This week’s meeting in Paris of the Normandy Four is a critical one. If there is no measurable progress there to advance a framework for peace in Ukraine, public sentiment that Minsk is exhausted as a peace process will only grow. (Editor’s note: On October 19, 2016, France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine agreed to a preliminary roadmap for implementing the Minsk ceasefire agreement.)

The recent resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has prioritized security before elections in Ukraine—a major diplomatic breakthrough that needs to be consolidated in Paris. If the Normandy Four process cannot deliver provisions that stabilize the security situation, Ukraine risks being locked into Russia’s war of attrition. Russia’s strategy is to grind Ukraine to the point of collapse through a persistent loss of resources and public support, eventually bearing out Russian President Vladimir Putin’s view that Ukraine cannot govern itself.

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On October 14, the Azov Battalion—Ukraine’s controversial ultranationalist paramilitary group that has been fighting in the Donbas as part of the National Guard—entered the political fray. Registered as a political party under the name National Corps, the new party proposes an ambitious military and nationalist agenda, including a re-nationalization of Ukraine’s private sector and nuclear re-arming. Azov counts some unsavory members among its ranks, including self-proclaimed fascists, but its main front has been the battlefield. In August 2014, Azov’s fighters were reportedly key in helping fend off a major Russian offensive on Mariupol. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has hailed the battalion for its military prowess. But unlike Azov’s achievements on the battlefield, its time in politics is likely to be very short lived.

Ultranationalist parties have never been popular in Ukraine, and Azov is just another boogieman in a long line of failed ultranationalist groups that have tried their hand at politics.

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Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan are not the world’s only major “refugee” hosting nations.

Ukraine too hosts enormous numbers of people who have had to leave their homes because of war. Millions fled their homes in 2014 after Russian operatives and tanks invaded Ukraine’s eastern regions and annexed Crimea.

But they are not labeled “refugees.” Instead, they are defined as “internally displaced persons,” or IDPs, and are living in hovels, on couches, in shelters, or sometimes five to a room throughout the country. Some of them have to rent flats, dorms, or hostels. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy, 1.7 million Ukrainians are officially registered as IDPs. Approximately 50 percent of them have applied for financial help from the state, which amounts to about $34 per month for people who are able to work and $17 per month for disabled persons.

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Three-Fourths of Russian Oil Sold to Europe

On October 20, the Council of the European Union will consider its strategy toward the Russian Federation. Following the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Europe faces a genuine challenge: to recognize Russian aggression against Ukraine for what it is, and to provide truly effective measures to stop Moscow.

The EU’s most powerful lever is its energy imports, which are to be considered as part of the new EU strategy. By importing energy from Russia, the EU is allowing the Kremlin to continue its aggression against Ukraine and Syria and to spread fear and uncertainty in European societies.

Russian energy exports feed Russian aggression. Two-thirds of Russian export revenues come from the sale of energy raw materials—oil and its refinery products, natural gas, coal, and electricity—and the EU-28 is their major importer. Three-fourths of Russian oil is sold to Europe.

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"Security First, Elections Next," the West Concedes

After long resisting Western pressure to implement the political points in the Minsk agreements, Ukraine scored a diplomatic victory last week when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) passed two important resolutions.

The first resolution officially defines the conflict in Ukraine as Russian aggression, countering those who claim it is just a civil war or separatism. Most importantly, it calls on Russia to “allow Ukraine to regain control of Crimea” and “withdraw its troops from the territory of Ukraine.” The West now also recognizes the impossibility of conducting free and fair elections in the Donbas unless the security situation there improves and Russian military withdraw. The second resolution highlights serious human rights violations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and calls on both sides to address them.

The resolutions’ passage has already prompted a change in rhetoric among top European officials.

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Ukraine now has a liberal European party, but can it become a nationwide party with real heft in parliament?

On July 9, Euromaidan leaders joined forces with the Democratic Alliance party. The reinvigorated party is still preparing its program statement, but broadly it’s a liberal European party that supports free market ideas, strongly opposes corruption, and sounds libertarian on social issues.

Currently, the Democratic Alliance enjoys only a three percent approval rating, and some of its leaders remain largely unknown. According to the International Republican Institute’s recent polling, 81 percent of Ukrainians don’t know who Svitlana Zalishchuk is, 58 percent are unfamiliar with Sergii Leshchenko, and 30 percent have never heard of Mustafa Nayyem.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that the Normandy Four—leaders from France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine—gather on October 19 to discuss the war in Ukraine.

But this is premature. Nothing will come out of this meeting without a detailed roadmap for a real ceasefire and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s adherence to fully implement the Minsk agreements.

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Fatigue, Vested Interests, and Populism Threaten Ukraine’s “Longest and Most Successful” Reform Process

“There’s no country in the world that has been in such dire circumstances and yet turned around the economy in such a short period of time,” said Natalie Jaresko, who served as Ukraine’s Finance Minister from December 2014 to April 2016. She spoke in Washington on October 11 at a discussion sponsored by the Atlantic Council and the US-Ukraine Business Council.

In 2009, Ukraine’s GDP declined 15 percent as a result of the global financial crisis, and it remained stagnant or declining through 2015. But through an infusion of $25 billion in global support and leaders’ efforts to make serious fiscal adjustments, restructure its debt, reform its energy sector, and get control of its banking system, Ukraine is expected to see 1.5 percent GDP growth this year.

Ukraine’s “longest and most successful reform process,” as Jaresko put it, has not only spurred GDP growth; there has also been an increase in local currency deposits, inflation is dropping, lending rates are gradually being reduced, and credit has been expanded. This dramatic about face has occurred in spite of Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s industrial base, the war in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin’s broader hybrid war, and an estimated 1.7 million internally displaced persons needing assistance.

Jaresko cautioned that these reforms are not yet irreversible, and that Ukraine is not moving quickly enough; fatigue, vested interests, and populism are stalling the process. To revitalize it, she urged an international consortium of bilateral, multilateral, and private donors to pledge $25 billion for a five-year infrastructure fund conditioned on more structural reform.

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In 2015, Romania got serious about its corruption problem. DNA, its aggressive anticorruption body, indicted 1,250 public officials, including the sitting prime minister. Five other ministers, twenty-one members of parliament, and Bucharest mayor Sorin Oprescu were indicted. The agency ordered the seizure of nearly half a billion euros.

Romania is now perceived as less corrupt. In 2002 when the DNA was put into place, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked the country as the 77th most corrupt country in the world, tying with Pakistan and the Philippians. In 2015, Romania had improved to 58th place.

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Ukraine has long been a country associated with human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women, but recent reports of human trafficking as a consequence of the war in eastern Ukraine have brought a new urgency to this ongoing crisis. News articles tell chilling stories about slave labor camps, children’s brothels, drug couriers, drug couriers, and child soldiers, and the problem has become so acute that the Ukrainian parliament’s Equal Opportunities Caucus issued a statement asking the United Nations, European Union, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to investigate and prosecute the individuals responsible for these crimes.

The rise in human trafficking in conflict and post-conflict situations has been well documented in Eastern Europe, specifically in the Balkans, Chechnya, and Transdniestria, as well as in more recent conflicts such as those occurring in Iraq and Syria.

In Ukraine, war, displacement, and the economic crisis have led to an increase in the number of people susceptible to human trafficking; 21 percent of the population is now considered vulnerable.

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