mr. Biden expressed that to Russian President Vladimir Putin at their summit last month in Geneva. “We have made clear that threats from Russia to Ukraine are unacceptable, and we are seeking to provide Ukrainians the means to help defend themselves,” Mr. Chollet said. He also said the United States will provide more than $400 million in security assistance this year to Ukraine, bringing the total to over $2 billion in seven years. “The U.S.-Ukraine military relationship is a mature relationship…that has transformed just in seven short years, since 2014,” Mr. Chollet said. “And when President Zelenskyy visits Washington soon to sit down with President Biden, of course, the security relationship, the military security relationship, as well as the energy-security relationship, and all other aspects of this important partnership will be on the table for discussion,” he said. Mr. Chollet said there would be “no preconditions” for the presidential meeting in August, and he cited “the symbolism of the two presidents sitting down together, but also to get some important work done.” (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

U.S., Germany reach deal on NS2
The United States and Germany say they have reached an agreement to allow the completion of Nord Stream 2, the controversial Russian gas pipeline to Europe that opponents say undermines the energy security of Ukraine and other Eastern and Central European countries. The Biden administration is expected to face strong pushback over the deal from Congress, which has twice passed sanctions legislation to stop the project with overwhelming bipartisan support. In a joint statement on July 21, the United States and Germany said they have agreed on a package of measures, including the possible implementation of sanctions against Russia, that will aim to soften any impact on Ukraine’s budget and national security from the completion of the Kremlin-backed project. Nord Stream 2, which consists of two parallel pipelines stretching 1,230 kilometers each along the Baltic Sea, is designed to reroute Russian Arctic natural gas bound for Germany around Ukraine and Poland, potentially depriving Kyiv of $2 billion in annual transit fees. Critics also say the project undermines Ukraine’s national security, arguing that Russia could act more aggressively toward its smaller neighbor if it does not rely on the country for gas transit. “Should Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine, Germany will take action at the national level and press for effective measures at the European level, including sanctions, to limit Russian export capabilities to Europe in the energy sector, including gas, and/or in other economically relevant sectors,” the statement said. Germany will appoint a special envoy to negotiate a 10-year extension of Russia’s current transit agreement with Ukraine, which expires at the end of 2024, the statement said. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the day to discuss the deal. U.S. lawmakers were quick to express opposition. “Nord Stream 2 will strengthen Russia, undermine America’s national interest, and threaten the security of Ukraine – a key U.S. ally,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in a tweet. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) said the day before amid rumors of a U.S.-German agreement that “Congress must reject any deals that fail to protect transatlantic security and Ukraine’s sovereignty.” A House of Representatives panel earlier this month passed an amendment seeking to stop the Biden administration’s ability to waive sanctions on the project that Congress calls mandatory. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa)

Sheremet commemorated in Kyiv
Dozens of relatives, friends, colleagues and other supporters gathered in the Ukrainian capital to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the killing of journalist Pavel Sheremet, whose death underscored concerns about a climate of impunity for attacks on journalists and others who challenge the authorities. Mr. Sheremet, who worked for the online newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda, was leaving his apartment on July 20, 2016, to head to a studio to host a morning radio program when an improvised explosive device planted under his vehicle detonated and killed him. Commemorations for the Belarusian-born Russian citizen who had made Ukraine his permanent home took place at a monument near the site where he was killed. The anniversary put the spotlight back on the government, which has faced persistent criticism over a perceived lack of progress in solving the case. In December 2019, Ukrainian investigators arrested three suspects in Sheremet’s case – Yana Duhar, Andriy Antonenko, and Yulia Kuzmenko. Mss. Duhar and Kuzmenko were later transferred to house arrest. The trio took part in military operations in different capacities in Ukraine’s east, where government forces are fighting against Russia-backed separatists. The Interior Ministry and the National Police said in December that the trio’s goal was “to destabilize the political and social situation in Ukraine” by killing Mr. Sheremet. All three have denied any involvement in Mr. Sheremet’s killing and their trial, which started a year ago, has stalled several times due to inconsistencies in the investigation. Mr. Sheremet’s mother and colleagues said earlier this week that they are seeking a meeting with Internal Affairs Minister Denys Monastyrskiy, whom lawmakers approved to the post on July 16, to discuss the lack of progress in the case. Mr. Monastyrskiy has said he will evaluate the investigation of Mr. Sheremet’s killing after the trial of Ms. Duhar, Mr. Antonenko and Ms. Kuzmenko is over. Some investigators have said that Mr. Sheremet’s killing might be linked to his investigative reports about fugitive Ukrainian tycoon and former politician Oleksandr Klymenko. Others have suggested that secret services working for authoritarian Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka may have been involved in Mr. Sheremet’s killing. Until 2010, Mr. She­remet was a Belarusian citizen and known for his open criticism of Mr. Luka­shenka and his regime. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

U.S. donates 2 million vaccine doses
Ukraine has received 2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from the United States through the international COVAX program. Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said on July 18 that the Moderna vaccine shots would start going into arms in the coming days. Priority will be given to companies with more than 50 employees and essential workers such as teachers and educational staff, law enforcement and medical workers. “The United States donated 2 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to Ukraine. This step furthers the U.S. commitment to defeating the global COVID-19 pandemic,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter. Made by U.S. pharmaceutical company Moderna, the vaccine requires two doses about four weeks apart. Since Ukraine launched a national immunization campaign in late February, around 4 million vaccine shots have been administered. Only 1.4 million people, or about 3 percent of the total population, are fully vaccinated. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by the Kyiv Post)

Rada approves Denys Monastyrskiy
Ukrainian lawmakers have approved Denys Monastyrskiy as the country’s new internal affairs minister, replacing Arsen Avakov, who resigned this week. Mr. Monastyrskiy is a 41-year-old lawmaker from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party. Parliament voted on July 15 to accept the resignation of Mr. Avakov, 57, one of Ukraine’s most powerful officials, who had been in charge of the ministry in the last four governments since 2014. Mr. Avakov unexpectedly submitted his letter of resignation on July 13 without disclosing the reason for his move. His resignation came amid growing speculation that Mr. Zelenskyy would fire him for his failure to back certain decisions taken by the National Security and Defense Council, of which Mr. Avakov is a member. Immediately after Mr. Avakov announced his intention to resign, Mr. Zelenskyy named Mr. Monastyrskiy as his successor, prompting speculation that the president had been planning to oust the long-serving official. Mr. Avakov in March said he would not support imposing sanctions on Mr. Zelenskyy’s chief rival, former President Petro Poroshenko, adding he was not “an enemy of Ukraine.” Mr. Avakov served under Mr. Poroshenko, who is now under investigation for abuse of office charges he calls politically motivated. Mr. Avakov was one of only two ministers from Mr. Poroshenko’s team to be invited to join Mr. Zelenskyy’s first government in 2019 headed by Prime Minister Oleksei Honcharuk. The other – Finance Minister Oksana Markarova – was fired in March 2020. Mr. Avakov’s departure potentially strengthens the power concentrated in the presidential office, said former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst. The internal affairs minister controls most of Ukraine’s law enforcement bodies, from the National Police force down to local police departments, as well as the National Guard. The border guards, Coast Guard, Emergency Situations Ministry and Migration Service also fall under the control of the Internal Affairs Ministry. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by Reuters and the Kyiv Post)

Lawyer questions journalist’s treatment
A lawyer for RFE/RL freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko, who has been in detention in Russia-occupied Crimea since March and was charged with possession and transport of explosives, said the defense wants to investigate his claims that he has been subjected to psychological and physical pressure in detention. Dmytro Dinze said the defense will try to investigate the claims during court hearings in and will demand materials related to the case from the military investigation department, according to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service. Mr. Yesypenko testified during a closed-door court hearing in April that he was tortured with electric shocks, beaten and threatened with death unless he “confessed” to spying on behalf of Ukraine, his lawyer reported. Mr. Dinze also noted that Mr. Yesypenko fainted while being transported from an earlier pretrial hearing. Mr. Yesypenko’s wife told Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, that Mr. Yesypenko informed her about the fainting episode in a letter. It happened on July 6 after he was kept in an unventilated “box” while being transported from court back to the detention center. He told his wife that he fainted due to heat and lack of oxygen in the metal box after his request that a door be opened to allow in air was denied. He wrote to the judge and the head of the detention center the next day, informing them that he refused to be transported that way again because he feared for his life and health. Russian law enforcement agencies have not commented on the situation. A court in Simferopol in Russia-occupied Crimea on July 15 formally charged Mr. Yesypenko with the possession and transport of explosives. He pleaded not guilty. He has been in detention since March and would face up to 18 years in prison if convicted. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Mr. Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who contributes to Crimea.Realities, on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence. But the indictment made no mention of espionage or work for Ukrainian intelligence, as stated previously by the FSB. The process has been decried by Kyiv, the United States, and press advocacy groups as a sham to crush dissent and information. RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has described the case as the latest example of the Kremlin’s campaign to target independent media outlets. The case “is a mockery of justice,” Mr. Fly said in a statement on July 15 after Mr. Yesypenko was formally charged. “It shows the lengths to which the Kremlin is willing to go to silence independent reporting about the true situation in Crimea. Journalism is not a crime – and Vladyslav Yesypenko is not a criminal,” Mr. Fly said. Russia has sought to crush dissent in Crimea, including prosecuting journalists and human rights activists, since seizing the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014. Press freedom advocates, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, along with Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba and the U.S. State Department, are among those who have called for Mr. Yesypenko’s immediate release in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)