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When considering the state of Ukraine’s banking reforms, it is important to consider not only what remains to be done, but how much the country has achieved, according to an economic adviser to the Ukrainian government.

“The fact that Ukraine is even alive, and surviving, and growing today, is quite amazing given where it was in 2014,” Daniel Bilak, chief investment adviser to the prime minister of Ukraine, said at the Atlantic Council on April 20.

Though Ukraine’s economy has endured what Valeria Gontareva, governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, describes as “a perfect storm” during “real wartime in our territory,” Bilak said that now, as a result of comprehensive reforms, “the trend is actually very good and when investors see this, they see Ukraine in a very different light than what they might read in the media.”
The presence of “strategic and moral clarity” in Washington is essential before a reset in the US-Russia relationship can be attempted, John E. Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and a former US ambassador to Ukraine, said in Washington on March 28.

US President Donald J. Trump has expressed a desire for renewed relations with the Kremlin.

Once the Trump administration has “produced polices that will stop [Russia] from further aggression and limit their danger” it can then “engage them in areas of mutual interest,” such as fighting Islamic extremism, said Herbst.

US senators, Russian opposition activist call for calibrated pressure on Vladimir Putin

Two US senators—one a Republican and the other a Democrat—and a Russian opposition activist who has survived two apparent attempts on his life made a call for greater international pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to respect human rights. Speaking at the Atlantic Council on March 30, all three stated quite clearly that even as this pressure is applied, care must be taken not to hurt the Russian people in the process.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, an ardent critic of Putin who has twice slipped into a coma after mysteriously falling ill—once in 2015 and more recently in February—said it was important to turn up the heat on Putin and his cronies, but noted that it is equally important not to equate Putin’s regime with the Russian people.

“We’re against sanctions on Russia. We’re against sanctions on the Russian people,” said Kara-Murza, vice chairman of Open Russia. “It is essential that the US is not seen as seeking to punish the Russian people for the actions of a regime that they can neither unseat in a free election—because we don’t have any—and cannot hold to account through independent media or a legitimate parliament—because we don’t have any either,” he added.
US sanctions on Russia, imposed in response to the annexation of Crimea in 2014, must not only be maintained, “they should be tightened,” according to Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH).

As recently as March 20, Russia has performed military drills practicing “offensive and defensive operations,” in Crimea, Chabot said, adding: “The fact that Russia has successfully claimed another country’s sovereign territory as its own and then carries out unprecedented offensive military drills there [is] absolutely unacceptable.”

Chabot suggested that “in the last number of years America’s traditional leadership role around the world has often times been lacking.” He went on to describe a “power vacuum around various parts of the globe” that Russian President “Vladimir Putin and other bad actors have taken advantage of.” He called Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 an “egregious example of that power vacuum.”

The West cannot afford to stand idly by, said Chabot.
The rapidly climbing numbers of Russians fleeing the country in search of political freedom and economic opportunity in the West has become the greatest threat to the stability of the Russian Federation, said an Atlantic Council analyst.

According to Alina Polyakova, director of research for Europe and Eurasia at the Atlantic Council, “the fact that you have this outward migration is a significant national security threat to the Russian Federation.” She said: “this is the number one threat to a Russian Federation that seeks to gain its foothold in the world again.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership ushered in an era where a revanchist Russia has clamped down on social freedoms at home in order to exert its aggression and influence on the global stage. However, these efforts may be impacted by instability at home. Between 2000 and 2014, approximately 1.8 million Russians left the country “under [Putin’s] watch,” said Polyakova, citing official numbers from the Russian Federation. “This trend has only intensified,” she added.
“Fake news” is the term du jour in the current discussion on the new media landscape. We knew long ago, however, about the prevalence and proliferation of fabricated stories produced by so-called media entrepreneurs looking to make a profit with flashy headlines or fly-by-night “news sites” churning out outrageous click-bait stories. The Russians (and the Soviets before that) had a different word for it: dezinfomatsiya, literally translated as disinformation. In the United States, we called it propaganda.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America launch a Russian-language news network

The flurries of disinformation and fake news obfuscating the current state of affairs in Russia, and the Kremlin’s activity worldwide, have not created a post-truth world, but one in which some find truth increasingly difficult to promote.

“I think we’ve given up on truth way too easily,” said Amanda Bennett, director of Voice of America. Countering the notion that facts are no longer valuable, she said: “to assume the rest of the world doesn’t understand true things and can’t sort out truth and fact… I don’t think that makes it a post-truth world, I just think it makes it more difficult to get the truth out there.”

“In a global information warzone where fake news and false narratives are the weapon of choice… honest and accurate reporting [is] the best defense against falsehoods,” said John Lansing, director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
US President Donald J. Trump needs to take a strong stance against Russian aggression in order to protect US national security interests, according to an Atlantic Council expert.

“This is very dangerous for the United States to show such weakness in the face of Kremlin aggression,” said John E. Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, on February 9.  

“I hope that the president and those around him recognize that these policies are policies of weakness, and America cannot be great if it’s not able to defend its principles as well as its interests,” he added.
Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing on January 11 put a spotlight on an eventual architect of the next US administration’s Russia policy. Although he holds deep international experience, Tillerson is a highly controversial selection for the job of secretary of state. He has a track record of opposing sanctions on Russia and calling for increased cooperation with Moscow despite Russia’s destabilizing activities around the world. His comments at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee generally reinforced the assumption that US President-elect Donald Trump’s administration is heading toward its own “reset” with Moscow.

Although Tillerson objected to recent Russian actions, he largely demurred to questions on whether it was important to continue sanctions on Russia and stressed the need to work with Russia on areas of mutual interest such as fighting terrorism. His unwillingness to describe Russia as a threat, instead calling it a danger, is unfortunate and showcases a more accommodating position on Russia in the next administration.
At his confirmation hearing on January 11, Rex Tillerson went a long way toward assuaging skeptics who feared that his past relationships with Russian leaders might translate into a naïve and weak approach toward the Kremlin. This was apparent from the start with his confirmation statement that was released the evening before his testimony. He said that we needed to be “clear-eyed” in our relationship with Moscow and that Russia poses a danger, which our allies rightly fear.  He scored Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. While interested in cooperation with Russia where our interests intersect, he noted that where they do not “we should be steadfast in defending the interests of America and her allies” and “Russia must be held to account for its actions.”


    

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