Christmas comes early this year for Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash. On August 1, the tycoon may pocket about $1 billion through a new change to the gas transportation system code (GTS Code). It sounds arcane, but Ukraine’s elites need to act fast to avoid awarding a giant windfall to an oligarch with ties to the Kremlin.
Since Ukraine’s independence, we, as members of the diaspora, have had a keen interest in the country’s development. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, there were great expectations that the economic stagnation imposed on Ukraine by the Communist system would be a thing of the past. With its abundance of natural resources and human potential, we thought that Ukraine would evolve rapidly into a prosperous European nation.
However, while other countries who found themselves behind the Iron Curtain have been able to substantially raise their living standards and integrate into Europe, Ukraine continues to stagnate. Its living standards which were once equal to those of neighboring countries like Poland, Slovakia, or the Baltics, have fallen far behind.
We are not blameless. The diaspora’s views are generally misguided and counter-productive when it comes to moving Ukraine’s economy forward.
But back in March 2014—days after Russian "little green men" had fanned out across Crimea—judicial corruption was the last thing on Butko's mind. Butko had journeyed to Crimea to see the situation first-hand but instead found herself kneeling in a ditch suffering beatings from former Berkut officers who had pulled her and a colleague from their car once they recognized Butko as a Maidan activist. Butko ended up in a jail cell in Sevastopol guarded by men with balaclavas and denied all contact with relatives or a lawyer. As the experience of the Kremlin's Ukrainian hostages like Oleg Sentsov demonstrates, things could have ended far worse; she was allowed to return to mainland Ukraine after three days of interrogations and threats.
Her experience in Crimea and a subsequent experience in Luhansk in May 2014, where she was dragged from a hotel by armed militia and interrogated for several hours, steels Butko against the frequent threats she and her colleagues receive.
In Helsinki, surprisingly, the Ukraine issue apparently did not figure prominently in the discussions. This fact, however, is a mixed blessing for Kyiv; it could lead President Vladimir Putin to believe that President Donald Trump is not all that concerned with Ukraine. Moreover, developments subsequent to the Helsinki summit raise several potential alarms for Ukraine.
The problem is that while these individuals make great sacrifices, the mission itself is compromised by Russia.
A recent investigative report by German broadcaster ARD has leveled new allegations about the role of the Russian observers in the mission; some of the Russian observers are spies with links to Russian military intelligence.
According to the ARD report, these Russian individuals have been gathering personal information about other monitors, including personal information like mobile phone numbers addresses, and blood types. True to form, they have also been making notes on potentially damaging or compromising issues, such as drinking habits, sexual activity, and financial issues.
The ARD report is consistent with conversations that UkraineAlert has had with former SMM observers who asked not to be named.
When asked by a journalist if there’s anything he holds Russia responsible for, Trump said, “I hold both countries responsible.” Both countries are not responsible for interfering in numerous elections, the downing of flight MH17 that killed 298 people, the illegal annexation of Crimea, the invasion and occupation of the Donbas, the invasion of Georgia, and the poisoning of a former KGB agent in Britain. It seems the president might need to brush up.
We asked our experts and smart Russia hands for their top three books or articles about Vladimir Putin and modern Russia.
Christian Caryl, The Washington Post and Newsweek’s Moscow bureau chief from 2000 to 2004:
Vladimir Sorokin, Day of the Oprichnik: A gloriously dark novel by Russia’s leading surrealist writer. In a not-too-distant future, a neo-tsarist Russia is run by a caste of secret policemen who are at once ultra-corrupt and hyper-nationalistic. Sound familiar? Precisely because it’s a satire, it captures the anomie of Putin’s Russia better than a host of more conventional books.
Edward Lucas, The New Cold War: A remarkably prescient book. Writing well before the Russian occupation of Crimea, Lucas mapped out the likely development of Putinism with eerie accuracy. Its conclusions remain highly relevant today.
First Person, Putin’s 2000 autobiography. Though it was intended as a PR project, this book is still one of the best guides to the man and his mentality. Among other things, it shows in detail how his career in the KGB shaped his mindset and his conception of Russia’s great power status.
Take yesterday as an example. It was not a good day for Ukraine.
A peaceful demonstration in Kyiv meant to highlight the country’s inability to prosecute criminals and apply justice blindly turned ugly when counter-demonstrators disrupted the proceedings and assaulted a prominent activist.