By invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin has transformed the security situation in the Black Sea.

Upon capturing those territories, Moscow lost no time in seizing Ukrainian energy facilities in the Black Sea and accelerating its ongoing military modernization there. As a result, Moscow has built a combined arms force of land, sea, air, and electronic forces that NATO leaders admit is fully capable of denying access to NATO forces seeking to enter the Black Sea during a conflict. It has also deployed nuclear-capable weapons to the Black Sea area and is apparently building a similar network of anti-access area denial (A2/AD) capabilities against NATO in both the eastern Mediterranean around Syria and in the Caucasus.

Thus, as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has noted, Russia is well on its way to converting the Black Sea into a Russian lake, an outcome that endangers the security of all the states along the sea’s edges. Centuries of historical experience suggests that these threats will continue, along with increased efforts to intimidate these littoral states.

Romania, for example, is particularly concerned about threats to its energy platforms in the Black Sea, as well as about freedom of navigation there and control of the mouth of the Danube. Ukraine’s remaining port, Odesa, is at constant risk. Turkey is now surrounded to the north, south, and east by Russian troops in the Crimea, other areas in Ukraine, Syria, and the Caucasus. Since Romania and Bulgaria import Russian energy, and Turkey imports at least 60 percent of its gas from Russia, their vulnerabilities—along with Ukraine’s susceptibility to new and old threats—are quite visible.

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After British voters approved a referendum to leave the EU on June 23, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister for European Integration Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze said: "We respect the British citizens' decision, but Ukraine feels sorry for these events. To my mind this will weaken the EU and it will have to concentrate on its own problems." 

The minister’s consternation and worries are right. For Ukrainians, the British vote is difficult to understand. They have fought and are still fighting for their “European choice.” Initially in a revolution, then in a highly intense hybrid war, and now in low-intensity warfare, they are defending their right to freely associate with and eventually join the EU.

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This time, Theo Sommer has outdone himself. After closing his eyes to the mass murders of the Soviet regime in an article published on May 31, the editor-at-large of Germany’s prestigious Die Zeit newspaper has now demonstrated in a just-published piece an alarming ignorance not just of Ukraine but of elementary strategic logic. The former is scandalous, given Ukraine’s prominence in the news. The latter is dangerous and could destroy Europe.

Sommer defends German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s recent claim that NATO has been engaging in “saber rattling and warmongering” vis-à-vis poor Vladimir Putin. Steinmeier’s alarming inability to distinguish between cause and effect—after all, it was Putin’s invasion of and continued aggression against Ukraine that terrified Russia’s neighbors and mobilized NATO—is either a serious cognitive failing or an instance of spineless appeasement.

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Russia’s continued meddling in Ukraine is driving Ukrainian citizens out of the Russian Orthodox Church. Instead, they are swelling the ranks of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate.

Traditionally, Ukraine has been home to the vast majority of Russian Orthodox Church members. In 1990, of the almost twelve thousand Orthodox communities throughout the Soviet Union, more than six thousand were in Ukraine; only three thousand were in Russia itself. When Ukraine declared its independence in 1991, a number of communities broke with the mother church to form the Kyiv Patriarchate. The remaining churches renamed themselves the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate.

Through a series of agreements, as well as official favoritism by former President Viktor Yanukovych’s government, the vast majority of communities remained loyal to Moscow. There are 12,515 Moscow parishes, compared to Kyiv’s 4,877 parishes. The number of churchgoers tells a different story, however; approximately fifteen million Ukrainians identify with the Kyiv Patriarchate, while only ten million remain loyal to the Moscow one.

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“People have forgotten that there’s a real humanitarian situation and a real need in a European country,” said Jock Mendoza-Wilson, director of international and investor relations at System Capital Management, during a recent Atlantic Council panel examining the crisis in Ukraine.

In fact, he said, six hundred thousand people on Ukraine’s contact line live in “appalling conditions” without electricity and gas, have intermittent water, face shelling and small arms fire on a daily basis, and don’t have access to a food market. “They are in extreme need,” he said. “From the distance of Washington, DC, it may look like there’s not an active conflict...but it’s real and immediate.”

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Ukraine—a country that rejected aggression and militarization when it broke away from the Soviet Union—is fighting three wars today: the front in the east against an expansionist power, the battle within to defeat cronyism and corruption, and an economic war to reorient trade flows and modernize its economy. The world’s attention, as well as that of the Ukrainian public, is understandably focused on the first two fronts; yet we must not ignore the economic front. Energy diplomacy is a missing pillar in Ukraine’s defense and foreign policy today.  

Energy is a lever of geoeconomics and geopolitics everywhere in the world. In Ukraine’s case, energy is a matter of national security if not sovereignty. Few observers would disagree with the assessment that years of mismanaging Ukraine’s gas trade with Russia is what led, in large part, to the political crisis of 2013 and the subsequent ousting of the Yanukovych regime. The Kremlin’s strategy to force a client-state relationship on Ukraine was built on a gas addiction, which corrupted politicians through rent-extracting opportunities and various shady schemes. Mispriced energy imports held back economic modernization, perpetuated wastefulness, and quashed all efforts to increase domestic gas production.  

Ukraine is a resource rich country, but due to a lack of investment and technological backwardness, we remain import dependent. Not only is our production well below capacity, we don’t use the energy we do have efficiently. Our energy security agenda must combine greater domestic production and a range of measures to decrease the energy intensity of Ukraine’s economy

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In April 2016, Crimea’s de facto authorities banned the Crimean Tatar Mejlis—the organ of political representation for Crimean Tatars on the peninsula—under the pretext of “extremism.” Increasingly, Crimean Tatars seem to be framed as “extremist” just for being themselves.

A historically nonviolent community, Crimean Tatars were the most visible and vociferous opponents of the region’s annexation by Russia. Since then, they have been a main target of repression by Crimea’s current authorities and the Russian regime.

Beatings, murders, kidnappings, and arbitrary internments of Crimean Tatars are continuing, and yet fail to be fully investigated by Crimean authorities. Ervin Ibragimov, a well-known Crimean Tatar activist and member of the Executive Committee of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, was recently abducted from his home in Crimea. Mumine Aliyeva, a Crimean Tatar, was recently murdered on the peninsula. Lilia Budzhurova, a well-known Crimean Tatar journalist, was warned in May 2016 by security services about her “extremist” comments: she had published on Facebook about the impact on Crimean Tatar children whose parents were arrested. Buzhurova was previously a prominent journalist with the ATR Crimean Tatar TV station, before it was closed by Crimean authorities and relocated to Kyiv.

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Two years ago this past April, the words “internal displacement” first appeared in the Ukrainian media. The term was brought by UN agencies that, along with local nongovernmental organizations, worked on a legal framework to regulate the phenomenon, which was completely new to Ukraine. Before then, journalists, volunteers, and even government officials called those who were fleeing occupied Crimea or hostile areas in eastern Ukraine “refugees” or “migrants.” Ukraine now has 1.7 million internally displaced persons.

Today, three IDPs in Ukraine share their memories of how they left their homes, how the past two years have changed their lives, and what needs to be done to reintegrate IDPs.

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On June 15, Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Stepan Poltorak informed NATO that Ukraine had suffered 623 battle deaths in its war with Russia in 2016.

This astoundingly large figure—which amounts to three to four deaths per day—demonstrates conclusively that Russia and its proxies have no intention whatsoever of adhering to the Minsk accords.

The number also demonstrates the price Ukraine is willing to pay in order to defend itself—and Europe—from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

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It is too early to draw firm conclusions, but Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman’s and Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko’s early moves indicate that Ukraine is still on the reform path.

There was understandable pessimism when Groisman assumed office in April with a new government that did not include the previous cabinet’s strongest reformers. Critics also cast doubt on Lutsenko’s appointment, pointing out that his absence of a legal background was unusual and required the passage of special legislation in Ukraine’s parliament. In this they saw the possibility for discreet deals between the incoming prosecutor general and entrenched interests. Both are seen as close allies of President Petro Poroshenko.

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