Eastern Europe

  • When a Pencil Is a Rocket Launcher: How We Talk about War

    In Kyiv, the wordkarandash (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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  • We Do Far More than Meddle in Foreign Elections, Top Putin Aide Taunts

    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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  • Sure, Ukraine’s Not Going to Elect a Pro-Russian President, but There Are Many Other Ways the Kremlin Can Interfere

    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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  • Ukrainian Comedian Tops Polls but Race Far from Over

    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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  • New Political Platform in Ukraine Deserves Second Look

    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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  • Why the Sajdik Plan for the Donbas Will Not Work

    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 newspaperKleine 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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  • Legal Threats to Minister Imperil Ukraine’s Health Care

    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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  • Is the Kremlin Really Afraid of a Farmer?

    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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  • Q&A: Why Are Ukraine's Last Reformers Being Kicked Out?

    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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  • Rating Ukraine's Presidential Candidates

    Three candidates have the most plausible chance of winning the first round in Ukraine’s March 31st presidential election: President Petro Poroshenko; former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko; and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a politically untested comedian whose popular television show, Servant of the People, portrays him as an intrepid corruption fighter. Zelenskiy’s popularity can be explained as a symbolic protest against the status quo.

    Below we rated the top three candidates on two scales. One is what we think is an objective rating of their qualifications for office and is best for Ukraine; the other is their subjective attractiveness to voters.

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