Pascual: As Russia Faces Economic Downturn, West Should Probe Kremlin on Chances of a Merkel-Brokered Deal

In his annual press conference this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered no clear suggestion for how he proposes to dig Russia out of its deepening economic hole. And he signaled no new direction in government’s sponsorship of the separatist war in southeastern Ukraine. On both crises, his performance left all his options open.

Putin held to his most recent rhetorical status quo on Ukraine. He averred that he finds in Ukrainian President Poroshenko a man with whom peace could be made, leaving himself room to negotiate for a deal in which he might hope to achieve at least a minimum of his immediate goals—to retain an effective veto on Ukraine’s integration with Europe and its institutions, beginning with the European Union.

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As Ukraine’s new government has taken office and vows to clean up endemic corruption—publicly perceived as Europe’s worst, according to Transparency International—here are some leading indicators of its progress, as suggested by the Atlantic Council’s Kyiv-based senior fellow, Brian Mefford. You can find his full essay on this at his own blog.

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Russia’s Choice, Between Market Reforms and State Controls, May Open or Shut Doors to Détente Over Ukraine

The Russian ruble’s stunning collapse this week may lead President Vladimir Putin to order changes at the country’s central bank and in his cabinet. As he does, will he tilt his government toward Russia’s market-oriented economic reformers or toward its proponents of tighter state controls? And, does the West dare to hope that Russia’s economic crisis might edge Putin toward some discreet reduction of his war against the independence of Ukraine and other former Soviet states?

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Atlantic Council Analyst Lists Whom to Watch in the Battle to Improve Governance and Economy

Ukraine’s overhauled cabinet lineup, now complete, offers clues to the new leadership’s seriousness and competence for its critical task of reforms. For a government that must decentralize governance, make official transactions transparent, prosecute and prevent graft, rebuild its finances, resuscitate its economy—and fight a war against Russia—the good news is that the Cabinet includes many new faces and is heavily loaded with real-world business experience.

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'Freedom Support Act' Authorizes, But Does Not Require, Arms Sales to Ukraine

In passing its bill to boost US support for Ukraine last week, Congress left President Barack Obama largely free to decide how and when to apply its provisions – and that flexibility is one reason Obama has chosen to sign the act, even though it includes measures he has resisted, Atlantic Council analysts say.

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Poroshenko’s Team Creates a Government Agency in 60 Hours; Critics Ask if This Is the Way to Counter Kremlin Propaganda

President Petro Poroshenko’s government created a Ministry of Information Policy last week in sixty hours from first proposal to parliamentary approval—and did so over the objections of pro-reform legislators, journalists, and democracy activists.

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Pro-Democracy Activists Join Parliament—and the Battle for Ukraine's Future

The new parliament and political leadership taking office in Ukraine includes members of an energetic, young class of leaders who have emerged from last year’s Maidan movement, with its demands for greater democracy and an end to massive political corruption. Our colleagues at the National Democratic Institute this week produced a short video on the dramatic journey of three of these leaders. It's worth the six minutes to watch.

Anti-Corruption Journalist Who Ran for Office Says Poroshenko Has Stifled Dissent Within the New Government

Serhiy Leshchenko, age thirty-four, is a Kyiv-based investigative journalist and blogger who has been deputy chief editor of Ukrainska Pravda, the country’s most prominent independent news website. After supporting last year’s pro-democracy Maidan movement, he opted this year to run for parliament as an anti-corruption candidate of the party that backs President Petro Poroshenko.

As one of a crop of new legislators pledged to root out graft that has given Ukraine the worst corruption rating in Europe according to Transparency International, Leshchenko wrote an essay to Ukrainians about his parliamentary experience on December 6.

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Russian President’s Softened Rhetoric and Talks with Ukraine Suggest a Change

Are Western economic sanctions and falling oil prices starting to deter President Vladimir Putin from his larger ambitions in the Ukraine crisis? While Putin has vowed that Russia will overcome its economic isolation, ordinary Russians are feeling increased pain from an economy sliding into recession and a ruble that has lost 38 percent of its value this year.

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Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Brian Mefford on Implications of the November 30 Vote

As Moldova’s pro-European parties negotiate on the shape of a new governing coalition, Prime Minister Iurie Leanca could come under pressure to step aside for another leader, says Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Brian Mefford. That’s because Leanca’s Liberal Democrat party saw a 9 percent drop in its vote percentage in the November 30 parliamentary election, compared to the vote in 2010.

Mefford, a political analyst and consultant based in Kyiv, is a longtime elections observer in Eastern Europe and executive director of the Committee for Open Democracy, a non-profit election monitoring group. Mefford observed the Moldovan vote and offers four key observations. (You can read a fuller version of his analysis on his blog.)

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