Eastern Europe

  • An Incomplete End to the MH17 Tragedy

    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.


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  • The West Must Do More to Help Ukraine, Atlantic Council’s John Herbst Tells Congress

    As Russia “seeks to weaken NATO, the European Union, and the United States,” the Western alliance of democracies must push back against Kremlin aggression “and the place to do it is Ukraine,” John Herbst, a former US ambassador to Ukraine and director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, told US senators at a hearing in Washington on June 18.

    Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in early 2014 and has since supported separatists in eastern Ukraine. While “Western support for Ukraine has been substantial and essential,” Herbst testified to the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, “it has not been as agile and effective as it could be.”


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  • One Month into the Zelenskyy Presidency and Ukraine’s Still Here

    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.


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  • What Zelenskyy Should Say in Berlin

    HBO and Sky UK’s “Chernobyl” is a tour de force. The mini-series should be required viewing by every leader and parliamentarian in Europe, especially in Germany.

    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.

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  • Why Are Donors Afraid of the Prosecutor’s Office?

    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?


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  • One Ukraine? Think Again.

    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.


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  • Political Gridlock in Moldova

    Almost four months after parliamentary elections it is still unclear who will govern Moldova, a small Eastern European country and former Soviet republic. Disputes over a coalition government mean that there are now competing claims of legitimacy that have caused political gridlock.

    Although representatives from the pro-Russia Socialist Party and the pro-European Union ACUM bloc reached an agreement on June 8 to form a coalition government, the deal was challenged by the Democratic Party, which argued to the Constitutional Court that it was formalized after the official deadline, meaning snap elections needed to be called.


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  • Zelensky, Zelenskiy, Zelenskyy: Spelling Confusion Doesn’t Help Ukraine  

    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.


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  • How Kolomoisky Does Business in the United States

    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.


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  • Seven Dangers of Engaging with the Occupied Donbas—and Opportunities for the New Ukrainian President

    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.


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