UkraineAlert

April will mark the third anniversary of Russia’s hybrid war in eastern Ukraine, with no end in sight to a tragedy that has already claimed over 10,000 Ukrainian lives. The conflict has devastated and transformed Ukraine in ways that will not be fully apparent for decades. Crucially, it has also brought little of value to the Russian Federation, while leaving a trail of self-inflicted wounds. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s secret war has mauled the Russian economy, isolated Russia internationally, reinvigorated the NATO alliance, and plunged the Kremlin into an escalating confrontation with the West that it cannot realistically expect to win.

Nevertheless, there is little sign of Moscow seeking a face-saving exit. On the contrary, the Kremlin recently signaled its refusal to back down by announcing its decision to recognize passports issued by its separatist proxies. Why is the Russian leader so ready to accept the spiraling costs of his disastrous Ukraine policy?

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The poem and song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” became a rallying cry for social injustice in America in the 1970s. It weaved its way through many cultural eras around the world and found its way to the streets of Russia on Sunday, March 26.

Nearly 100,000 people went to the streets in more than ninety cities, from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad. Sunday’s protests were the largest anti-government protests since the demonstrations for fair elections in 2011-2012. They touched not only big cities, but took place in smaller places like Saratov and Tyumen that were previously “sleepy” and apolitical.

A huge number of young people, including schoolchildren, participated, and this was the most striking difference between Sunday’s protests and the 2011-2012 ones.

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For several months American journalists have been competing to expose agents of Russian influence inside the new White House. This is a result of the conflict that began during the US presidential election campaign when a majority of the mainstream media rallied against Trump while he, without any evidence, criticized them for being biased.

One of the main players in this conflict is well-known in Ukraine: Paul Manafort. He is a man who ran Viktor Yanukovych’s election campaigns in 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2012; a man who employed cynical techniques for exploiting the divide between Ukrainian and Russian speakers in order to help Yanukovych make his mark on the political map; a man against whom twenty-two entries of payments totaling $12.7 million have been recorded in the “black ledger” of the Party of Regions; and a man whose ties to dirty money of the members of the Party of Regions even made Russian President Vladimir Putin take notice.

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The Kremlin’s dirty tricks are dominating the headlines and have plunged the United States into political disarray. Behind these attacks, however, is a Russia that is increasingly weak and vulnerable. What this means for the stability of Vladimir Putin’s regime, however, is anyone’s guess.

Russia’s future depends on the price of oil and gas. This sector provides 52 percent of Russia’s federal budget and 70 percent of its exports. These prices make or break Russia, as is the case with other petro-states where economic development is nonexistent. Put bluntly, as Senator John McCain has said, “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country.”

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Grain, steel, and sunflower oil are probably Ukraine’s most famous exports, but they’re not the only ones. Ukraine’s growing reputation for excellence in IT and fashion are well known, but other areas of the economy are also dynamic, including aviation, architecture, and design.

The technological capacity of the economy is huge and promising with the country’s strong scientific and engineering traditions. The production of these goods and services are already fueling the middle class. Here’s ten reasons why Ukraine’s economy deserves a second look.

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Two months into Donald Trump’s presidency, it is clear that Trump cannot control himself or his own administration. Sadly, this observation applies across the board in foreign policy. Trump first warmly greeted Taiwan, threatened a trade war with China, and then abruptly announced that he recognized the one China principle and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson essentially subscribed to China’s interpretation of the bilateral relationship while threatening war with North Korea. These episodes predictably led some to suggest that Beijing would regard him as a paper tiger or that, perhaps more accurately, Trump and his team have no idea what constitutes sound policy. When it comes to Mexico, his immigration policies, which are distinguished by a lack of policy coordination and respect for US laws, have provoked a furor in Mexico even though Trump’s own son-in law unsuccessfully tried to mediate the issue. On Israel, the White House excluded the State Department from discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then Trump blithely revoked fifty years of US policy by abandoning the two-state solution to Israel’s long-running problems with its Palestinian population. The next day Trump’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley contradicted him, stating that the US still supports a two-state solution. On Iran, the administration has both attacked the Iran deal and supported it as the best available option of many bad alternatives. On February 20, Secretary of Defense James Mattis went to Iraq to reassure Iraqis that the United States, despite Trump’s stated desire to seize Iraqi oil, was not really serious about doing so.

But the most serious and unsettling of these multiplying manifestations of dysfunctional policymaking have occurred with regard to European security.

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Over the past twenty-two years, the Ukrainian Parliamentary Internship program has introduced more than 1,500 university-age men and women to the legislative process by employing them in committees and departments of the Verkhovna Rada. The program gives young professionals practical experience with the parliament’s institutions and procedures by allowing them to participate in legislative work.

But the program may be in jeopardy. Funded since its inception by USAID as part of a larger Rada initiative run by the East Europe Foundation (EEF), the internship program may lose its support next year if the Rada doesn’t include it in the budget. If EEF and the Interns’ League, the NGO that directly administers it, cannot find replacement funding, the program may not continue.

That would be unfortunate.

“The Rada intern program is one of the most important [programs] to prepare young people for serving the nation,” said MP Hanna Hopko, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We need more of these young professionals to transform the country further,” said MP Svitlana Zalishchuk.

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The massive snowstorm that postponed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the White House is symbolic of the chill in US-German relations. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized Merkel’s open borders policy, which has brought over 1,250,000 refugees to Germany since 2015. Merkel has responded with a strong defense of freedom of movement and refugee rights.

The challenge for both leaders now is to get over the icy rhetorical storm and get down to business. There are major issues on the US-German agenda waiting to be addressed, most of them less divisive than immigration and borders. These include the massive German trade surplus; the imbalance in NATO burden-sharing; how to handle Russia and Ukraine; and multiple Middle Eastern meltdowns. Each of these issues is complex and yet ultimately fixable.

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The governor of the National Bank of Ukraine may be diminutive, but she speaks powerfully.

“For the previous two decades we were not brave enough,” Valeria Gontareva, 52, said in a March 8 interview. “The real transition from post-USSR to [a] modern competitive economy did not happen when Ukraine gained its independence.” Instead, Ukraine continued to build on the old Soviet edifice. “The longer you wait, the harder it is to construct the proper basics,” she said.

Gontareva has been hard at work constructing the basics since June 2014.

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On March 2, Roman Nasirov, the head of the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine, was arrested on abuse of office charges. The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) has accused Nasirov of fraud and embezzlement amounting to $74 million. The Nasirov case is Ukraine’s biggest test in the fight against corruption so far, and it’s a very big deal. Ukraine must get it right. In spite of lofty rhetoric and new anticorruption institutions, Ukraine hasn’t successfully prosecuted any high-level officials since the Euromaidan.

With Nasirov’s arrest, Ukraine’s new anticorruption institutions are finally showing progress in breaking the impunity of top officials. But every successful step forward intensifies the threats to these institutions and reveals just how much still needs to be done.

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