UkraineAlert

Earlier this month, Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz, presidents of the European Commission and Parliament, respectively, published an appeal for continental solidarity in which they criticized “anyone who believes that the time of the nation-state has come” as “out of touch with reality.”

The inaccuracy of Juncker and Schulz’s statement is reflected in the comparative popularity of Europe’s leading nationalist, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and internationalist, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While Putin continues to enjoy an approval rating of over eighty percent despite having plunged Russia into diplomatic and economic isolation, almost two-thirds of Germans do not want Merkel to remain chancellor after the 2017 elections. With the rejection of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement by Dutch voters and projected electoral gains next year by far-right nationalists in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, Russia and Ukraine stand to become the unintended beneficiary and victim, respectively, of the backlash against the post-national vision that Merkel, Juncker, and Schulz represent.

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“I’ve been in a prison cell for two years, I’m not used to people, so I am sorry if I sound harsh,” said Nadiya Savchenko as throngs of journalists and well-wishers crowded around her at Kyiv’s Boryspil airport on May 25.

Captured in Ukraine, transferred secretly to Russia where she was tried and sentenced to twenty-two years in jail for complicity in the death of two journalists, Savchenko arrived home as part of a prisoner swap for two Russian officers, Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Aleksandar Aleksandrov, who were captured and tried in Ukraine.

Thanking everyone who had worked for her release, Ukraine’s warrior princess reminded everyone that she was still a soldier. Claustrophobically surrounded by people on all sides, she turned in a circle as she expressed her condolences to those mothers whose sons did not come home and promised to help free those who are still being held in Russian prisons.

Savchenko’s first statement to Ukrainians was quite literally shouted. Dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt adorned with the Ukrainian trident, Savchenko, no stranger to cameras or media attention during her much covered trial, seemed uncomfortable with all the attention and unspoken expectations directed at her.

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It has finally happened. Nadiya Savchenko is back in Ukraine.

The female pilot, who was captured in Ukraine and illegally brought to Russia on falsified charges, became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance against Russian efforts to destabilize the country.

A Russian court sentenced Savchenko to twenty-two years for killing two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine, but she has always maintained her innocence. Savchenko went on a prolonged hunger strike several times to protest her illegal detention and accusations of the alleged crimes.

Thanks to the efforts of Ukrainian politicians and activists, the worldwide #FreeSavchenko campaign, and the tireless work of her sister Vira, Savchenko became internationally known and one of Ukraine’s most popular public figures.

On May 25, she was released after a prisoner exchange in Rostov-on-Don airport; she was exchanged for two Russian intelligence officers—Yevgeniy Yerofeyev and Aleksander Aleksandrov—whom Moscow claimed were fighting in Ukraine privately.

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“A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. . . . We must have patience till luck turns,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1798.

Jefferson wrote this observation to a friend thirteen years after the Revolutionary War ended and twenty-five years after the Boston Tea Party.

Revolutions require courage and sacrifice. Post-revolutionary transitions require patience and luck.

Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity is now in its next phase and there’s much more work to be done. Fortunately, the reform movement has wind at its back in the form of unprecedented international support, a robust Ukrainian identity, and a relatively free and unfettered media. But the task is arduous and tedious.

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The EU is poised for another discussion on sanctions against Russia when they expire in July. As usual, there are some countries that are wavering for one reason or another. On April 28, French conservative MP Thierry Mariani secured a majority for a non-binding resolution in the French parliament recommending that the EU’s trade limits and other restrictions on Russia be lifted. Only 101 of the 577 French National Assembly’s deputies voted, with only fifty-five voting in favor of Mariani’s text. This illustrates, though, that support for the appeasement camp exists outside of France’s National Front.

Italy may be another problem. In a brilliant piece in Eurasia Daily Monitor, Emanuele Scimia singles out Italy as the main campaigner against the sanctions. The case Rome is making is that Russian counter-penalties on food imports have damaged the Italian economy. Italy is indeed Russia’s second-largest European trade partner after Germany, and has over 400 companies operating on Russian territory. According to the Italian small business association CGIA, Italian exporters have lost $4 billion in earnings between 2013 and 2015, a decline of 34 percent.

But Rome is directed more by political considerations than economic ones.

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The newly elected Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Andriy Parubiy, wasted no time in announcing a series of internal reforms for the Ukrainian parliament, which has long been the most hated institution of public life. In the latest International Republican Institute (IRI) poll, 88 percent of Ukrainians viewed the institution unfavorably. Contributing factors to this negative view include parliamentary immunity, parliamentarians’ habit of voting for other members, and an overall perception of massive graft and corruption.

In an effort to clean up the institution’s image, Parubiy announced three reforms. First, he advocated increasing the number of plenary meetings from two sessions to three sessions per month. Plenary sessions are the equivalent of voting meetings and typically occur on four consecutive days. With an average of just eight days per month usually allotted to plenaries, it is no wonder that little legislation—and even fewer reforms—get passed.

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Following the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine has taken big political and economic steps forward. Today, we need to assess what has been accomplished and what Ukraine should achieve in the next fifteen years. The nation needs to set ambitious goals, aiming for an average economic growth rate of 6-7 percent a year. That kind of growth is possible because Ukraine is lagging so far behind neighboring European countries.

Ukraine must prioritize seven key elements: financial stability, EU market access, visa freedom with Europe, privatization and deregulation, political reform and reform of the state, judicial reform, and entry into the European Union in 2030.

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Until very recently, Ukrainians predominantly spoke a language of identities, differentiating between people from western Ukraine and people from the eastern part of the country, Ukrainian speaking versus Russian speaking, Greek Catholics versus Orthodox. But what was powerfully witnessed during the Euromaidan was the emergence of a new modality of communication that we might call a language of values. It was spontaneously born from the spirit of solidarity of the Maidan community.

The very name “Revolution of Dignity” reflects our growing ability to communicate in a language that transcends the differences among us. The Euromaidan community was extremely diverse, and the Maidan became a place where representatives of multiple identities, each speaking in his or her own voice, met and collaborated.

There is another major achievement of the Revolution of Dignity. It released Ukrainian society from any obligations demanded by its previous post-Soviet social contract, allowing Ukraine to resolutely say goodbye to its past while still struggling to open itself up to the uncertainties of the future. We have opened ourselves up to a new social contract founded on the respect for human dignity.

Is there a role for reconciliation in what we are living through? There is not much talk about reconciliation in Ukraine these days, apart from limited intellectual circles. People tend to be silent about it, feeling suspicious about the idea. For the most part, the concept of reconciliation is perceived as a defeat, a stepping back and giving up the efforts of defending the county.

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The latest Normandy Four meeting on May 11 in Berlin did not result in any major breakthroughs to end the stalemate in Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine agreed to create demilitarized zones in separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine, enhance information-sharing, and halt military exercises along the contact line, but these steps will not break the current deadlock in implementing the Minsk ceasefire agreement. No progress was made on the most controversial issues, namely holding local elections and inserting armed police to accompany OSCE observers in the Donbas.

In recent months, the idea of sending an OSCE armed police mission to the Donbas has become Kyiv’s idée fixe in the same way that holding local elections in the Donbas has become the West’s. Both believe that their proposals can give the stalled Minsk agreement a boost, or at least provide strong arguments to extend sanctions against Russia, which are set to expire in July. Minsk stipulates that Kyiv must hold local elections in the separatist-controlled areas of Ukraine, which Ukraine has resisted for a number of legitimate reasons. France and Germany, both eager to ease EU sanctions on Russia and get back to business as usual, have pressed Kyiv to hold the elections this summer.

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Sweden is one of Europe’s fiercest critics of Russia’s actions against Ukraine, but NATO membership is out for now

US President Barack Obama just hosted the leaders of the countries that he wishes the rest of the world would emulate. During the Nordic-United States summit, the president had a chance to repeat to his Scandinavian guests how everything would be so easy if the rest of the world could just be like them, as he told Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview in The Atlantic. Obama “has always had a fondness for pragmatic, emotionally contained technocrats,” Goldberg observed.

Even though this is a fitting description of Scandinavians, there are still some issues that are emotional in that part of the world. Sweden’s peculiar position on NATO is a good example.

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