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  • Ukraine’s Year of Precarious Triumph
    Much remains to be done, but the wheel of fortune has turned against Putin.
    Bernard-Henri Lévy Dec. 30, 2014 6:55 p.m. ET THE WALL ST JOURNAL

    If one had to choose a solitary event as the signal moment of 2014, it would have to be Ukraine’s self-liberation. But the story is hardly finished as the year draws to a close. Here is the Ukraine scorecard so

    Petro Poroshenko. The way history has of taking hold of an individual and, as André Malraux said, lifting him above himself, making him greater than he was, is a sign that we are witnessing crucial historical events. I saw the alchemy occur in the 1970s when Mujibur Rahman rose to the leadership of an independent Bangladesh, and later with Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud in Afghanistan’s revolt against Soviet domination. Think also of Lech Walesa in Poland and Václav Havel in the Czech Republic.

    To those avatars of contemporary greatness add the name Petro Poroshenko. I met this successful Ukrainian businessman during the Maidan protests a year ago, and watched as he quickly evolved into a wise statesman and forceful wartime leader. Even before his election as president in May, he stood up to Vladimir Putin when everyone else, except in the U.S., was bowing down: President Poroshenko, the personification of a free and fighting Ukraine.

    Anti-Semitism. It is no secret that hatred of Jews has been one of Ukraine’s open wounds, a stain on its memory, a national shame. But in the long process of eradicating the anti-Semitic virus—a process that began with Ukraine’s resistance to Stalinist totalitarianism—this year may prove to have been decisive. During the Maidan protests, Jews in yarmulkes mixed with Ukrainian nationalists and Cossacks in Astrakhan hats. In the long months of the revolution, these Ukrainians united in the brotherhood instilled by the pursuit of freedom. One of the inestimable virtues of Ukraine 2014 has been the continuing drive to isolate and marginalize the country’s historical anti-Semitism, though more work remains to be done.

    France. Hollande-bashing has been the oxygen of French political life in 2014, but the inspiring way the French president handled Ukraine should give his critics pause. I admired his decision to invite President Poroshenko to the D-Day celebrations in Normandy, knowing that Vladimir Putin would also be there. But the truly great gesture was President Hollande’s recent refusal to deliver two Mistral warships that Russia had ordered in 2011. It was a courageous decision, one that exposed him to unfair accusations of endangering French jobs, yet it was the right one: You don’t aid a wartime enemy, and you don’t court the ire of your allies.

    Europe and the U.S. A year ago, when young Ukrainian protesters were dying while clasping the blue flag of the European Union, the EU’s fecklessness was enraging. But over the course of 2014, Europe gradually embraced its responsibilities as the threat from Moscow became clear. The U.S. set the example, pressing for economic sanctions and spurring the EU to action. The latest encouraging sign: On Dec. 18 President Obama signed into law the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which authorizes the delivery to Ukraine of “anti-tank and anti-armor weapons, crew weapons and ammunition, counter-artillery radars to identify and target artillery batteries . . . tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and secure command and communications equipment.”

    Sanctions have produced real effects: the slide of the ruble, the tumble of the Moscow stock market and massive capital flight. As we once saw in South Africa (and soon enough, one hopes, in Iran), firmness on sanctions paid off. Contrary to the self-serving myths of those who are running out of ways to justify their impulse to appease, this corollary of Clausewitz’s theorem has once again been demonstrated: Economics is the continuation of politics and war by far better means.

    Putin. A year ago, Vladimir Putin was regarded in many quarters as a master strategist. Now? Yes, Crimea is still occupied, and the Donbas region still bleeds, wounded by Moscow-backed separatists. But the would-be emperor is naked, his economy in ruins. Russians are beginning to doubt the calculations of the ex-KGB man. With the Ukrainian Parliament last week voicing its nearly unanimous desire to join NATO, and the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan—two pillars of Eurasianism dear to Mr. Putin’s heart—recently visiting Kiev, the death knell may be sounding for the Russian president’s imperial and anti-Western project. He finishes the year much worse off than he began it, in retreat and increasingly alone in his theater of shadows.

    This process still must play out. Ukraine needs economic help, and I will continue to champion the idea of a modern Marshall Plan administered by Europe and the U.S. But the wheel of fortune has turned. Now, suddenly, it seems that 2015 could be the year when Ukraine’s victory is complete.
    Bernard-Henri Lévy: Ukraine’s Year of Precarious Triumph - WSJ
    Mr. Lévy’s books include “Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism” (Random House, 2008). This op-ed was translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy.

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    • Poll: More than 88 percent of Ukrainians say ‘nyet’ to joining Russia
      Jan. 3, 2015, 2:37 p.m. | Ukraine — UNIAN via REUTERS

      An overwhelming majority of Ukrainians are unenthusiastic about their region joining Russia, with an overall total of 88.3% saying a firm “nyet” to the idea, according to a new poll.

      In contrast, only 3.1% of those polled in a survey conducted for newspaper ZN.UA by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology said they liked the idea of joining the “Russian world.”

      Similar figures emerged when citizens were asked if they would like their region to be separated from the rest of Ukraine, but remain independent and not join Russia - only 2.6% said they wanted to see the independence of their region.

      In Odessa, widely touted by Kremlin fans as a “native Russian” city, support for joining the motherland was a firm 0%, as it was in the southeastern city of Kherson.

      Patriotic feelings vary throughout the country, but there is a general trend of it lessening as one goes from west to east: while in the west support for an independent Ukraine is 94.0% and in the center 98.1%, in the south it is 93.3%, and in the east 81.5%.

      The study, entitled "The views and opinions of the population of Ukraine: December 2014" was carried out from December 4-19, 2014. The study comprised 3,035 interviews with adult residents of Ukraine who live in 179 settlements of Ukraine.

      In Luhansk and Donetsk regions survey was conducted only on territory controlled by the Ukrainian authorities. The poll’s statistical sampling error does not exceed 1.8%.
      Read more on UNIAN: Poll: More than 88% of Ukrainians say ‘nyet’ to joining Russia : UNIAN news

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      • SundayReview | News Analysis NEW YORK TIMES
        The Next Battle for Ukraine SABRINA TAVERNISE JAN. 3, 2015

        CAN a group of young reformers fix a broken country?

        That is the question that Dmytro Shymkiv, the first deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, is getting a lot these days. About a year ago, Mr. Shymkiv was running Microsoft in Ukraine and pondering accepting a promotion to the company’s offices in Latin America.

        But history intervened. A mass protest movement toppled Ukraine’s government last February, precipitating some of the most momentous events of Ukraine’s post-Soviet life: a rethinking of its national identity, a war with Russia and the effective loss of control over a slice of eastern territory.

        Now Mr. Shymkiv, 39, is helping to steer reform in Ukraine, a task that on some days seems exhilarating, and on others impossible.

        “If you told me a year ago that I would be in the government, I would have said you are out of your mind,” Mr. Shymkiv said by telephone last month from his office in Kiev. “I’m working in an international corporation with great career development prospects and I’m going to do what?”

        The war in eastern Ukraine, still grinding on despite a September cease-fire, may have captured the world’s attention. But just as important for the country’s future is what is happening in a handful of offices in Kiev, where a small team of young reformers has recently gotten to work.

        They say they want to save their country by transforming it into something it has never been: honest. The task goes far beyond economic tinkering. It requires a fundamental shift in the way society and the state interact, a rewiring of the assumption — nearly universal in post-Soviet societies — that you may as well grab what you can today, because everything might be taken away tomorrow.

        It is a tall order. No former Soviet republic (with the exception of the Baltic States) has managed to fundamentally remake itself and rid itself of corruption, much less one that is this important (50 million people on the edge of Europe and NATO). Ukraine itself has failed on many occasions, most recently in 2005, and anyone with a sense of history is asking why this time would be any different. What is more, Ukraine’s old guard still forms the flesh and bones of the bureaucracy.

        “There is this tendency to either see the second coming of Christ or the apocalypse when it comes to change in Ukraine,” said Samuel Charap, senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “But the reality up till now is that they have always muddled through.”

        But there may now be a moment for change. Ukraine’s economy is in withdrawal from its long-term addiction to cheap Russian gas. Russia has gobbled up chunks of its territory, including a quarter of its export muscle. And with Russia no longer willing to foot the bill, Ukraine is asking the West for money, but the war and economic losses have increased its needs and there are doubts about whether the West will come through in time.

        In a strange twist, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is both the man who most wants change stopped and the one who has created the best opportunity for it. The war frightened everyone, including people in Ukraine’s south and east who for decades had been deeply ambivalent about being Ukrainian.

        It has also electrified a new generation of activists, who are the moral conscience of the new government, watching what it does from their seats in Parliament and reporting back to the public, like a Greek chorus. (Recent stunts include throwing rotten tomatoes at a board stapled with politicians’ faces.)

        So who are Ukraine’s reformers? Many have come from business. Most came of age in the twilight of the Soviet Union. A number of them ran investment funds. There is even a Ukrainian-American, Natalie Jaresko, from Chicago, who moved to Ukraine in the early 1990s to work for the American government. She is now finance minister.

        “The type of people coming in are very different from what I’ve seen before in Ukrainian politics,” said Erik Berglof, director of the Institute for Global Affairs at the London School of Economics. “They are young. Many were trained abroad. Most are well off. They are from business and many have run complex organizations.”

        Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, pointed out that only two of the new ministers do not speak English, the opposite of the previous government in which only two ministers did speak English.

        For Mr. Shymkiv, even the smallest changes have been difficult. Only half of the more than 400 employees of the presidential administration had ever used email (a third had never used a computer), and getting them to overcome their strong affection for the fax machine has been hard. A person of the wired world, Mr. Shymkiv is using a Windows smartphone in an office where giant Soviet telephones sit like bricks on his desk.

        One immediate problem is cash. The country is running on fumes in terms of hard currency reserves, in part a result of a large payment recently to Russia for its gas debt. Without a substantial cash infusion from the International Monetary Fund, the country is likely to suffer an economic meltdown, with far-reaching consequences for its currency, banking system and its new government’s reputation. Russia’s wobbly finances do not help — about a quarter of Ukraine’s exports go to Russia.

        One big test for the new government will be Igor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch whose PrivatBank, one of the largest commercial banks in the country, is at the center of a murky web of financial transactions, symbolizing much of what is wrong with the Ukrainian banking industry. Taking him on will be complicated: He is a friend of the new government and the revolution that put it there. He is governor of the eastern region of Dnepropetrovsk. He also has his own militia.

        The odds are overwhelmingly against the reformers. Change is hard, war is distracting and history is difficult to overcome.

        Another looming question is whether Mr. Putin will crank the war back up if Ukraine’s fragile new government actually manages to achieve some success. Progress would be threatening, as it would suggest that if Ukrainians can have a revolution and succeed, Russians could, too.

        “Russia represents this devil whispering in Ukraine’s ear,” said Keith Darden, a political scientist at American University in Washington. “ ‘Don’t bother with all this E.U. nonsense. Just take our billions and be done with it.’ ”

        But experts argue that there is a chance — a small chance — that this time could be different.

        “There has been a shift in the mentality,” said Alexander J. Motyl, a political-science professor at Rutgers University, Newark. “People understand that this is a do-or-die situation — that they may simply not exist anymore.”

        He added: “Yes, they have always had their backs against the wall. But the wall had been very comfortable. Now it’s wet. And cold. And you can hear the gunfire on the other side.”

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        • How Russians Are Sent to Fight in Ukraine
          By James Rupert 1/6/15 at 11:49 AM NEWSWEEK

          In Yekaterinburg, the main city of Russia’s Ural region, retired army officer Vladimir Yefimov organizes army veterans to fight for Russia in southeastern Ukraine, more than 1,000 miles away.

          While Russia’s deployment of army troops and non-official Russian “volunteer” fighters in Ukraine is not news, Yefimov describes in new detail how Russian army vets are selected, organized and paid to join the war. His account underscores that the army of Russian "volunteers" is run with at least the tacit help of the Kremlin.

          Yefimov is a former special forces (spetsnaz) officer who now heads the Sverdlovsk Oblast Fund for Special Forces Veterans. In an interview with Yekaterinburg Online, a local news website, he told of sending between 150 and 250 fighters to Ukraine’s Donbas war zone this year.

          While he says his fighters are “volunteers” rather than mercenaries, they are paid salaries: from $1,000 per month for a low-ranking enlisted man to $2,000 to $4,000 for officers. Yefimov did not answer the reporter’s question about who pays the salaries.

          Ukraine's government says more than 10,000 Russian mercenaries form the bulk of the Russian proxy forces that the Kremlin has used to sponsor the creation of the separatist "people's republics" in parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Lugansk provinces. Many fighters are motivated by the propaganda of the Kremlin-controlled media, Yefimov says.

          “Our press and television present the dramatic facts. The Russian people cannot tolerate the terror that the fascists have staged there [in Ukraine]. Killing women, children and the elderly. Most of those who go [to fight] are sensitive and empathetic; they want to help. This is especially true for people from 40 to 60 years of age, who were brought up under Soviet traditions.” Other fighters go because they miss the adrenaline of war or to earn money, he said.

          Russian fighters were first sent into Ukraine as “escorts” for Red Cross aid trucks, Yefimov says, and they now are sent via “humanitarian aid” convoys supervised by the paramilitary Ministry of Emergency Situations.

          In an interview published the day after Yefimov’s, the director in Moscow of the Red Cross, Igor Trunov, says the dispatch of Russian "humanitarian convoys" to Ukraine is a violation of international humanitarian law, and says the "Putin convoys" are likely to have carried weapons to the [separatist] militia-controlled area of Donbas.

          “I do not want to throw stones in the garden of our institutions, of our state.... But there is international law. What is the Ministry of Emergency Situations? It’s a paramilitary organ of the Russian state. And as a paramilitary structure it entered the territory of another state? ... This is an invasion. This is a violation; it cannot be done.”

          With Yefimov’s interview, “a Russian has confirmed what Russia has done,” writes Eurasia scholar Paul Goble, noting “the level of detail he provides, the photographs of those involved, and the reproductions of the forms he and his comrades use” in running their operation.

          Yefimov’s points include these:

          *The Kremlin is quietly supportive but is keeping all deployment of fighters unofficial. Yefimov wrote to the office of President Vladimir Putin to ask for official status that would let recruiters open bank accounts. Putin’s regional representative wrote in reply that "At the moment, consideration of the initiative is not possible. Thank you for your patriotic impulse!"

          *Russian veterans’ associations form a broad recruitment network. “I’m not the only one sending,” Yefimov says. “Others doing it are the Afghan veterans’ groups, the Chechnya veterans. We don’t discuss with each other the numbers, but we keep in touch by phone about those who have been rejected—for example for criminal records, for objective reasons, so that they don’t go to war through others. Still, to fully control the flow of departing volunteers, of course, is impossible: The border is open.

          *The casualties among Russian volunteers are uncounted. “I think no one has it,” Yefimov says, referring to a tally of deaths among “volunteer” fighters. “There is no central coordination in the sending of people, there is no general assembly point, so there are neither statistics nor an understanding of the scale.”

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          • Ruble collapse continues, euro rate already above RUB 75.50
            06.01.2015 | 14:40 UNIAN via REUTERS

            The Russian ruble resumed its collapse on Tuesday as reports of further falls in the price of oil apparently spooked currency traders.

            As of 1200 on Tuesday in trading on the Moscow

            As of 1200 on Tuesday in trading on the Moscow stock exchange the euro exchange rate against the ruble had risen by 3.88% to RUB 75.52.

            The dollar exchange rate has soared by 4.19%, to RUB 63.40 to the dollar, Russian newspaper reported.

            As UNIAN reported earlier, the official dollar exchange rate the Bank of Russia set for the period of New Year and Christmas holidays stands at RUB 56.24 to the dollar, the euro rate is RUB 68.37 to the euro.

            The ruble’s decline against other major currencies started in 2014, but the most significant drop began in the fall of 2014 on the backdrop of a plunge in world oil prices. Another factor that has contributed to the weakening of Russian currency was imposition of sanctions against the Russian Federation by the United States, the European Union and several other countries in connection with the conflict in Ukraine.
            Ruble collapse continues, euro rate already above RUB 75.50 : UNIAN news

            Price of Brent crude falls below $50 a barrel
            07.01.2015 | 11:29 UNIAN via REUTERS

            The price of Brent crude oil has fallen below $50 a barrel for the first time since May 2009, with analysts saying they expect it to fall further this year.

            At trading on Wednesday morning the price of Brent fell by more than a dollar, to $49.92 dollars per barrel, but then rose again, the BBC has reported.

            The price of the U.S. benchmark crude grade WTI fell below $50 on Tuesday.

            Analysts say oil prices are falling because of the slowing global economy and decreased demand for oil while supply remains high.

            According to some expert predictions, the price of oil could drop as low as $30 per barrel if the next big psychological barrier – the $40 per barrel mark – is broken as well.
            Price of Brent crude falls below $50 a barrel : UNIAN news

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            • The Sydney Morning Herald: Members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church celebrate a sober Christmas Day
              Jan. 7, 2015, 9:14 a.m. | Ukraine abroad — by The Sydney Morning Herald

              For most of Australia, January 7 came and went without any particular fanfare – holiday celebrations well in the past and the new year stretched out ahead.

              But Father Michael Smolynec stood before a 150-strong congregation on Wednesday morning and delivered a traditional Christmas Day church service.

              Father Smolynec leads the Intercession of the Holy Virgin parish of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Strathfield.

              "There's not a lot of emphasis on gifts as such," Father Smolynec said. "It's a bit more sober, it's a bit more spiritual."

              Christmas falls 13 days later for members of Orthodox churches than it does for most of the western world, because those religions still use the Julian calendar.

              "The Orthodox Church shares a lot of similarities with the Catholic Church and liturgically we have a similar type of structure," Father Smolynec said.

              "We also sing carols, [but] our Christmas carols are very, very theological in basis and they're not so much of the Frosty the Snowman variety," he said.

              "They're actual prayers that explain who God is."

              The sober Orthodox style was especially appropriate this Christmas, which follows a very tough year for Ukraine.

              Many members of Father Smolynec's congregation have friends or relatives directly affected by the violence that erupted in the country in the past year.

              And the MH17 tragedy that occurred in the midst of the fighting.

              "All of our families have some affected by this, even my own. It's quite an emotional time because we're so far away," Father Smolynec said.

              "We've always been a hopeful nation. We've gone through many many hundreds of years of persecution. This is not the beginning and we understand that this won't be the end of it," he said.

              Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Eve with a feast of 12 meatless dishes, eaten as a family, which represent the 12 apostles.

              This Sunday, the whole congregation will come together for a Christmas lunch.

              The Ukrainian Orthodox Church began its Australian life in 1949, established by migrants leaving postwar Europe behind them. It has 10 parishes in Australia.

              "As Australians, as well as Ukrainians, we are very, very proud of our dual heritage," Father Smolynec said.

              "The Australian component of our heritage really gives us extra strength."
              Members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church celebrate a sober Christmas Day

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              • German Government Websites Shut Down, and Ukraine Group Claims Responsibility
                By ALISON SMALE JAN. 7, 2015 NY TIMES

                BERLIN — At least three official German websites, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s page, were inaccessible on Wednesday after an apparent cyberattack.

                A group demanding that Germany sever ties with Ukraine and halt financial and political support for the government in the capital, Kiev, claimed credit for shutting down at least two sites, the chancellor’s page and the website of the Bundestag, or lower house of Parliament.

                A Foreign Ministry official later said that the ministry’s site was also inaccessible.

                The sites were at least periodically inaccessible after about 10 a.m., according to Ms. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert. Seven hours later, a government spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity said that the attack was still being analyzed and that no comment could be made on the identity of the attackers.

                Mr. Seibert earlier told reporters at a regular government news conference that “our service provider’s data center is under a severe attack that has apparently been caused by a variety of external systems.”

                In a Russian-language statement posted on its website, a group identifying itself as CyberBerkut — using the slogan “We Won’t Forget. We Won’t Forgive.” — noted the support of Ms. Merkel’s government for Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk.

                The statement said the prime minister was seeking more money from the West to prop up his country, which is faltering economically, as a way to allow what the group called Ukraine’s “criminal government” to continue to wage war against pro-Russian forces, primarily in the eastern part of the country.

                “Berkut” in the group’s name is a reference to the special troops who supported Viktor F. Yanukovych, the former president who fled last February after weeks of antigovernment unrest.

                Last March, the CyberBerkut group claimed responsibility for taking down three NATO websites in a series of distributed denial of service attacks, in which servers are flooded with traffic until they collapse.

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                • European Commission allocates Ukraine another EUR 1.8 bln
                  08.01.2015 | 16:08 UNIAN

                  The European Commission will provide Ukraine additional financial assistance of EUR 1.8 billion, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said at a press conference in Riga on Thursday.

                  "Today, the Commission has decided to continue providing financial assistance to Ukraine, a country that needs solidarity from other European countries, [providing] an extra EUR 1.8 billion," he said.

                  "Thus, the EU is demonstrating that the European solidarity with Ukraine is not just a dead letter, but a fact that reflects the reality of every day," Juncker said.

                  As UNIAN reported earlier, Ukraine has in recent months received EUR 260 million in financial assistance from the European Union. European Commission allocates Ukraine another EUR 1.8 bln : UNIAN news

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                  • Soros calls on Western countries to allocate Ukraine billions in loans
                    08.01.2015 | 13:16 UNIAN via REUTERS

                    The New York Review of Books has published an article by financier and philanthropist George Soros calling on the West to take a new position on both Ukraine and Russia.

                    According to Soros, the sanctions imposed by the West against Russia have been more damaging than anyone could even imagined, mainly because of the rapid fall in oil prices, Ukrainian newspaper Europeiska Pravda reported on Thursday.

                    "…It would not be surprising if, before it runs its course, this crisis ends up in a default by Russia,” Soros writes.

                    “That would be more than what the US and European authorities bargained for. Coming on top of worldwide deflationary pressures that are particularly acute in the euro area and rising military conflicts such as the one with ISIS, a Russian default could cause considerable disruption in the global financial system, with the euro area being particularly vulnerable.

                    “There is therefore an urgent need to reorient the current policies of the European Union toward Russia and Ukraine. I have been arguing for a two-pronged approach that balances the sanctions against Russia with assistance for Ukraine on a much larger scale. This rebalancing needs to be carried out in the first quarter of 2015.”

                    The long-term proposal put forward by Soros has six points. Each of them can be implemented entirely or partially and independently of the others, he said.

                    Firstly, the undistributed funds of two European aid funds, which currently can be used only by the EU member states, must be unlocked for Ukraine. Soros proposes to allow them to lend Ukraine directly or through a mechanism of macro-financial assistance. As of today, these funds have more than $60 billion that is not being used by the EU states.

                    Secondly, the IMF credit line should be increased by $13 billion, and the program must be converted from the current Stand-by format into a long-term Extended Fund Facility format.

                    Thirdly, the line that is allocated to Ukraine by the European Investment Bank should be at least $10 billion.

                    Fourthly, there should be long-term credit lines from the World Bank and the EBRD in the amount of about $5 billion.

                    Fifthly: the existing public debt of Ukraine should be restructured.

                    And sixthly, the payment of Russian bonds in the amount of $3 billion received by Kyiv during the reign of the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, must be restructured or supported.

                    Soros warned that if nothing were to be done, it would cause more problems not only in Ukraine, but in Russia as well.

                    “…It is essential that by April 2015 Ukraine should be engaged in a radical reform program that has a realistic chance of succeeding. Otherwise, [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin could convincingly argue that Russia’s problems are due to the hostility of the Western powers. Even if he fell from power, an even more hardline leader like Igor Sechin or a nationalist demagogue would succeed him.”
                    Soros calls on Western countries to allocate Ukraine billions in loans : UNIAN news

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                    • More than one million flee, Ukraine close to 'humanitarian catastrophe'
                      By Kieran Guilbert Thu Jan 8, 2015 1:26pm EST REUTERS

                      LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than one million people have been driven from their homes by the conflict in Ukraine, hampering aid efforts and leaving the country on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe, aid agencies said on Thursday.

                      The number of people uprooted within Ukraine, 610,000, and of refugees who have fled to neighboring countries, 594,000, has more than tripled since August, figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) show.

                      The U.N. said an estimated 5.2 million people in Ukraine were living in conflict zones, of whom 1.4 million were highly vulnerable and in need of assistance as they face financial problems, a lack of services and aid, and harsh winter conditions.

                      The conflict between Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists, killed more than 4,700 people last year and provoked the worst crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

                      Denis Krivosheev, deputy director of Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, said residents in separatist-controlled Luhansk and Donetsk could barely afford food and medicines, especially vulnerable people such as pensioners.

                      "While it may be too early to call this a humanitarian catastrophe, it's clearly progressing in that direction," Krivosheev told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

                      The provision of humanitarian aid was being hampered by pro-Kiev volunteer battalions that were increasingly preventing food and medicine from reaching those in need in eastern Ukraine, he said.

                      "Attempting to create unbearable conditions of life is a whole new ballgame... using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is a war crime."

                      The battalions often act like "renegade gangs" and urgently need to be brought under control, Krivosheev added.

                      Social benefits, including pensions, have also become a major concern for those in eastern Ukraine following Kiev's decision to transfer the payments to government-controlled areas, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said.

                      UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said those unable to leave their homes, such as the elderly and the sick, and people living in institutions were not receiving the help they needed.

                      The problem was made worse by the fact that humanitarian organizations had limited access to the areas controlled by armed groups fighting the government, he added.

                      The crisis blew up after street protests in Kiev overthrew the Moscow-backed president last February and a pro-Western leadership took over, committed to integrating the former Soviet republic into the European mainstream.

                      This set Kiev and the Western governments backing it at odds with Russia, Ukraine's former Soviet overlord, which wants to keep Ukraine within its political and economic orbit.
                      More than one million flee, Ukraine close to 'humanitarian catastrophe' | Reuters

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                      • Two Cheers for Obama's Ukraine Policy
                        Posted: 01/09/2015 4:39 am EST HUFFINGTON PRESS

                        While 2014 will certainly not be remembered as a particularly great year for U.S. foreign policy or American domestic politics, one important challenge where the Obama administration has made some real progress is in managing the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The United States embraced a measured and prudent policy in response to the so-called Maidan revolution in Kiev, Russia's subsequent annexation of Crimea, and the intervention of Russian forces in support of anti-Western rebels in Ukraine's east. Rather than engage in hyperbolic or overly assertive language, President Obama firmly reiterated the commitment of the United States to its NATO partners, worked with those partners to impose an increasingly harsh program of economic sanctions on key Russian elites and institutions, and called for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. While many hawkish observers in Washington demanded a more overt and energetic response from the Obama administration, the past six months can only be seen as vindication of President Obama's diplomacy toward Russia and proof of the abject failure of the shortsighted and domestically driven foreign policy of Vladimir Putin.

                        The Russian intervention in Ukraine was met with a largely collaborative and minimally escalatory policy from Washington. Whereas more hawkish leaders may have leapt at the opportunity to forcefully respond (in language if not in deed) to Vladimir Putin's aggressive actions in his "near abroad" after the change of government in Kiev, the Obama administration struck a firm but measured tone. It seems that there was a recognition that engaging in bellicose rhetoric and demanding a cessation of provocative behavior would have also squarely placed Europe in the middle. With so much more directly on the line than the United States in the Ukraine crisis (particularly the geographic proximity of the Russian military threat and the extensive nature of economic and energy linkages with Russian institutions), European leaders were unlikely to be any more enthusiastic about ultimatums from their ally than about threats from their perceived adversary. Moreover, given the unilateral orientation of the previous administration, there may have been reflexive opposition to simply following along with U.S. policies (on the scope and severity of sanctions) even if U.S. and European interests largely align vis-à-vis Russia's adventurism.

                        By foregoing overheated rhetoric and working constructively with allies in a less public way, the Obama administration instead was able to provide the Europeans the time to come to their own conclusions. The administration initiated targeted but increasingly severe sanctions to avoid any possible claims by Russia or sympathetic states that American policy has been belligerent or aggressive. The United States has smartly reinforced NATO and cemented its commitments to partner states, maintaining assurance and dampening fears on the continent, but it has also avoided playing to Putin's domestic audiences and removing one of his key sources of power. Most importantly, key partners like Germany and France have been able to see Putin's policies for what they are, free from U.S. badgering or cajoling. In short, the United States policy, while laying the groundwork for extensive multilateral cooperation on a sanctions regime that would require widespread participation, has figuratively provided Putin with enough rope to hang himself, and he has effectively done so.

                        Without overt pushing or prodding, U.S. diplomacy allowed European leaders to come to their own decisions about Moscow's intentions as Putin's rhetoric became more bellicose and Russia's actions grew more threatening. This further solidified the type of robust international cooperation necessary to effectively implement sanctions on Russia, even if such sanctions could cause pain for struggling European economies.

                        While economic sanctions were initially dismissed by more hawkish critics in the United States as weak and ineffectual, the gradual, expanding sanctions regime has proven extremely effective. Throughout history, economic sanctions have often failed to achieve the desired effect for a host of reasons. In some cases, obtaining the requisite cooperation to maintain sanctions could be difficult. In others, the economic impact could be passed from the regime to its people. In this case, the Obama administration achieved the cooperation necessary to make sanctions bite, and because of larger trends like the downturn in oil prices and the nature of Russia's economy, the regime, and increasingly the Russian people, are feeling the effects of those sanctions. At the outset of the crisis, the United States had little real leverage, but with its allies and partners it was able to create some, and now Moscow is confronted with real, tangible costs for its reckless and dangerous policies. No one want to see Russia destabilized, but the ball is in Mr. Putin's court. Efforts to achieve a comprehensive and fair resolution to the Ukraine crisis would certainly warrant an easing of sanctions and perhaps a return to the status quo ante, but it would also require a removal of Russian troops from Ukrainian soil and a reconciliation between Kiev and its opponents in the East.

                        to continue read:
                        Two Cheers for Obama's Ukraine Policy*|*David W. Kearn

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                        • The Risks of Terrorism in Ukraine—Hype or Reality?
                          Chris Dunnett, Ukraine Crisis Media Center 09.01.2015

                          Although the international media have correctly focused on the horror of the terrorist attack on the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, the threat of terrorism throughout Ukraine has been largely ignored. In fact there has been a spree of bombings, attempted attacks, and assaults on elected officials. Since the advent of the broader conflict in Ukraine early in 2014, a handful of politically-motivated terrorist attacks have shaken Ukraine’s security apparatus. While a terrorist threat has existed throughout Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict, the spate of recent bombings and assassination attempts have raised the specter of broader instability outside the reach of Russian-backed insurgents.

                          In July, unknown instigators attacked the house of Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy with a rocket-propelled grenade. Luckily, the pro-European Mayor and founder of parliament’s third-largest political party, Samopomich [Self-Reliance - En], was not home and no one was injured. On the same day, the pro-Ukrainian mayor of the mid-sized central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, Oleh Babayev, was assassinated in a professional hit while in his car.

                          Asides from the nearly continuous barrage of false bomb threats to public transport and government and private institutions, the risk of terrorism had been increasing even before the most recent outbreak in political violence. These attacks have mostly targeting key infrastructure in regions controlled by the central government. In August, a rocket attack targeted a military repair factory in the eastern city of Kharkiv. Later, in mid-November, a bomb attack targeted a popular pro-Ukrainian Kharkiv bar. Ukraine’s state intelligence agency (SBU) also detained a handful of individuals planning to complete attacks in the city using explosives, including mines and assault weapons.

                          Terrorist activity noticeably escalated in December and has carried over into the new year. Throughout the month of December, a series of more blasts rocked Kharkiv, of which the targets included infrastructure supporting Ukraine’s war effort in southeastern Ukraine. In Lviv, Mayor Sadoviy’s residence was attacked for a second time. The SBU apparently foiled an attempted attack in central Kyiv on December 19. A few days later, members of parliament outside Hotel Ukraine on Maidan Square were attacked by an unknown person armed with stun and fragmentation grenades. Perhaps most alarming has been the string of bombings in the southern city of Odessa. The bombs have targeted railroad infrastructure, a support center for Ukrainian soldiers, and a shop selling pro-Ukrainian paraphernalia. Thus far, the only two fatalities of bombings have been the attackers themselves.

                          In light of bombings and targeted violence against politicians, is there a real risk of terrorist attacks escalating throughout Ukraine? Terrorism experts have different opinions on the chances of a greater conflagration. However, given the upsurge in violence, it is likely that the country will continue to be afflicted by targeted attacks designed to discredit the Ukrainian government and breed discontent and instability.

                          The evidence and suspected motivations of the attacks, as well as the statements made by Ukrainian police and intelligence agencies, seem to place the blame on Russian-trained saboteurs. Several of the plotters, who were captured in Kyiv and Kharkiv, have admitted the involvement of the Russian government in training and providing equipment for the attackers. In addition, the targets of the attacks—pro-European politicians, critical infrastructure, and pro-Ukrainian centers—would be natural targets for pro-Russian saboteurs.

                          The comparatively small numbers of casualties is indicative of a broader strategy that might serve Russian interests in Ukraine. While terrorist attacks with civilian casualties would only further inflame Ukrainian anger toward the Russian government and turn away those otherwise still sympathetic towards Moscow, small and carefully targeted attacks might have the opposite effect. The destruction of critical infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and railways has an obvious deleterious effect. Assaults on Ukrainian politicians undermine the workings of the government and keep leading voices from engaging with the public. Attacks against pro-Ukrainian headquarters, such as distribution centers for donated goods to soldiers, foster fear among those who might otherwise volunteer for the cause. Furthermore, small random attacks in public places that are designed to produce fear more than casualties undermine faith in the central government by citizens, foreign governments, and investors. Bomb attacks such as those that have recently occurred in Odessa and Kharkiv shake locals’ faith in the ability of the central government to protect them, forcing residents to look for other sources of protection.

                          Pro-Russian groups have much to gain from the further destabilization of Ukraine and little to lose, especially as the front lines in Donbas have solidified in the face of an uneasy, but enduring cease fire. As long as these assaults are narrowly targeted and produce few civilian casualties, there is little risk of backlash from Ukrainian citizens that are otherwise on the fence in their attitudes toward Moscow and Kyiv. The intended effect of the attacks is simply to throw lawmakers and the security services off their feet, reinforcing public perceptions of government weakness. Given that Russian security services have long penetrated the Ukrainian bureaucracy and government apparatus, carrying out these attacks is not particularly difficult from the tactical standpoint. The cease fire lines in southeast Ukraine remain porous, as is the Russia-Ukraine border further north. If the recent attacks throughout Ukraine were indeed conducted by Russian security services, which both the targets and evidence provided by Ukrainian security services seem to corroborate, then Russia has cynically judged that the risks of rallying Ukrainians around their government in the wake of terrorism is lower than the benefits of breeding general instability. So is terrorism in Ukraine hype or reality? The signals indicate that these attacks aren’t going to abate any time soon, and might very well worsen.
                          The Risks of Terrorism in Ukraine—Hype or Reality? | Ukraine Crisis Media Center | UACRISIS.ORG

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                          • Time is on Ukraine’s side in Donbas — Vitaliy Portnikov
                            2015/01/10 • Analysis & Opinion, War in the Donbas EUROMAIDAN PRESS

                            The Kremlin has not yet fully realized the danger it faces. The Bednov (“Batman”) killing is just a continuation of a struggle that could spread to Russia itself.

                            No one is hurrying to Astana (Kazakhstan). The only thing that the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia have been able to negotiate is to meet personally in Berlin. The Astana summit, which was seen as a possible breakthrough in deciding the crisis in Ukraine, is being postponed indefinitely again. And it is not clear if it will take place at all.

                            In order to hold such a meeting, mutual interest by the participants is essential. But in reality, each participant in the Astana talks has his own ideas of possible success and compromise.

                            For the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, it is important to establish control over territories occupied by Russia and its terrorists and mercenaries. However, this is not to say that Kyiv should be in any rush to restore control. It is already obvious that in the absence of military hostilities, clashes by the various groups of militants among themselves and with the Russian troops are a better way to clean out the area. Bednov (“Batman”) is only the continuation of a struggle that can spread to Russia itself. Therefore, it is Putin and not Poroshenko who should be interested in the restoration of Ukrainian control.

                            But Putin is not interested. This is because under conditions of the economic crisis in Russia — and its effects will soon become obvious and tragic for each Russian citizen — the Kremlin has nothing to offer other than Crimea and the “protection of compatriots” in the Donbas. Putin cannot accept a “defeat”; he will hang on to the Donbas till the end. And therefore, he cannot agree to the concessions that Merkel and Hollande expect from him.

                            For Merkel and Hollande, these concessions are obvious. After all, the situation in Russia is so serious that Putin should forget about the Donbas. But they are mistaken. The worse things are in Russia, the more its president will want to play the tsar-liberator. And in that case, what can the Western leaders possibly discuss with the Russian ruler?

                            Therefore, what is happening now is simply negotiation for negotiation’s sake. Until those in Moscow realize the full extent of the danger and begin to think exclusively about preserving their own power as well as the country, Putin will not agree to concessions. And time is required for the proper awareness to sink in.
                            Time is on Ukraine’s side in Donbas — Portnikov | EUROMAIDAN PRESS | News and Opinion from Across Ukraine

                            Editor’s note: Alexander Bednov (aka as “Batman”), a military chief of an insurgent group in the Donbas, was killed, along with his guards, during an ambush on January 1. It is widely believed that Russian commandos or rival gangs were responsible for the murders.
                            Vitaliy Portnikov is a Ukrainian editor and journalist. Born in Kyiv in 1967. Since 1989, he works as the analyst of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta, specializing in post-Soviet countries, and cooperates with the Russian and Ukrainian services of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

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                            • East Ukraine summit looks unlikely to happen as violence spikes in region
                              Angela Merkel not ready for meeting with French, Russian and Ukrainian leaders unless Russia proves ceasefire commitment - Shaun Walker in Moscow and Oksana Grytsenko in Kiev 11 January 2015 08.01 EST THE GUARDIAN

                              A planned meeting between the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine aimed at finally putting an end to the war in east Ukraine appeared uncertain on Sunday, as violence in the region spiked.

                              A spokesman for German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said she was not ready to travel to Kazakhstan for a planned summit on Thursday and would not go unless she saw evidence of real commitment from Russia to implement an earlier ceasefire plan. The comments came after Merkel spoke with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, by telephone on Sunday.

                              Hopes for the Kazakhstan summit were boosted when the French president, François Hollande, spoke with Putin earlier this month, and called for an end to European sanctions against Russia and renewed discussions over east Ukraine, in an attempt to put last September’s Minsk peace agreements into practice. However, with Hollande’s mind now on domestic issues, Thursday’s meeting seems unlikely to take place. However, foreign ministers from the four countries are due to meet in Berlin on Monday.

                              The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, also spoke with Merkel on Saturday, and admitted a “drastic escalation of the conflict” in east Ukraine during recent days.

                              Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 20 wounded on Saturday, according to Ukrainian authorities, while three civilians including a 14-year-old girl were killed by shelling in the Luhansk region on the same day, local police reported.

                              Both Kiev and Moscow have an interest in negotiations: the Ukrainian forces have found it impossible to win control back militarily against separatist forces with Russian backing, while Moscow is facing an economic downturn and does not want to prop up the Donbass region financially.

                              Visiting Berlin last week, Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk, said the effect of Russian sanctions have made Russia more willing to sit round the table, but insisted Russia was yet to fulfil three commitments it agreed to in Minsk: to give Ukraine control over its border, stop the shipment of weapons to separatists, and withdraw its troops and agents.

                              For its part, Russia denies ever sending troops or weapons to Ukraine, despite evidence to the contrary, and says it is Kiev that is failing to implement the Minsk accords.

                              Yatseniuk said he often hears that any agreement should allow Putin to save face. “It sounds good if there is a face to save, but it’s harder to do if the face is wearing a cynical mask,” he said.

                              Around 60% of Ukrainians believe Kiev should fight to win the territory back, according to a recent poll, and Poroshenko has been ramping up the war footing, which experts suggest is “flexing muscles” to gain a stronger position ahead of negotiations.

                              The president was photographed shooting a machine gun at a training range near the front lines last week, and presented the army with two new war planes, armoured vehicles and mortars. At a press conference in late December, Poroshenko said he firmly believed a peaceful solution to Donbass was the best option, but the imposition of martial law in the region remained on the table if a solution could not be reached.

                              Ukraine is planning to conscript around 200,000 young men for military service in 2015, many of whom will replace those currently serving in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

                              On the ground, fighting has broken out between different rebel groups, with one commander known as Batman killed in an ambush by forces belonging to the Luhansk People’s Republic, the quasi-state he supposedly served. Publicly, however, the rebels still insist there can be no negotiations on coming back under Kiev’s rule.

                              The Guardian caught up with Igor Strelkov, the best known of the rebel leaders, at a concert of patriotic pop songs in a town outside Moscow on Thursday evening. Strelkov left the region in August, apparently after pressure from Moscow due to his controversial tactics and emerging cult status.

                              “The war will carry on,” Strelkov said. “Ukraine is not serious, they have not even offered Russian as a second state language, and there is no way that Putin and Poroshenko can agree on anything.”

                              When asked whether he intended to return to the battlefield, he frowned and said, “That does not depend on me,” before cutting the conversation short.

                              A source close to the separatist movement said there was a great deal of uncertainty among the rebels about what would happen, but that it was clear a decisive period had begun.

                              “It’s very difficult to make any predictions, but the next two or three weeks will decide everything, one way or the other,” said the source.

                              Valentyna Romanova, a Ukrainian political analyst, said if the presidents do get together around one table, the talks could prove more fruitful that last year’s agreements, due to their multi-level format, with officials from all countries working out the specifics of a deal on paper first, followed by foreign ministers visiting Berlin this week.

                              “Then if the country leaders put their signatures on the agreement in Astana it will have more power than the Minsk agreement, which wasn’t signed by either Poroshenko or Putin,” she said.
                              East Ukraine summit looks unlikely to happen as violence spikes in region | World news | The Guardian

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                              • Interpol says Ukraine's Yanukovich now wanted person
                                KIEV Jan 12, 2015 8:21am EST REUTERS

                                (Reuters) - Interpol has put ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on the international wanted list on Ukrainian charges of embezzlement and financial wrong-doing, according to a notice on the international police organization's website on Monday.

                                Ukrainian authorities said Interpol's publication of a so-called red notice against the 64-year-old Yanukovich, who has been living in Russia since being ousted by street protests almost a year ago, empowered any police force to hand him over to Ukraine if he was detained.

                                "Today, several months after Ukraine sent a request to Interpol in March 2014 with the arguments and explanations prepared by the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Security Service of Ukraine, an Interpol special commission has come to a decision," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook page.

                                Yanukovich fled across the border into Russia in February last year after months of street protests in Kiev against his decision to back away from a deal that would take Ukraine towards integration with Europe and tighten economic ties with Russia, Ukraine's old Soviet master.

                                The pro-western authorities who took over have accused him and a coterie of relatives and close allies known as The Family, of accumulating huge wealth by robbing state coffers and plundering national assets through corrupt deals.

                                Yanukovich has denied that he or members of his family were involved in corruption schemes.

                                After he fled, Russia said Yanukovich had been the victim of a "fascist" coup and went on to annex Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

                                In an intensifying confrontation with Kiev's pro-Western leadership, it has supported separatists in Ukraine's industrialized east in a conflict in which more than 4,700 people have been killed, though Moscow denies its forces have been involved in fighting.
                                Interpol says Ukraine's Yanukovich now wanted person | Reuters
                                (Writing By Richard Balmforth Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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