Ukraine finds itself in an economic crisis of massive proportions. In the past twelve months, its GDP has contracted by over 7.5 percent, the national deficit exceeds 10 percent, its currency has lost more than 50 percent of its value, its banks are insolvent and the national debt-to-GDP ratio has ballooned to more than 100 percent—causing a drastic drop in the standard of living for Ukraine's citizens.

Undoubtedly, Russia's hybrid war against Ukraine has largely triggered this crisis. But the root cause of Ukraine's economic malaise is its culture of corruption, which has persisted for decades and has earned Ukraine the dubious distinction of being ranked among the most corrupt economies in the world.

The moment is fast approaching when President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk change course, undertake serious reforms, and cement their legacy as great leaders or risk being remembered as self-interested politicians—and possibly triggering a new Maidan. The system of bureaucrats, police, prosecutors, judges, and politicians controlling governance for the oligarchs' benefit must be broken or Ukraine will sink under the weight of a totally failed economy.

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Haqqani Network leader’s appointment could jeopardize peace process in Afghanistan

The appointment of the head of a Pakistan-based terrorist network as a deputy leader of the Taliban may prove to be an obstacle in Afghan-led efforts to make peace with the Islamic militants.

While confirming reports of the death of its reclusive one-eyed leader, Mullah Omar, the Taliban July 31 announced the appointment of Omar’s longtime deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, as its new leader. But perhaps more significant was whom the Taliban’s senior leadership, based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, picked for the job of Mansour’s deputy.

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Nadiya Savchenko, Ukraine's most famous female military officer, has languished in a Moscow prison for more than a year since Moscow-backed separatists captured her in eastern Ukraine last June and smuggled across the border to Russia shackled, her head covered by a sack. Now her captors have moved her again—and again under the cover of secrecy—to a detention facility in the southwestern Russian city of Novocherkassk, said to be the worst criminal prison in the Russian Federation, only twenty kilometers from the rebel-controlled area of eastern Ukraine.

It is in the nearby city of Donetsk (not be confused with the Ukrainian city of the same name now controlled by pro-Russian separatists) that Savchenko appeared in a pre-trial hearing on July 30, a legal move that is yet another step in a Kafkaesque exercise reminiscent of 1930s Stalinist show trials. The celebrated helicopter pilot is facing murder charges.

Held behind closed doors, the hearing was off limits not only to press but also to official Ukrainian representatives, whose access to Savchenko has been extremely limited since her capture. In a statement published on their website, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry protested the secrecy of the trial and demanded to be granted access to Savchenko.

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Atlantic Council report sees America’s energy abundance as an invaluable diplomatic tool

A top Republican Senator, making the case that energy must be a significant tool in the US diplomatic toolkit, said July 30 that the United States will be “effectively sanctioning” domestic oil producers if it does not lift its ban on the export of US crude oil but lifts sanctions on Iran as a result of a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

“We let Iran go out and enjoy the benefits of a global marketplace out there and gain full advantage to their treasury while we sanction our own US oil producers,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

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On a recent warm summer night, Ilya Lukash sat in a bar near Kyiv's trendy Kontraktova Square, drinking a beer and chatting with his friends in Ukrainian, Russian, and English. In a red T-shirt emblazoned with patriotic Ukrainian slogans, he could easily have been any one of the countless young, educated, pro-democracy Ukrainians who in February 2014 came out to support the Euromaidan movement that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych.

But Lukash, 28, wasn't in Kyiv for the Maidan, he's not from Ukraine, and eighteen months ago, he didn't even speak Ukrainian. Rather, Lukash is a citizen of Kyrgyzstan—and a pro-Western blogger who supported the Euromaidan from afar, and paid a high price for it. In March 2014, as Russia's "little green men" were quietly seizing the Crimean peninsula, he fled Kyrgyzstan after Kyrgyz nationalists pilloried him as a "gay activist" during an anti-Western protest.

Caught between fighting for his beliefs and Russia's deteriorating ties with the West, Lukash chose to support Ukraine—the land of his ancestors—as it struggles for a European, democratic future. Meanwhile, his native Kyrgyzstan has been moving closer to Moscow, and the Ukraine crisis seemed to confirm the government's growing alignment with the Kremlin. Lukash didn't know it, but he was on a collision course with his country's changing politics.

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Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham says questions already being raised about authority of Afghan militants’ representatives

Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death could call into question the Taliban’s leadership and undermine the Afghan government’s efforts to jumpstart a peace process with the militant group, says the Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham.

The Taliban July 30 confirmed news reported by Afghan officials a day earlier that the militant group's leader had died. Afghan officials said Omar had died in a hospital in the Pakistani city of Karachi in April 2013. The Taliban named the reclusive one-eyed Omar's deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, as its new leader.

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Bosnia-Herzegovina’s European orientation should not be taken for granted. While the European Union and Bosnia may want closer ties, growing tensions between Sarajevo and the subnational entity Republika Srpska, as well as enduring and pervasive corruption, pose serious challenges to Bosnia’s legitimacy. Safeguarding Bosnia’s European orientation will require Sarajevo and its transatlantic partners to curb Republika Srpska’s increasing nationalism while simultaneously pushing for reforms required for EU integration.

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It was quite a sight: 100 shirtless men dressed as Spartans parading down the streets of Sanlitun, Beijing's foremost bar and expat district, in order to promote the first anniversary of the salad restaurant Sweetie Salad. Sadly, the parade did not end well. The men, almost all of them tall, muscular Westerners, were arrested for causing a public disturbance, and photos circulated of the bare-chested young men grimacing on the pavement after being tackled by police officers.

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Death sentences for Gadhafi’s son, eight others, another bad move by Tripoli, says Atlantic Council’s Karim Mezran

The decision by a Tripoli court to sentence a son of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to death by firing squad is the latest in a series of “self-defeating maneuvers” by authorities in Libya’s capital, says the Atlantic Council’s Karim Mezran.

Tripoli’s Court of Assize convicted thirty-two defendants July 28. Gadhafi’s son and onetime heir apparent, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, was convicted of murder and inciting genocide during Libya’s civil war in 2011. Eight others, including Libya’s former spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi, and two former Prime Ministers—Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi and Abuzeid Dorda—were also sentenced to death. Twenty-three others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five years to life imprisonment.

“This was a mock trial,” said Mezran, a Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“These are worrisome signals of a further unraveling of Fajr Libya’s control of territory in the west. It leaves the international community in a harder position,” he added.

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How would the West react to a major escalation of the war in eastern Ukraine? What would Brussels and Washington do if Russia continues to send troops there?

Even though analysts often suggest arming Ukraine with defensive weapons, what people sometimes forget is that the West is still, by far, Russia's largest trade and investment partner. Current sanctions against Moscow only forbid the export of a limited number of services and technology to Russia—leaving most of Russia's trade with the West intact. In particular, they do not limit Russia's crucial energy exports to the European Union.

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