UkraineAlert

Today as reform politician Sergiy Gusovsky finished speaking at a rally on the steps of the Kyiv City Council, a crowd hurled green antiseptic at his eyes and tried to assault him. He is suffering from chemical burns in both eyes.

As horrible as the attack on Gusovsky was, it represents just the tip of the iceberg. Since the beginning of 2017, more than fifty-five attacks have occurred against anticorruption activists and now reform-minded politicians. 

And to make matters worse, not only are the perpetrators rarely caught (they were in Gusovsky's case), but Ukraine's Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko—perhaps giving new meaning to the word chutzpah—actually blamed activists for their suffering, implying that civil society's noisy criticism of Ukraine's corrupt old guard was a major contributing factor to the violence directed against them. 

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Ukraine is striving to attract foreign direct investment. Numerous roadshows showcasing the attractiveness of investments in Ukraine are being organized in different countries and pushed on the pages of some of the finest newspapers and magazines. On October 8, there will be a full Ukrainian Week in London, where the country's leadership will attempt to create the impression that Ukraine is an increasingly attractive and safe country for foreign investors. [Editor's note: The Atlantic Council is a sponsor of Ukrainian Week.]

For many years, I was convinced that Ukraine is an attractive and safe country for investors. I made my first investment in 1993 in the Odessa Sea Port and since then my group has invested more than $400 million into the Ukrainian economy.

I am a British citizen and the former owner of the Kyiv Post, the only independent English language newspaper in Ukraine. I owned the Kyiv Post for nine years and, without fear and favor, we strove to showcase both the positive and negative aspects of doing business in Ukraine. The newspaper frequently highlighted the pros and cons and then left it to our readers to make up their own minds.

In April 2018, I sold the newspaper but have not changed my attitude toward championing the truth.

For me, this issue is personal. In 2000, after having invested over $150 million in Donetsk Steel Works, I was told to leave. With the help of the Kyiv Post and the diplomatic community, I was able to withstand that attack. After that I had no problem until I took over the Kyiv Post. While there were requests through my Ukrainian employees to kill certain articles, we never gave in. In response, there was an effort to exert administrative pressure on my other business entities. Yet through all this we stood tall.

I believe that owning the Kyiv Post provided me with a degree of protection.

Since I sold the Kyiv Post, the vengeance has begun again.

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Purple posters with three words, “Army, language, faith” line the road to the airport in Kyiv, Ukraine. In smaller letters, they proclaim, “We are going our own way,” which means away from Russia. These posters are incumbent President Petro Poroshenko’s new campaign slogan, and they differ from his previous rhetoric in 2014.  

Poroshenko’s language is more conservative. In 2014, Poroshenko was elected with an astonishing 54 percent in the first round by promising to introduce radical reforms, in line with the expectations of the Euromaidan that had just ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych. At that time, Poroshenko’s slogan was “Living in a new way.”

Now Poroshenko’s reformist and forward-looking rhetoric is much less visible.

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There will be no pro-Russian revenge in Ukraine next year. The Russians will undoubtedly interfere, and we should watch and expose their shenanigans, but the threat of a pro-Russian party coming to power in Ukraine is miniscule for two factors.

First, opinion polls show large majorities against the election rhetoric of the Opposition Bloc, which promotes the elevation of the Russian language and integration into the Eurasian Union and opposes NATO and EU membership. Four years after Russia invaded Ukraine, only 7 percent of Ukrainians believe the war is due to the suppression of the Russian language. Support for Eurasian integration has collapsed. Russia is associated with "aggression" (66 percent), "cruelty" (57 percent), and "dictatorship" (57 percent). Backing for NATO has tripled and for EU membership solidified.

Second, Russia’s occupation of Crimea and parts of the Donbas have removed sixteen percent of voters from participating in Ukrainian elections. Paul D’Anieri’s study ("Gerrymandering Ukraine? Electoral Consequences of Occupation") published by East European Politics and Societies and Cultures shows the impact of the absence of these 3.75 million voters. Of these, 87 percent voted for Yanukovych in 2010; in other words, a quarter of Yanukovych’s voters now live under Russian occupation and cannot vote. This massively changes the landscape for the 2019 elections.  

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When it comes to the history of the Holocaust, an accurate memory can be a dangerous thing. That's doubly true in Ukraine. While many associate the Holocaust with German concentration camps like Auschwitz, in Ukraine the killing was more personalized, with 1.5 million Jews being shot en masse and dumped in graves across the country. No site better epitomizes this "Holocaust of bullets" than Babi Yar in Kyiv, where on September 29-30, 1941, over 33,000 Jews were executed and dumped into a ravine. 

Today nothing but a hodgepodge of small memorials stands there, but with the 77th anniversary of the Babi Yar killings coming Saturday, that could change. In December 2015, Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko formed an exploratory team that spent six months researching options for Babi Yar. The result was the establishment of a private foundation to develop the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC)

To bring Klitschko's original vision to fruition, BYHMC will meet the highest international standards for historical accuracy.

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This month, the European Court of Human Rights prevented Ukraine from backsliding in a major way. On September 18, it ordered the Ukrainian government to halt its efforts to access data from the cell phone of investigative journalist Natalia Sedletska for a month to give her an opportunity to file a full complaint to the ECHR.

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Ukraine’s European aspirations are irreversible. A majority of the public supports NATO membership, and EU membership has long enjoyed popular support. However, wishing for integration does not make it happen. In both instances, Ukraine’s passage toward eligibility will be long and arduous. Nevertheless, opportunities are currently opening up for Ukraine to integrate with its European neighbors at the sub-regional level, in which selected countries from a larger region band together for a common purpose and share mutually beneficial investments. These opportunities are important and should not be overlooked.

One such example of sub-regional cooperation among neighbors recently took place.

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At the end of 2016, Victor Pinchuk—one of Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarchs and sponsor of the recent YES 2018 conference—published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling for “painful compromises” to establish peace with Russia. In particular, he urged Ukraine to table its NATO and EU hopes and put the Crimean issue on hold for decades. Pinchuk did not voice these ideas in vain; they have been adopted by Serhiy Taruta in his election campaign.

Taruta, a Ukrainian oligarch from the Donbas, is trying to perform an uncanny yet common feint in Ukrainian politics. He is positioning himself as a “fresh face” in the upcoming 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections, even though he has been active in politics for twenty years.

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Despite a comprehensive sanctions regime established by Western governments barring foreign investment in Crimea, many foreign companies nonetheless maintain operations there. Recent reports reveal that a number of companies such as Visa, MasterCard, Volkswagen, Auchan, Metro Cash & Carry, DHL, and Adidas are still willing to continue business as usual despite the reputational risk.

The companies’ sanctions-busting behavior is driven by their commercial interests: they are reluctant to lose a significant share of the Russian market. According to Sergey Aksyonov, Crimea’s self-proclaimed prime minister, nearly 3,000 foreign firms are currently operating in Crimea. Aksenov has encouraged foreign companies to invest in Crimea, as there are ways companies can circumvent sanctions and conceal their identities.

In fact, there are several recurring techniques that Western companies use to avoid sanctions.

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On September 12, the leaders of two key pro-Russian parties made important public statements that should not be overlooked. Sergei Lyovochkin, deputy head of the Opposition Bloc and a former leader in President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration, and Vadym Rabinovich of the For Life political party, both spoke about the “active consolidation” of the two political parties prior to the upcoming presidential election. Both parties are pushing for a normal relationship with the Kremlin.

According to recent polls, Yulia Tymoshenko could expect almost 13 percent among decided voters if the election was held now, while her closest opponent, President Petro Poroshenko, is polling at 8.4 percent. In the meantime, Rabinovich and Yuriy Boyko of the Opposition Bloc are polling at 4.3 percent and 7.1 percent, respectively. Their possible agreement on a single candidate could put their politician in the second round. (No candidate is expected to win outright in the first round in March 2019.)

There are three wings in the negotiation process currently occurring in the pro-Russian camp.

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