Eastern Europe

  • Ten Reasons Why Trump Should Visit Ukraine

    Barack Obama never visited Ukraine as president, and he was the only US president that didn’t visit independent Ukraine while in office. President Donald Trump should. Ukraine has embarked on a massive overhaul of the country and here are ten reasons why the US president should pay a visit.

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  • The Craft of Kolomoisky

    Many regard notorious Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky as the puppet master behind the rise of Ukraine’s new president. The tycoon’s August 8interview for the Russian media holding RBK is his second major interview since returning to Ukraine in May and his first to a Russian publication in five years. What he says is therefore of particular interest.

    Because of their business connections through Kolomoisky’s influential 1+1 TV channel, it has been assumed that the two have remained in league. But as Zelenskyy came into his own politically, he distanced himself from the oligarch, denying that he was a “toy in Kolomoisky’s hands.” The oligarch told the press that he’s not the shadow leader or grey cardinal either.

    Not everyone bought the line, especially after Zelenskyy chose Andriy Bohdan, Kolomoisky’s former lawyer, as his chief of staff. Was this not evidence, many surmised, that Kolomoisky would control the political newcomer and exert influence on the economic and political life of the country?  Bohdan, however, has served various masters. Seen from another angle, having someone who knows the secrets of a meddlesome oligarch might be an advantage for Zelenskyy. 

    Whatever the reality, Zelenskyy has sought to keep Kolomoisky at arm’s length and this has generated frustration. Kolomoisky began giving interviews that put his supposed protégé in a tough spot. Kolomoisky advised Zelenskyy to follow the example of Greece and to reject the IMF’s austerity program and default. Then, he shocked many by describing Ukraine’s war with Russia in the Donbas as an “internal conflict.” 

    On June 20, Zelenskyy announced that he had reached an agreement with the country’s oligarchs to invest in the infrastructure of the Donbas. "Kolomoisky will invest a lot of money,” he quipped, “but he still does not know about it." But the oligarch promptly shot back that he cannot afford to because the High Court in London has ruled to limit his spending.

    Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian-Jewish tycoon based in Dnipro, sided with Ukraine in early 2014 and organized local militias to stop Russian expansion westward. He fell out with President Petro Poroshenko who, after being elected in 2014, did not dismantle the oligarchic system. Kolomoisky suffered the ignominy of having his PrivatBank nationalized by Poroshenko. Without delving into the reasons and rights and wrongs, suffice to say that he is still involved in litigation related to this matter, and remains determined to recover as much money as he can.

    Leaving aside the PrivatBank affair, what do we learn? 

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  • What Is Ukraine? We Finally Have an Answer

    The election of Volodymyr Zelenskyy as president sets the stage to finally define the national idea of Ukraine. Since independence, it has not been clear to the world—or Ukrainians—what exactly Ukraine is and what defines Ukrainians. To say, “We are not Russian” was not incorrect but rather too vague; it confused outsiders since a fifth of Ukraine’s citizens consider themselves ethnic Russians, and an even greater number frequently speak Russian alongside Ukrainian. Three aspects of the 2019 election point to the emergence ofdemocratic multiculturalism, a society which respects and accepts diversity, as a national idea.

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  • Want Foreign Investors to Take Ukraine Seriously? Prove It  

    In his first public video in English, the new president of Ukraine urged foreign investors to choose Ukraine. It was an expected appeal because the country needs investment badly. For the first quarter of 2019, foreign investment in Ukraine came in at $587 million, which clearly falls short of where the president and country aspire to be. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he wants the economy to grow at five to seven percent annually, while it remains stuck between two and three percent. Foreign direct investment has been flat for five years.  

    Zelenskyy also told foreign investors that things will be different on his watch. “I understand that the previous government did everything to make Ukraine look unattractive. They poked sticks into spokes of business; they could even take it away. Everything will be different from now on. I personally guarantee it.” Personal guarantees, no matter how sincere, will not convince global companies. Foreign investors want the rule of law and private property protection, which will be ensured by changing the laws of Ukraine and then strictly observing them.

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  • Time Is Running Out to Kill Putin’s Pet Project

    Russia’s $12 billion Nord Stream 2 is not a natural gas pipeline. It’s a weapon, in the form of an underwater pipeline, that will give President Vladimir Putin the power to plunge the Soviet Union’s former satellites and republics in Europe into darkness or recession.

    It must be stopped.

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  • Why Are Men Still Running Everything in Ukraine?  

    The picture-perfect venue of the second annualUkrainian ID: International Economic Humanitarian Forum in Kaniv, Ukraine, was deceptive. From the place where national bard Taras Shevchenko lies in rest and the home of the Shevchenko museum, visitors are treated to wide, expansive views of the Dnipro and giant, well-cared-for roses that perfume the air. On June 8, at the end of a long day, one could be forgiven for expecting the last panel to be utterly forgettable. 

    But the Kaniv conference and its organizer Nataliia Zabolotna are anything but forgettable. The former director of Mystetskyi Arsenal, the premier cultural center in Kyiv, Ukraine, Zabolotna put together a conference two hours south of the capital that is unique in Ukraine: rather than inviting wonks who drone on in basic agreement with their fellow panelists, Zabolotna and her team carefully assembled speakers who actually disagree, and well-known artists and cultural figures from across the country for a two-day conference.            

    The final panel on gender diversity was by far the liveliest and perhaps the most important.

    Ukraine just elected a new president. On inauguration day, the new president issued a picture of him and his inner team strutting down the red carpet. The picture is remarkable for the energy it conveys but it’s also remarkably male. There are no women in his inner circle. One might consider writing off the photo as a newbie mistake. However, none of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s top appointments since then have been women either. On his trip to Paris, Zelenskyy foolishly called Ukraine’s women “our brand.”  

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  • One Way to Ease Ukraine’s Labor Shortage

    Canada, the United States, Australia, and other countries have historically welcomed Ukrainian refugees. However, refugees and asylum seekers who end up in Ukraine face a less than warm welcome due to lengthy and poorly implemented asylum procedures as well as barriers to integration. Most readers are familiar with Ukraine’s approximately 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) who left the Donbas and Crimea since the conflict began in 2014, while fewer are familiar with the approximately 6,400 asylum seekers who reside in Ukraine. They fled other countries such as Syria and Somalia due to war, persecution, or violence; Ukraine has granted asylum to 2,620 refugees. One of the major issues asylum seekers contend with is limited access to the Ukrainian labor market until their claim for asylum has been recognized by the Ukrainian government. This makes it very difficult for asylum seekers to work legally in Ukraine during the often years-long asylum procedure.

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  • Don't Write Off the Donbas Yet

    It’s tempting to write off the Donbas as backward, hopelessly Soviet, fodder for pro-Russian political parties, and inhospitable to new ideas and the forces reshaping Ukraine. But that would be a terrible mistake.

    The results of the recent parliamentary elections show that reform parties have potential in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Pro-Western parties should be doing something they have never done before: contesting the Donbas.

    On July 21, three pro-Western parties collectively won 37 percent in the Donbas. These election results show that true political competition has come to the Donbas for the first time.

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  • The Case Against Parliamentary Immunity in Ukraine

    After casting his ballot in the recent parliamentary elections, Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelenskyy repeated his desire for a law that would lift parliamentary immunity. Earlier, during the presidential campaign, Zelenskyy had announced his intention to waive parliamentary (as well as presidential and judiciary) immunity.

    In Ukraine, abolishing parliamentary immunity is a popular notion, because the Verkhovna Rada is one of the least-trusted institutions. Traditionally, some of Ukraine’s lawmakers find a seat in the Rada attractive because they seek protection from prosecution while pursuing their individual interests.

    There are downsides to abolishing immunity. The most extreme is this: Ukraine’s new lawmakers could end up at the mercy of the executive instead of being an effective counterweight. In Ukraine’s semi-presidential system, the government is accountable to parliament, too, rather than being subordinated exclusively to the president.

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  • The Most Outrageous Case This Summer That No One Has Heard of

    On July 12, an Italian court sentenced former Ukrainian National Guard soldier Vitaliy Markiv to twenty-four years in prison for his role in the murder of Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli in Ukraine in 2014. This is the first time a Ukrainian soldier with dual Italian and Ukrainian citizenship has been tried and sentenced abroad for his alleged actions during the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Despite the novelty of the case, hardly any major media covered it. 

    But they should. The case sets a dangerous precedent. Russian propaganda uses Markiv's conviction by an independent court in Western Europe as an example to confirm the lie that the Ukraine army commits crimes. Misinformation, disinformation, and outright fakes played a role in assembling the case, which should be seen as another chapter in Russia's hybrid war against Ukraine. Only this time, it was fought on Italian soil.

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