• The Best Way to Improve Kyiv’s Military Odds Isn’t What You Think It Is

    As Ukraine continues to defend itself against Russian aggression in the east, there is one thing Kyiv can do to improve its odds for military success: reform its corruption-riddled defense sector. Transparency International's most recent Government Defense Anti-Corruption Index gives Ukraine a D grade, indicating a high risk of corruption.

    It’s not difficult to see why. For one thing, Ukraine's state-owned arms conglomerate Ukroboronprom is a cesspool of corruption. In one case, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine discovered a fraudulent scheme to buy old outdated engines for T-72 tanks instead of new motors while a...

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  • Here’s One Way Ukraine Can Hold Russia Accountable Now

    Ukraine’s internally displaced persons (IDPs) have struggled. After having fled their houses due to military conflict and living with the uncertainty of whether they will ever regain that property, some have been poorly regarded in their new host communities. How the displaced were received often depended on where they came from. In general Ukrainians have been more supportive of Crimean IDPs, victims of Russia’s annexation, than IDPs from Donbas, who were sometimes equated with compatriots who supported Russia’s invasion.

    But several events in the last few months have shifted the terrain for Ukraine’s IDPs in positive ways, providing new avenues for political and legal justice for Ukraine’s 1.6 million IDPs.

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  • Why Putin Cannot Risk Peace in Ukraine

    Imagine the scene: a patch of overgrown wasteland on the outskirts of an east Ukrainian rust belt town. Emergency services personnel are methodically excavating a large plot of earth while a huddle of journalists and aid workers look on. The date is October 2019. Another mass grave has just been uncovered.

    This grim but all-too-conceivable scenario is perhaps the most compelling reason why Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent UN peacekeeper posturing over Ukraine is hard to take seriously. The desire to keep evidence of war crimes from reaching international audiences is just one of many reasons why the prospect of peace is not only impractical but also unpalatable from Putin’s perspective. While the Russian leader may genuinely wish to extricate himself from the quagmire he has created, it is difficult to see how he could do so without courting disaster.

    First and foremost, any Russian withdrawal from the Donbas would open up a veritable Pandora’s box of...

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  • Why There’s More to Alex Ovechkin’s Team Putin Movement than Meets the Eye

    Hockey superstar Alex Ovechkin’s November 2 announcement that he is creating a social movement to support Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be an ill-considered PR move by the Washington Capitals captain.

    In the capital of a country awash in anti-Putin sentiment, Ovechkin is defiantly flaunting his loyalty to a leader who has supported military aggression in Ukraine, is implicated in assassinations of his political enemies, and approved massive subterranean interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

    Ovechkin’s action is earning him scorn both among Washington Capitals fans and spectators around the NHL.

    One can understand why many Russians who live in an information bubble of Kremlin-manufactured propaganda would support Putin. But Ovechkin has now spent the better part of the last thirteen years living, working, and getting rich in the...

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  • Unfreezing Eurasia’s Frozen Conflicts May Not Be as Hard as You Think

    It was nearly impossible to find an empty seat on the twice-weekly WizzAir flight from Berlin to Kutaisi this summer. The budget airline carries mostly German hikers to Georgia’s second largest city. From there, the hikers transfer in Zugdidi to reach their final destination, the remote and breathtaking Svaneti region, high in the Greater Caucasus. In Svaneti, most of these hikers undertake an established four-day hike from Mestia to Ushguli, one of the highest inhabited towns in Europe and home to striking UNESCO heritage sites. On the way, they stop overnight in three villages, which has boosted local economies.

    Inspired by the success of the Mestia-Ushguli route, a group of nature-loving idealists wants to elevate the Caucasus in hiking circles and bring world-class trails to other parts of Georgia, as well as to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and eventually, the conflict zones of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.

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  • Why Russia’s War against Ukraine May Never End

    Russian President Vladimir Putin recently requested a UN peacekeeping mission for eastern Ukraine. While at home this looks like a peace overture, Putin is not motivated by the desire for amity.

    The proposal is similar to Russian actions in Georgia prior to 2008, when it supported a UN observer mission in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone and an OSCE mission in South Ossetia in addition to its own “peacekeeping” force. Rather than achieving lasting peace, these moves were a prelude to Russia cementing its presence in Georgia’s conflict regions.

    In the Donbas, Russia is using...

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  • Why Are Prestigious Institutions Sponsoring a Russian Propaganda Concert in Washington?

    In April 2015, Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa was to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. But the concert was abruptly canceled because she expressed, to her huge online following, hurtful anti-Ukrainian messages and support for pro-Russia separatists who had invaded and occupied eastern Ukraine.

    "As one of Canada's most important cultural institutions, our priority must remain on being a stage for the world's great works of music, and not for opinions that some believe to be deeply offensive," said Toronto Symphony Orchestra CEO Jeff Melanson.

    I was a director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at the time and fully supported the decision to cancel. She was paid, and has performed since in smaller venues in Canada.

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  • What the Odesa Port Saga Means for Reform in Ukraine

    In an interview last October, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman revealed that not a single x-ray scanner was operational at customs checkpoints in Ukraine, suggesting that corrupt customs officers had deliberately damaged the equipment to facilitate criminal activity.

    The accusation speaks to the severity of entrenched corruption in the customs services of Ukraine, even amid a slew of post-Maidan reforms to improve the trade and investment climate. Perhaps no other economic hub captures this tension between vested interests and substantive change better than the Odesa ports on the Black Sea. The recent return of wholesale corrupt practices to Odesa ports demands attention: it...

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  • Q&A: How Can Ukraine Get a Better Grade on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index?

    Ukraine just received a marginally better grade on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, moving from 80th place in 2017 to 76th place in 2018. Kyiv reduced the cost of construction permits, strengthened minority investor protections, and reduced labor taxes. To put things in perspective, it’s easier to do business in Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Russia, and slightly easier in Greece and Uzbekistan. We asked Atlantic Council experts, UkraineAlert contributors, and businesspeople in Kyiv the following question: What five steps should the government undertake in 2018 to catapult Ukraine from its current place to the top 10?

    Andy Hunder, President, American Chamber of Commerce: The fact that Ukraine notched up four spots in the World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business Index is a...

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  • Why We Don’t Live Like Britain

    Having admitted to a decade-old sexual harassment incident in which he touched a journalist’s knee at a party conference, British Defense Minister Michael Fallon resigned, stating, “I accept that in the past I have fallen below the high standards that we require of the Armed Forces that I have the honor to represent...I am therefore resigning as defense secretary.”

    By contrast, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov brought goons in camouflage to court to help his son avoid imprisonment. His son, Oleksandr Avakov, who potentially faces up to twelve years in prison if convicted of embezzlement of public funds allocated for the purchase of military backpacks worth 14 million hryvnias ($520,000), was recently released from custody. Both father and son claim the case is politically motivated.

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