January 13, 2017



VP Biden headed on last trip to Kyiv

KYIV – U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, long the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine, will make a farewell visit to Kyiv on Sunday, January 15, it was announced by the Office of President Petro Poroshenko. The Reuters news service noted that the vice-president, one of Ukraine’s strongest political supporters will fly to Ukraine “as the country looks forward with apprehension to the new administration of Donald Trump.” Mr. Biden has visited Ukraine five times (his most recent visit was in December 2015), and he maintains regular phone contact with Mr. Poroshenko. Reuters noted: “Officials in Ukraine have expressed concern that U.S. support could wane following the January 20 inauguration of Trump, who has voiced admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and a desire to improve ties with Moscow. Biden, who last year promised the ‘unwavering support’ of the United States for Ukraine, has nevertheless chastised officials for lackluster reform efforts, warning that endemic corruption risks undermining international will to maintain sanctions on Russia.” (Reuters, The New York Times, RFE/RL)

Tillerson on Russian actions in Crimea

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State-nominee Rex Tillerson said the United States should have had a more robust military response following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Asked at his confirmation hearing on January 11 by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) what the U.S. response should have been, Mr. Tillerson said more defensive weapons, intelligence and air surveillance should have been provided. Mr. Tillerson, who has questioned the wisdom of the Ukraine-related sanctions, also criticized the administration of outgoing President Barack Obama for its response to the Crimea land grab, saying it emboldened Russia to back separatists in eastern Ukraine with weapons and soldiers. He added that Russia’s leadership saw the Obama administration’s response to Crimea as “weak.” Asked whether he believes now is the right time to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, Mr. Tillerson said, “I would leave things in the status quo so we are able to convey this can go either way.” In a confirmation hearing that focused largely on Russia, the former ExxonMobil chairman and CEO told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Russia “poses a danger” and that U.S. allies had a right to be alarmed about a “resurgent Russia.” Mr. Tillerson, the recipient of a state friendship award from President Vladimir Putin, added in prepared opening remarks to lawmakers: “While Russia seeks respect and relevance on the global stage, its recent activities have disregarded America’s interests.” The firm stance on Russia that Tillerson assumed during the hearing appeared likely to assuage some concerns among leading U.S. senators that Tillerson could take a softer line on Russia. However, he elicited surprise from senators when he said he had not had a conversation with Trump about U.S. policy on Russia. (Carl Schreck of RFE/RL, Reuters)

Mattis: Russia is at top of list of threats

WASHINGTON – The nominee for U.S. secretary of defense, retired general James Mattis, testifying on January 12 at confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, said Russia, China and Islamist militants were presenting the biggest challenge to the U.S.-led world order since World War II and called for Congress to lift spending caps undermining military readiness. Reuters reported that his remarks to the Armed Services Committee appeared set to clinch the panel’s backing for his nomination, as Russia-wary lawmakers hope he might temper President-elect Donald Trump’s stated desire to partner with Moscow. “I’m all for engagement, but we also have to recognize reality in what Russia is up to,” Mr. Mattis said, adding there were a “decreasing number of areas” where the United States might cooperate with Moscow. Asked about the main threats to U.S. interests, the nominee said: “I would consider the principle threats to start with Russia.” He cited Russian involvement in hacking and information warfare among the challenges posed by Moscow. Others include treaty violations, using tactics short of open war to destabilize other countries and “alarming messages from Moscow regarding the use of nuclear weapons.” He said Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to undermine NATO, and he noted the importance of the Western military alliance. (Reuters, as cited by Ukrainian Canadian Congress Daily Briefing)

Senators want to cement Russia sanctions

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is pushing new legislation that would cement into U.S. law the sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The legislation, introduced January 10, could make it harder for the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump to lift the sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama following the 2014 annexation. The sponsors of the measure include 10 Republican and Democratic senators, which gives it more of a chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate. A similar measure is being drafted in the House of Representatives. The bill would also fortify the sanctions Mr. Obama announced last month against Russian government officials and entities accused of carrying out a hacking campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election. “We should all be alarmed by Russian attacks on our nation,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the leading critics of Russia in Congress and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Other items in the bill, the Countering Russian Hostilities Act, call for setting up a unit within the Treasury Department’s financial crimes offices to target illicit money trails linked to Russia. The legislation also mandates sanctions in Russia’s energy sector and on investments in the development of civil nuclear projects. (RFE/RL, with reporting with AP and Politico)

Savchenko publishes ‘prisoner’ lists 

KYIV – Ukrainian lawmaker Nadiya Savchenko has published the names of hundreds of people who have been taken captive or gone missing during the nearly three-year-old war in eastern Ukraine, ignoring appeals by authorities to keep the information secret. In a Facebook post on January 10, Ms. Savchenko, a former military navigator who was jailed in Russia in 2014 and became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance against Russian aggression before her release in May, said she hoped that by publicizing the lists Ukrainian authorities would work faster to facilitate their release. “Why publish the lists of prisoners and missing people?” she wrote. “So that it would be possible to find them!” Ms. Savchenko laid out a three-step plan to exchange captives, find those believed to be held in secret jails, and locate and identify the remains of those missing who are found dead. A senior official at the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity so that he could speak freely that his office was “not supportive” of Ms. Savchenko’s decision to publish the lists. Doing so, he said, makes relatives of those people listed “more vulnerable to scammers and people who want to abuse that information,” adding that it was the family’s right to decide whether they wanted the names of their loved ones to be disclosed. “We cooperated with [Savchenko] because after her release she wanted to help [with prisoner exchanges],” the SBU official said. “We shared information with her in confidence on the condition that she would not make that info public.” Releasing the information, he added, “damages the credibility of the Ukrainian side.” (Christopher Miller of RFE/RL)

Azarov may form government-in-exile 

MOSCOW – Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov has said he may form a Ukrainian “government-in-exile” after a December Moscow court ruling held that the collapse of his government in early 2014 was the result of an illegal coup. Speaking in Moscow on January 9, Mr. Azarov said it would be necessary to form a government-in-exile if the Ukrainian people “demand an alternative.” He also said the Ukraine Salvation Committee that he heads is planning to file cases in unspecified “international courts” asking for them to follow the lead of the Moscow court’s ruling. Mr. Azarov was Ukraine’s prime minister from March 11, 2010, until January 27, 2014, under former President Viktor Yanukovych. Messrs. Yanukovych and Azarov, as well as other pro-Russian Ukrainian officials, fled to Russia in February 2014 after months of mass protests in Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine by demonstrators who were angered by Mr. Yanukovych’s refusal to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. Mr. Azarov is now wanted in Ukraine on suspicion of corruption and abuse of office. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by TASS and Interfax)

World War II monument damaged 

KYIV – A monument in western Ukraine honoring the memory of some 900 people who were massacred during World War II has been severely damaged by unknown vandals. Local police reported the damage on January 10, saying that they were investigating. A stone cross was smashed to pieces and two slabs bearing the names of the victims were painted with a Ukrainian flag, Ukrainian nationalist symbols and a Nazi SS emblem. The monument in the village of Huta Peniatska in Ukraine’s Lviv region honors victims of a 1944 massacre by a Nazi unit composed mostly of Ukrainian volunteers. Most of the victims were ethnic Poles, and Poland’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has asked Ukraine to ensure that the perpetrators are revealed and punished. Poland’s ambassador to Ukraine, Jan Pieklo, plans to attend ceremonies at the site of the monument next month to mark the 73rd anniversary of the massacre. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AP and Interfax)

Law on Ukraine security assistance 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), founder and co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, on December 23, 2016, announced that the president signed into law key elements of his Ukraine security assistance package dealing with Ukrainian defense sector reform as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). As amended by Sen. Portman’s provisions, the NDAA authorizes $350 million in security assistance, including lethal and non-lethal equipment, training and technical assistance. Half, or $175 million, of this money is linked to Ukraine’s implementation of critical defense reforms, such as instituting civilian control of the military, cooperation and coordination with Ukrainian parliamentary efforts to exercise oversight of the Ministry of Defense and military forces, increased transparency and accountability in defense procurement, and improvement in transparency, accountability and potential opportunities for privatization. This year’s Ukraine security assistance package builds on provisions that Sen. Portman passed last year. The senator commented: “As Russian aggression continues in eastern Ukraine, the United States and NATO must provide the sustained economic, political and military support necessary for Ukraine to secure a democratic future. The Ukrainian people need the moral and material support of the United States to defend themselves as they continue their pursuit for democracy, liberty and freedom.” He noted, “The provisions signed into law today will help the U.S. keep their promise to Ukrainians longing for peace, and will continue the policy of Democratic and Republican administrations alike of helping free people defend themselves against tyranny.” (Office of Sen. Rob Portman)

Defense Ministry: info not true

KYIV – Reacting to recent news media reports that 80 percent of D-30 howitzers of the armed forces of Ukraine (AFU) have been destroyed by Russian hackers as a result of the hacking of Ukrainian artillery, the Ministry of Defense said the information is not true. The ministry’s press service reported that, according to the command of the missile troops and artillery of Ukraine’s land forces, the losses of artillery weapons are much less than those mentioned and are not linked to the reason cited. “The military units of the missile troops and artillery of the AFU land forces currently are fully combat-ready, equipped and able to carry out tasks as directed,” the Defense Ministry stated. As reported earlier by UNIAN, a hacker group associated with the Russian government and high-profile cyberattacks against Democrats during the U.S. presidential election probably used malware on Android devices to keep track of Ukrainian artillery and its objectives from the end of 2014 until 2016. (UNIAN)

PM sees further development in 2017

KYIV – In a New Year greeting, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman wished love, prosperity and harmony to Ukraine’s citizens in 2017. Mr. Groysman said that in 2016 Ukrainian citizens became convinced that they are able to achieve significant results and move towards their goals despite difficulties. The prime minister thanked those who made growth of the Ukrainian economy possible. “Ukraine has also fulfilled all its obligations to the European Union on a visa-free regime. I believe that the Association Agreement with the EU will be fully ratified, which will provide an additional impetus to the deepening of European integration and the effective implementation of internal reforms,” he said. Mr. Groysman expressed confidence that the worst times are over and that 2017 will be a year of further development, and will bring significant changes in the social, economic, defense, political, cultural and humanitarian spheres. (UNIAN)