Eastern Europe

  • Time to Play Hardball on Reforming Ukraine's Security Service

    In June 2018, Ukraine’s parliament adopted the Law on National Security, with the help of the United States and other international partners, including NATO and the European Union. Among other things, the law set the frame for the functions of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and opened the door for comprehensive reform of that institution. The Rada now should move to adopt a new law on the SBU to implement real reform of the security service, whose roots go back to the Soviet KGB.

    SBU reform is a vital matter of national security for Ukraine. An attempt was made to reform the SBU in 2016, when a working group including international partners developed a concept to align the agency with NATO standards. Unfortunately, it failed to gain traction.


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  • The Kremlin’s Top Eight Lies about Ukraine’s Presidential Race

    On March 31, Ukrainians go to the polls to elect their sixth president. An openly pro-Russian candidate is unlikely to win. However, Moscow is watching closely and cares about the outcome. What is it saying about the election? We analyzed the most widespread Kremlin manipulations about Ukraine’s presidential election on Russian state-controlled media in March. We selected examples from three Russian state-owned websites with high ratings: Channel One Russia, RT, and Ukraina.ru.


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  • Omega

    Editor’s note: This short story describes a hypothetical future war in Europe between Russian and NATO forces using advanced technology.
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  • What to Expect from Ukraine’s Completely Unpredictable Presidential Election

    On March 31, Ukrainians will select their sixth president. The election is seen a referendum on the incumbent Poroshenko administration and his record since the watershed Euromaidan Revolution that decisively moved Ukraine onto a pro-Western path. Polls put political newcomer Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the lead, with Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko fighting for second place. The top two candidates will face off in an April 21 runoff. Here are five predictions about the first round.


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  • Some Things Never Change

    Ukraine’s presidential election is less than a week away, and no candidate will win outright with fifty percent. Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy leads in the polls and will certainly be in the run-off election on April 21. The big question is whether he will face incumbent President Petro Poroshenko or former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Poroshenko leads Tymoshenko by less than 2 percent, so the race is tight.    

    Poroshenko is counting on several things to put him into the run-off.


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  • The Real Russian Candidate in Ukraine’s Presidential Race

    On March 22, nine days before the Ukrainian presidential election, Ukraine’s pro-Russian presidential candidate Yuriy Boyko went to Moscow to meet Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev without prior announcement.

    It’s strange for a presidential candidate to visit a leader of a country with which it is at war, but that was only the beginning of this extraordinary meeting, much of which was broadcast on Russian state television. Everything was wrong with it.


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  • Real Advice, Not Platitudes, Keeps Kyiv on Reform Path

    We read with interest Adrian Karatnycky’s piece “Viceroys in Kyiv.”  We respect Mr. Karatnycky but have a different perspective. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. We each served as the American ambassador to Ukraine and, in that capacity as well as in other positions in the US government, urged our Ukrainian counterparts to move on reform—both in private and public conversations. We were not viceroys; we acted as partners.

    To be sure, Ukraine is a sovereign democratic state (Mr. Putin’s view to the contrary notwithstanding).  Putting in place the structures of a modern European state requires tough and often politically painful decisions. Ultimately, Ukraine and Ukrainians are responsible for making those decisions and choosing their reform policies. 

    We are also mindful that Ukraine has now entered its sixth year of a war of Russian aggression. The continued fighting in the Donbas makes adopting reforms much more difficult. Indeed, that is one reason why the Kremlin keeps the conflict simmering. Moscow does not want Ukraine to succeed. But the war with Russia does not make reform impossible; in fact, it makes reform even more important. The war is not an excuse for foot dragging.  By adopting economic and political reforms, Ukraine becomes better able to resist Russian pressure.

    As a general rule, diplomats ought to tread carefully when commenting on domestic developments in their country of assignment. That does not mean, however, that they should not speak out. Ambassadors have a right—indeed, a responsibility—to speak out.


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  • Viceroys in Kyiv?

    How should Western diplomats advance democracy and the rule of law? In closed societies, as the late US diplomat Mark Palmer argued, US ambassadors should be clear voices for human rights and due process. They should monitor attacks on human rights, attend trials of dissidents, and speak out when they see major violations of freedom.

    With democratic allies the role is trickier. Here, engagement and criticism usually involves trade disputes, an occasional response to an anti-American outburst, or relatively minor foreign policy differences rather than a focus on a country’s major institutions. Moreover, as a rule, diplomats are expected to take a strictly neutral approach to internal political contestations.

    In young and emerging democracies, especially those that are closely allied with the West or under attack by the West’s strategic enemies, the role is trickier.

    Ukraine is one such country which makes for an interesting case study.

    In in Kyiv of late, Western ambassadors have been making pointed comments on policy debates and dispensing personnel advice, especially around issues of corruption. On March 4, the G-7 ambassadors issued a joint statement that called a decision by Ukraine’s Constitutional Court to revoke an illicit asset law a “serious setback in the fight against corruption in Ukraine.” But the statement, which oozed colonial hauteur, was an example of double standards. There is no such similar law on the books in any of the G-7 nations.


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  • Want Justice? In Ukraine, You May Have to Do It Yourself

    Viktor Handziuk speaks softly about his only child, daughter Kateryna, and how she defended classmates from bullies when growing up.

    Kateryna grew and took on Ukraine’s bullies by participating in the Orange and Euromaidan Revolutions and by becoming a lawyer and public administrator in Kherson, a city of 290,000 just one hour from Crimea.

    But on the morning of July 31, her valiant efforts ended when a young man poured a liter of sulfuric acid on her as she got into her car. The motive was to silence her public accusations that top local officials were making tens of millions of dollars from the illegal harvesting of wood from public lands.

    “We talked about the dangers, but this was her life, her personality,” said Dr. Handziuk in an interview in Toronto last week. Canadian Ukrainians flew him over to talk with politicians and the press about Katya’s final months and his efforts, along with others, to try and get justice.

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  • Why Ukraine Should Abandon Efforts to Criminalize Illicit Enrichment

    In late February, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine declared the criminal code’s article criminalizing illicit enrichment unconstitutional. The response among activists, independent media, and Western embassies was unanimous: the decision was a massive step back for Ukraine. It undid the small but real progress that the country had made toward prosecuting corrupt officials.

    However, this outcome was all too predictable. Ukraine is not ready to criminalize illicit enrichment. Now there’s pressure for Ukraine to put the article back into the criminal code, but this is the wrong approach. Instead, we should follow Romania’s example and abandon the attempt to criminalize illicit enrichment.


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