February 24, 2017



March of National Dignity in Kyiv

KYIV – Thousands of activists marched in Kyiv to honor protesters who were killed during the pro-European Maidan demonstrations in 2013-2014 and to challenge the government. The March of National Dignity was organized by three nationalist parties – Svoboda, the National Corps and Right Sector. Activists gathered on Kyiv’s central Maidan Nezalezhnosty (Independence Square) early on February 22 and began marching toward Parliament, where they planned to announce their demands to lawmakers, the Cabinet and President Petro Poroshenko. Organizers said their demands include calls for full investigations of the deadly dispersal of demonstrators in Kyiv in February 2014 and the immediate cancellation of all trade with Russia, which demonstrators called “the aggressor country.” Hundreds of police officers were on the scene. They also plan to demand a halt to all economic ties with the portions of eastern Ukraine that are currently controlled by Russia-backed separatists. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Poroshenko: ‘very strong message’ of support

MUNICH, Germany – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he received a “very strong message supporting Ukraine” in a meeting with U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence and recent talks with other top U.S. officials. Mr. Poroshenko spoke to reporters after talks with Mr. Pence on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on February 18. Asked whether he was concerned that U.S. President Donald Trump and members of his administration were sending mixed signals on Ukraine, Poroshenko dismissed that notion. “There is no difference” of opinion, he said, citing the meeting with Mr. Pence and recent phone conversations with Mr. Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Mr. Trump had suggested during the election campaign that he would consider lifting sanctions imposed on Russia by the Obama administration in response to its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and support for separatists in the country’s east. But senior U.S. officials have taken a tougher stance in recent weeks, saying that Russia must return Crimea and de-escalate violence in eastern Ukraine. (RFE/RL)

Klimkin calls for reforms at UNSC

UNITED NATIONS – Ukraine has called for reform of the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) structure to prevent Russia from using its veto power on the council to obstruct actions involving the conflict in eastern Ukraine. “We need urgently to reform the Security Council in order to remove the veto power abuses,” said Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who chaired a meeting of the council on unresolved conflicts in Europe on February 21. A provision of the council’s charter requires that “a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting” when the council acts, but it has been “blatantly ignored,” he said. Russia used its power, for example, to block an initiative to set up an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) in 2015 over the war zone in eastern Ukraine, killing hundreds of people. The council should be able to address “bloody conflicts” regardless of whether one of the parties involved is a permanent council member with veto power, Mr. Klimkin said. “It is imperative that clear proceedings are introduced for the proper implementation” of the council’s abstention requirement, he said. Russia, which maintains that it has no troops in Ukraine despite evidence to the contrary, has previously rejected as unacceptable any curbs on its veto power. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by Union Information Agency and TASS)

Haley: U.S. committed to alliances

UNITED NATIONS – NATO is the “strongest alliance in history” and the United States is committed to its alliances in Europe, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on February 21. Washington is working to make the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “even more effective,” Ms. Haley said, and policy differences with European allies should not be seen as anything less than “total commitment to [U.S.] alliances in Europe.” Speaking to the United Nations Security Council during a debate on conflicts in Europe, the ambassador said the United States is ready to improve ties with Russia but will not compromise on its support for NATO and the European Union. Ms. Haley said “Russia’s attempts to destabilize Ukraine” were among the most serious challenges facing the continent. “The United States thinks it’s possible to have a better relationship with Russia – after all, we confront many of the same threats,” Ambassador Haley said. “But greater cooperation with Russia cannot come at the expense of the security of our European friends and allies.” She said the United States was committed to “the institutions that keep Europe safe” and that it “will not waver” in its support for NATO. (RFE/RL, with reporting by Reuters and AP)

 Dispute on reaction to Churkin’s death 

UNITED NATIONS – Moscow and Kyiv are at odds over a statement issued by the U.N. Security Council mourning the February 20 death of Russia’s long-time envoy to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin. Russia angrily accused Ukraine, which holds the rotating presidency of the 15-nation Security Council this month, of blocking the adoption of a “presidential statement” honoring Ambassador Churkin. “This is wild and inhuman,” Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov said on February 21. He also accused Ukraine of acting in an “un-Christian” way, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “May God judge them.” Kyiv rejected the criticism, saying that the Security Council issued a press statement but suggesting that a formal presidential statement would have been out of place. “We didn’t block anything,” Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Maryana Betsa said. She said that “a statement was issued for the press, as has been done in such cases in the past. There haven’t been many such cases. But there was no precedent for a separate political statement.” (RFE/RL, with reporting by TASS, RIA Novosti and UNIAN)

Russia detains 11 Crimean Tatars

KYIV – The Russian authorities in the annexed Ukrainian region of Crimea have sentenced 10 Crimean Tatars to five days of administrative arrest after convicting them of holding an illegal public gathering. The decision came late on February 21 after the defendants were arrested earlier that same day while taking photographs and videos of a search conducted by Russian police in the home of Crimean Tatar activist and lawyer Marlen Mustafayev. Mr. Mustafayev was sentenced to 11 days of administrative arrest on the same charges as the 10 other detainees. His wife told RFE/RL that police confiscated her husband’s computer and some books. No explanations were given, she says. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported that the defendants were not afforded legal representation. Russia has been sharply criticized by international rights groups and Western governments for its treatment of Crimea’s indigenous Turkic-speaking, mainly Muslim Crimean Tatar population since Moscow illegally annexed the Ukrainian region in March 2014. Arrests, disappearances, and killings of Crimean Tatars have been reported, and Crimean Tatar self-government organizations have been declared illegal. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

MFA reacts to Kremlin decree

KYIV – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of Ukraine reacted on February 18 to the Kremlin’s decree on recognition of documents issued on the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In its statement, the MFA noted: “Ukraine strongly condemns and doesn’t recognize the Kremlin’s decree on recognition of so-called documents issued on the territories of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. De-facto, the Kremlin’s decree constitutes recognition of the Russia-controlled illegal authorities on the occupied Ukrainian territories of Donbas. The Russian side has yet again violated Ukraine’s state sovereignty and territorial integrity, Russia’s international commitments, as well as the core idea and principles of the Minsk agreements.” The MFA also called on “our international partners to step up the pressure on Russia so that it unequivocally implements the Minsk agreements and returns to the international legal framework.” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine)

Kyiv seeks more sanctions against Russia

KYIV – Ukraine’s president has called for new sanctions against Russia over its decision to recognize passports issued by separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin said its decision is a “humanitarian” move to help residents of separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine who are suffering from a blockade by Ukrainian nationalists and says that doesn’t amount to recognizing the breakaway regions. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on February 21 denounced Moscow’s recognition of the documents, which he says contradicts the 2015 Minsk peace deal. Speaking at a meeting with an European Union aid commissioner, Mr. Poroshenko called for “resolute action” that could include “strengthening sanctions.” Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov argued February 21 that the decision to recognize passports and other documents issued by separatist authorities in the east was aimed to protect the rights of residents. (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AP and Interfax

A back-channel Ukraine peace plan? 

NEW YORK – An exclusive report in The New York Times says a lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump has helped a pro-Russia opposition Ukrainian lawmaker submit to the Trump administration a proposed alternative peace plan for the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on February 20 that the report was “absurd” and that Moscow had no knowledge of the purported peace plan. According to the February 19 Times report, Mr. Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen submitted the plan to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn about one week before Mr. Flynn resigned over allegations that he misinformed the administration about the nature of his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Mr. Cohen – who has no foreign-policy experience – is himself under investigation by the FBI for possible connections with Russian intelligence. He denies the allegations. The plan was created by Ukrainian opposition lawmaker Andriy Artemenko, who claims to have documents proving corruption by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. It called for Russia to withdraw its forces from eastern Ukraine and for Ukraine to hold a referendum on leasing Crimea to Russia for a period of 50 or 100 years. Moscow seized and illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014. According to The New York Times report, Mr. Artemenko’s plan outlines “a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.” Mr. Artemenko told The New York Times that the primary goal of his plan was to end the war in eastern Ukraine. He said the secondary goal was to improve relations between the United States and Russia. “If I could achieve both in one stroke, it would be a home run,” he told the newspaper. Mr. Artemenko also said that his plan has been encouraged by senior Russian officials. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, criticized Mr. Artemenko’s initiative, saying the opposition lawmaker was “not entitled to present any alternative peace plans on behalf of Ukraine.” (RFE/RL, with reporting by The New York Times)

Kremlin dismisses plan as ‘absurd’

MOSCOW – The Kremlin has dismissed a Ukrainian peace plan created by a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker and given to the White House, calling its provision on Crimea “absurd.” The plan by Ukrainian opposition lawmaker Andriy Artemenko, first reported by The New York Times, calls for Russia to withdraw its forces from eastern Ukraine and for Ukraine to hold a referendum on leasing Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014, to Russia for a period of 50 or 100 years. “How can Russia lease its own region? The very wording is rather absurd,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on February 20. “There is a general understanding that there is no alternative to the Minsk agreements,” he said, referring to a 2015 plan that has so far has failed to bring peace. “If a political-diplomatic solution can be found for the Ukraine issue, it is only possible on the basis of the Minsk agreements,” he said. Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed Mr. Peskov’s comments, telling RIA Novosti, “It is not possible to lease something from oneself.” (RFE/RL, based on reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters and Interfax)

Artemenko faces treason inquiry 

KYIV – Ukraine’s top prosecutor says his office is investigating a previously obscure lawmaker on suspicion of treason after he presented associates of President Donald Trump with a controversial peace plan for Ukraine and Russia. Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko told reporters on February 21 that Andriy Artemenko may have committed a treasonous offense in designing a plan to lease Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula to Russia in exchange for Kyiv regaining control of land held by Russia-backed separatists in the east. A document announcing the inquiry shared on Facebook by Mr. Lutsenko accuses Mr. Artemenko of carrying out subversive activities against Ukraine. Such actions are punishable in Ukraine by 10 to 15 years in prison. Mr. Artemenko, who was ousted on February 20 from the Radical Party, could not immediately be reached for comment. (Christopher Miller of RFE/RL)

Pence, Poroshenko meet in Munich

KYIV – The White House, Office of the Vice-President, on February 18 issued a readout of a meeting between U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence and the president of Ukraine. The readout noted: “The vice-president met today in Munich with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The vice-president expressed concern about the recent surge in violence in eastern Ukraine, and the leaders agreed on the need for an immediate comprehensive ceasefire. The vice-president underscored U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and self-determination, and underlined that the United States does not recognize Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of the Crimean peninsula. The vice-president expressed U.S. support for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, and the leaders discussed how the United States can support negotiations. The vice-president commended Ukraine’s progress on reforms, and the leaders affirmed the importance of further reforms to transform Ukraine into a secure, prosperous, European country for all its citizens.” (U.S. Embassy Kyiv)

Tillerson on meeting with Lavrov

WASHINGTON – Following his meeting with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov
on February 16 in Bonn, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a brief statement is which he commented on their discussion. He said: “Foreign Minister Lavrov and I had a productive meeting and we discussed a range of issues of mutual concern. As I made clear in my Senate confirmation hearing, the United States will consider working with Russia where we can find areas of practical cooperation that will benefit the American people. Where we do not see eye to eye, the United States will stand up for the interests and values of America and her allies. As we search for new common ground, we expect Russia to honor its commitment to the Minsk agreements and work to de-escalate the violence in Ukraine.” The text of the statement was released by the U.S Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson. (U.S. Department of State)