UkraineAlert

The international community is preparing for the annual Munich Security Conference, which will host more than 500 guests, including forty heads of state and government. I too will attend. Before the conference, I spent part of the week in Kramatorsk, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine, which underwent Russian occupation but was freed by the Ukrainian army. Four years ago, on February 10, Kramatorsk was fired upon by a Russian Smerch Multiple Launch Rocket System in a salvo of attacks with prohibited cluster warheads. Seventeen people were killed, and sixty-four were wounded. 

In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, we spoke about Ukraine’s recent decision to adopt a constitutional amendment, which consolidates Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and the importance of uniting efforts so that no one can prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and the EU eventually.

When I go abroad, I am always asked about the status of the ceasefire. Here I don’t have good news. A ceasefire at the contact line, as envisioned in the signing of the Minsk arrangements, has not become a reality. Even though Russian President Vladimir Putin still maintains the fiction that his country is not involved in the Donbas, Russia is undoubtedly the aggressor state. Putin hopes for a more pliable president after Ukraine’s spring presidential elections.   

In Kramatorsk, we visited checkpoints, which function as de facto borders within a sovereign state. When Ukraine modernizes these checkpoints and increases the number of heating stations, waiting rooms, and windows for border guards, people told me that they fear that these checkpoints will remain forever. Here they understand the new global order has rapidly changed.

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In Kyiv, the word karandash (pencil) is an ordinary word one might encounter in an office supply store or an elementary school. But in eastern Ukraine, where the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has killed more than 10,000, displaced another 1.7 million, and injured thousands of civilians, karandash means something else. The Ukrainian military uses it to describe 122-millimeter grad rocket launchers.

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On February 11, Vladislav Surkov, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s key aides and ideologists, published a reveling article called “Putin’s Long State.”

It is not an ordinary piece; it makes the case for a new kind of Russian expansionism, and it should be read closely and taken seriously.

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Russia’s attack on Ukrainian ships in the Sea of Azov on November 25 may have been a probe to test the West’s reaction before the launch of other offensives aimed at destabilizing Ukraine at a crucial time.

2019 is Ukraine’s election year. And it is one of double importance with presidential and parliamentary elections taking place six months within one another. But Ukraine’s domestic politics, including President Petro Poroshenko’s hold on power, remain shaky.

Three months before voters head to the polls, 30 percent of the electorate is undecided about whom to vote for and nearly 82 percent said that they have no confidence in the president. This means there’s still plenty of room to sway public opinion—a craft the Kremlin has overwhelmingly succeeded at on foreign territory.

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In a few weeks, a comedian may become the next president of Ukraine.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, an unlikely candidate who plays an ordinary history teacher that becomes president of Ukraine on his popular TV series, Servant of the People, ranks as one of the most popular candidates in Ukraine’s March presidential election. Zelenskiy’s character, Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko, is a Kyiv-based secondary school teacher, whose rant about government corruption and waste goes viral while he’s unknowingly filmed and vaults him to the presidency.

While much is known about Zelenskiy’s television character, relatively little is known about Zelenskiy the candidate and his stance on issues of importance to Ukrainian voters. A political neophyte whose political party is named for his television series, Servant of the People, Zelenskiy has surged to first place in a number of national surveys among a competitive field of candidates vying for the presidency. He’s edging out more established candidates, including incumbent President Petro Poroshenko and longtime politician and current Member of Parliament Yulia Tymoshenko.

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On February 4, a group of Ukrainian politicians and activists announced the formation of a new political platform. In Ukraine, this would hardly make news. New political platforms are announced regularly, especially during election years.

But this new platform, the Euro-Atlantic Agenda for Ukraine, deserves a second look. (We previously reported that this platform was getting organized.)

Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, is the most recognizable of its leaders.   

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In the last year, there hasn’t been any new momentum in the effort to bring peace to Ukraine. Amid this long-lasting stalemate, the Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung recently published an interview with Martin Sajdik, special representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, under the ambitious title “We Have a New Plan to Solve the Ukraine Crisis,” that drew attention.

Sajdik stated the need for a new, legally binding, and more specific “comprehensive package” for implementation of the Minsk agreements. This would include deployment of the UN/OSCE mission in the Donbas, coordination with the UN and OSCE to hold local elections, placement of the UN transitional administration, and establishment of an EU-lead reconstruction agency for the Donbas.

These elements, which journalists have named the Sajdik Plan, are the highlights of a nineteen-page paper, “Joint UN/OSCE Mission to Eastern Ukraine,” which was disseminated among diplomats during the OSCE Ministerial Council in December 2018. It was recently published by the Ukrainian publication Liga.net.

The ideas are not new; they have been discussed in one form or another many times within the Normandy and Minsk negotiation formats. But so far, they have not been agreed upon by the negotiating parties. It is unclear why Sajdik chose to inform the general public about provisions in the document that were previously available only to a limited circle of diplomats and experts. Perhaps he wanted to show some progress in contrast to what appears to be a stalemate, or invite a broader discussion. He may even be aiming to put pressure on the negotiating parties to compromise. Regardless, the publication of the Sajdik plan has reinforced the point that the Minsk agreements remain unfulfilled and aspirational.

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Ulana Suprun just wants to get back to work turning around Ukraine’s feeble healthcare system. But she can’t focus on reforms now: the fifty-six-year-old radiologist turned health minister of Ukraine is under attack. Worst of all, she’s not sure who is behind it.

On February 5, Kyiv’s Regional Administrative Court ruled to suspend Suprun's authority to make any decisions or sign any documents as the acting minister of health. Suprun remains the first deputy minister of health.

Lives depend on her signature.

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Birthdays are typically lavish affairs in Ukraine. But not for Volodymyr Balukh, who will spend his third birthday in prison for the simple act of displaying a Ukrainian flag in Crimea. On February 8, the Ukrainian farmer turns 48.

His case shows how Moscow harshly punishes Ukrainians in Crimea who have the temerity to protest against the Kremlin’s illegal annexation of the peninsula.

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Less than two months before Ukraine’s presidential election, two independent-minded officials are being forced out. On February 5, Kyiv’s Regional Administrative Court ruled to suspend Detroit born physician Ulana Suprun's authority to make any decisions or sign any documents as the acting minister of health. The court pointed to a regulation that limits an acting minister’s term to one month. Suprun has held the post since 2016. On February 1, the supervisory board of Ukraine’s public broadcaster dismissed CEO Zurab Alasania two years before his contract was set to expire. Suprun has been praised as one of the leading reformers remaining in the cabinet and for championing health care reform, while Alasania received good marks as well.

Last June, parliament canned outspoken and reform minded Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk. By most counts, there’s only one reformer left in Ukraine’s cabinet.

UkraineAlert asked a range of experts what’s going on? What’s behind the sacking of Suprun and Alasania? Are the motives behind the sackings similar? Is the government trying to remove independent minded people before the elections, or are there other motives?  

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