UkraineAlert

Ukraine has just won a tremendous victory by obtaining the right of autocephaly, or the right to constitute the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as fully independent and free of any subservience to Moscow. This victory represents a shattering blow to Vladimir Putin’s pretenses of a Russian world (Russkii Mir) and the entire arcana imperii (Imperial relics) of the Russian narrative that Ukraine is really a part of Russia that does not merit political or cultural independence. The attainment of autocephaly is actually Ukraine’s second emancipation from Moscow; it is a religious and cultural emancipation that accompanies the country’s political emancipation in 1991. And it shatters the intellectual basis for Putin’s attacks on Ukraine.

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Territories between great powers—borderlands—have always been areas of strife. So it is with the countries caught between Russia and the West, those that were once part of the Soviet Union or firmly within its sphere of influence. Much of Europe has consolidated and, with the United States, established a lasting liberal democratic order, but Russia has been increasingly pushing back. Though most of the “borderlands” countries are now West-facing, Moscow wants to control at least the national security policies of its near neighbors.

The West should reject Moscow’s claim.

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Ukraine’s 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections are the most important since the country became independent nearly three decades ago. If next year’s elections follow those held in 2014 when five pro-reform political forces won a constitutional majority, Ukraine’s European integration and withdrawal from the Russian world will be assured by the next election cycle in 2024.

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October 14 saw the latest in a string of annual mass marches by the far right in Ukraine. As many as 10,000 people participated, mainly young men, chanting fiercely. A nighttime torchlight parade with signs proclaiming “We’ll return Ukraine to Ukrainians,” contained echoes of Nazi-style symbolism.

Lax law enforcement and indifference by the security services to the operations of the far right is being noticed by extremists from abroad who are flocking to Ukraine. German media reported the presence of the German extreme right (JN-NPD, Dritte Weg) at the rally. According to Ukrainian political analyst Anton Shekhovtsov, far-right Norwegians, Swedes, and Italians were supposed to be there too. And on October 15, they all gathered in Kyiv for the Paneuropa conference organized by the Ukrainian neo-Nazi National Corps party. "Kyiv," says Shekhovtsov, "has now become one of the major centers of European far-right activities."

Such activism, naturally, unnerves liberals as well as Jews, and national minorities. And they often result in alarmist headlines in Western and Israeli newspapers.

Coming in a year in which the white supremacist C14 group engaged in savage beatings at a Roma encampment near Kyiv, one could draw the conclusion that the far right is on the rise in Ukraine.

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Last week Ukraine’s Orthodox Church got confirmation that it will likely receive the independence from Moscow that it has long sought. The issue is complex, and the terminology foreign to most readers. The issue of the Ukrainian church is similar to an iceberg. What appears above the surface is political, but the largest part underneath has nothing to do with politics. Millions of Orthodox Ukrainians were considered outside of spiritual unity with the rest of the Orthodox world. Thousands of other Orthodox Christians who belonged to the only legitimate Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), felt uncomfortable there because it seems to channel Russia’s political agenda. This is the same country which annexed Crimea and launched a hybrid war in Ukraine’s east.

Both the Moscow Patriarchate and its filial structure in Ukraine, the UOC, have failed to address the pastoral issue caused by the ecclesial schism. It was addressed, however, by the church of Constantinople, which had planted Christianity in the medieval Kyivan state and was responsible for the Kyivan Metropolia (an administrative unit in the Orthodox church) until it gave Moscow some rights to manage Ukrainian ecclesial matters in 1686. On October 11, the governing body of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, called the Holy Synod, revoked these rights from Moscow and reinstated its own control in Ukraine. Effectively, the Ecumenical Patriarchate restored the status quo, which existed on the territory of modern Ukraine at the end of the seventeenth century.

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On October 10, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople agreed to recognize the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This is a historic decision with huge geopolitical implications.

In addition, the anathema that had hung over Patriarch Filaret of the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Makarii of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and their followers was lifted, and they were recognized as canonical.

Russia, of course, couldn’t refrain from commenting.

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If the Euromaidan was such a transformative event in Ukraine, why do we see the same old faces in high politics, I was recently asked.

As one of the world’s most impatient people, I found myself saying have more patience and feeling like a total hypocrite. Many of my columns have urged Ukraine to move harder and faster on reform. And it should.

Even still, there are plenty of principled, young and not-so-young people, in the pipeline. They serve in city councils, in the parliament, in bureaucracies, and run many of Ukraine’s civil society organizations.

They do not have the name recognition that Yulia Tymoshenko does, although slowly but surely they are gaining experience and greater political maturity. Eventually they will assume greater positions of power.

One program designed to develop new leaders is Stanford University’s Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program.

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Ukraine still struggles to overcome its core disease of corruption. Since the 2014 Euromaidan, a number of anticorruption institutions have been created in close cooperation with Western partners, including the United States. Among them are the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP), the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), and the Anti-Corruption Court.  

Nevertheless, Ukraine still hasn’t sent any high-level crooks to jail and journalists and investigators say that stealing from the state has returned to pre-Maidan levels. It’s true that progress was made in cutting corruption out of the gas sector and banks have been cleaned up, but it’s also true that Ukraine hasn’t made significant progress in the last four years on any of the major indices that measure corruption. What went wrong?

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For months now, political junkies and ordinary Ukrainians have debated whether their beloved rock star Slava Vakarchuk will run for president in 2019. He’s got massive name recognition throughout the country.

Even more, he’s one of the only reform-minded candidates who might be able to unify Ukraine’s fractious opposition.

Last week I caught up with Vakarchuk at Stanford to celebrate the second class of its Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program, an intensive 10-month program with just three spots. Vakarchuk participated in the 2017-2018 program, attending classes and living in California for much of the academic year. (He even claims that he read Francis Fukuyama’s dense tomes on the nature of the political order.) 

I’d seen Vakarchuk three weeks earlier at the Yalta European Strategy meeting and was decidedly unimpressed. Interviewed by BBC HardTalk presenter Stephen Sackur, Vakarchuk’s remarks were unfocused and not ready for prime time. He was also underdressed, something I pointed out.

During a coffee break in Kyiv, Vakarchuk was nothing but charming, even telling me that he reads the UkraineAlert blog and promised to give me an interview.

However, at Stanford, he didn’t want to talk on the record, even if I promised not to ask him the question that he desperately wants to avoid.

At this point, his candidacy is becoming a farce.

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On September 11, Oleksandr Avakov turned thirty and received the best birthday present ever: the corruption charges hanging over his head were dropped permanently.

Oleksandr, who is the son of Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov—was suspected by NABU of cooking up a scheme to rip off the state to the tune of more than $520,000 by selling backpacks of poor quality to the Interior Ministry. The Specialized Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) dropped the charges against Avakov’s son.  

This example illustrates how Ukraine’s anticorruption fight has changed. Under pressure from the IMF and the international community as well as from pro-reform actors, the old guard finally eased its obvious obstruction of the creation of an independent anticorruption court. But now they are simply trying to ensure that the most important cases never make it to the courtroom, and sadly, in some cases they are succeeding.

The chief anticorruption prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytsky, together with his deputy Volodymyr Kryvenko, seem to be their secret weapons.

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