UkraineAlert

Evaluating reform in Ukraine is akin to taking a Rorschach test. For Kremlin propagandists and their witting or unwitting acolytes in the West, Ukraine is an irredeemably corrupt place. To young reformers in Ukraine and some of the country’s well-wishers, progress in transforming the country is agonizingly slow and always in danger of reversal. And to Ukraine’s top leadership and those who worry most about defending the country from Moscow’s aggression, the country has achieved exceptional progress in very difficult circumstances.

Each of these points of view can be supported when the country’s situation is viewed from a particular angle. But a careful, comprehensive look at the circumstances and dynamics of Ukraine’s reform efforts results in an assessment that is ultimately positive.

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Sergiy Koziakov, the head of the High Qualification Commission of Judges (HQCJ), calls the selection process for Ukraine’s new Supreme Court a model process but overlooks the actual results.

Ukrainians, tired of assessing never-ending processes, are judging the competition by its results. The hours of interviews with the candidates, the fact that interviews were broadcasted online, and the HQCJ’s cooperation with civil society are positive steps, but not enough. The bottom line is this: will the process bring any new faces to the Supreme Court?

The competition is nearly complete, and the results speak for themselves. Some of Ukraine’s most notorious judges who are the very symbols of corruption have aced the competition and are likely to become part of the “new” Supreme Court.

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Ukraine’s industrial sector has had a difficult spell. The production of heavy coal, steel, and machinery, inherited from the Soviet past, have traditionally been linked to technologically obsolete post-Soviet markets and until recently were declining. The war in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s closure of its markets as a punishment for Ukraine’s pro-Western course only accelerated this process, and many post-Soviet Ukrainian enterprises, especially in eastern Ukraine, had long been deteriorating.

However, the past few years have seen the emergence of a new wave of industrial businesses in Ukraine.

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Online platforms have become the world’s most influential editors-in-chief. According to a 2016 Reuters Digital News Report, 51 percent of people access online news through social media, allowing these platforms to curate their news intake through personalized algorithms.

These platforms have simultaneously gained significant economic leverage: experts estimate that in 2016, the two most influential online platforms, Google and Facebook, controlled around three-fourths of the US advertising market and were responsible for up to 90 percent of its growth. Traditional media companies, meanwhile, are struggling to define a new business model amid lower advertising revenues and declines in readership. This has negative consequences for the quality and independence of media, and can accelerate the spread of low-quality news, disinformation, and hate speech.

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Journalists and activists in Eastern Europe have been fighting modern propaganda for years. It is time to deploy the lessons of those battles to newsrooms in Washington and beyond.

I’ve been exposing organized lies professionally for years now. It started when propaganda took over the Russian-state newsroom in Moscow I was managing in 2013. When I left for Ukraine the same year, I wrongly thought disinformation would be contained in Russia. A year later, propaganda was fueling a brutal war in eastern Ukraine. That’s when disinformation went global.

That was 2014. These days I don’t have to convince anyone that disinformation is a global phenomenon.

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The testimonies of Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort before Congressional investigational committees will be closed to public. Yet they are the highlights of a political crisis that may be deeper than Watergate. In a made-for-TV series, the intrigue connects Washington power politics and espionage with a family saga, and for some comic relief, there’s a comedy of errors based on incompetence and inexperience thrown in.

The Nixon White House carried out the notorious Watergate break-in and cover-up, but those crimes and misdemeanors were internal. Today, suspicions stretch beyond US borders. Each suspicion needs to be investigated fully and put to rest—or prosecuted. Unfortunately, we have not seen the last of the Russia scandal.

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The resetting of Ukraine’s highest court is one of the cornerstones of judicial reform in the country and will influence the whole judicial system. In his recent article, Josh Cohen claims that Ukraine’s High Qualification Commission of Judges (HQCJ) is impeding the process to build a new Supreme Court, but this is simply false.

The real story about this competition is the quality of the process.

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Over the weekend, Congress reached an agreement on a new Russia sanctions package, though it has been overshadowed by the investigation into connections between President Donald Trump’s administration and Russia. Although the Senate easily passed a strong sanctions bill in June to punish Russia for its aggression in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, the White House has quietly lobbied to weaken it and some European politicians are pushing back. But new sanctions legislation with teeth is direly needed—not least because of the dozens of Ukrainian political prisoners who continue to languish in Russian prisons.

One of those prisoners has been a tireless champion for his fellow dissidents, and his story serves as a clear illustration of the importance of a robust sanctions bill.

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Imagine if, on June 14, Ukraine launched its first independent anti-corruption court and began hearing dozens of cases against people in high places.

Imagine if, by mid-July, several oligarchs and public officials were convicted of corruption, and their assets confiscated.

Unfortunately, neither are true. A June 14 deadline for the court imposed by the IMF was ignored by Ukraine and instead President Petro Poroshenko and others bob and weave to avoid reforms in advance of the next election.

But this represents an opportunity lost.

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The July 18 episode of HBO’s “Real Sports” features a surprising interview subject—Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia’s Chechen Republic, in his first interview with a Western journalist since 2014.

While the interview’s main theme is Kadyrov’s use of mixed martial arts as a political instrument, an excerpt released before the episode aired focused on the main topic putting Chechnya in the international spotlight: reports of brutal government abuses against gay people in the region.

Kadyrov’s responses were predictable. “We don’t have any gays,” he told HBO in the excerpt. “And if there are some...take them far from us so we don't have them at home. To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them.” As outrageous as Kadyrov’s responses are, they are not surprising. But international attention to this issue has produced one remarkable development: the Russian government appears to be dropping the pretense that it holds any sovereignty over Kadyrov and Chechnya.

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