UkraineAlert

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine on July 17, 2014, transformed a localized post-Soviet conflict into a major global crisis. With victims from eleven different countries including 189 Dutch citizens, the international backlash was prompt and marked a clear escalation in the confrontation between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine.

Initial analysis of the incident identified Russia as the likely guilty party. A major multinational investigation has since confirmed these conclusions, with Russia now accused of supplying the BUK anti-aircraft missile system responsible for the tragedy. Court proceedings against individual suspects could proceed in the Netherlands this year.

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2017 was a pivotal year in Ukraine, but not the way we expected.

We were supposed to get a brand new Supreme Court to replace four old cassation courts that were synonymous with corruption and abuse.

Instead, it was new only on paper.

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It is ironic but fitting that in Ukraine, the agency tasked with protecting whistleblowers has instead fostered so much corruption that its own employees, after speaking out, have become victims of retaliation.

In mid-November, Hanna Solomatina, the former head of the financial control department within the National Agency for Corruption Prevention (NACP), alleged that she was fired after disclosing that the organization’s chairwoman forged Ukrainian members of parliament’s income statements, prevented the investigation of specific judges’ tax returns, and illegally enriched herself. According to Transparency International, further disclosures revealed that at least five other high-level NACP members were guilty of similar misdeeds and were part of a crime ring allegedly linked to President Petro Poroshenko’s administration.

While Solomatina’s case is well known in Ukraine, she is not alone.

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When asked what the exchange rate will be in 2018, I answer a question with a question: when will elections in Ukraine take place? A definite answer  is hard to come by in our country. Only one thing is certain: the fight in Ukraine will continue.

Anders Åslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, clearly described the crux of this fight: “Ukraine is far too transparent and open to stay so corrupt. Ukrainians are also far too educated to stay so poor.” This is not to say, he clarified, that Ukraine is poised to become rich and open. On the contrary, if the economy doesn’t start growing rapidly, the quality of education will decline. And, if it stays corrupt, its openness will also diminish.

Ukrainians have been fighting daily for at least thirty years, maybe even the last one hundred years. The fight is still in the manner of “one step forward, two steps back.” 2018 is likely to be more of the same.

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Energy independence is a question of national security for Ukraine, and one that we worked on assiduously in 2017. Most observers know that Naftogaz emerged victorious in an $80 billion arbitration case in Stockholm, but that’s only part of the story. Here are the big five milestones that really mattered for the energy sector last year.

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Hydrocarbon exports remain the centerpiece of Russia’s national revival strategy, despite the negative impact of developmental and investment setbacks, OPEC price dumping in traditional Russian export markets, Western sanctions, and a growing push toward energy independence in Eastern Europe. Russia continues to suffer from many of the classic symptoms of Dutch disease: a number of non-energy industries have become sclerotic and uncompetitive, the pursuit of research and development has been eclipsed by the desire to invest in familiar markets—Russia has missed both the 3D and 4D revolutions in seismic reserve detection and is now forced to play catch-up—and the country has found it increasingly difficult to attract much foreign direct investment. However, Russia has managed to avoid many of the more damaging symptoms of the resource trap, maintaining a relatively diversified economy with inflation consistently under 10 percent and a conservative fiscal and monetary policy. As President Vladimir Putin doubles down on aggressive investment in energy infrastructure, previous negative forecasting surrounding the long-term health of the Russian hydrocarbon sector is being called into question. The unpleasant reality is that Moscow will likely be able to leverage its enormous energy exports to project soft power in Europe, especially in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and Lithuania, for years to come.

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Ukrainians want corrupt public officials to go to jail. It didn’t happen in 2014, 2015, 2016, or 2017.

In July, a Kyiv court released Roman Tymkiv, the head of a state-owned military plant, on bail. Tymkiv was accused of embezzling $1 million by supplying the Ukrainian army with used tank engines for the price of new ones.

In May, the same court released former member of parliament Mykola Martynenko, suspected of embezzling $17 million, on bail.

In ordinary criminal cases, suspects normally go to jail for at least two months for theft that exceeds $20, but of course, Tymkiv and Martynenko walked away.

These few examples show why no high-level corrupt public officials have been put behind bars. This was the central demand of the Maidan, and it remains unfulfilled.

Throughout the year, elites claimed that Ukraine does not need an independent anti-corruption court and the old system would finally deliver. But the public and the international community weren’t convinced, especially after the effort to rebuild the Supreme Court flopped and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine’s (NABU) independence was attacked.

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Democracies guarantee freedom of speech for their elected politicians by granting them immunity from libel or slander for statements made inside their legislative chambers. This privilege was established centuries ago in Britain to protect the people’s representatives from the monarchy, House of Lords, and other powerful vested interests.

Ukraine, on the other hand, has perverted this principle by guaranteeing elected officials complete immunity from civil or criminal prosecutions unless a majority of its 450 deputies allow charges to be laid. The significance of this cannot be overstated. This is impunity, not parliamentary immunity, and has been a license for up 450 people and their sponsors or allies to break laws and loot the country.

Every election cycle Ukraine is for sale to the highest bidders.

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Yale University history professor Marci Shore’s new book, The Ukrainian Night: An Intimate History of Revolution (Yale University Press, 2018), captures the historic period surrounding the Maidan revolution that took place in Kyiv, Ukraine, from November 2013 to February 2014, when ordinary Ukrainians took to the streets and demanded justice and dignity.

Shore’s book couldn’t have come at a better time. Four years after the Maidan, civil society in Ukraine is exhausted, most of the reformers who served in government are long gone, and the powers that be are distracted by next year’s elections already.

“We are very tired,” leading anticorruption activist Daria Kaleniuk admitted in Washington last year. One can count the number of reformers within the Cabinet of Ministers on one hand, and there are real concerns that President Petro Poroshenko, despite putting a number of positive reforms in place, doesn’t want to go any further. He never managed to deliver the central demand of the revolution—justice—to this post-Soviet country of forty-five million. Some predict that there will be no more structural reforms this year, and any remaining momentum will be focused on relatively easy policies like education, health, and pensions, avoiding real legal reform altogether.

In this blah year, when little appears to be going in the right direction, The Ukrainian Night is a must-read for reformers, the diplomatic corps, journalists, and friends of Ukraine—if for no other reason than to remember what they sacrificed, what bound strangers together, and how far the country has come.

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For the first time since the Maidan revolution, Ukraine’s road to the transatlantic community is being actively blocked not only by Russia but by an EU and NATO member state as well: Hungary. While Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been a vocal critic of sanctions and is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strongest allies within the EU, Hungary has generally followed the NATO and EU mainstream in supporting Ukraine politically. That has changed, however, since the adoption of a controversial education act in Ukraine this autumn, which Orbán’s government objects to—but his argument seems more of a pretext to cover up the real cause.

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