UkraineAlert

US Ambassador Kurt Volker recently toldThe Guardian that the United States was prepared to offer Ukraine new weapons to defend itself. There is no doubt that Ukraine needs these weapons; in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, Moscow is waging a simultaneous military and economic war against Kyiv. It has blockaded the Sea of Azov to Ukrainian ships, demands the right to inspect “foreign” vessels, and has extended a maritime exclusion zone all the way to Odesa, Ukraine.

Moscow possesses the ability to launch an amphibious operation on Ukraine’s coast to isolate Mariupol and the southern Ukrainian coast all the way to Odesa from Ukraine. It did this by steadily reinforcing its ground, air, and naval forces in and around Crimea.

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A current controversy brewing in Ukraine illustrates just how relevant the Soviet past is to Ukraine’s present and future—and just how powerful the forces are that aim to reconnect Ukraine and its former hegemon, Russia.

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Andrey Stavnitser is a second generation businessman with a clean reputation in Ukraine. He’s also young and ambitious. The bushy-bearded thirty-six-year old turned his father’s TiS company into the largest private port in Ukraine and the largest of all Ukraine’s ports by dry cargo turnover. By investing aggressively in infrastructure, Stavnitser is proving that the country’s security risks, economic turbulence, and challenging business environment are not insurmountable and that Ukraine deserves another look.

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Around two dozen high-profile journalists were recently detained in Belarus in one of the biggest intimidation campaigns in years. The details of this sudden and surprising sweep highlight growing tensions in the country, where the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenka is seeking a balance between necessary pro-market reforms and its preservation.

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Many accolades will be written about Senator John McCain this week and deservedly so. He was a consistent champion for democracy and human rights throughout the world, and a man who always stood by his principles. In his role as chairman of the International Republican Institute (IRI), McCain was considered a champion, particularly in the former Soviet space, of freedom, justice, and fairness.

McCain’s moral leadership was captured well during his final meeting with Boris Nemtsov, leader of Russia’s main opposition political party and chief critic of President Vladimir Putin. Only a few months before Nemtsov’s assassination in Moscow, I organized a meeting for McCain and Nemtsov in Vilnius, Lithuania.

There McCain showed his prescience when he inquired about Nemtsov’s safety due to his steadfast criticism of Putin as a murderer, thug, and KGB agent. Nemtsov looked McCain directly in the eye, smiled and said, “You know, Senator, Putin really hates you.”

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The hot summer of 2018 has been unusually calm in Ukraine, where in the absence of other news, a scandal or a crisis catches the media spotlight. This is a stark contrast to 2009, when the Ukrainian presidential campaign was in full swing, which on February 7, 2010, ended in victory for Viktor Yanukovych. In March 2019, exactly nine years later, Ukrainians will choose their sixth president.

Today, numerous billboards and TV ads remind us of the beginning of the election campaign, or to be more precise, of presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The word “new” is abundant in all of her advertising: “The New Deal,” “New People’s Constitution,” and even “New Peace Plan.” The word “new” seeks to evoke the most positive associations in voters and make them forget that she is far from a novice. Tymoshenko was first elected from the Kirovohrad district to the parliament in 1997 with a fantastic 92.3 percent of votes.

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Since the Euromaidan, we have seen extraordinary acts of volunteerism by Ukrainians. In the initial days of Russia’s invasion, citizen volunteers fought on the Donbas front to shore up the Ukrainian Army, which was on the verge of collapse. These citizen soldiers experienced high casualty rates. Volunteers organized supplies for the war and served as medics and nurses. When 1.6 million displaced fled the Donbas, it was largely the volunteers who fed, clothed, and sheltered them.

Ukraine’s volunteerism has served as the foundation for the country’s new civic identity. It has also been seen as problematic, establishing a parallel, second state as an antidote to the weakness and ineptitude of the state.

As the military has rapidly professionalized and attained the capacity to fight and supply the front, the activists of the Euromaidan have moved to fill another critical gap. They are now supporting combat veterans. After four years of war, there is still no systematic provision for Ukraine’s veterans beyond monetary benefits.

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It’s standard fare in any article about Ukraine to mention the country's enormous, overwhelming, and everlasting corruption problem. It’s also incredibly boring, because hardly anyone has examples or knows how it actually works.

In April, I sat down over coffee and sweets in Kyiv with investigative journalist Oleksa Shalayskiy, editor-in-chief of Nashi Groshi (Our Money), who explained in detail how corruption functions in Ukraine.

Shalayskiy knows what he’s talking about. His watchdog organization regularly uncovers examples of corruption that the top anticorruption organizations use in their public crusades.

But Shalayskiy is anything but loud. Soft-spoken and detail oriented, I had to lean forward multiple times and ask him to speak up.

Shalayskiy said the problem is that officials still believe they must steal.

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One of the biggest differences between Eastern and Western Europe is the role of the church. On paper, they are separate, but in Eastern Europe, tradition trumps the law and the influence of the church is immense. In Ukraine, the church is the most trusted institution, which is a good thing, but the fact that one of its strongest branches openly sympathizes with Russia means that the secular world can’t choose to ignore this issue any longer.

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Last week Ukraine’s finances didn’t look so promising and a fall fiscal crisis was entirely possible. Many worried that Ukraine wouldn’t satisfy the International Monetary Fund’s three main demands in time to receive a $1.9 billion tranche before annual budget debates begin. The IMF had been demanding an Anticorruption Court, market prices on gas for households, and a budget deficit target of 2.5 percent. Ukraine passed an Anticorruption Court bill that satisfies the IMF, but it has not met the second and third conditions.

However, things changed this week.

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