UkraineAlert

In the wake of recent terror attacks in Paris, President François Hollande has called for Russian and American cooperation against ISIS, joining many other policymakers who have voiced the need for cooperation between Russian and American intelligence agencies against Islamic terrorism. Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged his generals to treat French forces as "allies." On November 20, Russia was uncharacteristically helpful, backing France's UN Security Council resolution, which urges countries to take "all necessary measures" against ISIS. The Russian defense ministry posted a video showing Russian pilots writing "For Paris" on bombs intended for Syria.

But before any such cooperation becomes a reality, it is important to think seriously about whether it is merited. And once we examine Russia's actual record concerning terrorism, the basis for such cooperation evaporates.

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As cities finished counting the votes from Ukraine's second round of mayoral elections, Mariupol and Krasnoarmiisk in the Donetsk region still haven't held elections. Mariupol, which over the last nineteen months has been a strategic target of pro-Russian separatists, has become a political battleground. Local elections that were supposed to take place on October 25 were canceled, officially because of "the improper preparation of election ballots, the absence of control over their printing and number, and lack of reliable storage." However, the events that led to their cancellation appear to be more political than procedural. Mariupol volunteers and activists blocked possible election fraud by the Opposition Bloc—a party born from the ashes of former President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions. Continuing manipulation and the recent escalation in violence threaten to again disrupt the elections scheduled for November 29.

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A month and a half ago, while traveling along the frontlines of eastern Ukraine, I predicted that the Minsk II ceasefire agreements would not be respected by the Kremlin and its puppet Peoples' Republics. It was clear to me—in spite of a tentative ceasefire put in place on October 2—that the situation in the Donbas would continue to deteriorate.

Unfortunately, my projections were right. Fighting has flared up again. Over the last three weeks, Ukrainian field commanders, humanitarian volunteers, and local journalists told me that the Russia-backed fighters have been engaging in provocative shootings from mortars, heavy machine guns, automatic weapons, and snipers, and that these have become a regular occurrence along the entire frontline. On several occasions, the separatists have even brazenly launched full-fledged frontal assaults on Ukrainian positions. Saboteurs have crossed into territory controlled by Ukrainian forces to place anti-personnel mines. Reconnaissance groups and drones have become regular features, collecting tactical information. The Kremlin continues to provide large quantities of weapons, ammunition, equipment, and supplies to the separatists, while Russian military specialists are training the so-called rebels and mercenaries, thus transforming these rag-tag formations into a regular fighting force. Consequently, Ukrainian casualties are mounting and their frequency is rising.

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As the ballots are counted in Ukraine's November 15 runoff elections, the preliminary results show no national mandate or overarching themes. Instead, in a positive step for the country's democratic development, voters dispersed power widely and put multiple political parties into office. Here's a quick rundown of the big races and the big surprises:

Kyiv: Incumbent Vitaly Klitchko defeated Boryslav Bereza 64 to 32 percent. Bereza, an independent MP known for his reportedly white supremacist views, narrowly defeated Samopomich's candidate to make the runoff. While there was never any doubt that Klitchko would ultimately triumph, the real loser is the city of Kyiv for propelling Bereza into the runoff and giving him a surprising 32 percent. The Kremlin propaganda machine just received an early Christmas gift from the residents of Kyiv.

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At the G-20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey, on November 16, Russia's President Vladimir Putin proposed that Russia could restructure the $3 billion Eurobond that he lent former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in December 2013. It comes due on December 20.

This was a sudden change of policy. Until that moment, the Kremlin had insisted on being paid on time and in full. The reason for the change is that the Kremlin had been outwitted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF has had an old practice of not "lending into arrears," that is, not lending to a country that has not serviced its debt to sovereigns.

If Ukraine had not paid on December 20, that would have been the case. However, this practice is not written into the IMF articles of agreement and is only a policy decided by the IMF Executive Board, which can change it at any time with a simple majority. The IMF was about to change the policy before December 20 with the support of its Western majority. Then the IMF could have continued lending to Ukraine, while Russia would have been isolated.

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New research demonstrates why the conflict has not spread beyond Donetsk and Luhansk

In April 2014, angry mobs and armed men stormed administrative buildings and police stations in eastern Ukraine, waving Russian flags and proclaiming the establishment of "Peoples' Republics" in Donetsk and Luhansk. At the time, some observers predicted that the "pro-Russian" uprising would spread to other parts of southeast Ukraine, throughout the vast territory Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to as historical "Novorossiya."

Contrary to these forecasts, the rebellion remained surprisingly contained. No region outside Donetsk or Luhansk experienced large-scale armed conflict or fell under rebel control. Not only were separatists unable to realize the project of a greater "Novorossiya" stretching from Kharkiv to Odesa, they failed to consolidate their grip even within the borders of the Donbas. Not more than sixty-three percent of municipalities in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts were under rebel control at any time during the first year of the conflict, and less than a quarter of these territories showed resistance to government forces during Kyiv's attempt to liberate them.

What explains local variation in rebellion? Why is rebel violence more intense in some areas than in others? Why have some towns in eastern Ukraine remained under government control while others fell to the separatists?

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The West has focused on Ukraine's two existential crises: the war in the east and Ukraine's troubled economy. It's understandable, but now is the time for Ukraine to press hard on energy reform because Russia uses energy to exert influence over Ukraine and the energy sector has been a black hole of corruption in the country.

Gas imports from Russia to the European Union almost doubled over the last ten years. The EU wasn't really concerned about this dependence until after the Russia-Ukraine gas wars in 2006 and 2009, when the stream of gas to Europe stopped abruptly in the winter. Concern intensified when Russia annexed Crimea in 2013, and the EU subsequently established the European Energy Union to develop a single energy security policy. Its strategic framework declared an intent to diversify energy sources by looking for new suppliers and avenues to import energy.

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How has Ukraine changed since the Euromaidan Revolution?

In attempting to answer this question, I've used the governance-related categories in Freedom House's Nations in Transit study, which tracks the reform record of post-Communist countries in Europe and Eurasia, and supplemented them with a few of my own. (Full disclosure: I've been involved in the Nations in Transit project since its inception in the mid-1990s.)

Freedom House assigns scores between 1 and 7 (with 1 being the best and 7 the worst) to seven institutional categories: electoral process, civil society, independent media, national democratic governance, local democratic governance, judicial framework and independence, and corruption. As these categories focus primarily on politics, I've added seven more to round out the picture: international relations, security, armed forces and police, education, culture and identity, economic well-being, and economic stability and reform. (Unlike Freedom House, which assigns scores to Ukraine together with its Russian-occupied territories, I will assign scores only to "free" Ukraine.)

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Odesa Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov trounced Solidarity Party's Sasha Borovik by 53-26 percent in Ukraine's local elections October 25. Observers reported carousel voting, multiple voting lists, exit poll workers agitating for candidates, and a suspiciously slow vote count.

The race for Odesa mayor was a proxy war between Oblast Governor Mikheil Saakashvili and oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who has deep business interests in the city. Saakashvili initially campaigned for Borovik, while Kolomoyskyi backed Trukhanov.

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The reorganization and reform of Ukraine's catastrophically corrupt police force was the top priority when President Petro Poroshenko appointed Eka Zguladze first deputy Interior Minister of Ukraine. Poroshenko wants to emulate the relative success that Georgia's Rose Revolution reformers garnered in modernizing their small post-Soviet country. Zguladze is just one of the many Georgians who have been drafted by the new Ukrainian government to kick reforms into high gear.

In January 2015, Ukraine's Ministry of the Interior began recruiting the first of approximately 2,200 new patrol officers in Kyiv. The first battalions were inaugurated on July 4. The rigorous selection process included a ten-week training program accompanied by a battery of exams. In an effort to ensure moral rectitude in the new force, the officers are paid almost $400 a month, roughly three times more than new recruits previously made.

The glistening new patrol police can also be seen cruising the streets of Cherkasy, Kharkiv, Lviv, and Odesa. By the end of the year, there should be at least 10,000 new officers.

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