UkraineAlert

On December 7, Ukraine’s parliament is likely to dismiss the head of Ukraine’s only independent anticorruption body, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU). Established in 2015 to target high-level crimes committed by the country’s corrupt political class, NABU has demonstrated a high level of independence led by its director Artem Sytnyk. It has not hesitated to target senior officials, judges, and state enterprise managers who previously possessed de-facto immunity from prosecution.

Supporting NABU has certainly been a US priority, as the two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding for the FBI to assist NABU with training, capacity building, and information sharing. Ukraine's political elites have spent much of the last two years coming up with ingenious methods to weaken NABU and diminish its effectiveness. Ukraine's unreformed judiciary also stymies NABU's investigations by denying search warrants, setting purposely small bail for suspects—thereby allowing them to flee the country—and preserving official positions for people who are NABU suspects. This means that while NABU has investigated hundreds of cases, most can't make it through the courts. And despite the IMF's requirement that an independent anticorruption court be established, President Petro Poroshenko continues to slow-roll the submission of legislation to do so.

As bad as all this is for NABU, things got worse last week.

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Ukraine’s political parties are in trouble. Public support for national parties is at its lowest since the 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity. According to a recent poll by the International Republican Institute (IRI), 22 percent of Ukrainians said they would not vote in the 2019 parliamentary elections and 30 percent could not answer the question.

Ukraine’s political parties are struggling to secure double-digit support. With presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May and October 2019, it is anyone’s game at this point—and much work remains to build party structures and craft messages that resonate with voters prior to Election Day.

But there is a silver lining to the bleak picture: nearly 40 percent of likely voters want to participate but do not have a current party preference. This means that the political climate should be seen as a big opportunity for party growth, and IRI’s data suggests at least two strategies that can be utilized to increase a party’s support over the next year.

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The human toll of the Russia-instigated war in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed over 10,000 lives since 2014, remains underreported. Newspapers rarely document the daily grind of life in the conflict zone, which has lost any sense of normalcy for thousands of Ukrainians who wish to live in peace. For schoolchildren along the contact line in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, this disruption is especially stark. The conflict has been occurring for nearly four years, but going to class can still abruptly shift into a dash for cover amid a deadly hail of shells and bullets.

Although the concept of sanctuary for schoolchildren can no longer be taken for granted in eastern Ukraine, people from around the world have stepped up to offer respite. This past summer, the nationwide summer camp initiative GoCamp welcomed six hundred students from twenty-four schools in the war-affected Donbas to GoCamp East, a summer program held in Kozyn, near Kyiv, for two weeks of English language learning. During those fourteen days, the students were able to leave their conflict-ridden towns behind and immerse themselves in new ideas and opportunities.

The innovative program is part of the national educational initiative GoCamp, which involves over seven hundred schools across Ukraine. The program is run by Global Office, a nongovernmental organization that was co-founded in 2016 by Mustafa Nayyem, a member of parliament in Ukraine and a prominent reformer in the post-Maidan era.

“If we do not invest in the future, our children and nephews will encounter the same problems that we have,” Nayyem told UkraineAlert in 2016. “Many children in Ukraine have never seen foreigners.”

In just two years, the project has connected over 69,000 Ukrainian schoolchildren between the ages of ten and fifteen with hundreds of trained foreign volunteers from dozens of countries.

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Former Georgian President and Odesa oblast governor Mikheil Saakashvili was taken into custody in Kyiv on December 5. His supporters eventually freed him and he addressed a large crowd outside of the parliament. Later in the day, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko told parliament that Saakashvili accepted money from a fugitive oligarch to fund antigovernment protests that have waxed and waned since mid-October. The situation remains tense and ongoing. What does the detention of Saakashvili mean for Ukraine, its democratic prospects, and its relationship with the West? We asked our experts and a number of commentators and politicians to explain the significance of today’s events.

Michael Carpenter, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Senior Director at the Biden Center:
The conflict between Saakashvili and the Ukrainian authorities only benefits Russia. Saakashvili entered Ukraine under dubious circumstances but his case needs to be adjudicated according to the rule of law, not through force.

Aivaras Abromavicius, former Ukrainian Minister of Economy and Trade: I think there has been a good amount of progress made by the last two governments. Yet many of those achievements are at risk of being eroded by the recent blunt attacks on the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine by unreformed law enforcement agencies. In light of the total absence of sentencing of extremely corrupt current or former top officials, accusations against Saakashvili will always seem politically motivated. The West is going to be puzzled yet again and disappointed about where the priorities of Ukraine's leadership lie.

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The timing couldn’t have been better. Ukraine’s war is dragging on, Russia is proposing a sham peacekeeping plan, the humanitarian crisis in the east is worsening, and the conflict is receiving increasingly fewer mentions in the international press. In this midst of this dismal news, Ukraine’s deputy speaker of parliament Oksana Syroid organized the Lviv Security Forum to figure a way out. Held November 29-December 1 on the campus of Ukrainian Catholic University in its new state-of-the-art library, the forum was meant to bolster the foreign policy credentials of the Lviv-based Samopomich Party and to convene international experts to discuss what should replace the shaky post-Cold War system.

Lviv Mayor and head of the Samopomich Party Andriy Sadovyi opened the forum by reminding the crowd of international experts, politicians, and students from the United States and Europe that the twentieth century, a century of atrocities, was not kind to Ukraine. In fact, the city of Lviv was part of six different countries in the last century, he said. Sadovyi said that he’d recently met with the Israeli defense minister and his advice to Sadovyi and Ukraine was simple. “You have to survive,” he said.

The organizers went with the theme of survival, making #survive the hashtag of the forum. However, an emphasis on survival seems behind the times.

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Ukraine has experienced some major reforms, particularly the ProZorro electronic procurement system, the restructuring of corrupt banks, and fundamental reforms in the gas sector. Nonetheless, the country still suffers from widespread corruption and a malfunctioning court system that has delayed major cases against allegedly corrupt officials.

In this environment, politicians on all sides have been rushing to claim that they are the true leaders in the fight for corruption. That isn’t a bad thing; their efforts illustrate a healthy political competition that is occurring within constitutional, parliamentary, and electoral bounds. It is likely to lead to progress in creating a new anti-corruption court and in improving the effectiveness of the procuracy, the police, and the recently established National Anti-Corruption Bureau and National Bureau of Investigation.

Ukraine is home to a combative, highly competitive political environment where political leaders are often prone to exaggeration and populism. By no means is the reform process easy and clear-cut. But it is broadly occurring within the context of legitimate democratic discourse, much of it critical of the government and the president.

Increasingly, however, politicians, who were once regarded as responsible voices, are drifting toward extremist rhetoric that is disproportional to the serious problems that exist in Ukraine’s political system.

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In March 1980, former President Jimmy Carter announced sanctions against the Soviet Union and a boycott of the Moscow Olympics in protest against its invasion of Afghanistan.

“We call for the moving of the Olympics or the delay of the Olympics for at least a year, until Soviet troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, or the canceling of the games,” he said.

Many nations did not join the boycott, and the games proceeded. Then in 1984, the Soviets retaliated against the Los Angeles Olympics.

But it’s thirty-seven years later, and President Donald Trump is soft on Russia and certainly wouldn’t even consider a boycott against Moscow anytime soon.

But Moscow has been on the march again, militarily and virtually. In 2014, under cover of the Sochi Olympics, Russia invaded another neighbor, Ukraine. One year later, it also damaged the world of sports and was exposed for widespread and illegal state-sanctioned doping practices by its athletes in every sport.

So, whether it’s on the killing fields, or the playing fields, Russian misdeeds worsen.

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Four years since its Euromaidan revolution, Ukraine is fighting for its survival as an independent and viable state. The country is struggling to hold together and resist Russia’s interference and pressure—in the military, diplomatic, economic, and media spheres. But simultaneously, an internal contest is occurring that will determine the political, institutional, and civic future of Ukraine.

The country is experiencing domestic challenges which pit, broadly speaking, modernizing forces sympathetic to European norms against the entrenched conservatism of vested interests in political and business elites. Resistance to reform remains widespread, and there are recent signs that anti-progressive forces are becoming emboldened in their attempts to block or dilute the passage of policies that Ukraine needs.

The international community has invested heavily in Ukraine’s future and spent billions of dollars supporting the country, while rejecting the Russian claim to primacy in deciding Ukraine’s geopolitical alignment and domestic political arrangement. As a result, the West’s credibility and cohesion are also at stake.

Fending off Russia and delivering on policy reforms in a wide range of areas are the two defining challenges facing Ukraine today.

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If you missed the European Union’s Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels on November 24, you are not alone. It was a forgettable event, but it tells us quite a bit about the EU’s state of affairs in Eastern Europe.

The proud start of the EU Eastern Partnership was the Prague summit in May 2009, instigated by Foreign Ministers Carl Bildt of Sweden and Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland. These heroes of East-West integration are out of office, and we feel their absence keenly.

In 2009, the essence of the joint declaration between the six members of the Eastern Partnership, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, was “that the Eastern Partnership will be based on commitments to the principles of international law and to fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, and the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as to, market economy, sustainable development, and good governance.” Today, little remains but threadbare slogans.

The Eastern Partnership advanced until the Vilnius Eastern Partnership summit in November 2013, as Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine negotiated association agreements, including deep and comprehensive free trade agreements. In Vilnius, Ukraine was supposed to sign its association agreement, but Russia’s President Vladimir Putin persuaded Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych not to do so. He had already done so with Armenia’s President Serzh Sargzian in September 2013. Only Georgia and Moldova held fast and signed their EU agreements.

The next Eastern Partnership summit in Riga in May 2015 marked the decline. The fault did not lie with Latvia but with the EU’s lack of strategy.

It is easy to ridicule this latest Eastern Partnership summit, and sadly there are good reasons for doing so.

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There’s a real possibility that the United States will finally send lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine. The country has been fighting a defensive war in its east for nearly four years, after Russia seized Crimea and Russian-backed separatists invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014. Many experts have argued that better weapons would change the tactical imbalance between Kyiv and Moscow. President Barack Obama resisted the idea, fearing that it would only escalate the conflict. Now the National Security Council has approved a $47 million grant package that would send anti-tank Javelin systems, counter-battery radar, and counter-mortar weapons to Ukraine and forwarded its opinion to President Donald Trump for consideration. This is the latest step in a process that reflects the approval of the State Department, Pentagon, and Congress. Most news reports left out an important fact: this decision almost certainly took the views of US Ambassador Kurt Volker into consideration based on his recent negotiations with Russia; Volker previously revealed that the United States was considering sending such weapons to Kyiv.

Although Trump reportedly desires that Ukraine pay at least in part for these weapons, Congress has authorized him to transfer these designated defensive weapons to Ukraine if he so chooses. This means that the full institutional weight of the US government, with the exception of the president, recommends the transfer of these weapons to Kyiv.

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