April 29, 2016



Savchenko’s extradition may take months…

MOSCOW – Jailed Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko has received official forms needed for her to be extradited from Russia to Ukraine, her lawyer says. Attorney Mark Feigin told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency on April 27 that Ms. Savchenko had been given the documents and that a lawyer, Nikolai Polozov, would go to her jail in Novocherkassk on April 29 and help her fill out the forms. Mr. Feigin added that the entire process of extradition could take many months. “I have received Savchenko’s statement [saying she agrees] to be extradited to serve her prison sentence in Ukraine… I believe that the procedure has started,” RIA quoted Mr. Feigin as saying. Ms. Savchenko was sentenced by a Russian court to 22 years in jail on March 22 after she was found guilty of involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists during fighting by Russia-backed separatists against Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. She has denied any involvement in the incident and says she was abducted and illegally brought to Russia. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Reuters and Interfax)

…Poroshenko hopes for earlier return 

KYIV – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says he hopes jailed pilot Nadiya Savchenko will return home from Russia as part of a prisoner swap “in a few weeks.” In a televised interview late on April 24, he said of his phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week about exchanging Ms. Savchenko for Russian prisoners in Ukraine: “We agreed on a formula for resolving this problem. We agreed on its preliminary terms. …And right now, I firmly hope that the presidential plane with my representatives will return Nadiya to Ukraine in a few weeks. I think it will be a big day for me personally and for many Ukrainians.” There was no immediate response to Mr. Poroshenko’s comments from Russia. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AFP, Interfax and TASS)

Obama: Russia sanctions must remain 

HANNOVER, Germany – U.S. President Barack Obama says he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agree that Ukraine-related sanctions targeting Russia should only be lifted if Moscow complies with a deal to end fighting between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists. “Sanctions on Russia can and should only be lifted once Russia fully complies with its commit-ments under the Minsk [peace] agreement,” Mr. Obama told an April 24 news conference in Hannover after meeting with Ms. Merkel during the last leg of a six-day foreign trip to shore up U.S. alliances. Ms. Merkel said that the ceasefire was not stable and that she and Mr. Obama had discussed implementation of the February 2015 peace deal brokered in Minsk to end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 9,100 since April 2014. “Unfortunately, we do not have any stable ceasefire yet and we must make progress in the political process,” the German chancellor said, adding that she and the U.S. president “discussed very detailed steps to be taken next in this regard.” The Kremlin has repeatedly blamed Kyiv for failing to implement the Minsk agreement. Mr. Obama also offered words of support to the new Ukrainian government under Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman. “We welcome the formation of a new government in Ukraine, which we encourage to continue the political, economic and energy reforms that can deliver progress for the Ukrainian people,” the U.S. president said. Mr. Obama had arrived in Germany earlier in the day to push for a new European Union-U.S. trade pact and take part in an April 25 summit with key EU leaders. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters and AP)

Chornobyl contamination found in milk

GUBAREVICHI, Belarus – Associated Press reporters who visited the edge of the Chornobyl exclusion zone in Belarus say that milk from a dairy farm there contains levels of radioactive isotopes at least 10 times higher than the country’s food safety limits. The finding came on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the 1986 explosion and fire at the Chornobyl nuclear plant in neighboring Ukraine. The milk was tested by the AP reporters after it was offered to them by dairy farmer Nikolai Chubenok, whose land is about 45 kilometers north of the shuttered Chornobyl nuclear plant. Mr. Chubenok said his herd of 50 dairy cows produces milk for the local factory of Milkavita. Milkavita produces Parmesan cheese that is sold primarily in Russia. Milkavita officials said the AP-commis-sioned laboratory finding was “impossible.” They insisted their own tests show that traces of radioactive isotopes in their milk supply are well below safety limits. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashen-ka said on April 25 that cleaning up the radioactive fallout from the Chornobyl nuclear accident has been a “major and pressing task” for his government for 30 years. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AP)

Nuland: No deadline for Ukraine vote 

KYIV – The United States is not setting a precise deadline for Kyiv to hold disputed elections in war-wracked eastern Ukraine, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said in the Ukrainian capital on April 27 at the end of a visit during which she met with President Petro Poroshenko, new Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman and Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin. The assistant secretary of state’s statement came after Ukrainian lawmaker Viktoria Voytsitska, a member of the reformist Samopomich party, told reporters after meeting Ms. Nuland on April 25 that the U.S. diplomat was setting a July deadline for the elections as a precondition for extending sanctions imposed on Russia for its alleged involvement in the war. “We have put no date on when elections need to happen, we’ve made absolutely clear that [the] Minsk [deal] requires that there be sufficient security and [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] access and the ability of candidates to ballot and the ability of citizens to hear from candidates before you can have an election,” Ms. Nuland told a press conference. The Minsk agreements of February 2015 established a ceasefire and called for elections and other measures to end the conflict. Holding elections in eastern Ukraine is seen by Kyiv’s German and French partners as a way to end one of Europe’s bloodiest conflicts since the 1990s Balkans wars. Last month, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Ukraine should hold local polls in rebel-held regions by the end of June. But the pro-Western government in Kyiv views such a time frame as unfeasible because of both the continuing violence and the separatist leadership’s refusal to hold the vote under Ukrainian laws that require foreign monitoring of the polls. Ms. Nuland on April 27 reiterated that U.S. President Barack Obama is committed to fully implementing the Minsk accords and that there is unified commitment from U.S. allies to keep sanctions in place against Russia until Moscow meets its obligations under the Minsk accords. “We reaffirmed for President Poroshenko and Foreign Minister Klimkin President Obama’s unwavering commitment to see the Minsk agreements fully implemented, restoring full Ukrainian sovereignty over the Donbas,” she said. At the end of her news conference, Ms. Nuland also indicated that the U.S. secretary of state could visit Ukraine in the coming months. “U.S. State Secretary John Kerry is very eager to come back to Ukraine. He hasn’t been here in about a year. He bothers me every time I come – why am I coming and he is not coming? And I remind him that he is working on 400 other problems. But he very much wants to come this spring,” Ms. Nuland concluded. (Eugen Tomiuc of RFE/RL, with reporting from RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Kremlin on relations with NATO, EU 

MOSCOW – Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a security conference in Moscow that an April 20 meeting of the NATO-Russia Council – the first in more than two years – “did not inspire optimism” about the Kremlin’s relations with NATO and the European Union. Mr. Shoigu made the remarks on April 27 at the fifth Moscow Conference on International Security, which was being hosted by Russia’s Defense Ministry. He said it was “not our fault that Russia’s military cooperation with NATO and EU countries has been frozen.” NATO unilaterally suspended practical cooperation with Russia on April 1, 2014, in response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and its illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The April 20 meeting of the NATO-Russia Council was the first of its kind since April 2014. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Interfax and TASS)

Shuster loses Ukraine work permit

KYIV – Savik Shuster, a prominent Ukrainian talk show host was stripped of his work permit on April 26, sparking an uproar that forced Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to defend his record on media freedom. Mr. Shuster, a 63-year-old Canadian who was born in the Soviet Union and had previously worked for RFE/RL, accused Kyiv of not supporting free speech. “As it turns out, this government does not tolerate any criticism,” he said on his satellite television channel. He announced he was going on a hunger strike “until… my right to work in Ukraine is restored.” Ukraine’s employment office told Mr. Shuster that his work permit was revoked because he had failed to notify authorities that he was under investigation by tax authorities. “Freedom of speech is one of Ukraine’s greatest achievements,” Mr. Poroshenko countered on Facebook. “As the guarantor of the Constitution, I have and will protect free speech in all its forms. That is why I hope that the corresponding agencies resolve this matter as soon as possible.” Mr. Shuster has produced his political talk show “Shuster Live” for years. He vowed to continue his work without a permit. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)

U.S. protests suspension of Mejlis 

WASHINGTON – The United States has called on Russia to reverse its decision to suspend the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist” organization. “Russian authorities have no basis or jurisdiction to assert Russian law over Tatar conduct in Ukraine,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said on April 21. The Russian Justice Ministry’s decision of April 18 prohibits the self-governing Tatar body, which was legalized by Ukraine in 1999, from using state-owned media, holding public gatherings, participating in elections and using bank accounts for anything other than paying off taxes, debts or other financial penalties. “This action is the latest in a series of abuses perpetrated by de facto authorities against those in Crimea who oppose the occupation, including Crimean Tatars and members of other ethnic and religious minorities,” Mr. Kirby said. “We again call on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea and return control over this piece of Ukrainian territory. Sanctions related to Crimea will remain in place as long as the occupation continues.” (RFE/RL)
Russian Court affirms ban on Mejlis

SYMFEROPOL, Ukraine – The Russian-run Supreme Court of Crimea has branded the Crimean Tatar Mejlis an extremist organization and ordered it banned, upholding an earlier decision by Russia’s Ministry of Justice. The April 26 ruling by the region’s Supreme Court was the latest in a series of moves restricting the activities of Crimean Tatars, many of whom have strongly resisted Russia’s efforts to consolidate authority over the Ukrainian region. A week earlier, Russia’s Justice Ministry said the Crimean Tatar council had been placed on a list of civic and religious organizations for alleged extremist activity. The court ruling endorsing that Justice Ministry announcement gives local officials new authority to begin shutting down enterprises, including newspapers, or potentially confiscating computers or other property. Russia’s top prosecutor for the peninsula, Natalya Poklonskaya, was quoted by the Russian news agency TASS as saying that any actions taken by the Mejlis on Crimean territory would now be considered unlawful. Refat Chubarov, a Tatar lawmaker who heads the Mejlis, told reporters in Kyiv that the council, and other related bodies, would move operations in full to Kyiv. (RFE/RL, with reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)
BBC: media skewing MH17 reporting 

LONDON – The BBC has issued a rare defense of an upcoming documentary about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, accusing British media of distorting its report about a tragedy that killed 298 passengers and crew in July 2014. A report by Britain’s Sunday Express tabloid “misrepresented” the BBC program, which offers a “balanced” look at competing theories, the broadcaster said. Experts interviewed for the film describe as “unlikely” a theory put forward by Moscow and pro-Kremlin media – and rejected by Dutch investigators – that blames Ukrainian military aircraft for the crash, the BBC said. News of the documentary – titled “Who Shot Down MH17?”– rippled through Russia on April 24 after the Sunday Express published a story about the film on its website that said the program “will present new evidence that a Ukrainian fighter jet may have shot down the aircraft.” Kremlin loyalists have long pushed this theory in public, although investigators from the Dutch Safety Board concluded in their official report in October 2015 that the plane was brought down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired from an area that was mostly controlled by Russian-backed separatists at the time. While the hour-long documentary is only slated to air on May 3, it ignited an online maelstrom, with Kremlin critics accusing the BBC of providing a platform for Russian conspiracy theories aimed at muddying the waters about Russia’s alleged role in the downing of the plane. Pro-Kremlin media outlets framed the BBC film as a straightforward rejection of the version of events broadly accepted by Western governments: that Russia-backed separatists shot the passenger jet down, mostly likely thinking it was a Ukrainian military plane. A headline in Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda daily read: “BBC Film: Malaysian Boeing Shot Down By Ukrainian Jets.” (RFE/RL)

Kyiv bans Russian movies as a threat 

KYIV – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed legislation banning all Russian films made after January 1, 2014. Legislation signed by Mr. Poroshenko on April 20 also bans movies produced by Russia after 1991 if they “glorify the work of government bodies” of Russia. “The legislation will help raise the level of protection of Ukraine’s national security reduce separatist sentiments in society, and strengthen the government’s authority,” a parliamentary description of the bill was quoted as saying. Russian films and television series have long dominated the Ukrainian market, where an overwhelming majority of the population is bilingual. Ukrainian and Russian TV channels have also been engaged in a partnership to co-produce movies and series. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AP and DPA)

OSCE concerned about cinema law 

VIENNA – Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has warned that recent legislative steps in Ukraine could limit free media and the free flow of information. Ms. Mijatovic said in a statement on April 22 that “Ukraine’s current significant progress in the area of media freedom should be preserved and enhanced, not undermined.” Relations between Ukraine and Russia soured after street protests in Kyiv toppled President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin ally, in February 2014. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and threw its support behind separatists in the country’s east. “Even under the state of hostilities, democratic countries have a responsibility to carefully address the potentially problematic content, for example through the use of appropriate judicial mechanisms, in order to avoid overbroad steps and introduction of censorship-like provisions,” Ms. Mijatović said. (RFE/RL, OSCE)

OSCE helps train Ukraine’s police

KYIV – The Office of the OSCE Project Coordinator in Ukraine on April 21 launched a series of re-training courses for the new Ukrainian neighborhood police force as part of its ongoing support to country-wide law enforcement reform. Some 10,000 officers who pass the re-attestation procedure will refine skills and knowledge during the 100-hour courses to be held from April to December. Each course consists of a two-week program to enhance officers’ knowledge and skills in addressing administrative and criminal offenses, including domestic violence, trafficking in human beings and crimes against minors. The courses also emphasize police respect for the rule of law and human rights, as well as cooperation with local communities as part of a community-policing approach. “The development of police reform in Ukraine is about professionalism, trust and aspiration to fight corruption and crime,” said Khatia Dekanoidze, head of the Ukrainian National Police. “Police officers and society should unite efforts to make every community a safe place. No city or small settlement should be left without the attention of the police.” Course participants will also learn the practical tools for effective communication and conflict resolution, interviewing victims and witnesses and information security as part of routine duties. Vaidotas Verba, OSCE project coordinator in Ukraine, said: “As the neighborhood police is one of the front-line units in close contact with local communities, their openness and response to public needs directly influence the level of public trust in the police and security of the community. To build this trust police should focus on improving the quality of service it provides to the community, including through the training supported by us.” The training is part of OSCE project coordinator’s program  to strengthen the capacity of Ukraine’s new police. (OSCE)