Melinda Haring

  • Vakarchuk Says Ukraine Needs New Leaders, But Will He Be One?

    For months now, political junkies and ordinary Ukrainians have debated whether their beloved rock star Slava Vakarchuk will run for president in 2019. He’s got massive name recognition throughout the country.

    Even more, he’s one of the only reform-minded candidates who might be able to unify Ukraine’s fractious opposition.

    Last week I caught up with Vakarchuk at Stanford to celebrate the second class of its Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program, an intensive 10-month program with just three spots. Vakarchuk participated in the 2017-2018 program, attending classes and living in California for much of the academic year. (He even claims that he read Francis Fukuyama’s dense tomes on the nature of the political order.) 

    I’d seen Vakarchuk three weeks earlier at the Yalta European Strategy meeting and was...

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  • Why Are Ukraine’s Authorities Trying to Intimidate a Top Investigative Journalist?

    This month, the European Court of Human Rights prevented Ukraine from backsliding in a major way. On September 18, it ordered the Ukrainian government to halt its efforts to access data from the cell phone of investigative journalist Natalia Sedletska for a month to give her an opportunity to file a full complaint to the ECHR.
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  • Will Ukraine’s Presidential Candidates Ever Get Real?

    This year’s Yalta European Strategy (YES) conference, known as the Ukrainian Davos, did not disappoint. Held in Kyiv on September 13-15, the meeting featured the obligatory celebrities and A-list dazzle. Bono turned up in purple-tinted glasses. Host Victor Pinchuk unveiled a silver spaceship-like creation by Japanese artist Marico Mori urging everyone to focus on the future. The American punk band Gogol Bordello was electric.

    But the real drama took place on the second day, when BBC HARDtalk presenter Stephen Sackur took to the stage to interview three leading presidential candidates, one at a time. He interviewed frontrunner and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, former defense minister and leading reform candidate Anatoily Gritsenko, and rock star Slava Vakarchuk, who may or may not be running.

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  • How to Lose a Presidential Election Before It Even Starts: Ukraine’s Top Reform Party Turns on Itself

    Ukraine’s Maidan reformers had a real shot at reaching a tipping point and changing the country once and for all. In 2014, the reform-oriented Samopomich party, led by Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, performed far better than expected in the parliamentary elections just a few months after street protests ejected pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovych. The Lviv-based party took thirty-three seats and joined the governing coalition; its roster included a number of new faces from business, academia, and civil society. 

    Today, the party is no longer part of the governing coalition; its parliamentarians now describe themselves as troublemakers. Their numbers in parliament have shrunk, Sadovyi’s approval ratings have dropped precipitously, and the party looks set to become a regional party rather than a national one after the 2019 elections.

    And now the group has turned to infighting. On September 6, the party...

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  • How Corruption Actually Works in Ukraine

    It’s standard fare in any article about Ukraine to mention the country's enormous, overwhelming, and everlasting corruption problem. It’s also incredibly boring, because hardly anyone has examples or knows how it actually works.

    In April, I sat down over coffee and sweets in Kyiv with investigative journalist Oleksa Shalayskiy, editor-in-chief of Nashi Groshi (Our Money), who explained in detail how corruption functions in Ukraine.

    Shalayskiy knows what he’s talking about. His watchdog organization regularly uncovers examples of corruption that the top anticorruption organizations use in their public crusades.

    But Shalayskiy is anything but loud. Soft-spoken and detail oriented, I had to lean forward multiple times and ask him to speak up.

    Shalayskiy said the problem is that officials still believe they must steal.

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  • Q&A: Will Ukraine Face a Serious Financial Crisis If It Doesn’t Get IMF Money Before November?

    Central bankers and economists are sounding the alarm in Kyiv, Ukraine. The Finance Ministry’s account balance has fallen to its lowest level in four years. The hryvnia is falling fast now, and fell nearly 4 percent over the last three weeks. Eurobond sales and foreign aid could remedy the cash-flow problem, but the International Monetary Fund’s next disbursement has been delayed for more than a year over foot dragging on reforms. Acting Finance Minister Oksana Markarova says that a deal is very close, but there are still differences to be worked out before the IMF releases the next $1.9 billion tranche.

    We asked UkraineAlert experts and friends the following: Will Ukraine face a serious financial crisis if it does not get any IMF money before November?

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  • Sure, Ukraine Is Still a Mess, But the Fight Rages On

    Bloomberg recently ran an in-depth story titled, “Four Years after Its Revolution, Ukraine Is Still a Mess.” I can’t argue with the headline, but it overlooks the many efforts and individuals who are still fighting to fix Ukraine. Three of those individuals engaged in the fight spent most of July in Washington, DC, as James Denton Transatlantic Fellows at the Center for European Policy Analysis, gaining skills and contacts that will help them continue to press for reform in Ukraine.

    “No one is going to do it if I don’t act,” said Mykhailo Zhernakov, director of the Kyiv-based DEJURE Foundation and a Denton fellow.

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  • Helsinki Was Bad, but It Could Have Been Far Worse

    There’s no dancing around it. Donald Trump got schooled in Helsinki.

    President Vladimir Putin put on a hell of a show. The masterfully prepared former spy buttered up the US president at every opportunity, and even tossed him a soccer ball from the just-completed World Cup that Russia hosted to lighten up the press conference.

    Smart analysts knew that this was coming. Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia, pointed out in The Washington Post that Putin has a far better understanding of international affairs than Trump after two decades in power.

    Laying all that aside, the Trump-Putin summit was a disaster for US interests and how the world perceives America. One commentator called it a press conference of platitudes. It was far...

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  • Stop Freaking Out. Trump Has Less Power Than Everyone Thinks.

    If one took the punditry seriously, it would be easy to conclude that the Western liberal order is being unmade before our very eyes. Some worried that US President Donald Trump would destroy the North Atlantic Treaty Organization this week. He didn’t. Instead, he reaffirmed his commitment to it.

    Yes, he undermined the credibility of the alliance and potentially created deep rifts among its members. He bashed Germany and told the Europeans and Canada that they need to pony up more dough. He was crass, and the United States’ image abroad took another hit. But NATO still stands.

    Trump’s next big meeting is with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16. The president has an unexplained soft spot for the Russian strongman and wants to mend US-Russian relations badly. After last month’s flop in North Korea, Trump needs a win.  

    On June 29, Trump...

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  • Exclusive: New Party Enters Fray as Ukraine’s Opposition Tries to Unify

    Ukraine’s got a real chance to elect a reform-minded president if Western-leaning opposition parties unify. A dozen political consultants and smart Ukraine hands have told me that campaign funds will come if there’s unity, and with nearly 40 percent of voters still undecided, there’s still time to court voters ahead of the March 2019 presidential election.

    But there’s still no unified voice that speaks for the millions that went to the streets and ousted Viktor Yanukovych during the winter of 2013-2014. It’s easier said than done. For starters, the two main Western-leaning opposition party leaders—Civic Position’s Anatoliy Gritsenko and Samopomich’s Andriy Sadovyi—don’t get along. But one older—but evolving—political party is jostling to become the group that consolidates the reform vote.

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