UkraineAlert

Kyiv continues to make great progress stabilizing its economy as Ukraine's recent sale of a $3 billion Eurobond demonstrates. When it comes to anticorruption reforms, though, it continues to be a case of two steps forward and one step back.

To break this stalemate, Ukraine's Western friends should push Kyiv to take the following four steps immediately.

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These early autumn days are still hot—particularly for the upper crust of the diplomatic world attending the United Nations General Assembly's 72nd session. Much remains at stake.

In particular, Ukraine will once again be requesting UN peacekeeping missions and other assistance from the United Nations to help bring the conflict in the east to a close. But once again, diplomats from around the world will be forced to choose between an ordinary country at the edge of Europe and the bullying giant that is Russia. It’s time for the international community to deprive Russia, as the aggressor state, of the right of a United Nations Security Council veto concerning the situation in Ukraine.

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It’s no secret that Ukraine’s reforms have stalled. Reformers both in and out of government agree, however, that the one change that might reignite the country’s push for reform is the establishment of an independent anticorruption court. Ukraine’s beleaguered activists have urged the government to adopt it, and the West led by the International Monetary Fund has made it an absolute condition for more assistance.

On September 15 at the Yalta European Strategy (YES) conference in Kyiv, President Petro Poroshenko rejected the idea of an independent anticorruption court. Pointing to anticorruption courts in Kenya, Uganda, Croatia, and Malaysia, he claimed that they are ineffective. (He conveniently left out Indonesia, whose anticorruption commission has successfully conducted investigations, including one that involved a high-ranking official and public procurement expenditures.) Instead Poroshenko wants to form an anticorruption "chamber” within the ordinary court system.

In a classic debater’s trick, he turned the question around by asking, “Does the United States have an anticorruption court?”

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Andriy Sadovyi, the mayor of Lviv and leader of the Samopomich Party, hasn’t had an easy year. He was seen as the most likely challenger to President Petro Poroshenko in the 2019 presidential election before a fire at waste facility in May 2016 killed four and sullied his sterling reputation. As a result, his numbers have plunged in some polls.

But the worst is over and Sadovyi is no longer taking a low profile. The forty-nine-year old mayor was in Kyiv for the annual Yalta European Strategy conference, a few days after welcoming lightning rod former Georgian president and Odesa oblast governor Mikheil Saakashvili to Lviv. Poroshenko’s administration canceled Saakashvili’s Ukrainian citizenship in July, but on September 10, Saakashvili re-entered Ukraine with the help of bodyguards and an enormous crowd of supporters. He gave a long press conference on September 11 on the steps of a Lviv hotel, in the presence of Sadovyi, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, and others.

On September 16, I picked up Sadovyi at the presidential administration building after he’d met with Poroshenko and we spoke on his ride to the airport.

Sadovyi said that Poroshenko is making a “huge mistake” by stripping Saakashvili of his citizenship.

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Late on the night of September 6, Oleksiy Tomilko posted a short line on social media: "Perhaps someone wants to visit me." He was a fifty-year old soldier who had been brought to a military hospital in his native city of Lviv after he had been wounded in the Donbas, where Ukraine has been fighting Russian aggression since 2014.

Many people answered Tomilko's call, thanking him for his bravery with small presents and homemade delicacies. But despite the warm welcome and his wounded leg, Tomilko doesn't see himself in peaceful, civilian life: he wants to get back to the military zone.

"The only thing I want is to return to the east,” he explains. “There is nothing to do here. There, everything is clear.”

Maksym Klokun, twenty-seven and from Kyiv, remembers this pull toward life on the frontline very well. Even after losing his leg three years ago, he still had an itch to continue military life. Now, Klokun knows that this magnetism is a part of post-traumatic disorder.

"When I was in the car driving in the town for the first time, I didn't understand how people could just walk on the streets and laugh when there was war in the country. I was watching the roofs because I believed there were snipers who would try to kill me," Klokun says, recalling his first impressions of peaceful life.

Adjusting to his previous life was difficult. He had nightmares and flashbacks, was depressed and suspicious, and like many of his peers, started drinking alcohol to excess. Max needed help—and he got it, from a young NGO called Wounded Warrior of Ukraine and later renamed Warrior's Heart.

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Signals from the Trump administration are beginning to indicate a new direction in the United States’ support of Ukraine. At the end of August, Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated that the Pentagon is “actively reviewing” the issue of defensive weapons, rightly noting that “defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor, and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor since it is their own territory where the fighting is happening.”

Arming Ukraine would enable the United States to directly support an independent Ukraine and add to the overall security of Europe. Yet it goes without saying that such a move needs to be done intelligently and with the specific aim of improving the situation.

Clearly, the United States and its allies in Europe do not want a military confrontation with Russia, especially with a possible conflict with North Korea looming on the horizon. And here lies the most important point in providing defensive weapons to Ukraine: they would act as a deterrent against Russian encroachment further into Ukrainian territory, not a provocation.

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For the first time in five years, Ukraine sold its bonds on the international market. On September 18, the Ukrainian government sold $3 billion of fifteen-year Eurobonds with a 7.375 percent annual yield. The bond issue was oversubscribed by more than three times. Initial statements mentioned a planned sale of $2.5 billion, so the Ukrainian government increased the volume because of great demand. This sale has many implications.

The most obvious observation is that Ukraine is back. This sale was a success and signifies great approval of Ukraine’s economic policies as they have been pursued after the 2014 Revolution of Dignity.

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Health care reform should be a top priority for Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada this fall because it can help transform Ukraine. As President Petro Poroshenko has said, “I am sure that healthcare...reforms would help [in] attracting investment and increasing economic growth,” and he’s absolutely right.

In June, parliament greenlighted comprehensive health reform legislation in the first reading. Ukraine’s health system combines the worst of Soviet-era health care and post-Soviet corruption, leaving Ukrainians with few good options for both preventive health care and timely treatment for illness and injury.

This autumn presents the opportunity to finish the job. It’s time for the Rada to pass the legislation in the second reading now. Poroshenko has promised to sign the far-reaching legislation once parliament approves it.

The reform package, meticulously assembled by Acting Health Minister Dr. Ulana Suprun and her team, addresses age-old gaps and inefficiencies and eliminates corruption and outright theft in a system that has failed ordinary Ukrainians for decades.

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With Russian fingers apparently thrust into all manner of cybercrime and espionage, Western publics are trying to make sense of it all. But most news accounts do not include the key to deciphering Russian behavior in cyberspace. What drives Russia is its unique nexus of government, business, and crime, perpetuated by systemic corruption and glued together by the siloviki—literally, people of power, that is, the secret services.

Systemic corruption pervades everything in Russia, including law enforcement. Their power of arbitrary investigation is bolstered by a network of fellow operatives in every level of government and all manner of business, licit and illicit. Combined with exponential growth of the Internet, systemic corruption has propelled the siloviki into the dark world of cybercrime.

Russia offers an overflowing labor supply for cyber-mischief. It has maintained high education standards—many young Russians excel in math, physics, and computer science—without a commensurate growth in well-paying, above-board jobs. Combine that with an atmosphere of impunity, and Russian cybercrime has become big business.

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There is something naïve about many people born in democratic countries. They seem to take the human rights, values, and principles upon which their countries are built for granted. Dangerously, they have a difficult time imagining that their rights and freedoms can be manipulated in such a way as to threaten their institutions, national security, and personal safety.

The Kremlin is a prime example of an organization that masterfully takes advantage of human rights and civil liberties through infiltration. Since 2004, it has done so effectively in over twenty-seven countries by tampering with electoral processes, manipulating mass media and social media, controlling civil societies, and orchestrating cyber-attacks to foment socio-political strife and outright war abroad.

Although certain elements within Ukrainian society have been informing their allies of the power of Russia’s fifth column—a group of people who infiltrate a territory from within—for many years, Western scholars, politicians, and academics alike have been slow to listen. Without exaggerating the threat, it is vital that they to understand and counter it.

Even the head of the Russian-American Congress, Igor Baboshkyn, warned the US Congress in 2015 that the Russian Embassy was focusing on diaspora groups to create a network of US citizens who support the Kremlin’s geopolitical objectives.

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