Diplomatic Defense & Destabilizing Democracy in Ukraine
Host Marko Suprun speaks to EuroMaidanPress editor Alya Shandra about how Russia is trying to destabilize democracy in Ukraine
Welcome to Ukraine Calling where we try to find harmony hidden within the cacophony of stories, news and views about Ukraine. I’m Marko Suprun for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv and here’s a look at some of the notes making headlines this week.
FOCUS INTERVIEW: Host Marko Suprun speaks to EuroMaidanPress editor Alya Shandra about how Russia is trying to destabilize democracy in Ukraine.
CULTURE and MUSIC
FOCUS INTERVIEW: Host Marko Suprun speaks to EuroMaidanPress editor Alya Shandra about how Russia is trying to destabilize democracy in Ukraine.
Suprun: Three years ago, Ukraine’s movement toward integration with the European Union was dislodged when then president Yanukovych decided not to sign the Free Trade Association Agreement with the EU. At that time, students took to the streets to protest what they saw as a move that would destroy their futures. Then, in response, the special operations units of the Interior Ministry were called up and resorted to abject violence to disperse the students. The next day, over a million people, parents of the same students, took to the streets to protest what was clear to them was nothing less than a return to Soviet repressive tactics. Shortly thereafter, Putin forwarded a loan for 3 billion to Ukraine and this was interpreted as a pay-off for not signing the EU Association Agreement.
Ukrainians have lived with Russian interference in the development of their own domestic and foreign policy for a long time. When international media outlets started to parrot Russian propaganda that was enough for one activist to do something about this situation.
Alya Shandra worked in environmental research projects and in an NGO to promote environmental education. For example, back in 2009-11, she worked at the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute where she completed research and published a paper “Climate and tree-line dynamics in the Carpathian Mountains during the 20th century.” But during the protests she decided to put her command of English to good use and tell the world the story of the protests, because the international media were portraying events in Ukraine through a Russian prism. Essentially, promoting a Russian bias about Ukraine. She has been since then the managing editor at Euromaidanpress.com, an English-language outlet about Ukraine.
Alya, thank you for joining us today.
Shandra: Thank you for inviting me.
Suprun: Tell us a little bit about how EuroMaidan Press started? What was the impetus for you to change the course you were on in life and help with the protests?
Shandra: Back in 2013 and winter 2014 I realized that what is happening is the most important to me. It was more important than any research or pursuing other interests in life. I realized this is the opportunity to change Ukraine to the country I had always dreamed about living in. I saw this during the process and I looked for a better use of my skills. First, I made sandwiches. Then I realized I could do something more specialized. Since I knew English, I joined the call for translators at the press –center at the headquarters of the National Resistance. At that time the group was called Euromaidan PR standing for Euromaidan press-releases. We translated a lot of information about what’s happening on the ground and worked with international journalists coming to Ukraine in order to show them around. From that time on our group grew into a small-scale independent media outlet about Ukraine in English.
Suprun: How many people are working with you?
Shandra: We have 4-5 volunteers and 3 regular staff.
Suprun: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they recognize that you have an impact internationally.
Shandra: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is very active in several directions. It is not successful in all countries, but generally they are making very good efforts in social media and events on the ground. They are very helpful as, for example, in the campaign “Let My People Go: Free Ukrainian Political Prisoners” who are illegally held in occupied Crimea and Russia.
Suprun: Do you follow those stories to this day?
Shandra: Yes, we are part of “Let My People Go” campaign, so we launched the site about the prisoners in Ukrainian language and we are translating it into English right now. We provide information support to bring this story to the public.
Suprun: Do you cooperate with Amnesty International?
Shandra: Yes, Amnesty International does not take all cases of our prisoners because not all of them are political prisoners. They are hostages of Kremlin who are being used, as I see it, mainly for propaganda purposes to create this image of a Ukrainian threat. We have Amnesty’s contacts and we have plans for joint events. Nevertheless, together with Euromaidan SOS and number of human right organizations we follow the fates of all prisoners regardless their political views and activity. Some of them were just in a wrong place in a wrong time.
Suprun: Like Oleh Sentsov.
Shandra: Sentsov is a prisoner of conscience. He is a political prisoner recognized by Amnesty and Memorial. But there are others like Lytvynov, who was a farmer in the Donetsk region and who ended up by accident in Russia to be later accused of massacres in Donetsk region. He was shown on Russian state TV as “Ukrainian karatel,’ a Ukrainian punisher. From this image a comparison was made that all Ukrainians are punishers. Of course, this case was totally forged. They had even apologized to him for defamation on TV. Nevertheless, he is sentenced to eight years in jail in Russia.
Suprun: What are the efforts to get him released?
Shandra: First of all, the only way to get him released is an international pressure. We cannot break into Russian prison and free him.
Shandra:So what are the methods of influence? First is to get international institutions, diplomats, politicians to pressure Russia. This violation of human rights is not acceptable. We are glad to be a part of effort to resolve these issues.
Suprun: It seems that the inspiration for your involvement was Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs. It happened probably because you can literally “see the forest for the trees.” You seem to have developed a unique talent that is to see Russian interference. I remember a story that EuroMaidan Press broke about the origins of the calls for a third Maidan. You actually broke that story. Digging deeper, who were the people calling for the third Maidan? Can you tell us about that?
Shandra: I cannot say that we actually broke it because we see ourselves connecting Ukrainian media to the world. There was a wonderful investigation about groups in social media calling for the third Maidan. Thanks to Ukrainian investigative journalist who was able to investigate the story and translate it to the English speaking audience. The groups are linked to Stepan Mazura who is a militant of DNR and who is currently in Moscow working on informational operations to incite unrest in Ukraine. How do we know this is true? We have done a complicated tracking work in establishing identity of this group administrator. Basically, his friends gave it away confirming that is him. The groups involve many troll accounts meaning they are not real people and they are artificially created accounts. At the time a specific topic needs to be disseminated in Ukrainian society, they start publishing all these things, liking them, sharing them. The real life friends of the bots also see this topic pops up and they start sharing that. That is how you make a wave across social media in hopes Ukrainian journalists will pick that up. That is how you plant a seed of disinformation in a whole discourse. These groups are operating in Ukraine. SBU is investigating administrators of such groups. Stepan Mazura is not the only one, obviously. There are other administrators. I have seen news about a couple of arrests.
Suprun: I know there’s a concept in Ukrainian journalism called dzhynsa, a sort of paid journalism, right? Is that related?
Shandra: Yes, paid journalism. There was a wonderful investigation released lately about how to track down dzhynsa. It was a monitoring project by Liga.net. They investigated ten leading Internet sources on how often they produced news about ex-ministers of Ukraine, for instance, about [Victor] Medvedchuk or other ministers of the Yanukovych regime. It turns out that you can spot the outlets that are getting money from them [ex-ministers] and the amount of news from Medvedchuk is disproportionately large. Unn.com. cites an opinion 10 times more often than other outlets. While the majority of outlets make news about Medvechuk only when it’s worth making news about him, like, for example, his participation in Minsk process, Unn.com cites his opinion on basically anything. Of course this is also a channel for implanting ideas financed by Russia or Russia connected discourse.
Suprun: That’s incredible. So essentially, they have almost fake news outlets that would promote their positions in order to get a higher rating thereby creating something out of nothing.
Shandra: Yes, out of nothing something. It influences public opinion. But this is not even a problem of just separate outlets. This investigation focused on ten major outlets. However,dzynsa is a problem for many Ukrainian outlets. The chief reason for this is of course that it’s very hard to make money in media in Ukraine, so all of them need a sponsor to survive. These dzhynsa plagues the entire Ukrainian media scene and makes it especially vulnerable for implanted messages that are a threat to national security.
Suprun: I read yesterday that Victoria Siumar [Ukrainian MP, former journalist] on her Facebook page wants to bring up the notion of dzhynsa. She heads the Parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Policy.
Shandra: I think that’s a wonderful idea. First of all, it’s good to start talking about this and it’s good for the international media scene to know that this is a problem in Ukraine, and that it’s not always a threat to freedom of speech to censor some information in today Ukraine, but sometimes it’s a matter of national security.
Suprun: It’s also the notion that you can’t really walk into a crowded theatre and yell fire. This part of the problem that sometimes in Ukraine people are allowed to walk into a crowd or theatre and yell fire when there’s no fire. A few days ago Yulia Tymoshenko called for “a protest without end.” According to the Kyiv police about 6 thousand people were at various places around the city centre. Hromadske.ua had a live stream and the crowds to me looked a little thin. Do you see this as an example of Russian control or this so called Russian plan to destabilize Ukraine?
Shandra: I would not like to speculate on this as I have no proof of this and I can’t really say that this is Russian influence. Of course the nature of the protest looked a little suspicious. There were too many flags to the ratio of protesters and it looked all a little too planned. It is always a red light that this protest is not genuine but is orchestrated by somebody. For some reason we don’t yet know who that person is but this is one of the ways that Russia does influences politics in Ukraine. The latest leaks and hacks into the Kremlin’s top officials revealed how they do this.
Suprun: Ukraine Calling tries to cover the negotiations in Europe and almost every week we cover the development of Ukraine’s path to Europe, be it the visa-free regime or the Normandy talks. A few weeks ago, we noted that Vladislav Surkov was at the table next to Putin during the last round of negotiations. Our listeners will remember that we noted back then that Surkov is on a sanctions list and is on the denied entry into the EU list, yet there he was. Shortly thereafter, news appeared that his email was hacked. You have spent a lot of time going through the Surkov leaks. What have you found out so far?
Shandra: What have I found out? My first impression is that most of the journalists covering the Surkov leaks were a little bit disappointed. There was no smoking gun that would say, “Yes, Moscow is financing the war in Ukraine.” Indeed that smoking gun was not there. There were no directions for Russian troops to go [into Ukraine], no military instructions for Russian troops to get involved, but instead what is revealed and what to me is even more damning is a picture of the long time efforts of Russia to control Ukraine, to control the Ukrainian political scene, control the Ukrainian media scene, control Ukrainian public opinion. Basically do everything that made Ukraine a satellite of Russia up until Euromaidan. And this this picture for me is basically like a manual how to conduct a hybrid war in Ukraine.
With a war and unmarked troops it’s pretty clear that there is military interference, but here it’s just a long time efforts to infiltrate and subvert. I think this is actually hard to understand for countries that have never been under influence of the communist regime and under communist influence in Eastern Europe. What I’ve seen in the Surkov leaks is just very many manifestations of the soft power Kremlin uses to control Ukraine.
Suprun: For example?
Shandra: For example, how to reach Ukrainian soul. Prior to the famous moment when Yanukovych declined to sign Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, a month before that Surkov got an email where his political advisor advised him to stop supporting Yanukovych, that he was into Euro integration, and it was not good for Russia to take bets on him and to advance the Russian policy in Ukraine. Surkov got also suggestions how to promote the Russian narrative in Ukraine. He had many suggestions like “The Ukrainians are a proud nation and they should always have the impression that they’re also in control.” Before the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement signing in 2013 public opinion was heavily in favour of the EU. Surkov’s analysts analyzed why this was happening and they reached the conclusion that if the EU finances journalists going to study trips and the students going on exchange programs, financed by the EU, we should do the same.
Then, later, we get into 2015, 2016 there are more narratives concerning discontent with Ukrainian politicians.
It was in the Kremlin’s strategic interest to generate unrest in Ukraine, to generate discontent with politicians. The third Maidan… many political scientists have commented that it is a strategic aim of the Kremlin to make everything just fall apart. But apart from these messages and narratives – how were they actually used? So we have these narratives and how do we get them into the Ukrainian media? Well the Kremlin had a number of plans for this, to influence existing Ukrainian media. So in 2014, Surkov got a letter where he was suggested to basically take over a Ukrainian media holding, Ukrainian Media Holding (UMH), which is one of the largest players on Ukraine’s internet outlet. Not only the internet market, but also in printed media market. It belonged to Sergei Kurchenko, a Ukrainian oligarch that is in exile in Russia right now. He was one of the main figures dealing with Yanukovych’s financial situation. And Surkov just bluntly got asked to take over UMH because Kurchenko, and all these other fugitive oligarchs,were searching for supervision, and basically offering their services. We don’t know how this ended, but today Korrespondent, which is the flagship outlet of Ukrainian Media Holding, is one of the leaders of dzhinsa, pro-Medvedchuk dzhinsa, and pro- other ex-Minister dzhinsa. So this is one of the ways to infiltrate a whole media holding. It’s possible that this happens. Then there was a plan to create new outlets, complete with prices to create a new outlet. It’s basically a question of how much the Kremlin is able to pay. For instance, a news site, a Russian propaganda news site from scratch, would cost a little bit over five million dollars. To create this news site, to spreading pro-Russian messages and promoted to being the top five in Ukraine. And then other prices for getting a Russian propaganda site created from scratch and into the top twenty is a little bit under three million dollars and top seventy five sites is over six hundred thousand dollars. So basically it’s just an outline of plans how to create this platform to spread pro-Russian messages on a cost basis.
Shandra: One very curious email caught my attention. It’s called “The Political Network” and it contains a list of people divided into categories, like Effective Persons, Non-status Effective Persons, then Non-effective Persons. It contains a number of Ukrainian figures, including journalists, editors, researchers, historians, politicians, including this Albu, Sergey Albu from Borot’ba, that I mentioned earlier. And basically what happened is that this political network got a list each week. They got a list of topics that they should promote. For instance… I love this one… with MH17. This letter was about the time that MH17 was downed and basically one of the thematic lines was to compare this downing with the killing of Franz Ferdinand in Austro-Hungary, that it was a Ukrainian provocation to start a World War III. And one Russian official planted this story line into… let me see… and planted this conspiracy to CNN. Former Kremlin advisor Aleksander Nekrasov. And then the journalist Viktor Rudnev basically wrote the same thing in korrespondent.net.
Shandra: So basically, it was a list of the talking points, the Kremlin talking points that the political network was to disseminate in the ways that were possible for them.
Suprun: How big is this network in Ukraine?
Shandra:The effectiveness of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, its soft power machine, it relies on people on the ground, Ukrainians that are willing, basically, to collaborate. I don’t know if they collaborate for ideological reasons, or is it for money, but in any case they are able to pinpoint the weak points and the public opinion and the socio-economic situation and say which of these points the Kremlin could manipulate to incite unrest. Basically we’ve seen it with the Glazyev tapes. So let’s recall the Glazyev tapes. Also an advisor of Putin. In these tapes, we’ve seen how the Kremlin masterminded separatism in Odesa and Crimea. The scheme was to use media and use coordinators on the ground to ramp up public protests and so we see this picture of people rallying: “Putin, bring in your troops!” and that’s when Russia can intervene. It has a pretext. So basically that was the scheme that the Kremlin was trying to implement in Novorossiya. And the same as here. It acts through agents on the ground to influence public opinion, influence the media, and stimulate unrest. Basically bring down Ukraine with its own hands.
Suprun: The Moscow Times covered it, the American Interest, and I think The Guardian started to cover the Surkov Leaks. They quoted The Digital Forensic Lab this way, the Moscow Times did: “The Surkov Leaks, as they have been called on Twitter since their release, show us a picture of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine that we have long suspected: the Kremlin had a guiding hand in orchestrating and funding the supposedly local and independent government.” It’s referring to the DNR and the LNR. Now Ukrainian media outlets are in the hands of a few oligarchs. Do you think the editors, producers, journalists, do they have the will power to break through the filter, that oligarch filter, and present fact-based reporting and real analysis that you’ve been talking about today?
Shandra: Well if we’re talking about the Surkov Leaks, I have a feeling that Ukrainian outlets were very suspicious of them because of the Plan Shatun that was promoted by the SBU [Ukraine’s Secret Service] and Heraschenko [Anton, adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs], and it was not included in the dump. So investigative journalism had not been able to verify the origins of this leak. So basically this Shatun Plan, it cast a shadow on the whole leak for the Ukrainian scene at least. That was my impression. But there were journalists that did analysis: Radio Svoboda [Radio Liberty] and Gordon. They did do analysis.
Suprun: On the Shatun story?
Shandra: On the Shatun also, but mostly on the leak itself. So Shatun is just a scan that was published by CyberHunta separately, and it’s impossible to verify its origins.
Suprun: Right, now CyberHunta was the group that actually got the Surkov Leaks.
Shandra: Yes, CyberHunta is part of the CyberAlliance. Cyber Alliance: it’s a coalition of Ukrainian hackers fighting the Info War, only in cyberspace.
Suprun: So we have to back up a little bit. The Shatun story is something that came out today on the Solidarity Facebook page. That it was apparently Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party referenced it, and that it was part of the National Front, but the Solidarity people are saying that it’s a fake.
Shandra: We cannot say anything yet because we did not see it in the dump. I mean, when we can access a document in the dump and we can see the digital header of the email and see who it came from etc. etc., that would give us more reason to say what it is all about.
Suprun: So there’s essentially nothing that substantially defines what the Shatun is.
Shandra: I cannot comment on it, because I have not seen the proof.
Suprun: Do you think that three years after the Euromaidan that the attitude towards Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine have become patently obvious to your average Ukrainian? That they can see this almost like a train on the prairies, they can see it a mile away? Is that a sign that maybe Ukrainian society’s more advanced and that alternative media outlets like Euromaidan Press, Stopfake, the newly-launched Ukrainian Media Network and Hromadske Radio, are more trusted sources of information?
Shandra: Well, firstly I’d like to comment on Ukrainians sort of feeling the landscape, that Russia’s trying to influence their country, etc. This is, I think it’s sort of like a defense mechanism that Ukrainians have grown over these last years, and actually this propensity for defending themselves against Russian narratives.It’s noted in the Surkov Leaks as one of the problems impeding the development of these independent media outlets and pro-Russian messages, etc., etc. Ukrainians don’t buy this. And I think that’s pretty good and maybe it’s natural in a time of de-facto war. Regarding independent media outlets: of course the number of independent media outlets that emerged after Euromaidan – it’s a positive sign. I hope that they will grow and gain audience and stimulate discussions in Ukrainian society.
Suprun: Alya Shandra, Euromaidan Press. Thank you very much for joining us.
Shandra: Thank you
The UN and The Hague
Foreign policy is something that entails the work of diplomats, think tanks, policy experts, and international institutions. Let’s face it: we all work with ideas; some professions take ideas and turn them into action, like doctors, engineers, scientists, researchers in labs, programmers or code-monkeys. Other professions work with ideas to get them accepted by institutions because doing this helps us understand ourselves, what we’re doing, where we’re going and how we got here. Sometimes, I think, diplomats bydesign do everything not to call a spade a spade. A few weeks ago, when we were talking about Fake News, Iryna Chalupa was a guest on our show and she said it best: “Black is black. It’s not mostly grey.” News agencies have used the term “the illegal annexation of Crimea” when talking about what Russia did, which was invade and occupy. Well, the diplomats have finally stepped up and now, the United Nations adopted a resolution that recognizes Russia as the country that has temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory, the Crimean peninsula. It also said that Russia needs to uphold its obligation under international law as an occupying power and end the human rights abuses against the residents of Crimea, release Ukrainians who have been illegally detained and reinstate the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, an executive body that represented the Crimean Tatars and is a member institution of the European Union’s Platform of European Memory and Conscience. The Russian civilian occupation administration in the Crimean peninsula outlawed the Mejlis in 2016 calling it “extremist” and a “puppet organization of the US Department of State.”
President Petro Poroshenko called the vote a victory for Ukrainian diplomacy at a meeting he had with the Ambassadors of the G7 countries in Kyiv this week. He noted that the resolution that calls Russia the occupying power, also recognized that Crimea and Sevastopol remain part of Ukrainian territory, and defined the situation as a “temporary occupation.” He noted that it took the combined efforts of many states and their respective institutions to work on the resolution to finally get it adopted in spite of Russia’s tough efforts to block the move. The president said “it is important that we show, and for the aggressor to understand that complying with international law, respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine is incumbent upon everyone, including Russia.”
Two days after the UN resolution, the International Criminal Court in The Hague recognized the annexation of the Crimean peninsula as a military conflict between Russia and Ukraine and a Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory. The prosecutors found Russia guilty of aggression and occupation, finally calling a spade a spade. Here’s what they concluded:
“The information available suggests that the situation within the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol amounts to an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. This international armed conflict began at the latest on 26 February when the Russian Federation deployed members of its armed forces to gain control over parts of the Ukrainian territory without the consent of the Ukrainian Government. The law of international armed conflict would continue to apply after 18 March 2014 to the extent that the situation within the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol factually amounts to an on-going state of occupation. A determination of whether or not the initial intervention, which led to the occupation, is considered lawful or not is not required. For purposes of the Rome Statute an armed conflict may be international in nature if one or more States partially or totally occupies the territory of another State, whether or not the occupation meets with armed resistance.” We’ll include a link to the full report on our site.
In response, President Putin ordered the Russian Foreign Ministry to withdraw Russia’s signature from the Rome Statute, the body that governs the court. Russia no longer recognizes the court’s jurisdiction because one of the main things that the court looks at is war crimes and crimes of genocide.The United States has never accepted the court’s jurisdiction and now neither does Russia. Their decision will not change much in practice, The Guardian explains, but Russia’s decision to withdraw from international jurisdiction is highly symbolic and should be of concernwhen put in the context of the ongoing militarization of Crimea, the escalation of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and strengthening pro-Russian views in Europe. Now, Ukraine actually has never signed the Rome Statute, but has accepted the court’s jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed on its territory from November 21, 2013 to 22 February 2014 as well as crimes committed after February 20, 2014. The court will also be considering if the ongoing conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas can be designated as an international armed conflict with the Russian Federation.
In other diplomatic news, Israel is preparing to recognize the Holodomor, a man-made famine of millions of Ukrainians organized by Stalin and executed by the Soviet Government, as an act of Genocide against Ukrainians. In a press release, the Israeli consulate in Ukraine said the speaker of the Knesset, confirmed that recognition is on the docket for parliament. Israel’s Honorary Consul, Oleh Vyshnyakov, who proposed the move, said that the “Israeli parliament understand the need to adopt this resolution and bring our people together. Israelis understand better than no one, the tragedy that happened to Ukrainians, the artificial genocide that was initiated by Stalin’s regime.”
President Poroshenko also had a telephone conversation with American president-elect Donald Trump. He congratulated Trump with his victory in the elections and looked forward to actively working together with his Administration to strengthen the strategic partnership between the United States and Ukraine. They agreed to appoint new people to work with Trump’s transition team and Poroshenko invited Trump to visit Ukraine as soon as it is convenient for him.
Meanwhile, the conflict in the Donbass is escalating. From November 11th to November 17th, three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 14 more were wounded. Russian proxy forces launched intensive fire along the entire contact line. This week they demolished over 10 houses in Marianka (in the Donetsk oblast) and opened fire on a school. Ukrainian TV News TSN reported that locals haven’t experienced this kind of heavy fire throughout 2014 or even 2015. Russian proxy forces also used heavy weapons in Novobakhmutovka and damaged a local agricultural complex. This week Russian proxy forces also opened fire on civilians in Popasna and Stanytsia Luhanska, and increased their use of tanks in Krymske in the Luhansk oblast. There was also contact in the village of Tonenke in the Donetsk oblast, where one civilian was killed.
Ukrainian military forces stopped another Russian reconnaissance drone in the Donetsk oblast and Ukraine’s Security Service, the SBU, found an unexploded ordnance,a ‘Smerch’ produced in Russia. The bomb fell in the yard of a house in the village Berezove near Marianka. The press centre of Ukraine’s Security Service informed UNIAN that this type of weapon is only produced in Russia and can be only operated by Russian professional soldiers.
According to Glasnost Gone, the Russian Federation supplies weapons and army reserves by train. The media outlet published satellite photos and videos, showing Russian trains unloading over a hundred units of heavy machinery in the town of Sukhodolsk, a Ukrainian town temporarily controlled by the Russian occupation administration. Glasnost Gone claims that Russia has been and continues to supply Russian proxy units through a passage in Marinovka. The press secretary of Ukraine’s Minister of Defense, Colonel Lysenko, noted thatthis week 14 tanks, 24 trucks with ammunition and 6 more railway carriages with ammunition prohibited by the Minsk Agreement,including the heavy artillery ‘Grad’ system,arrived in the Donbas from Russia.
Unlike Russian occupation forces and their proxies, the Ukrainian side upholds the Minsk agreement, according to a post on the Facebook page of the press-secretary of the United Centre of Coordination and Control Taras Gren. He said that the OSCE has mistakenly reported this week the use of heavy artillery (from a ‘Grad’ system) by the Ukrainian side. Apparently,the international mission relied on video shot at night and it’s easy to confuse fire from a ‘Grad’ system with rounds fired from the automaticturretatop a BMP-2, which is not prohibited by the Minsk agreement.
Overall, the situation in eastern Ukraine is very tense. According to UNIAN, Anatolii Dublik, the Head of the National Security Department at Ukraine’s Security Service, has warned that Russia plans to simultaneously destabilize the internal situation in Kyiv and escalate the conflict in the Donbas. President Poroshenko’s Advisor Yurii Biriukov also posted on his Facebook page that Russia had been trying to destabilize the situation inside Ukrainian military forces during the last week. Destabilization, a phenomenon in and of itself, is the most powerful weapon in the Russian arsenal, and it’s something we’ll talk about later in the show.The Atlantic Council this week issued a report called “The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses” that details the Kremlin’s toolkit of influence in Europeand includes policy recommendations to resist Russia’s efforts to influence, infiltrate and inculcate.
Several protests were being organized by two Ukrainian political forces, Yulia Tymoshenko [former Premier and political prisoner] and the Opposition Bloc [which is the reorganized Party of Regions, formerly headed by now fugitive Victor Yanukovych]. This came a week before the third anniversary of the EuroMaidan. They are protesting a hike in tariffs and against the National Bank of Ukraine. A lot of people took out loans when the Ukrainian Hryvnia exchange rate to the USD was around 8 to 1 and today it’s above 25 to 1. Some people have said the protests are fake and are being paid by grey cardinals to push people to demand early parliamentary elections, that not too many people support, but the more you fan a flame, the hotter the fire gets.
Given the escalation of the war in the Donbas and the open supply of heavy machinery, ammunition and Russian regular soldiers to eastern Ukraine, together with Russia’s public withdrawal from the Rome Statute, those two might seem like enough to pause for concern. At the same time Russia has also done a lot of work to convince European Union countries like Moldova and Bulgaria to adopt the Russian view onUkraine, and as a result, these countries are starting to sway in their support for sanctions. Ukrainians get a sense that their country is being surrounded.
Declarations and Transparency
The governments of the United States and the United Kingdom announced a new shared project supporting Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts in the domain of electronic procurements, open data, and other electronic services. This international project will invest 19 million USD in strengthening public trust in the government by promoting transparency and accountability. This development is particularly timely taking into consideration the recent scandalous publication of electronic tax declarations by Ukraine’s governmental and parliamentary representatives. Ukrainian news outlets are also taking the role of the Fifth Estate a little more seriously. An investigative program ‘Skhemy’ [Schemes] by Radio Liberty and Ukraine’s public service broadcaster UA:Pershyi uncovered that one of President Poroshenko’s companies owns villa in Spain valued at a 4 million USD but this did not appear in the President’s tax declaration.
The transparency of the newly introduced electronic tax declaration is contrasted this week with muddy political games behind the scenes that have apparently caused another resignation. The Head of National Police Khatiia Dekanoidze, the last of the Georgians, resigned this week. She quit shortly after Mikheil Saakashvili left his post as Head of the Odesa Regional State Administration because she said she finished what she set out to do. At the briefing dedicated to her resignation, Dekanoidzesaid she wouldn’t spread school yard gossip, but felt obligated to address policy makers and demanded that they not intervene in the work of the national police. Ukrainian politicians have an Orwellian gift for Double-speak. Coincidentally, the Oxford Dictionary of the English language added a new word: “post-truth” to their new edition this week.
In a move to bring Ukraine in line with European regulations on copyright and put the kibosh on piracy, Ukraine’s most popular websites where Ukrainians could watch films and TV series for free ex.ua and FS.to were permanently banned this week by the Cyber Unit of the National Police for sharing pirated content. However, the online cinema source FS.to claims that it will become available in two weeks since Ukrainian cyber police can only delete content from Ukrainian servers, and FS.to claims to have some content stored on servers not located in Ukraine according to UNIAN.
Ukrainian Andrii Kholodov launched a start-up eCozy, that allows you to control heating from your smartphone and save up to 30% of the heating bill by not heating empty rooms. The product was launched in Germany, where Andrii Kholodov lives, and has proven to help save up to 500 euros per season. It is not the first time Ukrainians introduce high-quality start-ups: remember that earlier this year a Ukrainian team won the NASA Space App challenge. By the way, on December 15th Google’s office in London will be hosting a Ukraine-UK IT and Tech Start-Up Roadshow, the tickets are free and available on EventBright for everyone interested in some of new developments trending in Ukraine’s IT community.
CULTURE and MUSIC
Hromadkse.ua reported that American actor Johnny Depp famous for Edward Scissorhands & Dead Man, joined an international campaign to support freedom for Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov. The Voice Project started a campaign called “Imprisoned for Art” and they are raising awareness about artists who are now prisoners of conscience. They aim to familiarize the pubic with the stories of several artists who are behind bars in several different countries. A lot of well-known artists like Peter Gabriel, Alex Ebert, Ana Tijoux joined the effort. Nadya Tolokonnikova, member of Pussy Riot also joined the effort after having spent a year and a half in a Russian penal colony for an anti-Putin performance. Johnny Depp posed for a mug-shot with the particulars of Oleh Sentsov’s sentence. Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years of hard labour by a kangaroo court and is serving time in the Yakutsk region of Russia. On The Voice Project page, you can send an email to Russian Ambassdor to the UN, Vitaly Churkin and urge him to unconditionally release the artist. We’ll include a link to the site on our page.
Kazimir Malevych was born in Kyiv in 1878. He became one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, and is often called the father of Suprematism. Last Friday, on November 11th, a major exhibit of Malevych’s works opened in Kyiv. It’s in the Second Floor Art Center, which is in the Ukrainian Presidential Administration. The exhibit is called Malevich. Beyond the Canvas. His most famous paintings are exhibited in 3D, an innovative way to show Malevich’s work. The exhibit is both about art and politics. While Malevich is internationally known, many describe him as a Russian or Polish artist. He was born to a Polish family that had settled in Kyiv, which then was part of the Russian Empire. Later he moved to Kursk, then on to Moscow. In 1914 he exhibited his works in Paris’ Salon des Independants along with other Ukrainian artists like Alexander Archipenko, Sonia Delaunay, Alexandra Ekster, Vadim Meller, and others, who are also sometimes called Russians. According to the press release on President Poroshenko’s website, the aim of the exhibit is to discover the special genome of Suprematism, which will help understand the nature of avant-guard paintings. And also to “return” Malevich to Ukraine. We’ll post a link to the exhibit on our site.
A documentary film festival is starting in Mariupol this week, and will continue through December the 7th. A total of 24 films will be shown during this non-commercial and non-political festival. It’s co-organized by the Pryazovia Human Rights Group and the club Maibutnie (which means Future) and is being held in the Mariupol Palace of Culture. Admission is free. More information will be available on our website.
This week’s song is by a group called “The ВЙО” (The Vyo!) and it’s filled with irony. You’ll recognize the tune right away, but have a Ukrainian friend translate the lyrics for you because it’s about feeling like a foreigner in your own country. Enjoy.
Next week will mark three years since the Euromaidan protests broke out on November 21st, 2013. Tensions in Kyiv seem to be on the rise again. And we’ll be following these and other developments and bringing them to you, hopefully with some harmony, next week. I’m Marko Suprun in Kyiv. Thanks for listening.
Headlines by Marko Suprun and MariIa Terentieva, Interview by Marko Suprun, transcribed by Larysa Iarovenko, Alexander Konovalov, and Oksana Smerechuk. Culture and Music, Looking Forward by Marko Suprun and Marta Dyczok, Sound engineers Andriy Izdryk & Anna Kyrychevska.