Posts Tagged ‘ukraine’


September 23, 2015

Wall Street Journal on August 21, 2015, reported on the first visit of NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Ukraine. The head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization called on Russia to take the next step to advance the Ukrainian peace agreement by withdrawing its heavy weapons from the country’s east. Excerpts below:

“Heavy weapons are still there. It is encouraging that we have seen that the cease-fire is by and large holding,” he said. “But we don’t underestimate the challenges we are facing.”

Mr. Stoltenberg traveled to a military-training ground about 28 miles from this city in western Ukraine to inaugurate a NATO disaster-relief exercise.

NATO has stepped up its interaction with Ukraine in recent months, working on initiatives to help Kiev with demining, logistics, combat medicine, cyberdefenses and other areas.

Several NATO members, including the U.S. and Canada, have small training missions at the base near Lviv.

The disaster-relief exercise, which simulated a mine collapse that triggered a series of infrastructure failures, is being held at a military base. A Ukrainian military band played at the opening of the exercise and the Americans participating in the operation were from the U.S. Army.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the exercise is relevant given the current situation in the country. Appearing beside Mr. Stoltenberg at a news conference, he said he wanted to see closer cooperation with NATO. Although he noted that his country wasn’t asking for membership in the alliance, he said he was seeking closer military ties with the alliance.

“This is a civilian exercise but we are interested in different kinds of exercises that increase our coordination and cooperation with NATO,” he said.

Mr. Stoltenberg earlier said the situation in eastern Ukraine was fragile.

“Any election that takes place in Eastern Ukraine that is not in accordance with Ukrainian law will be a violation on the Minsk agreement,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “They will be fake elections. They won’t be recognized by any NATO allies.”

Comment: Increasing NATO support for Ukraine is needed. The present practical support is too low key. Ukraine needs more lethal defense weapon, that can be provided by the United States. In recent time Putin’s Russia has turned to more aggression, this time in Syria where increased military aid is provided to Syria’s dictator Assad. This will lead to a prolonged civil war in Syria.


September 13, 2015

Svenska Dagbladet, Stockholm, on September 13, 2015, reported on a letter from a Swedish prosecutor indicating that Sweden is protecting Ukrainian interests is circulating in Russian media. But the letter is fake, according to experts. Excerpts below:

The letter has become a news story on Russian television and on CNN iReport. It’s written on paper marked “Ministry of Justice Sweden” and is addressed to Oleksiy Pokotylo, “Head Department for National Security and Defense Affairs” in Ukraine.

The letter is signed by Tora Holst, chief prosecutor at the International Public Prosecution Office in Stockholm and is an answer to what seems to be a Ukrainian request to the Swedish Minister for Justice, Morgan Johansson.

“Unfortunately, Swedish Ministry of Justice can’t fulfill your request to the full extent and dismiss the investigation into the activities of a Swedish citizen suspected of committing war crimes in Ukraine, since unquestionable evidence of his guilt is available to us”, the letter says.

The letter also assures that Mr Pokotylo will have access to every document concerning the case and that Ukrainian interests will be protected.

“We assure you that any information which can pose a threat to national interests of Ukraine shall be kept confidential. We understand the issue is highly important for both Ukraine and the international community. Therefore every court session on the case will be held behind closed doors.”

According to chief prosecutor Tora Holst, the letter is fake. She claims she hasn’t written it.

– I wonder who is to gain from this. I’ve asked our communication department to contact CNN to tell them that the story is incorrect and ask them to remove the letter, Tora Holst says.

She has also asked the court’s security manager to look into the matter.

Holst believes the letter is connected to the fact that the International Public Prosecution Office is currently investigating suspected war crimes, allegedly committed by a person living in Sweden.

– Hardly any information has been issued by us about this investigation. There’s nothing in this letter that comes from me, says Tora Holt.

Question: Would you as a prosecutor use official government paper for this kind of letter?

– No. If the government had asked me to answer a question, which has never happened, I would have used our own paper.

The letter concerning the investigation of war crimes indicates that Ukraine wants to influence the judicial process and that Sweden is prepared to take Ukranian interests into account. Björn Palmertz, senior analyst at the Swedish Defence University, says the aim is to create suspicion.

– It’s obvious that the purpose is to discredit both Sweden and Ukraine and to imply a connection between the two countries.

– It’s part of the Russian agenda to create a picture where Sweden is part of the geopolitical ambitions of the West and therefore poses a threat.

Comment: This is the second time disinformers in Russia attempt to mislead the international media concerning Swedish policy. Falsified letters were common practice by the Soviet KGB during the Cold War. This blog has earlier commented on Soviet disinformation directed at Sweden.


September 8, 2015

Wall Street Journal on September 7, 2015, reported that the head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will make his first visit to Ukraine later this month, as that country enters a critical period which is supposed to see Russia and Ukraine fully implement February’s cease-fire agreement. Excerpts below:

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s visit was announced by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, during his visit to the alliance’s Brussels headquarters. The visit was confirmed by NATO, although no other details were provided.

Mr. Klimkin said Mr. Stoltenberg is expected to sign an agreement that would allow the alliance to set up an office in Ukraine and increase cooperation on strategic communications, demining, naval issues and special operations.

“It should be a symbolic visit in our relations,” he said.

The visit comes ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline for the full implementation of February’scease-fire agreement between Ukraine, Russia and pro-Russian separatists, signed in the Belarus capital of Minsk.

In his remarks in Brussels on September 7, Mr. Klimkin said he could meet with his German, French and Russian counterparts as early as the end of the week, but only if there is progress with ongoing lower-level negotiations over the Minsk accords.

“It doesn’t make sense to get together just for the sake of getting together,” said Pavlo Klimkin, the foreign minister.

He said he wanted to see progress on agreement to allow for an exchange of hostages, access for humanitarian assistance and an agreement on local elections in eastern Ukraine.

Separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region have threatened to hold local elections on Oct. 18 and Nov 1. Ukraine is holding local elections on Oct. 25, but has said it would not hold the ballot in some areas in the east because of ongoing hostilities.

Mr. Klimkin also urged Russia to allow election monitors into the Donbas.

Comment: Opening of a NATO office in Ukraine is an important step forward towards Ukraine membership in the organization. It is crucial the the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe does not overshadow the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine. Russia must withdraw its troops from eastern Ukraine and stop supporting separatist groups in the region. Ukraine should be on the top of the agenda of the European Union. Lethal defensive weapons must be provided to the government in Kyiv. Ukraine needs continuing support for integration into the European Union and it also needs weapon deliveries from the United States.


August 29, 2015

Wall Street Journal on August 27, 2015, reported that Ukraine’s private creditors have accepted a 20% write-down on the face value of their Ukrainian bonds. Excerpts below:

Ukraine said August 27, 2015, that it had secured a debt-relief deal with its creditors, a vital step toward unlocking billions of dollars in emergency financing, after months of stalemate threatened to derail its international bailout.

The agreement, which requires approval by Ukraine’s parliament, is a major success for the pro-Western government as it seeks to push through a series of politically tough economic overhauls and nurse its fragile economy to health.

But the simmering conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country continues to exact a toll on government finances, and the debt relief by no means assures economic viability for a country that has long been struggling to stay afloat.

Averting a financial tailspin in the country of 45 million people has been a priority in Washington and European capitals, which have sought to buttress the government in Kiev against an increasingly confrontational Russia.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew urged creditors to move swiftly to complete the restructuring, calling it critical to Ukraine’s future prosperity. “A strong, stable Ukraine is in the interests of Ukraine’s citizens, Ukraine’s neighbors, its international partners, and investors,” Mr. Lew said.

According to the Ukrainian Finance Ministry, private creditors including U.S. mutual fund Franklin Templeton Investments agreed to a 20% write-down in the face value of their Ukrainian bonds, and to push back maturities on government debt by four years.

The hryvnia currency rose more than 3% against the dollar, and Ukraine’s central bank lowered its key interest rate to 27% from 30%, citing reduced inflation risks just minutes after the deal was announced.

Ukraine’s bonds jumped by about 18%. The price of two-year notes increased to more than 66 cents, from 56 cents, according to data from Tradeweb, the highest level since January.

Under the bailout terms, Ukraine needed to secure $15 billion-worth of debt relief, including interest payments, from its international creditors, as well as pass the economic measures, to release the rest of the promised $25 billion in rescue money from the International Monetary Fund, Europe and the U.S.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde welcomed the deal and said Ukraine should meet the debt targets outlined in the bailout program—but only if all the Eurobond holders participated.

The conflict [with Russia] has destroyed critical infrastructure, fueled a deep recession, pushed the currency into a nose-dive, depleted emergency cash reserves and forced acute budget belt-tightening.

Besides the IMF, Kiev has the backing of Washington, the European Union and other Western allies who see Ukraine as a decisive geopolitical battleground to fend off the advances of an increasingly aggressive Russia.

After months of impasse, negotiations appeared to accelerate in late July, with both sides offering to make concessions. Prospects of a resolution were given a boost last month when Ukraine met the deadline for a $120 million coupon payment on its two-year bonds.

The turning point, said Ms. Jaresko, came…at San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency hotel two weeks ago,…

After leaving San Francisco, the parties spent two more tense weeks thrashing out details.

The agreement is a welcome relief also for other holders of Ukraine debt, who have been following the negotiations from the sidelines. The measures will apply to all the country’s outstanding debt.

Also on August 27, 2015, Wall Street Journal reported that Ukraine’s US-born Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko is praised for her persistence. She was personally involved in securing the debt-relief deal. Excerpts below:

After announcing a deal to help stave off bankruptcy at a government meeting Thursday, Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko received an unusual gift from her fellow ministers: a painted artillery shell casing.

Ms. Jaresko, a 50-year-old American who but only recently became a Ukrainian citizen, was being hailed as the hero of the battle to save the economy, one being waged at the same time as the country fights pro-Russian separatists in its east.

The finance minister led months of tense negotiations with private creditors, clocking thousands of miles flying from Eastern Europe to the U.S. to persuade them to accept a 20% write-down on the face value of their bonds and later repayment. The deal should help Ukraine secure further bailout funds from the International Monetary Fund.

Ms. Jaresko, born into a Ukrainian diaspora family in Illinois, arrived in Kiev two decades ago as one of a handful of diplomats charged with opening the U.S. Embassy. She later moved into the private sector, eventually co-founding the Horizon Capital private-equity fund in 2006, which focused on the region.

It was only after a revolution last year swept Ukraine’s pro-Russian president out of power that Ms. Jaresko contemplated another stint in government.

In December, President Petro Poroshenko tapped her to run the Finance Ministry, a post with notorious bureaucracy, corruption and near-empty coffers—all for a salary equal to $300 a month.

Ms. Jaresko, who speaks Ukrainian, is no stranger to the difficulties of making the case for the country: Colleagues at Horizon Capital say she spent the first year at the fund in hundreds of meetings, traveling thousands of miles to follow up on the slightest flicker of investor interest in Ukrainian assets.

Comments: This is welcome news. This blog has long argued that securing Ukraine as a state is more important than supporting Greece, although financial stability is important in both cases. Ms. Jaresko has proven to be an effective Minister of Finance and the present deal could be a turning point for Ukraine. A financially strong Ukraine is a must when taking on Russia.


August 25, 2015

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty on August 25, 2015, reported, based on AP and Reuters news, that the United States will deploy F-22 fighter jets to Europe soon to support Eastern European members of the NATO alliance unnerved by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Air Force Secretary Deborah James said on August 24.

“Russia’s military activity in the Ukraine continues to be of great concern to us and to our European allies,” James told a news conference at the Pentagon. “For the Air Force, an F-22 deployment is certainly on the strong side of the coin.”

Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh James said the F-22’s inaugural deployment in Europe would allow U.S. forces to train with NATO partners across Europe, testing the ability of the jets to communicate and fight together with the Eurofighter and other advanced warplanes.

Comment: This is good news but more of the same is needed. Starting with Poland there is a great need for new NATO bases in Eastern Europe from Estonia in the north to Bulgaria in the south all along the Russian border. Several divisions are kept ready by the Kremlin in western Russia. To the new bases in eastern Europe more defensive weapons need to be delivered to Ukraine.


August 24, 2015

In a US Senate hearing in July 2015 US Army General Mark Milley joined other top military leaders in naming Russia as the main threat the U.S. faces today.

General Milley said:

Russia is the only country on earth that contains a nuclear capability that could destroy the United States. It’s an existential threat to the United States, so it has capability. Intent, I don’t know; but the activity of Russia since 2008 has been very, very aggressive.

Asked about the military’s ability to operate in Europe amid the growing Russian threat, Gen. Milley said he thought the U.S. military needed to increase ground forces on a temporary rotational basis to provide better deterrence.

Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford during the hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee said:

My assessment today is that Russia poses the greatest threat to our national security. If you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.

Congress authorized the administration to provide lethal aid to Ukraine in 2014, but President Obama — who ridiculed Republican rival Mitt Romney during a 2012 presidential debate for calling Russia the greatest threat to American security — has declined so far to use that authorization to arm Ukrainians.

General Milley said he would support providing defensive lethal aid to Ukraine.

Air Force General Paul Selva, also placed Russia at the top of his list of threats. He put the Islamic State and other al Qaeda-inspired groups at the bottom of the list.

General Milley named top threats as China, North Korea, the Islamic State and Iran, but did not place them in a specific order.

Russia’s aggressiveness has naturally worried European NATO members. On CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS Radek Sikorski, former foreign minister of Poland, said on August 23, 2015 (excerpts below):

President Putin spoke of Ukraine as an artificial country already at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008. And as we know, some of those plans in Georgia, for Crimea, for Ukraine, had been laid down before. President Putin has – had largely misspent the oil boom’s money, but he has invested heavily in his armed forces. And we are now seeing the results of that.

…what I think we should do is, first of all, is to convince President Putin that the NATO area is out of bounds for Russian military adventurism.

Secondly, I would try to convince President Putin that if he moves further into Ukraine, he will face a prolonged conflict that he cannot win.

… thirdly, I think we should persuade him that time is not working in his favor – that Ukraine is reforming itself, whereas the conflict is costing Russia too much, and then I believe he might be – might be willing to make a deal and withdraw from the occupation of Ukraine.

Ideally, we need a process in which the European Union and the United States should participate that would fix all of the frozen conflicts on the former Soviet periphery – so Transnistria, Caucuses and a couple of others.

Asked if there should be a forward NATO base in Poland Sikorski answered:

Well, there are NATO bases in Britain, in Germany, in Spain, in Portugal, in Italy, in Turkey and your generals are saying, one after another, that the actual threat is from the East. So where do you think our major bases should be? I guess where they are needed, huh?

Comments: In February 2014 Russia invaded Crimea and annexed it as Russian territory. Moscow is supporting Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and has strong forces (maybe 50,000 men) standing by for possible invasion of Ukraine.

NATO military presence in all the way from Estonia in the north to Bulgaria in the south is needed. Poland, a strong supporter of a continued free and independent Ukraine, is in great need of a major NATO base on its territory. The Western alliance need to strengthen more extensive NATO presence also in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria. President Obama should soonest provide defensive lethal aid to Ukraine, which in 2015 is geopolitically of greater importance than Greece. Also financial aid to Ukraine is necessary. This European country’s pro-Western spirit needs to be kept alive. In 2013 the Ukrainian people expressed a strong will to be part of a united Europe from the Atlantic to the Russian border. Strong support is also called for countries like Moldavia, Georgia and Armenia, which all want closer ties to the European Union.


August 3, 2015

AFP on August 3, 2015, reported that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of wanting to take over the “whole of Europe” and potentially aiming his sights next at Finland and the Baltics. Excerpts below:

“Putin wants to go as far as we allow him — not only Ukraine, but the whole of Europe,” Poroshenko said in an interview with French radio station RFI.

“…if you asked me today… unfortunately everything is possible because the annexation of Crimea and the eastern part of Ukraine… shows we can break the global security system.”

He said the ongoing fighting against Russian-backed insurgents in eastern Ukraine should be seen as a fight for all of Europe.

“Is an attack on Finland possible? Yes, and Finland knows that. Is an attack on the Baltic states possible? Yes,” he said.

“When we’re talking about the fighting in the east of my country… we’re fighting not only for the independence and sovereignty of my country, we’re fighting for democracy, we’re fighting for freedom and the security of the whole European continent.”


July 31, 2015

Wall Street Journal on July 30, 2015, in a commentary reported on how Jews from eastern Ukraine seek refuge further west in Ukraine from the Russian invasion. Among the justifications Vladimir Putin has offered for his hostility to the democratic government of Ukraine is that it is led and supported by “anti-Semitic forces.” But sit down with some of the Jews who have fled Russian-instigated violence in the east to find refuge in the capital of this supposedly neo-fascist state, and another story emerges. Excerpts below:

Consider the Kvasha family, among several thousand Jews uprooted by Mr. Putin’s invasion. You enter the family’s building on the outskirts of Kiev through a dim reception, where the walls have long turned a dark gray and a dank stench hovers. The Kvashas—dad Sergey, mom Valeria and their two boys Nikita, 17, and Arseny, 8—are crammed into a one-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor.

Inside the neatly kept apartment, a menorah sits atop a piano that has seen better days. It’s all a far cry from the Kvashas’ happy former lives in eastern Ukraine.

When I visited on Tuesday, Mr. Kvasha was at work at a printing business, where he’s a manager. Back in Luhansk, the family had its own printing firm, while Mrs. Kvasha worked as a general engineer at the local college. In addition to their apartment, the Kvashas owned a dacha, or vacation home. They were prominent and successful members of a vibrant Jewish community existing within what they describe as a tolerant Donbass society.

Then Mr. Putin launched his invasion. “When the fighting started a missile hit our building,” Mrs. Kvasha recalls. Five of their friends and neighbors were killed in attacks. Having already sent the kids to Kiev in early June 2014, Mr. and Mrs. Kvasha caught the last train out of Luhansk a few weeks later. Two bags stuffed with summer clothes were all they managed to take with them, and by August they had depleted their savings.

Building new lives in Kiev hasn’t been easy. Finding a permanent apartment was the first challenge. Landlords are reluctant to rent to refugees, seen as itinerant and unreliable.

In dire straits, the Kvashas turned to the Joint Distribution Committee, an American-Jewish organization. While the parents were still unemployed, the JDC provided the family with some $142 in monthly food assistance as well as blankets and other winter relief—crucial assistance, since their flat, once they’d secured one, cost about $165 a month. The organization continues to help the family pay rent.

The JDC also helped the Kvashas find a sense of belonging. Like many of Ukraine’s 350,000 Jews, the family’s connection to Judaism is more cultural than religious. At a Jewish community center in Kiev called Beiteinu, or Our Home, they found new friends. The JDC supports 21 such centers across Ukraine, and Mrs. Kvasha now works at Beitanu, helping other refugees find their footing.

I sat down on Tuesday with Ms. Brook, Mr. Fireman and four other elderly displaced Jews at one of the 32 social-welfare centers, or Heseds, the JDC runs across Ukraine, normally serving some 65,000 elderly and impoverished Jews, to which 5,200 have been added since the war began. Most escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs,…

Such Jewish charities operate openly here, under a government that frequently describes all Ukrainians displaced by the fighting, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, as compatriots. Ukraine, far from being the anti-Semitic nation of Putinist fantasies, has given them refuge. As one of the Hesed clients told me: “Write in your paper, we people from Donetsk and Luhansk love our country. We are patriotic. We don’t want to leave Ukraine.”


February 11, 2014

Radio Free Europe on February 11, 2014, reported that the U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a resolution expressing support for “democratic and European aspirations” in Ukraine and calling on authorities there to respect democratic rights and free protest detainees. Excerpts below:

House Resolution 447 also states support for “the people of Ukraine[‘s]…right to choose their own future free of intimidation and fear.”

The resolution also calls on Ukrainian authorities to respect the rights of those Ukrainians protesting in Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine in support of a democratic future for their country.

Ukraine has been rocked by demonstrations since President Viktor Yanukovych balked at signing the association agreement in November.

The U.S. resolution also “calls on the Government of Ukraine to bring to justice those responsible for violence against peaceful protesters, and to release and drop criminal charges against those detained for exercising their democratic rights.”

It says Washington should consider targeted sanctions against officials who either engage in or authorize violence against protesters.

The resolution was introduced by Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York. It passed on February 10 by a vote of 381-2.

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said those responsible for the use of excessive force against antigovernment protesters in Ukraine should be brought to justice.

Muiznieks visited Ukraine February 5-10, when his team interviewed dozens of people who were injured or detained during the protests and also met health professionals who had treated people for injuries.

In a statement on February 10, Muiznieks said: “It is not necessary to crack people’s skulls and knock out several of their teeth in order to apprehend them. At the same time, it is not necessary to aim rubber bullets at persons’ heads in order to bring a crowd under control or counter violence by protesters.”

He also voiced concern over cases of abductions and the use of nonofficial individuals to police demonstrations.


February 4, 2014

Daily Telegraph of London on February 3, 2014, reported that Ukraine could be offered a package of financial support by the European Union as a way of enticing them away from Russia. Excerpts below:

But on February 3, 2014, Catherine Ashton – the EU foreign policy chief, who is expected in the Ukranian capital Kiev on February 4 – said that the EU is considering new financial measures to support Ukraine’s troubled economy.

Baroness Ashton said there would be “different stages” of possible support.

“It may be guarantees. It may be the prospect of investment. It may just simply be stability for the currency and so on,” she said.
She told The Wall Street Journal that the EU and US are “developing a plan – a Ukrainian Plan, I have suggested they call it – that looks at what do we need to do in different parts of the economy right now to make things better.”

One senior American official briefed on the discussions called it a “big carrot,” offering Mr Yanukovych an alternative path that could avert further violence and a costly default, and blunt Moscow’s ability to control Ukraine economically and politically.

The idea may prove tempting to Mr Yanukovych, who is in urgent need of financial support.

At the session of parliament on Tuesday, appointing new officials will be his first task. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov stepped down on January 28, under pressure from the protest movement.

Mr Yanukovych is also expected to hold a discussion over constitutional changes, which the opposition hope will weaken the president’s powers.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, an opposition leader, said on Monday that constitutional change would “cancel the dictatorial powers of the president and transfer the right of governing the country to the Ukrainian people.”

But whether it will be enough to encourage the protesters – who remain barricaded in Kiev’s central Independence Square – to return home remains to be seen. They are still calling for the resignation of Mr Yanukovych.

And one of the most high-profile activists, Dmytro Bulatov – who disappeared and re-emerged last week claiming to have been crucified – said from hospital in Lithuania on Monday that he would continue his fight for democracy.

“Even though he feels almost destroyed physically, his spirit is not broken,” said a spokesman at the hospital in Vilnius.

“As soon as he is able, he will continue on his path, continue the job that he has started and will fight for democracy in Ukraine.”