August 26, 2021



Merkel in Kyiv discusses geopolitics
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said natural gas should never be used as a geopolitical weapon and backed extending an energy partnership deal with Ukraine once it expires in 2024. Ms. Merkel made the remarks in Kyiv on August 22 at a press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Ms. Merkel made her last visit to Ukraine before she is due to step down after elections in Germany next month. Her visit to the Ukrainian capital comes two days after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Ms. Merkel has been criticized for backing the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, that Kyiv, Washington and others warn will not only strengthen Moscow’s energy hold on Europe, but cut Ukraine out of lucrative gas transit fees. At the press conference, Mr. Zelenskyy said talks on extending the gas transit agreement with Russia have been vague. He said he wanted to understand what Ukraine can get after the agreement expires in 2024. Ms. Merkel has been a key supporter of Kyiv since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and began actively supporting separatist formations in parts of eastern Ukraine in 2014. That conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives. Ms. Merkel said in a news conference following her meeting with Mr. Putin that she would continue “to work for the territorial integrity of Ukraine” until she steps down following elections in Germany in September. However, Ms. Merkel has been criticized for her stance on Nord Stream 2, which will soon double Russian natural-gas supplies to Germany. Berlin has raised the possibility of creating a mechanism to compensate Ukraine for lost revenue. “You can call it a pragmatic approach,” Mr. Zelenskyy said in an interview this week with several media outlets. He called the German chancellor’s diplomacy a “very delicate balancing act,” but he added that “in my opinion, this is too soft.” Ukraine on August 24 celebrated the 30th anniversary of its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. The country also hosted several European leaders on August 23 for a summit on Crimea and discussed ways of having the peninsula returned to Ukraine, but Ms. Merkel did not participate in the conference. At the press conference in Kyiv on August 22, Ms. Merkel said Berlin considers Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea as illegal. (RFE/RL, with reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa)

Russia launches probe into ‘ecocide’
Russia has launched a probe into what it called “ecocide” over Ukraine’s decision to suspend water deliveries to Russia-annexed Crimea. Ukraine suspended freshwater deliveries to Crimea after Moscow annexed the peninsula in 2014 by sending troops and staging a referendum that was rejected by Ukraine and at least 100 countries. Russia’s Investigative Committee said on August 24 that a probe has been launched against unidentified individuals “located on Ukraine’s territory and standing against the reunification of Crimea with Russia,” who started construction of a dam on the Dnipro River in Ukraine’s Kherson region in April 2014, blocking freshwater deliveries to Crimea. Kyiv, which has not commented on Russia’s accusation, has said that water deliveries will be resumed after Russia returns Crimea under Ukraine’s control. According to the Investigative Committee, the suspension of water deliveries to Crimea from Ukraine via the North Crimean Canal hit agricultural lands, increased the salt level in the waters of the Gulf of Sivash and negatively affected the health of Crimea residents. Last year, Russia-imposed authorities in Crimea had to introduce water-rationing in some towns and cities in the peninsula as the availability of clean drinking water became an issue. (RFE/RL’s Russian Service)

Dozens evacuated from Kabul
A Ukrainian military plane carrying 83 people, including journalists, activists, and Afghan women and children, arrived in Kyiv as part of the massive evacuation of foreigners and endangered Afghans from Kabul. Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a post to Twitter on August 22 that the group included journalists from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. “They’re safe in Kyiv. We don’t abandon our people and help others. Working on further evacuations,” Mr. Kuleba wrote. Kyiv is unlikely to be the final destination for many of those arriving. Fatima Hossein, an English-language reporter for the news site KabulNow who was evacuated to Kyiv, said in an interview with RFE/RL that she was happy to have left, but she feared for her parents, including her father, who served in the Afghan Army. “My parents tried to help me evacuate…. I received a call from the Ukrainian government that the Ukrainian plane would land in Kabul and that I should get there as soon as possible,” she said. “But it was not easy, because if the Ukrainian military was not there with me, I do not know how I could get to the plane.” “I don’t know about my parents, whether they are safe or not. But I tried to help them get a Pakistani visa. They have to get out of there as soon as possible, because my father’s life is in danger,” she said. In a separate statement, the president’s office said more than 100 Ukrainians remained in Afghanistan. Ukraine last week helped evacuate Sahraa Karimi, an Afghan filmmaker and the first woman to head the state-run Afghan Film Organization. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by Reuters)

Ukraine rejects reports of hijacking
The Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry has rejected reports that a Ukrainian plane was hijacked by unknown people from Kabul airport and flown to Iran. Some media reports on August 23 quoted Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Yevhen Yenin as saying that unknown individuals hijacked a Ukrainian plane and diverted it to Iran. However, ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko told RFE/RL on August 24 that “no Ukrainian plane was captured in Kabul or elsewhere.” “The information about a ‘hijacked plane,’ which was circulated by some media, is not true. All aircraft that our nation has used to evacuate our citizens from Afghanistan have returned safely to Ukraine,” Mr. Nikolenko said, stressing that in all, Ukraine brought 256 people from Afghanistan to Kyiv via three flights. “Deputy Foreign Minister Yevhen Yenin generally explained the unprecedented level of difficulties that our diplomats are facing while evacuating Ukrainians. We must understand that the situation at the [Kabul] airport is close to chaos,” Mr. Nikolenko added. Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority has also denied the report, saying that the Kyiv-bound plane refueled in the Iranian city of Mashhad during its journey from Kabul to the Ukrainian capital. According to Mr. Nikolenko, there are still about 50 more Ukrainian citizens in Kabul who are looking to return home. The media reports of the hijacking raised fears among many Ukrainians who are wary of Iran after a Ukraine International Airlines flight was shot down in January 2020 by a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps shortly after taking off from Tehran. All 176 people on board the plane died in the incident. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Stalin’s mass graves found in Ukraine
Mass graves of victims of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s Great Purge campaign of the 1930s have been discovered in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory (UINP) said that 29 mass graves had been found on the territory of a site called Tatarka in the Black Sea port city of Odesa. The graves were located after an Odesa-based historian, Oleksandr Babich, discovered documents in Romanian archives about mass executions and burials in Odesa in the 1930s. According to the documents, the mass graves might stretch further to the territory of a nearby military unit. At this point, work is being conducted to establish the exact number of men and women buried in the mass graves, but already historians are saying the site may be one of the largest of its kind in Ukraine. There is no data on the exact number of Soviet citizens who became victims of Josef Stalin’s Great Purge. According to the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow, at least 12 million innocent people were jailed or executed in the Soviet Union between the 1930s and 1950s. The Gulag History Museum in the Russian capital says the number of such people was around 20 million, of whom more than 1 million were executed. (RFE/RL)

Russia accuses Ukrainian of espionage
Russian authorities have detained a Ukrainian citizen on suspicion of espionage in the city of Tula, some 200 kilometers south of Moscow. The Federal Security Service (FSB) said on August 23 that the man, whose identity was not revealed, is suspected of collecting classified data related to Russia’s latest firearms technologies for Ukraine’s secret services. If convicted, the suspect faces up to 20 years in prison. There was no immediate reaction from Kyiv. Earlier this year, Russian authorities in Ukraine’s Crimea region arrested two men in separate cases in April and June on charges of spying for Kyiv. Russia has arrested dozens of people in Crimea and across Russia on charges including espionage, extremism and terrorism, since it seized Crimea in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries. Rights groups have said that after imposing its control over the peninsula, Moscow aggressively moved to prosecute Ukrainian activists and anyone who questioned the annexation. Russia also backs separatists in a war against Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 13,200 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. (RFE/RL’s Russian Service, with reporting by TASS and Interfax)

Ukraine bans ‘propaganda’ website
An influential opposition news website has been banned in Ukraine in connection with sanctions against its editor, who faces punishment in Kyiv for publishing “pro-Russia propaganda.” He is living in exile in Austria. The ban against the website was issued as a decree signed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The decree was made public on August 21.’s editor Ihor Hushva has been in exile since 2018 when Ukraine’s National Security Council imposed sanctions on him and his companies. Mr. Hushva is among dozens of individuals named on August 20 by Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council of spreading “pro-Russian propaganda.” The council on August 20 also imposed sanctions on a number of pro-Kremlin figures in Ukrainian politics, businesses and media. Among them is Andriy Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker that the U.S. government sanctioned in September 2020 after accusing him of being a Russian agent who tried to interfere in U.S. elections. In January, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned seven Ukrainians and four entities for being part of a Russia-linked foreign intelligence network run by Mr. Derkach. Mr. Derkach did not immediately comment, but he previously denied the allegations and said he was being targeted for exposing corruption. Mr. Derkach was linked to an effort by Rudy Giuliani, who was former U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, to find compromising information about President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, during the 2020 election campaign. “Sanctions are also imposed on four entities related to Internet resources, which are directly or indirectly coordinated by these citizens and conduct systematic anti-Ukrainian propaganda,” the council said. They include bloggers and politicians Anatoliy Shariy and Olga Shariy, who are accused of running a video blog and website considered pro-Russian. The couple also founded a party that has several representatives in city and oblast councils. The head of Ukraine’s SBU security agency, Ivan Bakanov, said the measures were taken to protect the “information space.” “The Security Service clearly distinguishes between freedom of speech and the attack on the statehood and sovereignty of Ukraine,” Mr. Bakanov said. In addition, sanctions were imposed on 28 members of Russia’s intelligence and special services as well as six other individuals alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Crimea. Sanctions were also imposed on 12 legal entities, including local television channels, news agencies and online publications from Crimea. “All of them are waging an information war against Ukraine and are active participants in hybrid aggression,” the council said. Russia occupied Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by more than 100 countries. Moscow also backs separatists in a war against government forces that has killed more than 13,200 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by Kyiv Post and dpa)