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  • RADIO FREE EUROPE Dec 25, 2015
    Ukraine Adopts Tax Reforms Sought By IMF - Temporarily

    Ukraine's parliament has approved a budget for 2016, fulfilling a key demand of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that enables it to keep providing Kyiv with loans.

    Lawmakers approved a series of tax reforms and tax increases, reducing the tax on employers, unifying the tax rate on personal income, and increasing excise taxes on tobacco, fuel, and alcohol, with the goal of balancing the budget.

    The reforms were contentious. Many deputies argued that they unfairly increased prices for Ukrainians who are already struggling to make ends meet during a deep economic recession.

    The IMF had warned it was critical to approve a budget that complied with the Fund's $17.5 billion bailout program before it would provide Kyiv with a third, $1.7 billion loan installment.

    It was not immediately clear whether the budget met all the IMF's requirements.

    Parliament approved a budget with a deficit at 3.7 percent of economic output, the figure agreed with the IMF and one of its key demands.

    But Ukraine had promised to adopt permanent tax reforms, and the tax changes adopted December 24 were only temporary, with more action promised later. Ukraine Adopts Tax Reforms Sought By IMF - Temporarily

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    • Russia steps up monitoring of online media for "illegal" content
      25.12.2015 | 09:13 UNIAN

      Russia’s online watchdog Roskomnadzor has launched in 19 of the country’s regions an automatic system of content collection and analysis in all online media has started in 19 regions of Russia, aimed to seed out “illegal materials,” according to Izvestia newspaper citing Roskomnadzor chief Alexander Zharov.

      "The analytical core is at the Main Radio Frequency Center. By the end of 2016 the project will be completed. To date, the information is coming from 19 regions,” said e chief of the Russian online watchdog.

      “The number of violations has increased at least twice. We try not to punish [the perpetrators], because the system is new. We call to fix the violations, and I think it will improve the quality of the media in the entire territory of the Russian Federation," said Zharov.

      Today in Russia the activities of editors and journalists is regulated by the law "On mass media", which lists information banned from publishing in its Article 4.

      The media must not publish materials containing "public calls to terrorist activity or statements publicly justifying terrorism, other extremist materials, and materials that promote pornography, violence and cruelty, as well as materials that contain foul language."

      In addition, it is forbidden to disseminate information with instructions on how to develop, manufacture and use, as well as where to purchase, narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors; propagation of any advantages of using certain drugs and psychotropic substances.
      Russia steps up monitoring of online media for "illegal" content : UNIAN news

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      • 09:43 25.12.2015 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
        Ukrainian army reports strikes by militants and two armed clashes

        Militants have opened fire on Ukrainian military positions in Donbas 35 times and there have been two armed clashes in the past 24 hours, the press center of the anti-terrorist operation (ATO) in eastern Ukraine reported on its Facebook account on Friday.

        According to the press center, at around 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, a unit of up to 30 militiamen armed with 82mm mortars entered into an armed clash with Ukrainian soldiers near Mayorsk. Militants suffered losses and had to retreat two hours later.

        Another armed clash broke out in the vicinity of Maryinka, where militants also sustained losses and had to retreat.

        Positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces near Donetsk and Horlivka also came under fire overnight. Militants, using small arms, various grenade launchers and large-caliber submachine guns, both opened fire at random and carried out targeted strikes in the direction of Ukrainian military positions near Luhanske, Troitske, Mayorsk, Zaitseve, Novhorodske, Maryinka and Opytne. Snipers were also working in the area.

        In a separate development, militants fired infantry fighting vehicle weapons and anti-aircraft systems targeting positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces near Novhorodske. Ukrainian military positions in the vicinity of Maryinka also came under 82mm mortar fire.

        More than five armed provocations staged by militants have been recorded in Donbas since midnight, the press center said.

        In another development, acting on a tip-off, officers of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's central reconnaissance department and special services found a cache filled with weapons and ammunition near the village of Velyka Novosilka in Donetsk region. Fifteen anti-tank hand-held grenade launchers and more than 12,000 different cartridges were confiscated from the cache.
        Ukrainian army reports strikes by militants and two armed clashes

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        • Telegram messenger not to cooperate with Russian authorities
          25.12.2015 | 09:45 UNIAN

          Creator of Telegram Messenger Pavel Durov commented on the statement of Russia’s future Presidential Adviser on the Internet German Klimenko that the Russian authorities will ban the Messenger if it does not cooperate.

          Telegram “did not give and will not hand over personal data and encryption keys to third parties," Durov wrote on VKontakte social network on Thursday.

          "The reason is simple: it is technically impossible to deprive of safe communication only the terrorists, without jeopardizing personal correspondence of all law-abiding citizens," wrote Durov.

          According to him, if the Russian law enforcement agencies gain access to personal correspondence of Telegram users, this will lead to the emergence of a black market for personal data.

          Durov also noted that the threat of a possible lockout of the messenger service will not affect its privacy policy.

          "The Messenger is popular among tens of millions of users in dozens of markets, and the threat of it being blocked in one or two of them will not affect its privacy policy," said Durov.
          Telegram messenger not to cooperate with Russian authorities : UNIAN new

          Telegram is a cloud-based instant messaging service. Telegram clients exist for both mobile (Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Ubuntu Touch) and desktop systems (Windows, OS X, Linux). Users can send messages and exchange photos, videos, stickers and files of any type up to 1.5 GB in size. Telegram also provides optional end-to-end encrypted messaging with self-destruct timers.

          Telegram is supported by the Russian-born entrepreneur Pavel Durov, who is now living in Berlin. He is considered the Mark Zuckerberg of Russia. Telegram's client-side code is open-source software, whereas its server-side code is closed-sourced and proprietary. The service also provides APIs to independent developers.

          Who is Telegram founder Pavel Durov? - Dec. 17, 2015

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          • REUTERS Dec 25, 2015 3:08am EST
            WASHINGTON Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay & Phil Stewart
            Exclusive: Islamic State sanctioned organ harvesting in document taken in U.S. raid

            Islamic State has sanctioned the harvesting of human organs in a previously undisclosed ruling by the group’s Islamic scholars, raising concerns that the violent extremist group may be trafficking in body parts.

            The ruling, contained in a January 31, 2015 document reviewed by Reuters, says taking organs from a living captive to save a Muslim's life, even if it is fatal for the captive, is permissible.

            For a U.S. government translation of the document, click here here

            Reuters couldn’t independently confirm the authenticity of the document. U.S. officials say it was among a trove of data and other information obtained by U.S. special forces in a raid in eastern Syria in May.

            "The apostate's life and organs don't have to be respected and may be taken with impunity," says the document, which is in the form of a fatwa, or religious ruling, from the Islamic State’s Research and Fatwa Committee.

            "Organs that end the captive's life if removed: The removal of that type is also not prohibited," Fatwa Number 68 says, according to a U.S. government translation.

            The document does not offer any proof that Islamic State actually engages in organ harvesting or organ trafficking. But it does provide religious sanction for doing so under the group's harsh interpretation of Islam - which is rejected by most Muslims. Previously, Iraq has accused Islamic State of harvesting human organs and trafficking them for profit.

            The document does not define “apostate,” though the Islamic State has killed or imprisoned non-Muslims, such as Christians, and Shiite Muslims, as well as Sunni Muslims who don't follow its extremist views.


            U.S. officials say the records that were seized have given the U.S. government a deep look into how Islamic State organizes, raises funds and codifies laws for its followers.

            Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohamed Ali Alhakim, told Reuters the documents should be examined by the U.N. Security Council as evidence that Islamic State could be trafficking in organs to raise cash.

            The May raid in Syria, which resulted in the death of Islamic State top financial official Abu Sayyaf and the capture of his wife, netted seven terabytes of data in the form of computer hard drives, thumb drives, CDs, DVDs and papers, said Brett McGurk, U.S. President Barack Obama's Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, in an interview. Abu Sayyaf was a Tunisian militant whose real name was Fathi ben Awn ben Jildi Murad al-Tunisi.

            U.S. officials have previously described the Abu Sayyaf raid and some of the documentation seized. But until now, none of the actual documents have been released - aside from materials illustrating Islamic State's trafficking in antiquities, made public at an event at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in September.

            The U.S. government has shared some of the documents from the Abu Sayyaf raid with allied governments in an effort to increase their understanding of Islamic State in recent weeks as Washington works to shore up support for countering the group.

            The group of documents reviewed by entitled "Lessons Learned From the Abu Sayyaf Raid" - show how the Islamic State has provided a legal justification to its followers for a range of practices.

            For instance, “Fatwa Number 64” dated January 29, 2015, provides detailed rules for rape, prescribing when Islamic State men can and cannot have sexual intercourse with female slaves.

            The fatwa sanctioning organ harvesting justifies the practice in part by drawing an analogy to cannibalism in extreme circumstances, a practice it says earlier Islamic scholars had allowed. “A group of Islamic scholars have permitted, if necessary, one to kill the apostate in order to eat his flesh, which is part of benefiting from his body,” it says.

            McGurk said Islamic State's Research and Fatwa Committee reports directly to the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

            ORGANS OF ‘INFIDELS’

            The ruling on organ harvesting cites Islamic texts, principles and laws that it says support what it calls "the notion that transplanting healthy organs into a Muslim person’s body in order to save the latter's life or replace a damaged organ with it is permissible."

            Senior U.S. officials, including McGurk, said they have not been able to ascertain whether the Islamic State had followed through on the fatwa on organ harvesting.

            The document provides “a religious justification for harnessing the organs of what they call infidels,” he said.

            William McCants, a Brookings Institution scholar who is author of the book “The ISIS Apocalypse,” said the group's ruling on slavery and human organs don't represent modern Islamic interpretations.

            In February, Alhakim, had urged the U.N. Security Council to investigate the deaths of 12 doctors in the Islamic State-held city of Mosul. Alhakim said the doctors were killed after refusing to remove organs.

            The U.N. special envoy for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said at the time that he could not confirm the claim, but it would be investigated. The U.N. has not provided an update on that investigation, which Alhakim said he would ask the Security Council to revisit. Exclusive: Islamic State sanctioned organ harvesting in document taken in U.S. raid | Reuters

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            • 5 corruption cases in scandal-plagued 2015
              KYIV POST Olena Goncharova Dec 25, 2015

              Transparency International once named former President Viktor Yanukovych as one of the world’s 15 most corrupt officials. While he’s gone, the international watchdog’s Corruption Perception Index for 2014 ranked Ukraine at 142 out of 175, meaning there were only 33 countries more corrupt.

              Ukraine has shown little progress in fighting corruption or punishing lawbreakers this year. The Kyiv Post has picked out the most scandalous cases of the year:

              Prosecutor general fired
              President Petro Poroshenko fired former Prosecutor General Vitaly Yarema and his deputy Anatoly Danylenko in February for lack of progress in high-profile criminal cases against Yanukovych and his allies. Yarema also came under fire for alleged corruption and nepotism in his office.

              Speaking at a briefing in mid-January, Yarema said he was “not afraid” of being dismissed. “I try to do my job and I’m ready to report to parliament about what we’ve done,” he said on Jan. 16. His deputy Danylenko was linked to another scandal after journalists discovered that he had illegally privatized 140 hectares of ponds near the villages of Mala Soltanivka and Velika Soltanivka in Kyiv Oblast. Days before their dismissals, Yarema said the accusations against Danylenko were false.

              ‘Diamond prosecutors’
              Two high-ranking prosecutors -- Oleksandr Korniets and Volodymyr Shapakin -- were suspected of taking a Hr 3.15 million bribe and were found to be in the possession of diamonds after an unprecedented raid on prosecutors’ offices and homes. The July 5 operation was coordinated by Georgian Deputy Prosecutor General Davit Sakvarelidze. The suspects were then both released on bail.

              Public uproar followed when Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin and his former deputies, Volodymyr Huzyr and Yury Stolyarchuk, tried to cover up for Korniyets and Shapakin. Mustafa Nayyem and Serhiy Leshchenko, lawmakers from the Bloc of President Petro Poroshenko, said that the three top prosecutors had been pressuring Sakvarelidze and deputy prosecutor general Vitaly Kasko to halt the corruption cases. Shokin denies charges.

              U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt praised prosecutors Sakvarelidze and Vitaliy Kasko for working to “investigate and prosecute corrupt individuals within the prosecutor general’s office.”

              “Kasko’s comments … that he and other reformers within the prosecutor’s office are under intense pressure, are very worrisome - it’s a sign that a battle between Old Ukraine and New Ukraine is raging within this critical institution,” Pyatt said at the time.

              On Dec. 23, Sakvarelidze said that “diamond prosecutors” case would go to court soon.

              Yatsenyuk ally accused
              Mykola Martynenko, a former deputy head of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front party, is suspected of accepting $29 million in bribes from Czech-based engineering firm Skoda in exchange for a contract to supply equipment to Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator. According to Swiss prosecutors, the money for the contract was paid in the form of commission fees to offshore company Bradcrest Investment. Martynenko denies all of the accusations and asked parliament to strip him of his lawmaker status (including his immunity from prosecution) on Dec. 22. A majority of 228 votes agreed.

              “I took this decision because I don’t want to allow there to be the political destabilization and dissolution of the pro-Western government,” Martynenko said in parliament on Dec. 22. “The campaign to discredit (me) cost over $10 million. Sooner or later we’ll find out the names of organizers of this campaign.”

              Officials arrested
              Serhiy Bochkovsky, a former head of the State Service for Emergency Situations, and his first deputy Vasyl Stoietsky were detained on suspicion of abuse of power and graft on March 25. They were accused of organizing illegal schemes to buy fuel from private companies at excessive prices. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said they were suspected of diverting money to a Jersey-based offshore company in a corrupt scheme. Bochkovsky was released on Hr 1.2 million ($52,170) bail on April 1. In an interview with the Glavcom news website on May 25, Bochkovsky said he “never took any money from anyone.” The arrest was broadcast live during a cabinet meeting - making it look more like a show than a real anti-corruption bust.

              A Kyiv court will hear Bochkovsky’s case on Jan. 14.

              Hr 622,000 bribe?
              Yaroslav Kashuba, a former chief of the State Employment Service, was arrested in Kyiv in a sting operation on Sept. 11, during which he was allegedly caught red-handed taking a bribe. The transaction took place in an official car, and the alleged bribe amounted to Hr 622,000 ($28,502). Law enforcers also found a large amount of cash and a hunting rifle with cartridges in Kashuba’s car. He was set free on bail of Hr 1.8 million ($82,500).

              Ukraine’s Minister for Social Policy Pavlo Rozenko, who appointed Kashuba in February to run the State Employment Service, said after Kashuba’s arrest that it was a “worrisome signal for the State Employment Service.” Later the minister launched an anti-corruption operation, and sacked all the heads of the service’s central and regional offices.

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              • Russia tightens budget rules for occupied Crimea
                25.12.2015 | 13:00 UNIAN

                Russian Finance Ministry together with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak have put the illegitimate Ministry of Finance of the peninsula in a rigid framework in the redistribution of resources in the budget for 2016 – the incorrectly planned expenditures will be allocated for repayment of the subsidies, according to Crimean publication Novosti Kryma.

                "Russia's Finance Ministry together with Dmitry Kozak have put us in very tught limits. The fulfillment of the revenue part of the budget will be divided: 70% will remain with us, and we can distribute it, while 30% will be spent for the repayment of subsidies," Crimean "Finance Ministry chief" Vladimir Levandovskiy said.

                According to Levandovskiy, the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation firces the Crimean government to plan the costs so that no changes are introduced over the year. "They have found a method: if we make adjustments, and they see that is incorrectly planned expenditures, therefore, this sum will be spent for the repayment of subsidies, and if they see that it was done for objective reasons, they will allow us to leave 50%, while 50% will [still] be spent for the repayment," he said.

                Levandovskiy said that in other regions the budget couldn't be adjusted after its approval. "Other regions approve the budget once and, in the worst case, it can be adjusted once or twice in the second half of the year. We will also strive for this, but we understand that in any case, next year, as it was this year, the budget will be revised often."

                It is expected that the budget revenues of Crimea for 2016 will amount to RUB 67.4 billion, while the expenses will amount to RUB 86.65 billion ($1 trades for nearly RUB 70).
                Russia tightens budget rules for occupied Crimea : UNIAN news

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                • Christmas celebrations underway in Ukraine's western city of Lviv
                  UT UKRAINE TODAY Dec 25, 2015 VIDEO

                  During midnight mass priests urged to pray for Ukrainian troops stationed in the volatile east

                  Celebrations are underway across the globe as millions of people celebrate Christmas. In Ukraine's western city of Lviv bright lights and a festive mood engulfed the city.

                  Tetyana, tourist: "We came from Kyiv to mark Catholic Christmas. We're not Catholic but we like the religion, the temples, and the holiday."

                  Hundreds of Roman Catholics headed to Lviv's main cathedral to partake in Christmas Eve mass.

                  Oleksandr Kusiy, priest: "Communicating with each other is like a gift. And during Christmas we speak with God. He wants to welcome us, give us grace and enrich us."

                  A traditional Christmas dinner consists of 12 dishes which represent the 12 apostles. The first dish is always kutya which is made from wheat, honey, ground poppy seeds, and chopped nuts. Then there are pickled dishes, fish, and various dishes of beans and legumes.

                  Lidiya, nun: "Our Christmas dinner consists of fish. There's also borsh, and of course kutya. Different pies and stuffed cabbage. This is the taste of the holiday."

                  During the Christmas Eve midnight mass priests urged the Catholic faithful to pray for the Ukrainian troops stationed in the volatile east of the country. Christmas celebrations underway in Ukraine's western city of Lviv - watch on -

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                  • Top political fights of 2015
                    KYIV POST Allison Quinn Dec. 25, 2015 13:50

                    Fights between Ukrainian lawmakers regularly hit the international headlines, and this year was no exception. Here are some of the most notable ones:

                    Sobolev, Ivchenko brawl
                    A fight between Yegor Sobolev of the Samopomich Party and Vadym Ivchenko of the Batkivshchyna Party erupted on Feb. 12 after they had a disagreement over a bill authored by Ivchenko. The law aimed to transfer land administration rights to local authorities.

                    Sobolev, the head of the parliament’s anti-corruption committee, said the bill would enable corruption. A brawl ensued in the hallway outside the legislative chamber and both had bloodied lips by the time they were separated by security guards.

                    “This is how the fight against corruption happens, in the truest sense of the word,” Sobolev wrote on his Facebook page after the brawl.

                    Ivchenko in turn accused Sobolev of lobbying for the state land agency Derzhkomzem.

                    Radicals corner ‘tushka’
                    Radical Party leader Oleh Lyashko got into a tussle with former party member Serhiy Melnychuk on March 3. Lyashko accused Melnychuk, who led the Aidar Battalion, of being a tushka, an offensive word used to describe lawmakers who change parties mid-term, after Melnychuk announced he was joining another party.

                    The fight began in the parliament hall and then continued into the corridor.
                    Lyashko, accompanied by other members of the Radical party, pushed Melnychuk down the corridor shouting, “Tushka out! Tushka out!” Melnychuk eventually found refuge in a back room.
                    He was subsequently expelled from Lyashko’s Radical Party in February.

                    Volia Naroda, the party that Melnychuk joined, was formed by the late lawmaker and multi-millionaire Igor Yeremeyev, who died in August. After the fight, Lyashko told journalists: “Melnychuk betrayed the voters – he’s working for the enemy.”

                    Melnychuk told journalists that Lyashko had provoked the fight.

                    Teteruk hits Kuzhel
                    Andriy Teteruk, a lawmaker with the People’s Front party, struck the Batkivshchyna Party’s Oleksandra Kuzhel with a glass water bottle near the Verkhovna Rada speaker’s office on Nov. 5.
                    In comments to various Ukrainian media, Teteruk described his actions as “self-defense.” He said that Kuzhel, 62, started beating him with her purse and then he accidentally touched her head with the bottle that he was holding.

                    Kuzhel was hospitalized with a concussion. She went to police but withdrew her statement later. Immediately after the incident, a fight broke out between Teteruk and other lawmakers. The fight was caught on security cameras.

                    Parasyuk kicks official
                    Independent lawmaker, EuroMaidan Revolution activist and Donbas war veteran Volodymyr Parasyuk kicked General Vasyl Pisnyi of the Security Service of Ukraine in the head during a meeting of the parliament’s anti-corruption committee on Nov. 19.

                    The dramatic scene was caught on camera, and video of the incident showed Parasyuk flying at Pisnyi, aiming a ninja-style kick to the high-ranking SBU officer’s head.
                    Before the attack, Parasyuk accused Pisnyi of sheltering corrupt police officers and hiding the extent of his wealth.

                    Parasyuk could now face up to five years in prison for attacking the SBU officer, according to prosecutor Vladyslav Kutsenko. A criminal investigation into the incident is ongoing.

                    Barna grabs Yatsenyuk
                    Lawmaker Oleh Barna from President Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc pulled Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk from the podium in parliament as he was delivering his annual report on Dec. 11 – but it was the lawmaker’s choice of grip that many found shocking.

                    The awkward incident saw Barna first give the prime minister a bouquet of roses before then attempting to hoist him by the groin, with one of his arms positioned in between Yatsenyuk’s legs. A brawl ensued, with punches thrown, as members of the prime minister’s People’s Front party coming to his defense.

                    Barna, who heads an anti-corruption subcommittee, has been after Yatsenyuk for some time. He started a petition to remove the prime minister from office in November.

                    Barna was banned from five parliamentary plenary sessions for his actions.

                    Avakov throws glass
                    Interior Minister Arseniy Avakov and governor of Odesa Oblast Mikheil Saakashvili clashed at a meeting of the National Council of Reforms on Dec. 15.

                    Avakov threw a half-filled glass of water at Saakashvili during a heated discussion about the Odesa Portside Plant, a major state-owned chemical producer whose sale the government has postponed numerous times. It has recently been at the center of numerous corruption allegations.

                    Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk also got involved towards the end of the argument, taking Avakov’s side.
                    In the background, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko sat with his hands covering his face.
                    Top political fights of 2015

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                    • KYIV POST ILYA TIMTCHENKO Dec. 25, 2015 00:11
                      Ukraine’s economy leaves 2015 in clouded condition

                      Ukraine faced a year of mixed economic news in 2015.

                      On the positive side, Ukraine avoided bankruptcy by taking on a $40-billion bailout package led by the International Monetary Fund, which approved $17 billion in lending of its own money. Kyiv restructured $15 billion of sovereign debt in November and passed crucial anti-corruption and deregulation laws.

                      Kyiv also sealed a number free-trade deals with Western countrie to boost the economy and make the nation less dependent on Russia. The banking sector is being cleaned up and stabilized.
                      Some of the bad news: Ukraine failed to privatize state-owned enterprises and risked, as of Dec. 24, losing a multibillion-dollar Western loan package if it does not adopt a fiscally responsible tax code and budget for 2016.

                      Free trade, open skies
                      Ukraine signed two free-trade agreements, with Canada and the 28-nation European Union, and is negotiating a deal with Israel. The agreements mean elimination of many import-export tariffs.
                      The Kremlin responed by suspending trade privileges for Ukraine on Jan. 1, the same day that the EU-Ukraine trade pact takes hold.
                      Ukraine has signed an open skies agreement with the U.S., which will allow more flight traffic while the EU signed an open skies agreement with Lviv in western Ukraine.

                      Big-scale investments
                      Steel giant Arcelor Mittal and sunflower and seed producer Cargill invested at least $1.3 billion in 2015. In addition, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development signed about €700 million of new business projects, while Japanese company Fujikura is investing an initial $6 million to open a branch in Lviv to manufacture car parts. Astarta, a sugar producer and farmer of nearly 400,000 hectares, got $35 million in financing from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, according to Asters law firm in Kyiv.

                      China-Ukraine relations
                      The opening of a Chinese Commerce Association in Kyiv on Sept. 7 is not only symbolic but an encouraging sign of more bilateral trade. China, with the world’s second largest economy, is Ukraine’s second-largest single trading partner after Russia. Bilateral trade turnover last year amounted to $8.6 billion. On March 26, Ukraine signed a $15 billion memorandum with China’s CITIC Construction firm to build affordable housing at minimal interest rates over 15 years. This month, the China Development Bank and Chinese telecommunication equipment maker Huawei signed financial agreements worth $50 million with Ukrtelecom, the nation’s near fixed-line monopoly operator owned by Rinat Akhmetov’s System Capital Management. The company plans to establish a network management system managed out of Kyiv and over Ukraine’s six largest cities, according to Dragon Capital.

                      Germany signed a deal with Ukraine to open a German-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Kyiv. German interests include exporting agriculture machinery to Ukraine, the world’s sixth-largest wheat exporter. Agriculture has been Ukraine’s most profitable economic sector with an 61 million tons of grain harvested this year, of which 20 million tons were exported since July 1, according to Agriculture Ministry data. At least 14 permits were canceled and six licenses eliminated to cut bureaucracy. Parliament also passed a bill on Dec. 8 that will slash an additional 22 permit procedures.

                      The Infrastructure Ministry works closely with the Agriculture Ministry since ports are the main way to export grain. Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Andriy Pyvovarsky moved to cut regulations to speed up clearance time. The ministry also managed to corporatize the most corrupt state-enterprise Ukrazaliznytsia. On Dec. 24, a single public procurement database of 15 state-owned enterprises was introduced for Hr 5 billion worth of planned procurement for next year.

                      The government failed to privatize 1,800 state-owned enterprises – institutions that are draining $5 billion yearly. How Ukraine’s leaders resolve the disputes will, of course, have a direct bearing on next year’s economy. The nation may only officially produce $94 billion in goods and services next year, a tiny amount for a nation of 44 million people.
                      Ukraine’s economy leaves 2015 in clouded condition

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                      • Ukrainian parliament simplifies registration for internally displaced
                        UT UKRAINE TODAY Dec 25, 2015 VIDEO

                        According to UN an estimated 9,000 people have been killed and more than 1.3 million displaced

                        Ukrainian lawmakers have passed a bill simplifying the registration process for internally displaced people.

                        The new law says people who fled fighting in east Ukraine can register with the municipal government services of their new hometown.

                        According to UN an estimated 9,000 people have been killed and more than 1.3 million displaced

                        Ukrainian lawmakers have passed a bill simplifying the registration process for internally displaced people.

                        The new law says people who fled fighting in east Ukraine can register with the municipal government services of their new hometown. Ukrainian parliament simplifies registration for internally displaced - watch on -

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                        • Eight Ukrainian political prisoners are victims of Russia’s terror in occupied Crimea
                          EUROMAIDAN PRESS Alya Shandra 2015/12/26

                          After Russia illegally annexed the Crimean peninsula in a referendum condemned by a UN General Assembly resolution, it has silenced, attacked, and harassed its critics, turning the former Autonomous republic of Ukraine into a “peninsula of fear,” according to human rights groups. Russia’s dangerously broad “anti-extremist” legislation has been used against Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians who oppose Russia’s occupation of their homeland. Crimeans have been arrested on the accusation of “extremism” for holding a Ukrainian flag, and the representative organ of the Crimean Tatars, the Medzhlis, is also in danger of being banned for “extremism.”

                          As a result, there are eight Ukrainians imprisoned in occupied Crimea on political motives, according to the Let My People Go Campaign.

                          -Jailed for criticism of Russia’s occupation of Crimea
                          Yurii Ilchenko
                          -Jailed for participating in a pro-Ukrainian demonstration
                          Akhtem Chiygoz
                          Aly Asanov
                          Mustafa Dekheremendzhi
                          -Persecution for religious beliefs
                          Ruslan Zeytullaev
                          Nuri Primov, Rustem Vaytov, Ferat Sayfullayev
                          -Send a holiday postcard to Ukrainian political prisoners

                          Jailed for criticism of Russia’s occupation of Crimea *

                          Yurii Ilchenko *

                          37 y.o., foreign language school director, blogger. ilchenkoHe was arrested on 2 July 2015 in Sevastopol on suspicion of “extremism,” being accused of opposing the Russian occupation of Crimea and Russia’s war in Donbas on his blog. Ever since he is being held in pre-trial detention in Simferopol.

                          It’s unclear what article of Russia’s criminal code he will be incriminated of violating. Initially, media reports informed that Russia’s investigative committee was dealing with the case, meaning that Ilchenko is being accused under article 282, “inciting hatred or enmity.” Later, reports appeared that the case is being handled by the FSB, meaning that the blogger is accused under article 280 – public calls to extremism. Apart from that, the FSB is trying to accuse him of “pedophilia.” Special services installed a hidden camera in his school, which recorded Yurii kissing a 12 y.o. girl. Yurii’s relatives said that he is friends with the mother of the girl. Later, it became known that the special services forced the mother of the girl to write a denunciation on Ilchenko. They also attempted to accuse him of “terrorism” through a provocation. A week before the arrest, a woman that Mr.Ilchenko didn’t know walked up on the street to him and proposed for him to spread leaflets in Sevastopol with calls to oppose the occupiers and cause explosions. Ilchenko refused.

                          At the end of July 2015, the Crimean human rights activist Oleh Sofianyk informed that, according to his information, Ilchenko is being tortured, claiming that he is being beaten, has a broken spine, damaged kidneys, and may not last till the court hearing.

                          Jailed for participating in a pro-Ukrainian demonstration *

                          After disgraced Ukrainian president Yanukovych fled Kyiv on 22 February 2014 following the Euromaidan revolution, pro-Russian rallies started taking place in Crimean cities; the next day, a “people’s mayor” was elected in Sevastopol, opening the gateway for a Russian takeover of government. On 26 February, a rally for Ukraine’s unity held by Crimean Tatars took place in Simferopol. They were trying block the Crimean Parliament from passing a resolution on separating from Ukraine. A smaller rally of pro-Russian organizations was being held at the same place. Clashes erupted as a result of poor work of the police, as a result of which 30 people suffered injuries, and two subsequently died. As reported by human rights activist Halya Coynash, all representatives of the Mejlis seeking only to calm the crowd and prevent bloodshed. Yet it is only Crimean Tatars who have been prosecuted, more than a year after the incident. The prosecutors were so short of material that they invited Simferopol residents who had been subjected to force “even in the absence of bodily injuries” to come forward.

                          Three Crimean Tatars are being remanded in custody, being accused by Russia’s criminal code of participating in “mass disorders” in an “unsanctioned demonstration” – a legal absurdity, as the rally 26 February took place before Russia’s so-called “referendum” of 16 March 2014, on the territory of Ukraine governed by Ukrainian law, where demonstrations do not have to be sanctioned by the authorities. All the detainees deny taking part in “mass disturbances,” while not denying the fact of taking part in the demonstration.

                          One person has already been sentenced as a result of this case – the cameraman of Crimea’s only Crimean Tatar channel ATR Eskender Nebiyev, who was sentenced to 2.5 years of jail but was released on probation. The ATR channel was shut down on 1 April 2015, following at least two statements of the self-proclaimed “governor” Sergey Aksyonov in which he considered the only Crimean Tatar television channel to be a hostile element that gave people the hope that Ukrainian rule would be restored in Crimea. Also imprisoned but released on bail were Eskender Kantemirov, Eskender Emirvaliiev, Taliat Yunusov.

                          Three Crimean Tatars had been imprisoned at the beginning of 2015 and are being jailed to this day, all of them Ukrainian citizens who have not adopted Russian citizenship forced on most Crimeans after the illegal annexation.
                          Akhtem Chiygoz *

                          Crimean Tatars, was born in 1964, detained on 29 January 2015. He is being accused of organizing “mass disturbances” on 26 February. The prosecution has had trouble in finding accusations for Chiygoz. It appears that the other two Crimean Tatars are being held in custody for the sole reason of extracting false testimonies against Akhtem Chiygoz. Speaking in court on 17 November 2015, he called his arrest a commissioned political prosecution and its purpose being “to put Crimean Tatars in their place.” He also said that “there is great terror underway in Crimea” against his compatriots, and that the so-called “case” over which he was being held in isolation is a farce for which there are neither grounds nor proof, with “judges passing rulings as dictated by the punitive bodies.”

                          Aly Asanov *

                          A Crimean Tatar, born 1982, detained on 16 April 2015. He worked as a farmer, being the breadwinner for a family of three children, with the fourth child being born after his arrest, his wife, and an ailing father. He was not an activist, all his time being consumed by supporting his family, with whom he lives in a poor region of Crimea, and for whom Asanov’s continued detention is catastrophic. His defense claims the absence of corpus delicti in his actions. Asanov and his family have reported from the outset that he was clearly told that he would be freed if he denounced Chiygoz, and it appears that the only reason for holding him and Degermendzhy in custody is to try to wrench a testimony against the Crimean Tatar leader Chiygoz. The court in April argued that it was necessary to “check that Asanov is not implicated in other crimes, including of an extremist nature,” and that he was charged with a serious crime carrying a sentence of 3 to 8 years.

                          Mustafa Dekheremendzhi *

                          A Crimean Tatar, born 1989, detained on 7 May 2015. Like Chiygoz and Asanov, he is accused of participating in mass disorders. The main proof of the prosecution of his guilt is a video where Mustafa figures. The defense claims that the video was filmed long before the start of the clashes from both camps of the demonstration. Zair Smedlyaev, head of the Crimean Tatar Qurultay Central Election Commission, was blunt in his assessment of Degermerdzy’s detention, saying that his “guilt” lay in the fact that he had refused to testify against Akhtem Chiygoz. Degermendzhy’s appeal against baseless detention was heard and rejected on 28 August 2015.

                          Persecution for religious beliefs *

                          Four Crimean Tatars are imprisoned on the accusation of organizing and participating in the organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which is recognized in Russia as a terrorist organization and are facing from 5 to 20 years of imprisonment or a life sentence. Hizb-ut-Tahrir operates without obstacles on the territory of unoccupied Ukraine, carrying out religious, political, and educational activities. The organization is not considered to be extremist by standards of democratic societies; despite this, after the occupation of Crimea, Hizb-ut-Tahrir was prohibited, and thousands of its members are facing prosecution. The respected Memorial Human Rights Centre has pointed out that Russia’s Supreme Court in 2003 prohibited Hizb-ut-Takhrir as ‘terrorist’ without demonstrating any evidence of terrorist activities, and calls this obvious grounds for considering the decision to be unwarranted, and has listed those prosecuted for participation in the organization as political prisoners.

                          Human rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov, who defends Ruslan Zetullaiev after being illegally prevented from representing the interests of all four, insists the absence of corpus delicti in his client’s actions. Furthermore, he claims that there is no evidence that all of the men were even members of Hizb ut-Takhrir, nor that any of them committed any crimes.

                          Ruslan Zeytullaev *

                          continue read Eight Ukrainian political prisoners are victims of Russia's terror in occupied Crimea -Euromaidan Press |

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                          • Yatsenyuk sees 'real de-oligarchization' in making Firtash's Ostchem repay debt
                            26.12.2015 | 00:25 UNIAN

                            Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk claims that the settlement of a dispute between state-run NJSC Naftogaz of Ukraine and businessman Dmytro Firtash's Ostchem holding in favor of Naftogaz is an example of "real de-oligarchization."

                            "I've had a meeting with representatives of the Interior Ministry. We've got something to share. Dmytro Firtash's Ostchem company's debt to NJSC Naftogaz of Ukraine has grown to UAH 3 billion since 2010. The Interior Ministry opened a criminal case, seized Ostchem's assets. As a result of this investigation and tough measures, Naftogaz has been repaid all the debts owed by Ostchem. I'd like to thank the minister, the investigators and Naftogaz's head for the state company's obtaining UAH 3 billion which nobody expected to have back. This is a real fight against corruption, this is real de-oligarchization of the country," Yatsenyuk said at a special meeting of the government on Friday.

                            As UNIAN reported earlier, debts owed by Ostchem to Naftogaz and Gaz Ukrainy were accumulated in 2006-2011 and have not been repaid until now. Ostchem belongs to the top three financial and industrial groups in Ukraine in terms of debts owed to Naftogaz. Late in April 2015, the Cabinet filed a claim, demanding that 500 million cubic meters of gas worth UAH 4.3 billion owned by Ostchem be seized. The claim was the result of an investigation by the Prosecutor General's Office into collusion between Ostchem's representatives and the then top managers from Naftogaz.

                            Late in May 2015, Firtash's Group DF reported that the Ukrainian authorities had exerted pressure on the group and announced it would stop two factories that produce mineral fertilizers.

                            Later, the Interior Minister arrested 86 facilities belonging to Firtash's Ostchem.
                            Read more on UNIAN: Yatsenyuk sees 'real de-oligarchization' in making Firtash's Ostchem repay debt : UNIAN news

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                            • Moscow radio station deletes broadcast transcript because of insults directed at Putin
                              08:05, 25 December 2015 Meduza

                              The radio station Echo of Moscow has deleted from its website the entire transcript of a program featuring satirist Viktor Shenderovich. The program aired on December 24, and roughly 50,000 people managed to view the transcript before it was deleted.

                              According to Vitaly Ruvinsky, the website's chief editor, the station decided to remove the text because of the "large number of personal insults" directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin. As an example, Ruvinsky cites Shenderovich's remark that Putin the son of a cleaning woman and a security guard.

                              On the show, Shenderovich was discussing famed criminal and professional martial artist Leonid Usvyatsov, who is said to have trained Putin and modern-day oligarch Arkady Rotenberg: “This is Leonid Usvyatsov, who spent 20 years in prison. Between his two terms, he managed to take part in raising the future president of Russia. It was Usvyatsov who trained Vladimir Putin from age 16, and it was Usvyatsov who arranged for him, the son of a cleaning woman and a security guard, to get into Leningrad State University on an athletic scholarship.”

                              Following Echo of Moscow's decision to delete the transcript, journalist and pundit Oleg Kashin republished the text in its entirety on his website,

                              text in Russian Текст запрещённого на "*хо Москвы" эфира Шендеровича | ашин

                              Shenderovich was most likely referring to a popular LiveJournal blog post published on December 21, 2015, where anonymous user “uglich_jj” speculates about the people who surrounded Putin during his life in St. Petersburg. Part of this text addresses Usvyatsov, a criminal said to have trained Putin in judo. According to Usvyatsov's tombstone, he was murdered in 1994.

                              Viktor Shenderovich writes a column for the opposition magazine The New Times. He also regularly appears on Echo of Moscow.

                              In early 2014, Shenderovich wrote a scandalous blog post on Echo of Moscow, where he compared the 2014 Sochi Olympics to the 1936 Games held in Nazi Germany. The country's ruling political party, United Russia, accused Shenderovich of fascist speech, and, following a lawsuit, Shenderovich was fined 1 million rubles (more than $14,000, by today's exchange rate).
                              Meduza is a Riga-based online newspaper and news aggregator in the Russian language, headed by Galina Timchenko, the former editor-in-chief of Russian news website The newspaper slogan is The Real Russia, Today.

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                              • 09:24 26.12.2015 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                                Firtash's Ostchem fully repays UAH 3 bln debt to Naftogaz - Yatseniuk

                                Ostchem, the company of Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash, has fully repaid debts to Naftogaz Ukrainy, Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatseniuk has stated.

                                "Dmytro Firtash's Ostchem has accumulated debts of UAH 3 billion to Naftogaz Ukrainy since 2010. The Interior Ministry has opened criminal proceedings, arrested the assets of Ostchem, and due to these criminal proceedings and clear actions Naftogaz recovered the full amount of debt from Ostchem," Yatseniuk said at a cabinet meeting.

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