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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US- and Lithuanian-Born Officials Will Be Independent, Competent—and New to Governing in Kyiv

The race is on. With Ukraine’s finances running thin and the country needing a bigger bailout from its western allies, the country’s new cabinet took office this week pledging to floor the accelerator on the spending cuts and reforms needed to begin stabilizing and building an economy that has shrunk this year amid the war with Russia.

A day after the parliament approved the cabinet—including an American, a Lithuanian and a Georgian—the new Ukrainian-American finance minister, Natalie Jaresko, said she aims to slash the state budget in just seventeen days (by December 20) and have legislators pass it by the end of the month. That would facilitate an early return to Kyiv of International Monetary Fund specialists who would then evaluate how quickly it can deliver the next tranches of loans upon which Ukraine now depends to run the state.

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US, EU Should Re-Focus Now on What May Be a Last, Best Chance for Critical Changes, Analysts Say

Moldova’s pro-Europe parties have won a troubled election victory, taking barely enough parliament seats to renew their coalition and pursue the integration of Moldova with the European Union. That may hold open a window of opportunity—for perhaps as little as two years—to bring critical economic and governance reforms on line, analysts say. Delay will risk a deeper erosion of popular support for reforms in Moldova, and political will in Europe to support them.

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Ukraine’s Friends Plan a Donor Conference in February; Is That Soon Enough?

On Ukraine, the economists are declaring an emergency. Ukraine is bleeding cash in its war against Russian and Russian-proxy forces in the Donbas region. With its industrial heartland shattered by the war, the country’s economy is shriveling. And the warnings from economists are growing that Ukraine will need a big increase—and quickly—in international financial support, if it is to avoid an economic collapse.

“Ukraine is at risk of a financial meltdown,” economist Anders Aslund wrote last week on his blog at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Presumably it would be reminiscent of the Russian financial crash of August 1998—with default, high inflation, a frozen banking system, falling output, and panic.”

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When Hitler Invaded Poland, No One Demanded Polish Reforms Before Offering Help. Why Is It the Reverse for Ukraine?

“September 3, 1939 – British and French commentators and officials said today that it could no longer be denied that Hitler was invading Poland and that the Nazi forces represented the most serious threat to the existence of that country, but they said that Warsaw could not reasonably expect allied assistance unless it carried out massive reforms first.”

That story, of course, never happened. …  No one suggested that Poland needed reforms before defense because they recognized that if Poland did not exist, it could not reform. (The exception was those in London and Paris with links to the Communist Party who followed the Kremlin line even when Stalin was an ally of Hitler, as was then the case.)

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We can expect Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, to meet this week to vote on the country’s new government. The political parties of President Petro Poroshenko, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and their allies are close to completing negotiations and announcing their choices for the new Cabinet of Ministers. Critically, a delegation is in Kyiv from the International Monetary Fund, upon which Ukraine must rely for the cash to see it through multi-layered crises. The IMF has insisted upon meeting with the new cabinet before the fund’s team leaves Kyiv on November 25.

Below are many of the key appointments now under discussion, following Yatsenyuk’s presentation of his candidates on Friday, according to the Atlantic Council’s Kyiv-based senior fellow, Brian Mefford. You can see Brian’s full list at his blog.

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Colonel Igor Girkin Presses Kremlin to Expand Its War Through Southern and Eastern Ukraine

“The Shooter” is back. Colonel Igor Girkin, the career Russian intelligence officer who disappeared three months ago from his leading role in the Russian-sponsored war against Ukraine, has burst anew into Russia’s news headlines. He has given a spate of interviews in which he presses Russia’s government to step up direct military support for the two “people’s republics” it is backing in southeastern Ukraine.

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As the US Congress Reconvenes, It and Europe Must Respond to the Kremlin’s Coming Offensive in Ukraine

Russia has moved a massive wave of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery into Ukraine’s Donbas region in recent days, accompanied by new uniformed troops without insignia, to bolster the armed forces of the Russian-sponsored Donetsk and Lugansk Peoples’ Republics.

This military escalation follows Moscow’s political support for pretended elections to consolidate the two mini-states, a step that Europe and the US regard as a fundamental violation of the Minsk peace process launched in August. Ominously, evidence is growing that this buildup is preparing a new offensive by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his war against Ukraine—a campaign of attrition against Ukraine’s economically fragile state.

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In Stakhanov, a Cossack Rebel and Local Radio Mix Nostalgias for Russia’s Greatness and Soviet Goodness

While analysts of Russia’s assault on Ukraine debate the veiled question of President Vladimir Putin’s motives, little is hidden about how the Kremlin and its proxy forces are selling themselves to the long-demoralized people of southeastern Ukraine. As Moscow and the rebels work to solidify the two “people’s republics” in the Donbas region, their theme is a mix of nostalgias—for the theoretical equality of Soviet life and the greatness of Russia.

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