January 22, 2015

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Ukraine mentioned in SOTU address

WASHINGTON – Delivering his sixth State of the Union (SOTU) address, President Barack Obama mentioned Russian aggression in Ukraine. He stated: “…we are demonstrating the power of American strength and diplomacy. We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small – by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies. Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters.” (White House)

Lavrov says U.S. wants to dominate

MOSCOW – Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov said on January 21 that the United states wants to “dominate” the world and warned the West that attempts to isolate Russia would fail. Speaking at an annual news conference in Moscow, ahead of planned talks in Berlin on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Lavrov also said Russia supports territorial integrity for Ukraine and will do all it can to stop the fighting but put the blame on Kyiv and the West. In line with remarks by President Vladimir Putin at closely watched forums in recent months, Mr. Lavrov used the traditional event in Moscow to portray the United States as an “aggressive” but misguided giant that is undermining global security instead of ensuring it. He said U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on January 20 “showed that Americans again want to say that ‘We are number one’ and the world has to acknowledge it.” Mr. Lavrov said it is “in Americans’ blood” to seek to influence Europe, adding: “It is very difficult to change their genetic background.” He said that Obama had echoed Western calls for the isolation of Russia in his speech, and warned, “All these attempts will bring no result.” (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters and Interfax)

PACE president: freedom for Savchenko 

STRASBOURG – The president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has asked the Kremlin-allied speaker of Russia’s Duma to help secure the urgent release of Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko. PACE President Anne Brasseur also expressed concern over the health of 1st Lt. Savchenko, who has been on a hunger strike in a Russian jail since December 15. Ms. Brasseur made the appeal in a letter to State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin, PACE said in a statement on January 21. It said Lt. Savchenko, who was elected to the Ukrainian Parliament in October 2014, should be released to enable her to attend the opening of a PACE session in Strasbourg on January 26. Lt. Savchenko’s sister, Vira, visited her on January 20 and said she vowed to continue her hunger strike until her release. (RFE/RL, with reporting by UNIAN)

Blast in Kharkiv injures 14 

KHARKIV – An explosion near a courthouse in Kharkiv has left 14 people wounded, four of them seriously. Markian Lubkivsky, an adviser for the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), said on his Facebook page the incident on January 19 was being treated as a “terrorist act.” In recent weeks there have been dozens of small bombings across the country, with the epicenters being Kharkiv, Odesa, Mariupol and Kyiv. Kharkiv, Odesa and Mariupol seem to be in the crosshairs because they are geographically close to areas controlled by the pro-Russian separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and have significant ethnic Russian populations. Authorities and most Ukrainians are convinced that the attacks are directly linked to Russia. The blast in Kharkiv came as Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian fighters were battling for the control of the bitterly contested Donetsk airport. Artillery fire was reported in several areas of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions and a hospital in the city of Donetsk was reportedly hit. Rights watchdog Amnesty International said in a statement on January 19 that the escalation in hostilities in eastern Ukraine since January 18 had resulted in the deaths of numerous civilians, including children, and put civilian lives in great danger. London-based Amnesty International said pro-Russian separatists used densely populated areas for launching military operations while the Ukrainian troops returned heavy fire into those areas. Amnesty said rebels fired rockets from residential areas in Donetsk and Horlivka. Artillery fire was returned by Ukrainian troops, killing at least two civilians in Horlivka on January 18. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press)

Another bomb explodes in Odesa 

ODESA – Another bomb exploded in the Ukrainian Black Sea port city of Odesa, causing damage to a nearby building but reportedly not resulting in any casualties. The explosion happened late January 16 outside the Diamant Bank. Local Internal Affairs Ministry spokesman Volodymyr Shablienko could only say an explosive device was placed outside the bank and detonated. It was at least the sixth bomb to go off in the Odesa area in the last two months. Ukrainian officials have called the bombings terrorist acts. These explosions have happened as the Ukrainian government continues to battle pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by UNIAN, TASS and Interfax)

Moscow warns Kyiv as fighting rages

MOSCOW – Moscow and Kyiv have traded accusations as fighting escalates in eastern Ukraine and casualties mount. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin on January 19 accused Kyiv of trying to solve the conflict through military force and warned of “irreversible consequences for Ukrainian statehood,” as both sides accused each other of ignoring appeals for a ceasefire to be respected. Ukraine’s army said some 700 Russian troops had crossed into the country on the morning of January 19 to support pro-Russian separatists. Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters that three Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 66 wounded in the previous 24 hours. (RFE/RL)

EU holds steady on sanctions 

BRUSSELS – The European Union’s foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said on January 19 that the situation on the ground in Ukraine was “much worse than last week,” and ruled out relaxing the bloc’s sanctions against Russia before Moscow implemented the Minsk agreements. “Our relations with Russia can only change if and when – I hope ‘when’, but at the moment it is ‘if’ – commitments that were taken in Minsk are implemented, and let me say that the latest developments on the ground are not encouraging, rather the contrary,” Ms. Mogherini said on January 19 after a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers. Earlier, Ms. Mogherini had suggested in a confidential memo leaked to the media that EU governments could start talking to Russia again about global diplomacy, trade, and other issues if Moscow implemented the Minsk peace agreement to end the separatist conflict. The EU pledged to respond to a perceived Russian propaganda campaign, after the issue was raised in a recent letter signed by the foreign ministers of Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, and Britain. Ms. Mogherini said the EU will work on “concrete steps to be implemented in the coming weeks,” adding, however, that the bloc would not engage in counterpropaganda. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told RFE/RL that there was “wide support” among his EU counterparts for the need to address Russian propaganda. Mr. Linkevicius said EU institutions will prepare a draft action plan, and “will be able to then discuss concretely what could be done.” (RFE/RL, with reporting by RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, Interfax, Agence France-Presse, Reuters and the Associated Press)

NATO to Russia: stop supporting rebels

BERLIN – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has called on Russia to withdraw its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and use “all its influence” to make them observe a ceasefire agreement. Speaking at a news conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on January 14, Mr. Stoltenberg said, “We call on Russia to respect the [September 5] Minsk agreements, to use all its influence on the separatists to make them respect the ceasefire, and to withdraw the support for the separatists.” Mr. Stoltenberg said NATO wanted cooperation with Russia, but that if ties between the alliance and Moscow are to improve, “Russia must want it” as well. “NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia. NATO aspires for a more constructive and cooperative relationship with Russia,” he said. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters and Deutsche Presse-Agentur)

OSCE states call for immediate ceasefire

BELGRADE – The OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić on January 20 welcomed a declaration adopted by representatives of the 57 participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at a special meeting of the Permanent Council in Vienna, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. He welcomed the Permanent Council’s prompt response to the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground. “The declaration confirms the firm conviction of all the OSCE’s 57 participating states that the cycle of violence and hostilities in eastern Ukraine cannot be settled on the battleground but only at the negotiating table,” said Mr. Dačić. In the declaration OSCE states expressed their “serious concern over the military escalation in recent days in eastern Ukraine” and called “for an immediate ceasefire by all sides and the full implementation of the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014, and Memorandum of 19 September 19, 2014.” Participating states also expressed their “full support” to the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, and called upon “all signatories of the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum to meet as soon as possible in order to achieve practical progress on the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.” The declaration also emphasized ”that all sides should fully respect and ensure the safety and security of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) monitors on the ground, and fully cooperate with the Mission.” (OSCE)

Kyiv reports attack by Russian troops 

KYIV – Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Ukrainian soldiers on January 20 came under attack from Russian regular forces in the north of the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. “In violation of all prior agreements, Ukrainian military units were attacked in the north [of the war zone] by regular units of the Russian armed forces,” he said. The accusation came hours after Moscow denied claims by Kyiv of about 700 new Russian soldiers crossing over into eastern Ukraine amid intensified fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels. Mr. Lysenko said the attack happened in the Luhansk Oblast, which the the Russian forces had allegedly entered the day before. Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin said on January 20 that pro-Russian separatists had seized more than 500 square kilometers of territory from Ukrainian forces since a ceasefire agreement was signed in Minsk in September. He said at a news conference in Kyiv that the rebels, backed by Russian arms and soldiers, had taken “advantage of the fact that our forces complied with the ceasefire.” Mr. Klimkin said Ukraine would demand that rebels return to the Minsk “separation line” at future meetings of a so-called “contact group” that includes separatist leaders from Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia, for its part, on January 20 denied new accusations by Kyiv that Moscow sent troops into eastern Ukraine. A Defense Ministry spokesman said that Kyiv’s claim that some 700 Russian troops had crossed into eastern Ukraine was “absolute nonsense.” (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse)

State Department notes Ukraine events

WASHINGTON – In the daily press briefing at the U.S. State Department on January 16, Jeff Rathke, director of the press office, brought up Ukraine as the first topic of the day. He said: “It is one year to the day since Ukraine’s former government passed the so-called Black Thursday laws, draconian laws that denied the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech. Ukraine has come an enormous distance since then to meet its people’s aspirations. And the current government remains committed to advancing important reforms, despite ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine. These steps include last year’s free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections, the signing of an association agreement with the European Union, and a focus on anti-corruption efforts, including this week’s move by Ukraine’s parliament to increase the independence of the judiciary. These are critically important steps to help the country move forward, and we congratulate the people of Ukraine on how far they have come in such a short time, especially on this significant anniversary. And we continue to stand with them as they press forward on critical reforms. (U.S. Department of State)

Congressional Ukrainian Caucus on Savchenko

WASHINGTON – Co-chairs of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, Reps. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), on January 16 released a statement regarding the detention of Ukrainian pilot and Member of Parliament Nadiya Savchenko. “We continue to call on Russian authorities to immediately release Nadiya Savchenko from custody. We are gravely concerned by reports of her ill health since the commencement of a hunger strike on December 14, 2014, now into its fifth week. We are equally troubled by Ms. Savchenko’s lack of access to her counsel and adequate medical attention. We demand that Russia abide by its international obligations and the rule of law, and we join the United States Department of State in calling for Nadia Savchenko’s immediate release.” (Office of Rep. Sander Levin)

Biden speaks with Yatsenyuk

WASHINGTON – Vice-President Joe Biden spoke on January 13 with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk regarding the situation in eastern Ukraine, additional U.S. financial assistance for Ukraine and efforts to promote the Minsk peace process. The vice-president expressed his condolences for the civilians killed in the bombing of a passenger bus that day in Donetsk Oblast, and expressed his regret at the increasing number of ceasefire violations by Russia’s proxies. According to a readout of the call, “The vice-president and prime minister also discussed progress in assembling a broad package of international financing that will support Ukraine as it takes steps to restore economic stability and unleash its economic potential. …the two leaders discussed the recent meeting of Ukrainian, Russian, French and German Foreign Ministers in Berlin, and agreed on the importance of having Russia abide by the commitments it made in the Minsk agreements, …the return of hostages, and the withdrawal of arms and foreign fighters from Ukraine.” (White House)

Soros offers policy to rescue Ukraine

NEW YORK – International financier and philanthropist George Soros, in an article in The New York Review of Books, is calling for a substantial new financial assistance package for Ukraine. Mr. Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC and the Open Society Foundations, argues: “By enabling Ukraine to defend itself, Europe would be indirectly also defending itself. Moreover, an injection of financial assistance to Ukraine would help stabilize its economy and indirectly also provide a much-needed stimulus to the European economy by encouraging exports and investment in Ukraine. Hopefully Russia’s troubles and Ukraine’s progress would persuade President Vladimir Putin to give up as a lost cause his attempts to destabilize Ukraine.” The full article, headlined “A New Policy to Rescue Ukraine,” is dated January 7, but appears in the February 5 issue. The full text is available at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/feb/05/new-policy-rescue-ukraine/?insrc=hpss. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress, The New York Review of Books)

Poroshenko meets with Soros

KYIV – President Petro Poroshenko on January 13 held a meeting with the founder of the Open Society Foundations, international philanthropist George Soros. Mr. Poroshenko has expressed gratitude to Mr. Soros for his support of Ukraine, particularly for urging international society to increase the level of support to Ukraine. The two men discussed international instruments and opportunities for increasing economic assistance to Ukraine. In this context, Mr. Soros underlined the substantial role of the European Union and the importance of finding additional instruments for the EU to help Ukraine. At the same time, he emphasized that Ukraine must demonstrate a commitment to the plan of reforms. “You have to show that the new Ukraine is different from the old one,” he said. Mr. Soros noted that the implementation of reforms requires financial assistance. “Ukraine is struggling to protect not only itself, but also Europe. Thus, Europe should help Ukraine implement reforms necessary for the country,” he added. Mr. Soros praised the first legislative steps in the sphere of deregulation and judicial reform. According to President Poroshenko, the establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine and the transparent appointment of its director are measures that will demonstrate the readiness of Ukraine to overcome corruption. Messrs. Soros and Poroshenko agreed that the National Council on Reforms was a proper platform for the discussion of legislative initiatives and instruments for the introduction of reforms; it will involve the president, the Cabinet of Ministers and the public in the process of state reformation and consolidation of Ukrainian society. The two men agreed to continue their dialogue at World Economic Forum to take place at the end of January in Davos. (Press office of the President of Ukraine)

OSCE to double size of mission 

HAMBURG – The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) plans to double the number of monitors it has in Ukraine by the end of this month. OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw made the announcement on January 4 in an interview with the Hamburg-based dpa news agency. The monitoring mission will be increased from 250 monitors to 500 because the security situation in eastern Ukraine has improved, Mr. Bociurkiw said. He added, however, that there continue to be violations of the fragile ceasefire on a daily basis. He said the withdrawal of heavy equipment that was agreed by all parties in Minsk in September has not been implemented. Ukrainian military officials and spokespeople for the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine on January 4 accused one another of violating the ceasefire. The separatists said their positions were shelled 16 times by Ukrainian forces “using tanks and heavy artillery.” The Ukrainian military said its forces had been shelled 10 times overnight. Three Ukrainian troops were reported killed. More than 1,300 of the deaths have come after the ceasefire deal, and efforts to build on the agreement have made little progress despite a decrease in fighting in recent weeks. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Deutsche Presse-Agentur)

U.S. and Ukrainian ships in naval exercise

KYIV – The destroyer USS Donald Cook and the Ukrainian navy flagship Hetman Sahaidachny took part in an at-sea naval exercise in the Black Sea on January 11, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine reported. The exercise “consisted of a series of at-sea scenarios designed to enhance maritime capabilities […]Donald Cook’s participation in this exercise highlights the strong relationship between the U.S. and Ukrainian navies, while its presence in the Black Sea demonstrates the United States’ commitment to working closely with its partners to enhance maritime security and stability in the region.” (Ukrainian Canadian Congress)

11th ‘humanitarian’ convoy reported

KYIV – The National Security and Defense Council on January 8 reported that another so-called “humanitarian convoy” illegally entered Ukrainian territory from Russia that morning. A total of 124 trucks were in the convoy. The NSDC said that Ukrainian border guards were able only to “visually observe” the crossing of the convoy and could not carry out controlling functions. Representatives of the International Red Cross did not oversee the convoy movement. During 2014, 10 such “humanitarian convoys” entered Ukraine from Russia. (Ukrainian Canadian Congress, National Security and Defense Council)