UkraineAlert

Ukraine finally got an Anticorruption Court on June 26. That day, President Petro Poroshenko signed the law which establishes the court. Importantly, the shortcomings of the original law the Rada had passed in June were later corrected. All appeals cases under the jurisdiction of the Anticorruption Court will be reviewed only in the Anticorruption Court, even those currently in general jurisdiction courts.

The legislative work is over, and now it’s time to select judges. These are the people who will become the face of the new institution. Will the Anticorruption Court become an effective and impartial body? Everything depends on who is appointed to the bench.

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The war in eastern Ukraine grinds on, forgotten by many. There’s no obvious way out. The ceasefire agreements have been continuously broken, high-level dialogue between Russia and the United States stopped months ago, and the unarmed OSCE monitors in conflict zone are continuously harassed. Some analysts suspect that Moscow is waiting until March when Ukraine holds its presidential election. The Kremlin wants to see who the next president will be before taking any new steps, and time is on Russia’s side.

But time is not on Ukraine’s or the European Union’s side.

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The Atlantic Council has been profiling some of Ukraine’s toughest but lesser-known female activists this summer.

When I spoke with Iryna Shyba, a leader with the DEJURE Foundation in Kyiv, Ukraine, she almost rejected the premise of the piece.

“I don’t feel like I am doing more than any other civil society activist,” Shyba said. “There are incredible females working every day in IT and science, and to fight corruption. One day there should be no special column about women working on important issues; there should just be a column about anyone working on these issues.”

You know you’ve found a good subject to profile when they don’t want the spotlight.

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“We could hear explosions during classes and the sound of helicopters flying overhead. But no one understood what was happening or how long it would last,” recalls Anna Gladchenko, a 23-year-old student at the Donetsk National Medical University in Ukraine.

When war broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, 150,000 college students and 10,000 faculty and staff were thrown into an uncertain situation.

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Central bankers and economists are sounding the alarm in Kyiv, Ukraine. The Finance Ministry’s account balance has fallen to its lowest level in four years. The hryvnia is falling fast now, and fell nearly 4 percent over the last three weeks. Eurobond sales and foreign aid could remedy the cash-flow problem, but the International Monetary Fund’s next disbursement has been delayed for more than a year over foot dragging on reforms. Acting Finance Minister Oksana Markarova says that a deal is very close, but there are still differences to be worked out before the IMF releases the next $1.9 billion tranche.

We asked UkraineAlert experts and friends the following: Will Ukraine face a serious financial crisis if it does not get any IMF money before November?

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Just about everyone credits Ukraine’s persistent activists for almost every reform win since 2014. But four years after the Maidan, the public demand to put corrupt officials behind bars remains unanswered. Does that mean that civil society and the energy of the Maidan have reached their limits? It means just the opposite, actually. Resistance to anticorruption activity has increased as reforms needed more public engagement to proceed.

Ukraine’s public engagement has taken various forms. Early on, experts from independent think tanks helped ministers develop reform policies. Because of Russia’s aggression in Crimea and the Donbas, a number of volunteer organizations helped thousands resettle within the country and supply Ukrainian fighters with much-needed aid that the government couldn’t supply at the time.

Thanks to the pressure exerted by the European Union, the United States, and activists, Ukraine made significant institutional advances to fight corruption. The establishment of the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine is well known, but it’s worth mentioning two less visible wins. Both the adoption of the e-declaration system that makes the incomes and assets of state and local officials transparent and the public e-procurement system ProZorro were developed with the direct assistance of anticorruption activists. But they also contributed to the political establishment’s backlash against civil society.

The political elites also took advantage of discord within civil society.

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When I was an eight-year-old boy growing up in London in the late 1970s, my schoolteacher asked our class to show on the map where in Britain our parents were born. When it was my turn, I walked to the other side of the blackboard where the world map hung and proudly exclaimed that my parents came from Ukraine.

But when everyone looked at the map, I was horrified to discover that the country I had so excitedly announced wasn’t there; instead, there was just a colossal landmass identified as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I tried to convince the class that such a country really did exist, but I didn’t have much luck: it simply wasn’t on the map.

That was my first attempt at promoting Ukraine in public, and it wasn’t a great success.

These days, I make a living advocating for businesses in Ukraine, and I’m still running into barriers. As in my London classroom, many American and international investors haven’t yet detected Ukraine on their radar screens.

That’s not necessarily surprising. For many years, the country was mismanaged by a small cohort of greedy oligarchs and their cronies, and it became internationally recognized as a haven of corruption and vested interests, a terrain inhospitable to foreign investors.

That now appears to be changing.

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The US Congress has prepared numerous bills proposing new sanctions on Russia. Congress reacted sharply against President Donald Trump’s desire to ease existing sanctions. On July 28, 2017, the Senate voted 98-2 for the Combating America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which Trump quietly signed into law. CAATSA legislated already adopted sanctions on Russia, so that Trump could not cancel them by executive order. It tightened some sanctions and offered the administration various options to further tighten sanctions. Many members of Congress complain that the administration has done too little, calling for a tougher sanctions law. Trump’s press conference with Putin in Helsinki on July 16 convinced most that a new Russia sanctions law is needed.

Congress is focused on primarily four bills. All of them deal with Russia alone.

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Three weeks ago, Republican Senator Rand Paul leapt to the defense of US President Donald Trump following fierce criticism over his comments at the July 16 press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Known for his libertarian views, Paul urged the president to revoke the security clearances of former CIA director John Brennan and others who have criticized the president for his inaction related to the cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns directed by Russia’s intelligence agencies in the 2016 elections. While acknowledging that these took place, Paul also stated that the United States meddles in the elections of other countries, including in Russia and Ukraine. 

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Bloomberg recently ran an in-depth story titled, “Four Years after Its Revolution, Ukraine Is Still a Mess.” I can’t argue with the headline, but it overlooks the many efforts and individuals who are still fighting to fix Ukraine. Three of those individuals engaged in the fight spent most of July in Washington, DC, as James Denton Transatlantic Fellows at the Center for European Policy Analysis, gaining skills and contacts that will help them continue to press for reform in Ukraine.

“No one is going to do it if I don’t act,” said Mykhailo Zhernakov, director of the Kyiv-based DEJURE Foundation and a Denton fellow.

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