Eastern Europe

  • Ukraine, Anti-Semitism, Racism, and the Far Right​

    October 14 saw the latest in a string of annual mass marches by the far right in Ukraine. As many as 10,000 people participated, mainly young men, chanting fiercely. A nighttime torchlight parade with signs proclaiming “We’ll return Ukraine to Ukrainians,” contained echoes of Nazi-style symbolism.

    Lax law enforcement and indifference by the security services to the operations of the far right is being noticed by extremists from abroad who are flocking to Ukraine. German media reported the presence of the German extreme right (JN-NPD, Dritte Weg) at the rally. According to Ukrainian political analyst Anton Shekhovtsov, far-right Norwegians, Swedes, and Italians were supposed to be there too. And on October 15, they all gathered in Kyiv for the Paneuropa conference organized by the Ukrainian neo-Nazi National Corps party. "Kyiv," says Shekhovtsov, "has now become one of the major centers of European far-right activities."

    Such activism, naturally, unnerves liberals as well as Jews, and national minorities. And they often result in alarmist headlines in Western and Israeli newspapers.

    Coming in a year in which the white supremacist C14 group engaged in savage beatings at a Roma encampment near Kyiv, one could draw the conclusion that the far right is on the rise in Ukraine.

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  • What Really Happened in Constantinople Last Week

    Last week Ukraine’s Orthodox Church got confirmation that it will likely receive the independence from Moscow that it has long sought. The issue is complex, and the terminology foreign to most readers. The issue of the Ukrainian church is similar to an iceberg. What appears above the surface is political, but the largest part underneath has nothing to do with politics. Millions of Orthodox Ukrainians were considered outside of spiritual unity with the rest of the Orthodox world. Thousands of other Orthodox Christians who belonged to the only legitimate Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), felt uncomfortable there because it seems to channel Russia’s political agenda. This is the same country which annexed Crimea and launched a hybrid war in Ukraine’s east.

    Both the Moscow Patriarchate and its filial structure in Ukraine, the UOC, have failed to address the pastoral issue caused by the ecclesial schism. It was addressed, however, by the church of Constantinople, which had planted Christianity in the medieval Kyivan state and was responsible for the Kyivan Metropolia (an administrative unit in the Orthodox church) until it gave Moscow some rights to manage Ukrainian ecclesial matters in 1686. On October 11, the governing body of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, called the Holy Synod, revoked these rights from Moscow and reinstated its own control in Ukraine. Effectively, the Ecumenical Patriarchate restored the status quo, which existed on the territory of modern Ukraine at the end of the seventeenth century.

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  • Kyiv Patriarchate Vs. Moscow Patriarchate: David Triumphs Over Goliath

    On October 10, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople agreed to recognize the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This is a historic decision with huge geopolitical implications.

    In addition, the anathema that had hung over Patriarch Filaret of the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Makarii of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and their followers was lifted, and they were recognized as canonical.

    Russia, of course, couldn’t refrain from commenting.

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  • Three More Reasons Why I’m Optimistic about Ukraine

    If the Euromaidan was such a transformative event in Ukraine, why do we see the same old faces in high politics, I was recently asked.

    As one of the world’s most impatient people, I found myself saying have more patience and feeling like a total hypocrite. Many of my columns have urged Ukraine to move harder and faster on reform. And it should.

    Even still, there are plenty of principled, young and not-so-young people, in the pipeline. They serve in city councils, in the parliament, in bureaucracies, and run many of Ukraine’s civil society organizations.

    They do not have the name recognition that Yulia Tymoshenko does, although slowly but surely they are gaining experience and greater political maturity. Eventually they will assume greater positions of power.

    One program designed to develop new leaders is Stanford University’s Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program.

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  • Why Can't Ukraine Kill Corruption?

    Ukraine still struggles to overcome its core disease of corruption. Since the 2014 Euromaidan, a number of anticorruption institutions have been created in close cooperation with Western partners, including the United States. Among them are the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP), the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), and the Anti-Corruption Court.  

    Nevertheless, Ukraine still hasn’t sent any high-level crooks to jail and journalists and investigators say that stealing from the state has returned to pre-Maidan levels. It’s true that progress was made in cutting corruption out of the gas sector and banks have been cleaned up, but it’s also true that Ukraine hasn’t made significant progress in the last four years on any of the major indices that measure corruption. What went wrong?

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  • Vakarchuk Says Ukraine Needs New Leaders, But Will He Be One?

    For months now, political junkies and ordinary Ukrainians have debated whether their beloved rock star Slava Vakarchuk will run for president in 2019. He’s got massive name recognition throughout the country.

    Even more, he’s one of the only reform-minded candidates who might be able to unify Ukraine’s fractious opposition.

    Last week I caught up with Vakarchuk at Stanford to celebrate the second class of its Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program, an intensive 10-month program with just three spots. Vakarchuk participated in the 2017-2018 program, attending classes and living in California for much of the academic year. (He even claims that he read Francis Fukuyama’s dense tomes on the nature of the political order.) 

    I’d seen Vakarchuk three weeks earlier at the Yalta European Strategy meeting and was decidedly unimpressed. Interviewed by BBC HardTalk presenter Stephen Sackur, Vakarchuk’s remarks were unfocused and not ready for prime time. He was also underdressed, something I pointed out.

    During a coffee break in Kyiv, Vakarchuk was nothing but charming, even telling me that he reads the UkraineAlert blog and promised to give me an interview.

    However, at Stanford, he didn’t want to talk on the record, even if I promised not to ask him the question that he desperately wants to avoid.

    At this point, his candidacy is becoming a farce.

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  • Ukraine’s Anticorruption Fight Hits a Brick Wall, and the Wall Has a Name

    On September 11, Oleksandr Avakov turned thirty and received the best birthday present ever: the corruption charges hanging over his head were dropped permanently.

    Oleksandr, who is the son of Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov—was suspected by NABU of cooking up a scheme to rip off the state to the tune of more than $520,000 by selling backpacks of poor quality to the Interior Ministry. The Specialized Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) dropped the charges against Avakov’s son.  

    This example illustrates how Ukraine’s anticorruption fight has changed. Under pressure from the IMF and the international community as well as from pro-reform actors, the old guard finally eased its obvious obstruction of the creation of an independent anticorruption court. But now they are simply trying to ensure that the most important cases never make it to the courtroom, and sadly, in some cases they are succeeding.

    The chief anticorruption prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytsky, together with his deputy Volodymyr Kryvenko, seem to be their secret weapons.

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  • Back to the Bad Old Days in Kyiv

    Today as reform politician Sergiy Gusovsky finished speaking at a rally on the steps of the Kyiv City Council, a crowd hurled green antiseptic at his eyes and tried to assault him. He is suffering from chemical burns in both eyes.

    As horrible as the attack on Gusovsky was, it represents just the tip of the iceberg. Since the beginning of 2017, more than fifty-five attacks have occurred against anticorruption activists and now reform-minded politicians. 

    And to make matters worse, not only are the perpetrators rarely caught (they were in Gusovsky's case), but Ukraine's Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko—perhaps giving new meaning to the word chutzpah—actually blamed activists for their suffering, implying that civil society's noisy criticism of Ukraine's corrupt old guard was a major contributing factor to the violence directed against them. 

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  • Think Before You Invest in Ukraine

    Ukraine is striving to attract foreign direct investment. Numerous roadshows showcasing the attractiveness of investments in Ukraine are being organized in different countries and pushed on the pages of some of the finest newspapers and magazines. On October 8, there will be a full Ukrainian Week in London, where the country's leadership will attempt to create the impression that Ukraine is an increasingly attractive and safe country for foreign investors. [Editor's note: The Atlantic Council is a sponsor of Ukrainian Week.]

    For many years, I was convinced that Ukraine is an attractive and safe country for investors. I made my first investment in 1993 in the Odessa Sea Port and since then my group has invested more than $400 million into the Ukrainian economy.

    I am a British citizen and the former owner of the Kyiv Post, the only independent English language newspaper in Ukraine. I owned the Kyiv Post for nine years and, without fear and favor, we strove to showcase both the positive and negative aspects of doing business in Ukraine. The newspaper frequently highlighted the pros and cons and then left it to our readers to make up their own minds.

    In April 2018, I sold the newspaper but have not changed my attitude toward championing the truth.

    For me, this issue is personal. In 2000, after having invested over $150 million in Donetsk Steel Works, I was told to leave. With the help of the Kyiv Post and the diplomatic community, I was able to withstand that attack. After that I had no problem until I took over the Kyiv Post. While there were requests through my Ukrainian employees to kill certain articles, we never gave in. In response, there was an effort to exert administrative pressure on my other business entities. Yet through all this we stood tall.

    I believe that owning the Kyiv Post provided me with a degree of protection.

    Since I sold the Kyiv Post, the vengeance has begun again.

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  • Does Poroshenko Have a Chance at a Second Term?

    Purple posters with three words, “Army, language, faith” line the road to the airport in Kyiv, Ukraine. In smaller letters, they proclaim, “We are going our own way,” which means away from Russia. These posters are incumbent President Petro Poroshenko’s new campaign slogan, and they differ from his previous rhetoric in 2014.  

    Poroshenko’s language is more conservative. In 2014, Poroshenko was elected with an astonishing 54 percent in the first round by promising to introduce radical reforms, in line with the expectations of the Euromaidan that had just ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych. At that time, Poroshenko’s slogan was “Living in a new way.”

    Now Poroshenko’s reformist and forward-looking rhetoric is much less visible.

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