June 24, 2016



EU prolongs sanctions against Crimea 

BRUSSELS – The European Union has agreed to extend its investment ban and other economic sanctions on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which was forcibly annexed by Russia in 2014. The EU sanctions package against Crimea includes a ban on the import of goods originating in Crimea unless they have Ukrainian certificates; a ban on exports to the peninsula related to transport, telecommunications, and the energy sectors – including the exploration of oil, gas and mineral resources. EU companies are also prohibited from investing in Crimea or financing Crimean companies. Furthermore, cruise ships that are owned or controlled by a European company or flying the flag of an EU member state may not dock at Crimean ports, including Sevastopol, a naval port city that Russia considers a separate administrative district. The ban was first imposed when Russia illegally annexed the Ukrainian peninsula two years ago and it has been prolonged every year by the 28 EU member states. EU ambassadors are expected to discuss a broader list of economic sanctions it has on Russia on June 21, with a view to extending them by six months ahead of the EU summit on June 28-29. (RFE/RL)

Steinmeier urges dialogue with Russia 

BERLIN – German Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has warned that Europe “is at risk of splitting along new divides.” In an opinion column published in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus marking the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Mr. Steinmeier said “peace in Europe cannot be taken for granted.” He also urged diplomatic dialogue between NATO and Russia rather than military confrontation. Mr. Steinmeier’s commentary was published on June 22 in Russia’s Kommersant, Ukraine’s Zerkalo Nedeli, and Belarus’ Sovetskaya Belorussiya newspapers. Referring to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its support for separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine, Mr. Steinmeier said the “unilateral shifting of borders in breach of international law and the failure to respect the territorial integrity of neighboring countries… take us back to the times from which we believed we had escaped, times that nobody can wish for.” On June 18, Mr. Steinmeier warned NATO against “warmongering” by staging military exercises on its eastern flanks. He urged the alliance to replace the training exercises with more dialogue and cooperation with Russia. Mr. Steinmeier said on June 19 that, if the Kremlin does its part to implement the Minsk peace plan for Ukraine, the European Union should gradually phase out sanctions imposed against Russia for its role in Ukraine’s crisis. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AP and Reuters)
France sees Ukraine summit in July

PARIS – France says a four-way summit on Ukraine is “feasible” next month in the light of “progress” in the crisis. Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll quoted President Francois Hollande as making the comments at a Cabinet meeting on June 22. Mr. Le Foll did not give any details about the progress that the president said had been made. Mr. Hollande referred to the so-called Normandy format for the summit on Ukraine that would involve the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. The previous such meeting took place in June 2014. In Moscow, Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov expressed reservations about organizing a summit on Ukraine now, saying “the premises for valuable work of this kind have not been fulfilled.” Fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 9,300 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. The February 2015 Minsk agreement calls for a ceasefire and a range of other measures to end the conflict, but violence in the region occurs almost daily. (RFE.RL, based on reporting by AFP and Interfax)

Trudeau to travel to Ukraine

TORONTO – Noting that the government of Canada “is committed to strengthening Canada’s place in the world and will continue to pursue Canadian interests and values at every opportunity,” on June 20 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he will travel to Warsaw, Poland, to attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Heads of State and Government Summit on July 8-9, and that the trip will also include a visit to Ukraine. A release from the prime minister’s office said: “After the summit, the prime minister will travel to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to remember the 6 million Jews and the millions of other victims who were brutally murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The trip will conclude with an official visit to Ukraine from July 11 to 12. During the NATO summit, the prime minister will sit down with our closest allies and partners to discuss important security challenges, including ways to strengthen NATO’s ability to defend its territory and population, and to project stability beyond NATO borders.” While in Ukraine, the release said, Mr. Trudeau will reiterate the Canadian government’s “longstanding – and ongoing – commitment to the Ukrainian people, and its strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and “will also voice encouragement for Ukraine’s reform efforts, and will work to deepen commercial ties between the two countries, all in an effort to create jobs, strengthen the middle class and grow the Canadian economy.” (Office of the Prime Minister of Canada)

Rada urges UOC’s separation from Moscow

KYIV – Ukrainian lawmakers have approved an appeal to the worldwide head of the Orthodox Church asking him to recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s independence from Moscow. The appeal was adopted in Kyiv on June 16 by 245 lawmakers in favor and urges Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to declare invalid a 1686 act that attached the Kyiv metropolitan to the Moscow Patriarchate “in violation of canons.” The Moscow Patriarchate reacted to the Ukrainian Parliament’s move with harsh criticism, saying that the Ukrainian legislature has no right to administer inter-Church issues. There are three major Orthodox Churches in Ukraine: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate. The latter is unrecognized by other Eastern Orthodox Churches. The Ukrainian lawmakers’ move came the day when a historic forum of the Pan-Orthodox Council on the island of Crete was opening. The Orthodox Churches of Russia, Bulgaria, Syria and Georgia have declared they will not attend the special council. An Orthodox Church council with all the recognized branches of the Orthodox Church attending has not occurred since the year 787. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Interfax and UNIAN)

U.N. envoy ‘outraged’ by Ban’s comments

UNITED NATIONS – Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations has said he was “completely outraged” by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. In his June 16 speech, Mr. Ban said Russia “has a critical role to play” in addressing global issues “from ending the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, to safeguarding human rights and controlling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko of Ukraine said he doesn’t understand how the U.N. chief “can say such things which sort of praise the role of Russia in settling the conflict in Ukraine when the Russian Federation is the main player in aggressing Ukraine and in keeping this conflict boiling.” Mr. Yelchenko also said Russia is accused of rights abuses in Crimea and that Moscow is “building up the nuclear potential” on the Black Sea peninsula. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AFP and AP)
White House gives Kyiv $220 M in aid 

WASHINGTON – The White House says it will give Ukraine $220 million in new aid this year to support Kyiv’s economic, political and energy reform efforts. The badly needed aid for the war-shattered country was announced on June 15 after U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman by phone. The White House said the aid will help Ukraine “strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law, reinforce the foundations for sustainable economic growth, and respond to humanitarian needs.” Among the items on Mr. Groysman’s “ambitious reform agenda,” the White House said, is an acceleration of customs reform, an ongoing fight against corruption through reform of the justice sector and implementation of constitutional amendments adopted by Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada on June 2. Mr. Groysman intends to increase “support for independent media and civil society,” it said, and extend decentralization across Ukraine to improve the government’s delivery of services and increase citizen engagement. The Ukrainian prime minister has also committed to energy reforms, including establishing competitive gas and electricity markets in line with European Union standards, diversifying sources of energy away from Russia and privatization of state energy agencies. The White House noted that on June 9 the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation approved up to $62.5 million in financial support for two private equity funds that will invest in Ukraine across a number of sectors, including agribusiness, health care, infrastructure, retail, consumer goods and real estate. These two investments are in addition to previous corporation financial commitments to Ukraine totaling $185 million, according to the White House. U.S. aid to Ukraine since 2014 has totaled $1.3 billion, it said, including $112 million in humanitarian assistance for civilians affected by the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the east. The U.S. government has also provided $2 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine, and on June 3 approved an agreement allowing Ukraine to use a third of a $1 billion guarantee in coming months. “These loan guarantees help Ukraine stabilize its economy and protect the most vulnerable households from the impact of needed economic adjustment,” the White House said. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters)

U.S., Ukrainian defense officials meet

KYIV – The press office of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine reported on June 15 that U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter had met with Ukrainian Minister of Defense General Stepan Poltorak on the sidelines of the NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook provided the following readout: “The two leaders discussed Russia’s ongoing aggression in eastern Ukraine and Secretary Carter emphasized that the United States, together with our allies, remains committed to full implementation of Minsk agreements in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. Secretary Carter also underscored the United States commitment to our non-recognition policy of Russia’s attempted illegal annexation of Crimea. Secretary Carter and Minister Poltorak reviewed U.S. security assistance efforts designed to help build the capacity of Ukraine’s forces. The United States has committed more than $600 million since 2014, including training programs to enhance Ukraine’s internal defense capabilities, equipment to support the operational needs of Ukraine’s security forces and a robust advisory effort to advance the implementation of key defense reforms. Secretary Carter commended Minister Poltorak for undertaking an ambitious program of comprehensive defense reforms and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to supporting Ukraine, both bilaterally and through NATO, to help Ukraine better provide for its own security and make its defense enterprise more effective and efficient. (U.S. Embassy Kyiv)

Poroshenko on violent Russian soccer fans 

PARIS – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said during a visit to France that Russian soccer fans behind violence in Marseille during the European Championships were “trained fighters who kill.” Mr. Poroshenko made the remark on French television ahead of a June 21 meeting in Paris with French President Francois Hollande. Two Britons remained in a coma on June 21 after being seriously injured ahead of a June 11 Euro match in Marseille. They were among 35 mostly British fans hurt in the three days of violence. French prosecutors said the Russian fans in Marseille targeted England supporters in an orchestrated “hunt.” Three Russian fans were jailed for up to two years and six England fans were sentenced for up to six months. Twenty Russians were expelled from France for violence – including far-right fan leader Aleksandr Shprygin, who was expected to be expelled a second time on June 21 after sneaking back into the country. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)

Putin willing to reach out to Europe 

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Russian President Vladimir Putin says his country is willing to improve relations with Europe but insisted that the West was responsible for the strained ties. “We hold no grudge and are willing to reach out to our European partners but obviously this can’t be a one-sided game,” Mr. Putin told Russia’s top economic conference in St. Petersburg on June 17. However, he insisted that European Union sanctions, which were imposed in response to Moscow’s interference in Ukraine, had led to the current “collapse” in ties. Mr. Putin called on the EU to “show flexibility” and consider the interests of EU investors who want to do business with Russia. “European business wants and is ready to work with our country. European politicians need to reach out to business, to show wisdom, far-sightedness and flexibility,” Mr. Putin said. Western business leaders are attending the economic forum in St. Petersburg this year after a two-year break. On June 16, Mr. Putin told a meeting with international executives, including the CEO of the oil company Royal Dutch Shell, that Russia is open to Western investment despite the strained ties with the West. The United States and EU slapped Moscow with economic sanctions in 2014 over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AFP and AP)