UkraineAlert

On the eve of Ukraine’s special elections on July 17, Nadiya Savchenko walked into the crowded Stansiya Lughansk district commission offices in eastern Ukraine. She was there to campaign for Fatherland’s Iryna Verihina, who had been Luhansk’s governor for about six months before being replaced. Catching sight of Serhiy Shakhov, a candidate for Nash Krai (Our Land), arguing with the Fatherland commissioner, Savchenko demanded that he identify himself. After Shakhov identified himself as a candidate for parliament, she asked what he was doing there and why he wasn’t fighting in the east with the real men.

Savchenko is Ukraine’s most trusted politician, but this was her first real intervention into retail politics and she seemed authentically repulsed by the workings of the electoral process in Ukraine. To the delight of the television cameras and gathered journalists, Savchenko denounced the process as irrevocably flawed in a series of characteristically fiery appearances outside of the district election office. She later told me that she expected to write her own election law and that she herself was a “one term MP” with no interest in contesting a second term.

Savchenko would not be the first observer of Ukraine’s elections to conclude that the process requires a drastic dose of professionalization. Indeed, reforming Ukraine’s deeply flawed election system might be a Herculean task that can be accomplished only by a belligerent saint.

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This month, Ukraine introduced state financing of political parties in the hopes that it will create a more transparent, equal, and democratic playing field for politicians and their organizations. But the process will not be as beneficial to Ukraine’s reform efforts as it could have been.

In October 2015, the Ukrainian parliament adopted Law No. 731-19; in its initial version, this draft law introduced state financing for political parties that received more than three percent in the 2014 parliamentary elections. This particular threshold would have been to the advantage of smaller parties which did not make it into parliament two years ago; some of these, like Anatoliy Hrytsenko’s Civic Position, are built with no or only a little oligarchic financing.

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When asked recently why he turned up in Moscow last December to help celebrate the tenth anniversary of RT, Michael Flynn rambled about wanting to deliver stern lectures to the Russians. The retired US Lt. Gen.—who now serves as foreign policy adviser to Republican nominee Donald J. Trump—was seated at a gala dinner next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In an interview with the Kremlin's propaganda arm, Flynn was anything but downbeat about bilateral ties: "interests...are converging," he assured RT journalist Sophie Shevardnadze; it's time "to move forward" together.

One of those convergent interests between team Trump and Putin may be Ukraine. As Josh Rogin reported in the Washington Post earlier this week, Trump staffers in Cleveland succeeded in browbeating delegates to water down GOP platform language, replacing a pledge to provide "lethal defensive weapons" to the Ukrainian military for the country's self-defense with the gentler, more ambiguous suggestion of "appropriate assistance."

Ukrainians have mounting questions and concerns.

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Car Bomb Kills Prominent Journalist Pavel Sheremet in Kyiv 

It is hard to believe that Pavel Sheremet is dead because he was so full of life. He was an exuberant man who loved life and everything in it. A dinner with Pavel was always a wonderful and lively affair, and he enjoyed the food and wine that went with the meal as well.

Yet, it is easy to understand that he was murdered. On July 20, the car he was driving exploded in Kyiv, Ukraine. The murder of Pavel is likely to be related to his work, Sevhil Musayeva-Borovyk, the chief editor of Ukrainska Pravda, said. Pavel, 44, had an outstanding record as a journalist for over two decades. He was one of the greatest muckraking journalists in three countries, his native Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. He was probably the best investigative reporter in the former Soviet Union and he felt no fear. Few have exposed so much corruption and so many misdeeds as Pavel. Little wonder that he was murdered or that the murder was highly professional.

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A less-well known but vital outcome of NATO’s Warsaw summit was the Alliance’s decision to create an intelligence and security division from among its existing organizations. This move is long overdue. There is a plethora of threats facing Europe and the United States, and yet the West has a record of intelligence failures that has come to characterize its policy today. As media reports indicate, the Turkish coup caught virtually the entire US foreign policy establishment by surprise; analysts were writing up to the last moment that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s control over the military seemed secure.

Intelligence failures are always going to occur no matter how governments structure their intelligence networks, but this is only the latest in a series of policy failures in which governments have blamed their intelligence organizations. In this regard, the US record is stunning. We already know that the US government and intelligence services failed to grasp the planning for 9/11 or to understand the realities in Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion, including the absence of nuclear weapons there. Additionally, as former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted, the Untied States failed to grasp the scope of China’s military buildup, and did not realize that Russia would attack Georgia in 2008.

More significantly, the United States missed the full nature of changes underway in the Russian military after 2008.

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Ukraine is a relatively young country. Its political traditions are still developing and its electorate can still be easily beguiled by every new leader who promises to bring the nation out of the economic misery it was immersed in after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is still desperately poor, ranked among the poorest countries in Europe.

But one thing can be already said: the higher the expectations associated with a new leader, the more painful his or her downfall. A classic example is the case of President Viktor Yushchenko, who was the symbol of the Orange Revolution. In December 2004, he took 52 percent of the vote in the third round of the presidential election; by 2012, his party barely managed to capture one percent.

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Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Satter’s new book, The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terrorism and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin. Satter will give a book reading at Politics & Prose in Washington on July 24 at 5 pm.

The best future for Russia would be the removal of the Putin regime in a free and fair election. But there is virtually no chance that will take place. If the Putin regime is going to be denied its goal of ruling forever, it will be because of a revolt from below so massive that the police and army will become unreliable and the ruling group will split, with at least some of those in power going over to the popular side.

Under these circumstances, it will be important to note the banners under which a democratic revolt occurs. What Russia needs is a consciousness capable of guiding a popular movement toward a commitment to universal values. Russia’s tendency to treat the individual as raw material for the realization of the state’s ambitions, well rooted in the national psychology, is what made possible the triumph of communism and then the determination to introduce capitalism without law, which led to the country’s criminalization.

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Populism is on the rise in Ukraine, so it’s little surprise that Fatherland party leader Yulia Tymoshenko and oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi gained the most seats in Ukraine’s special parliamentary elections on July 17. Elections were held in seven districts across the country. Fatherland candidates won in Kherson and Poltava, while Kolomoyskyi's candidate won in Volyn and was leading narrowly in Ivano-Frankivsk. While no Poroshenko bloc candidates won, two independent candidates are likely to join the faction.

Sunday’s results will increase the ranks of both Tymoshenko’s and Kolomoyskyi's factions in parliament. Kolomoyskyi's Renaissance faction will increase to twenty-five members and Tymoshenko's Fatherland will grow to twenty-one members. The Poroshenko bloc lost three seats. While some ballots are still being counted, the one clear signal is that competitive elections are alive and well in Ukraine.

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Ukraine’s reform efforts continue to sputter on without any transformative results more than two years after former President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Moscow. The economy’s basic problems have not yet been addressed. It is still bogged down in its Soviet past, with populist forces making illusory promises that appeal to many voters’ Soviet-era mentality. The result is corruption, inefficiency, a lack of investment and innovation, budgetary stress, inflation, and economic stagnation.

In order to experience transformative growth and prosperity, Ukraine must radically break with the past and the current populist mentality and embrace free market economic policies. Such policies are at the base of all of the successful transformations that have occurred in post-communist societies. In essence, what is required is a recognition of the state’s limited role and an agreement that individual responsibility and market forces will guide the economy.

This approach would require dramatic changes to many of the economy’s fundamental systems.

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What media outlets do you trust? From the Brexit referendum and the US presidential race to Russia’s information war on Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly clear that we now live in a fact-free world where emotions reign supreme and truth is in the eye of the beholder.

This trend first became apparent around the time of the 2003 Iraq war. The mainstream media was directly complicit in some of the misinformation issued during the lead-up to the US-led invasion, shattering public trust in many of the most respected providers of information. Meanwhile, the conspiracy theory subculture promoted by the internet has played an equally devastating role in undermining the sanctity of facts. Today, counter culture websites have moved in from the fringes to compete with legacy brands, while many of the leading current affairs programs on TV are, literally, comedy shows.

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