UkraineAlert

A week of protests on behalf of needed reforms in Ukraine have rapidly fizzled having made limited headway in pressing for legislative action while discrediting a segment of liberal reformers with its populist rhetoric and aggressive tactics.

The protest outside parliament, which some organizers had expected would bring at least 10,000 to the streets, peaked on October 17 at around four thousand.

By October 20, the fourth day of mass action, the ranks had fallen to a few hundred, and the tent city they had constructed was largely empty, with almost as many tents as protestors. On October 22, crowds gathered again, peaking at 1,500, around a third of those who had come out at the onset of protests; on October 23, a small band of protestors remained in the tent city around the parliament.

The demonstrators had three demands: lifting parliamentary immunity, changing the electoral system to an open-party list, and creating a National Anticorruption Court.

But these demands were lost amid the insurrectionist tenor of the protests, including some acts of violence by some in the crowd. The creation of a gauntlet of shame for the degradation of one pro-government parliamentary leader and the pelting of another with eggs further detracted from the message.

Read More

On October 19, several thousand protesters in Kyiv cheered as parliament passed a bill that will lift parliamentary immunity. It was not the only victory of the day; parliament approved major health care reform as well.

This was the third day that thousands of Ukrainians have taken to the streets to demand that President Petro Poroshenko establish an independent anticorruption court, change the electoral law, and lift parliamentary immunity or resign. The protests, which began on October 17, are the largest since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, which prompted former President Viktor Yanukovych to flee to Moscow and brought a pro-Western government to power. Since then, Ukraine has made serious but halting progress, thanks in large measure to Ukraine’s outspoken activists.

Protesters have been mainly holding signs and waving flags in front of the parliament building. Thousands of national guardsmen and riot police, probably ten times the number of actual protesters, have surrounded the building and put up barriers. Some see this as a signal that Poroshenko is afraid of the opposition.

Read More

Even within Ukraine’s embattled political sphere, a new generation of leaders is still inspiring change. Stanford University intends to harness this energy through its Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program, a new program for mid-career professionals to study at Stanford for an academic year. Olexandr Starodubtsev, Oleksandra Matviichuk, and Dmytro Romanovych were inducted as the first members of the program, which is hosted at Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL).

Joined by Ukrainian rock star, activist, and CDDRL’s visiting scholar Svyatoslav Vakarchuk and former ambassador to Russia and the director of Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute Michael McFaul, the leaders spoke to a packed crowd of more than 200 people from the Stanford and local Ukrainian-American community on October 3.

Read More

RT is coming under increasing scrutiny for its role in the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign against the West. The US Justice Department is allegedly requesting that individuals associated with the network’s US branch, RT America, register as foreign agents. Nascent Congressional efforts to investigate and counter the Kremlin’s influence operations have also targeted RT.

These are promising if still limited developments. RT unambiguously qualifies as a Kremlin disinformation outfit and as an instrument of hostile foreign influence intended to weaken Western nations and the transatlantic alliance. Numerous studies have robustly unmasked the network’s tactics and synchronization with the Kremlin’s political agenda.

In January, the declassified intelligence report published jointly by the CIA, FBI, and NSA identified RT as a significant agent of influence during the 2016 presidential election. This assessment was based on the apparent social media success of RT’s pro-Trump and anti-Clinton coverage; the report cites that RT’s most popular video on Hillary Clinton, “How 100 Percent of the Clintons’ ‘Charity’ Went to [...] Themselves,” received more than nine million views on social media, while its most popular video on Donald Trump, “Trump Will Not Be Permitted to Win,” had 2.2 million views.

Yet contrary to the judgments of the report, most experts agree that RT’s impact on public opinion is minimal.

Read More

After a week of back-to-back meetings in Washington, Oleksandr Danylyuk is tired. He gladly downs a cup of coffee before we turn on our microphones to discuss Ukraine’s economy. The affable forty-two-year old finance minister is one of the few reformers left in Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers and has a reputation as a doer. He’s in town for the International Monetary Fund's and World Bank’s annual meetings.

When Danylyuk took over after Natalie Jaresko stepped down in April 2016, expectations weren’t high, but he has exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Read More

President Petro Poroshenko has just done an about-face. On October 4, Poroshenko announced that he supports the creation of a specialized high anticorruption court, and that he soon will submit a draft law marked “urgent” for the court’s creation.

However, the president suggested the creation of a multiparty parliamentary working group to develop such a draft law, which is worrisome. A working group is often a place where legislation goes to die in Ukraine.

Civil society and foreign partners should use all the leverage and technical assistance they can muster to ensure that the draft law is ready as soon as possible.

Read More

Ukraine’s halting but steady climb toward becoming a just and smart European nation will take a giant leap forward if major health care reforms are adopted this week.

Health care is always a contentious issue in any country and one need only look at the United States as an example. But Ukraine’s corrupt, Soviet system is demonstrably inadequate; witness the fact that Ukrainian lifespans are eleven years shorter than they are in the rest of Europe.

This Thursday, a transformative package of reforms will be voted on in the Verkhovna Rada. These have been months in the making and already demonstrated benefits.

Acting Health Minister Dr. Ulana Suprun is confident that Ukraine’s lawmakers will adopt reforms now.

Read More

As Kyiv's anticorruption reformers continue their uphill struggle, they face increasingly strong resistance from law enforcement agencies.

On October 11, as Olga Stefanyshyna, the executive director of Patients of Ukraine, was heading to work, she received a panicked call. The police had shown up and were turning the nonprofit’s office upside down grabbing documents.

This wasn’t a random occurrence. As part of an ongoing harassment campaign against anticorruption activists over the last several months, the police, prosecutors, and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) have been targeting Patients of Ukraine and another leading NGO—The All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA)—on trumped-up charges; they claim that these NGOs “misused” funds from the international donor Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

This is a shameless lie. Both organizations are regularly audited by Global Fund auditors and no violations have ever been detected.

Read More

It is ironic that Diane Francis views my characterizations of the Crimea annexation as touting the Kremlin line. Everything I've written about the Russian takeover of Crimea, from this March 2014 column comparing it with the Anschluss, to the October 4 column that displeased Francis, could land me in jail in Russia. Crimean Tatar activist Rafis Kashapov was sentenced to two years' imprisonment in 2015 for denying, as I consistently do, that Crimea is part of Russia.

I acquired the freedom to write these columns by leaving my country. That was no small price to pay, so I'm disinclined to waste that freedom on the sloppy treatment of facts, which are often inconvenient to both sides of a conflict.

Read More

A Bloomberg piece in October titled “Why Catalonia Will Fail Where Crimea Succeeded” by Russian writer Leonid Bershidsky is an example of moral equivalence run amok.

He compares two completely unrelated events—referenda in Crimea and Catalonia—as though they bear any similarity, and as though they carry the same moral weight.

“The Catalan situation draws comparisons with that in Crimea in 2014, and they are not as easy to dismiss as Catalan independence supporters might think,” he wrote.

Yes they are.

Read More