UkraineAlert

"Russian propaganda made the mistake of using me as an example, and I just became too expensive for them. I am a person who never gives up,” said Nadiya Savchenko, a former prisoner of war, current member of Ukraine’s parliament, and one of the country’s most popular politicians, on September 22.

Three days earlier, the Atlantic Council gave Savchenko its Freedom Award in New York City. The award had been bestowed in 2015 and accepted by her sister Vera while Savchenko was being held in a Russian prison on trumped-up charges. She was released on May 25 and arrived in Kyiv to a hero’s welcome.

In a wide-ranging discussion at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, the pilot-turned-politician urged the international community to fight to free every single Ukrainian locked up in Russia. “I was not the only prisoner in a Russian jail. I would like you to continue this struggle to support my colleagues who are still there,” Savchenko said. According to the Let My People Go Campaign, there are at least twenty-eight Ukrainian political prisoners behind bars in Russia.

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The role Russia is playing in Donald Trump’s election campaign is quite extraordinary. The candidate’s son has acknowledged that Trump’s companies have received large Russian investments. His former campaign manager Paul Manafort worked for Ukraine’s disgraced pro-Moscow authoritarian president for almost a decade. Two of his foreign policy advisers, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Carter Page, have close links with RT and Gazprom, respectively.

The emails of the Democratic National Committee were hacked and released, effectively ousting its chair just before the Democratic National Convention, allegedly by Russian intelligence. This looks like a Russian special operation in the US presidential election, and the most shocking element is that most Americans do not understand that or seem to care.

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Thirteen months since the last tranche, the IMF has finally allocated the third tranche of its program to Ukraine, bringing the total disbursement to $7.6 billion. Although it is less than the originally planned $1.7 billion and came with substantial delays, the receipt of the $1 billion tranche was celebrated by the Ukrainian government as the first time Ukraine has progressed that far in any of its IMF programs.

In its previous programs, Ukraine was quick to abandon the difficult IMF-prescribed reforms soon after its economic crises became less acute.

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For the first time since Russia annexed Crimea, Russian elections were held on the territory of the disputed peninsula. That elections were held in Crimea has been a source of contention between Russia and the international community. OSCE election observers refused to monitor the polls in Crimea, and the US and EU condemned the September 18 elections as illegal and illegitimate. Ukraine has called for sanctions to be placed on those elected from Crimea to the Duma.

Unsurprisingly, Russia’s leading party, United Russia, swept the floor in Crimea, with United Russia candidates winning all three single-mandate seats in Crimea, capturing over 65 percent of the vote, and the single-mandate seat in Sevastopol.

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One day in September 2013, when Maxim Nefyodov, a managing partner at the investment firm Icon Private Equity, was leaving his office on Rylskiy Lane, he witnessed a funny scene. Accompanied by eight bodyguards, President Viktor Yanukovych’s odious ally, Yuriy Ivanyushchenko, was walking from an office building to his luxury SUV.

To Nefyodov this spectacle looked amusing. “Why would anyone live like this to be so afraid?” he thought.

A chance encounter with Yanukovych’s close ally made Nefyodov think again about Ukraine’s macroeconomic indicators, which had especially worried the firm’s partners in the past year.

Just six months prior to this encounter, Icon decided to exit from Ukraine’s private sector. The firm’s portfolio was 40 percent invested in domestic companies.

To put it mildly, the country was moving in the wrong direction. "The figures were illustrating this vividly,” Nefyodov said. [He is now Ukraine’s Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade.] Three years later, he’s displaying figures from a public procurement website on his iPhone. He’s delighted with these figures.

“Just look, the ProZorro e-public procurement system has already saved 3.17 billion hryvnias (approximately $120,000,000) while hosting over 170,000 tenders,” he beams and takes a sip of beer. We’re meeting late in the evening at one of Kyiv’s restaurants.

The new public procurement system is considered to be one of the landmark reforms in Ukraine during the last two and a half years.

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Russia is back.” These were the recent words of General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe—and he was correct. Thanks to a rapidly growing arms budget and a worrisome frequency of snap military drills near NATO’s borders, Russia is indeed back to the game of power politics after a twenty-five year hiatus. The implications of this are clear: the threat that Russia poses is not going to fade away and policy planners will have to live with it—or better yet, understand the logic of this newly assertive great power.

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In the recent plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum [on September 3 in Vladivostok], Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the issue of Crimea’s ownership is historically closed.

Despite the adamant tone, such statements do not show Russia’s confidence but instead reveal the Kremlin’s vulnerability on this issue. The concept Krym nash (Crimea is ours) is an illusion and a propaganda meme which lacks structural meaning. Russia believes that its tactical victory will become its strategic victory, and Crimea will stay part of Russia forever. But they shouldn’t think that. Ukraine’s stance on returning the annexed territory, defending the rights of the Crimean Tatars as an indigenous people of Crimea, and fighting for Ukraine’s sovereignty have strategically better prospects for success than Russia’s stance.

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On September 18, Russians went to the polls to elect 450 members of parliament. The big news is that Vladimir Putin’s United Russia performed surprisingly well, taking approximately 54 percent of the vote. But the underreported news is this: Russians elected four MPs from occupied Ukrainian Crimea, which is illegal and grossly violates international law. The Ukrainian parliament does not recognize the Duma elections as legitimate and urges the international community to reject the results altogether; recognizing them will legalize the ongoing occupation of Crimea and their acquiescence undermines the rule of law. Officials in Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, Romania, Sweden, and the United States have already announced that they won’t recognize the results of the illegal polls in Crimea, and we thank them for their unwavering support and expect others to join them. 

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On August 18, Marie L. Yovanovitch became the US Ambassador to Ukraine. Yovanovitch is not new to the country; she served as the deputy chief of mission in Kyiv—the second in command—under Ambassadors Carlos Pascual and John Herbst months before the Orange Revolution erupted. She spent the bulk of her career working in the Eurasia region, with ambassadorial posts in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan.

The man who held the job before Yovanovitch, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, is one of the United States’ most talented diplomats; despite a lack of previous experience working in the former Soviet Union, he aced his post. Pyatt’s sunny disposition, relentless optimism, strong relations with civil society, and round-the-clock hours made him one of the best known foreign faces in Kyiv, and one of the most trusted interlocutors. His strong relationship with Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland ensured that Ukraine was a top priority in Washington. Pyatt was also a social media sensation. He tweeted constantly, in English, Russian, and Ukrainian, and his Twitter account became a must-visit site because Pyatt read everything and wrote about it.

Ukraine has massively changed since the last time Yovanovitch served in Ukraine, and the world has massively changed.

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This month will mark one year since the beginning of Russia’s intervention in Syria and two and a half years since its invasion of Ukraine’s Donbas region. In Syria, Russia has indiscriminately bombed inhabited areas using virtually every type of conventional munition in its arsenal—thermobaric, cluster, and incendiary—killing around 3,000 civilians so far. These deaths are no accident, but a necessary part of Russia’s strategy to subdue the areas rebelling against the dictatorship of its allies, the Assad family, who themselves have employed nerve gas, mass starvation, and systematic torture. In eastern Ukraine, almost ten thousand people have been killed, half of them civilians and Ukrainian servicemen, in a conflict whose duration and intensity are entirely at the discretion of the Russian Federation. Without Russia’s arms, soldiers, and money, the war would end tomorrow.

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