In a recent Foreign Affairs column, Adrian Karatnycky and Alexander J. Motyl argue that the West’s anticorruption policies are failing in Ukraine. This is false. The West’s anticorruption policies are spot on, and the West needs to dig in and push even harder.

Karatnycky and Motyl are right that Ukraine has changed for the better in the last four years. Indeed, Ukraine has carried out more reforms in the anticorruption sector since the Euromaidan than in the previous twenty years. Most of the significant achievements are tools that prevent corruption, and they work. Specifically, we implemented the Prozorro public procurement system, cleaned up the banking sector, reformed Naftogaz, introduced an asset declaration system for public officials, and outsourced procurement of medications to international organizations. These reforms were possible only because the IMF, EU, and other foreign partners demanded them. The Ukrainian government never would have done these alone. However, these reforms can only be sustainable, irreversible, and effective if there is a well functioning punitive mechanism, and that mechanism is the courts.

As a result of some of these reforms, millions of Ukrainians know which senior officials steal from the state and how, but they don't understand why no one is behind bars. Of course, this leads to massive frustration and deep distrust of the state.

This week the Ukrainian parliament will consider a draft law on the anticorruption court, which it should absolutely pass.

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Russia’s war in Ukraine has entered its fifth year. Skirmishes and killings continue every week but have faded from the headlines—perhaps because they have reached “an acceptable level of violence.”

I was a teenager when I first heard that chilling term uttered by a British politician in 1971 referring to the low intensity war in Northern Ireland between the British government and IRA terrorists. The conflict had erupted in 1968 and would last for thirty years with a steady stream of bombings and shootings leaving a trail of dead and maimed.

But, apart from occasional spectacular attacks that killed and wounded dozens of victims, the violence seemed to barely register with Britons on the mainland. Many in Northern Ireland understandably felt forgotten as if the rest of the world had become bored with their ghastly situation.

It was Home Secretary Reginald Maudling who declared the conflict was at “an acceptable level of violence,” which many took to mean that London had given up and was resigned to keeping it within reasonable parameters.

The Russians annexed Crimea in March 2014 and by spring had stirred up violence in parts of eastern Ukraine as a precursor to snatching more Ukrainian territory. Soon fighting flared with large battles, which sometimes saw hundreds dead in a day.

The conflict has taken more than 10,000 lives—most civilians—including 298 passengers on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. All the evidence pointed to Russia but Moscow lied indignantly and denied involvement. But this month a report compiled by independent international investigators confirmed the ill-fated airliner was blasted out of the sky by a Russian military unit.

By the autumn of 2015 a ceasefire agreement depressed the death rate dramatically. Ukrainian soldiers and civilians still died every week, but they died in dribs and drabs. Press attention shifted to the mass slaughter in Syria and many Ukrainians felt their country’s plight had been consigned to the back burner, much like those in Northern Ireland.

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Fighting in eastern Ukraine last week was the worst it’s been this year. The uptick in violence coincides with Ukraine’s transition of the command of the war from its security forces to its armed forces, which is part of the implementation of Ukraine’s new law on reintegration.

While much of the new law has not been fully articulated, it represents the beginnings of a unified political and military strategy. On the military side, Lt. General Serhiy Nayev, head of the new Joint Forces Operations, said that the combined forces will decisively rebuff any expanded operations by Russia and will respond quickly and effectively to Russian shelling against civilians and along the line of contact. The military goal is to liberate the occupied territories.

The law also suggests the outline of a peace strategy, and includes a plan for the protection of civilians and the creation of conditions for the return of Ukraine’s 1.7 million internally displaced persons. What this means is that the Ukraine military is now a player in the peace process. It must not only defend against Russian aggression, it must also fight the war in a way that establishes the conditions for a stable peace.

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On May 29, the media reported that Russian journalist and Putin critic Arkady Babchenko had been assassinated in Kyiv. He reportedly died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. On May 30, Babchenko appeared at a press conference, alongside the head of the Ukrainan Security Service (SBU) Vasily Gritsak and Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, alive and well. The SBU had approached Babchenko and told him that there was a plot against his life. If he would cooperate in a sting operation, they might be able to spare him. It succeeded.

We asked Atlantic Council experts, UkraineAlert contributors, and journalists the following: What’s the upshot of this bizarre plot? Does this staged murder help or hinder the credibility of the Ukrainian government? Are you surprised that the SBU managed to carry out this operation? Should a government lie to its people?   

Ian Bateson, journalist and Fulbright Scholar: So today was a win for Ukrainian law enforcement (scratch the top one off). But many other murders are left unsolved. Officials today refused to even discuss Pavlo Sheremet. Time will tell how much of what the SBU displayed today will check out, but faking Babchenko’s death shows a degree of coordination few would have thought Ukrainian law enforcement was capable of.

Michael Bociurkiw, Global Affairs Analyst and Former OSCE Spokesperson: I share the indignation of the global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders that it is playing with fire when states manipulate the facts—even in the name of an information war. 

The explanation is irrelevant. This could have been staged differently. What happened has crossed a line: the fake scenario not only duped the public but also journalists and colleagues. And most importantly, his family. 

At a time when traditional media is under attack—and when fake news is awash—this brand of subterfuge does not boost the media’s image. 

Michael Carpenter, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Senior Director at the Biden Center, and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council:
Although it's wonderful news that Arkady Babchenko is alive and well, this incident will unfortunately have lasting negative consequences. If the SBU was able to thwart an attempted assassination by staging Babchenko's fake murder, then there's some justification for this stunt. But at the same time, the SBU and other Ukrainian government institutions will suffer a long-term hit in terms of their credibility. And one thing is sure: Russia will exploit this fake murder to accuse Ukraine of spreading fake news and to cast doubt on future attacks on dissidents and journalists inside and outside of Russia. The unfortunate reality is that the next time a real tragedy strikes, we will all pause to question whether the news reports are true.

That said, I think that when balancing the pros and cons of this operation, we have to give precedence to exposing Russian intelligence operatives and their methods, and to stopping murderers before they are able to perpetrate their bloody deeds. While government agencies should as a general rule never deceive the public, sometimes higher objectives involving life and death do need to be considered.

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I was not a student of the late Richard Pipes, and I only met him once briefly, so I cannot claim any special relationship or unique insight into his personality and character. Nevertheless, he was and remains a model for historians of Russia and those who aspire to understand Russia as it really is.

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Ukraine is a challenging and confusing place to do business. At the same time, it’s also exciting and changing. I’ve been doing business in Ukraine for fifteen years, and while Ukraine has a bad reputation for international business, it deserves a second look.

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Four years after Ukrainians protested in the streets against jaw-dropping corruption, the most odious scheme of all—the corrupt natural gas market—continues to siphon billions from Ukraine. These proceeds underwrite a sophisticated bribery scheme in Russia and Ukraine, and more recently help subsidize Russia’s war and occupation against Ukraine.

The heist was devised years ago by mafia kingpin Semion Mogilevich, and has been fronted by Dmytro Firtash with the blessing of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his insiders. It was simple: A foreign intermediary company was established to buy gas from Gazprom, then sell it to Ukraine’s utility Naftogaz for huge profits that would then be diverted to Russian and Ukrainian politicians and officials.

The offshore intermediary was dismantled in 2016, but Firtash immediately devised another gambit. He now controls “zombie” intermediaries, or regional gas distribution companies inside Ukraine, that Naftogaz is legally obliged to sell eleven billion cubic meters of gas (about one-third of the market) at prices that are 50 percent below market. Worse, most of these zombies never pay for the gas, and Naftogaz cannot collect the bad debts in a timely fashion or cut off gas supplies. This includes companies that supply gas to Russian-occupied Crimea and Donbas and never pay for it.

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The noose is finally closing on the people and structures behind the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Almost four years after the Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur-bound flight was shot down by a BUK missile over Ukraine, a clearer picture is emerging on the origin of the missile, its route to the firing zone in eastern Ukraine, and its return to base in western Russia.

On May 24, the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT)—citing forensic and intercepted evidence—said the missile originated from the base of the Russian Federation’s 53rd anti-aircraft brigade in Kursk, not far from the Ukrainian border. 

The JIT found that “all the vehicles in a convoy carrying the missile were part of the Russian armed forces.”

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Anyone who claims Ukraine’s reforms have failed ignores the type of cases the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) has been able to pursue. NABU represents Ukraine's first government agency truly devoted to ending the impunity of corrupt, high-level officials. NABU continues to investigate and arrest senior officials previously considered untouchable.

NABU faces one huge obstacle however: Ukraine's hopelessly corrupt judicial system. A study from the Anticorruption Action Center (AntAC) and the Reanimation Package of Reforms found that judges use a wide variety of techniques—from denying search warrants to preserving official positions for people who are NABU suspects—to hinder investigations. The results are clear: Despite sending hundreds of investigations to court since 2015, NABU has been unable to obtain any major convictions.

Creating a truly independent anti-corruption court that would adjudicate NABU's cases and finally allow Ukrainians a chance to hold their corrupt politicians accountable is the final step.

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Violence is on the rise in eastern Ukraine again. There have been a number of civilian casualties and a massive number of ceasefire violations. Some have said that last week was the worst of all the fighting in 2018. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s army took control over the Donbas operation in April and the talks between US Ambassador Kurt Volker, US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, and Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov seem to have broken down. In addition, Ukraine faces presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.

We asked our Atlantic Council experts and UkraineAlert contributors what’s behind the uptick in violence. Should we expect more and more violence up until Ukraine’s March 2019 presidential election?

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