On June 19, the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) charged four suspects of murder for their role in shooting down a passenger plane over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Amid the geopolitics, rhetoric, and finger pointing yesterday, the most poignant words came from Silene Fredriksz, who lost her son Bryce in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17.
“We all get older... I hope that I will know the truth before I close my eyes,” Fredriksz said. Some relatives have died not knowing the truth, she said.
Like all of the relatives I have had the privilege of meeting over the years, they want justice, and to find out what happened and why.
Sadly, that may not be coming any time soon. Even though JIT has come up with enough solid evidence to formally charge four suspects—three Russian and one Ukrainian nationals—Russia has already signaled that it will ignore the findings.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy became Ukraine’s sixth president on May 20. The political neophyte’s election raised a host of questions about lack of governing experience, connections to oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, the composition of his inner circle, and his priorities once in office. One month into Zelenskyy’s presidency, those questions still require answers, and we have yet to see much in the way of policies as the political focus has turned to the parliamentary elections. However, his pronouncements largely have been reassuring. The US government appears cautiously optimistic and has invited him to visit Washington.
It depicts the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986, an example of Moscow’s technological incompetence, disregard for human life, and political treachery. Instead of evacuating a vast area around the initial explosion and fire, the Russians cut off phone communication to the nearby village of 132,000 and dispatched 6,000 troops to keep residents there.
Most people don’t realize that a European apocalypse was only averted because two scientists realized that water beneath the burning core had to be drained to prevent a thermal explosion that would have blown up the other three reactors. Three Ukrainian workers volunteered to open up the sluices, and prevented a detonation, and discharge of radiation, that would have wiped out half of Europe, rendering it uninhabitable for thousands of years.
Deaths and cancer rates among Ukrainians since have been dramatic but unquantified, and an area of 4,000 square kilometers, almost double the size of Luxembourg, remains a no-go zone.
Now, thirty-three years later, Russia remains an existential threat to Europe and Ukraine is its biggest victim once more. This is a fitting backdrop to the summit in Berlin, on June 18, between Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The new leader was born in Kryvyi-Rih, only 550 kilometers from Chernobyl, and was eight years old when the meltdown occurred.
Sadly, Russia continues to murder Ukrainians in the east, five years after it seized and occupied seven percent of the country, and intends to bypass, and further cripple Ukraine, with its proposed Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany.
It’s no secret that the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine has failed to be transformed in the post-Maidan period. But who is to blame?
A high-level diplomat representing a G-7 country recently lamented that Ukraine’s major western partners deserve a large share of the blame for not providing direct assistance to the office.
“You don’t know how many times I was asked for help,” the individual said lamenting. “We didn’t do it because we felt it would be an expression of a form of ‘colonialism.’ Sad and unfortunate because both time and a historic opportunity was lost.”
This ideological assumption is farcical.
Partnerships were established in joint military cooperation, in finance reform, and economic development. What then prevents the establishment of a relationship in rebuilding the Prosecutor General’s Office?
Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election over incumbent Petro Poroshenko has spawned intense speculation. The most intriguing is the assertion that we are witnessing the long-awaited emergence of a “new” Ukraine that is no longer divided along overlapping regional, ethnic, and linguistic fault lines because Zelenskyy won in all of the country’s oblasts except one.
It would be unfair to expect Ukraine’s novice president to take over the reins of Europe’s largest country seamlessly. However, knowing how to spell his own name in English would seem a more realistic expectation. This did not appear to be the case during the first days of his administration, or at least that was the impression created by the range of different spellings used in various government communiques and official social media accounts. This sparked a lively debate among English-language journalists and commentators covering Ukraine, with some favoring the succinct “Zelensky,” while others argued the case for the more puritan “Zelenskyi” (For the record, this author championed “Zelenskiy,” which is how the Atlantic Council has rendered his name until now). Clarity came suddenly in late May, when the presidential administration confounded everyone by adopting the previously unfancied “Zelenskyy” as the official English-language spelling of the new president’s name.
On May 21, the nationalized Ukrainian PrivatBank filed a remarkable civil case against its prior owners Ihor Kolomoisky and Gennady Bogolyubov in the state court of Delaware. The three co-defendants are US citizens in Miami and nineteen anonymous companies.
Ukraine’s new president says he wants to end the Russian-backed war in the country’s east. However, it won’t be easy. There are at least seven dangers of engaging with the occupied territories of the Donbas. The first danger is that a class of highly educated and trained leaders is completely absent. All key positions, whether in the military or within major industrial assets, are possessed and controlled by Russians. This makes any genuine negotiations impossible, since these people represent neither the local population nor themselves: they only transmit orders from the Kremlin.
On May 20, Volodymyr Zelenskiy was inaugurated Ukraine’s seventh president. In his inaugural address, he demonstrated a resoluteness that should put an end to the annoying journalistic cliché of a “comedian-president.” Taking such firm actions as dissolving parliament and requesting the resignations of key officials within minutes of taking office in front of the very same people, he demonstrated a full understanding of Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite weapon, the bully pulpit.
Transferring his communication skills to governance is surely a good thing in general, but may be particularly important on the issue of gas prices. Many voters probably hope that Zelenskiy is such a good guy that he will reward them by going back to the old days of cheap gas. Here is an opportunity to move early and explain to people why seemingly cheap gas is in fact much too costly for the country and its citizens.
Ukraine’s recent presidential election demonstrates that the country needs an effective independent public broadcaster more than ever.
An overwhelming majority of Ukrainians get their news from TV, but all of the country’s biggest channels are owned by oligarchs. In its assessment of the Ukrainian election, the OSCE Election Observation Mission found that these privately-owned channels “provided imbalanced and biased coverage… and continued to follow their owners’ political agenda.”
Indeed, in the first round of voting, Ukraina, a station owned by oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, gave disproportionate coverage to Olekandr Vilkul of Opposition Bloc and Oleh Lyashko of the Radical Party. Ihor Kolomoyski’s 1+1 gave a majority of its airtime to Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Dmytro Firtash and Serhiy Lyovochkin’s Inter was visibly for Yuriy Boyko of Opposition Platform-For Life.
This is nothing new for Ukraine, and the lack of high quality, impartial news is something that was supposed to be addressed by the creation of a public service broadcaster. The process was initiated five years ago but it’s hard not to view the broadcaster, UA:PBC, as a failure.