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  • 11:14 28.12.2015 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
    National budgets puts Kyiv city in situation of surviving, not developing - Kyiv mayor

    The 2016 national budget of Ukraine passed by the Ukrainian parliament puts Kyiv city in the situation of surviving, not developing, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has said.

    "I talked to MPs, and it was strange to hear some words from them that Kyiv residents are like bees in clover. I tell them: go to the streets and talk to people. The prices in Kyiv are higher than in other regions, and the cost of living is high, and people are surviving in these difficult conditions. I can say that this is the budget of not development, but surviving," the press service of the Kyiv City Administration reported, citing Klitschko.

    He said that 60% of personal income tax will be taken from Kyiv city. He said that this is the shameful policy and taxes of Kyiv residents should remain in the city that the city could develop, build roads and bridges, new infrastructure facilities, including social ones.

    "Now we're put in the situation when the mayor has to come to the prime minister and ask: give us [the financing] for this or that infrastructure facility," he said.

    "We foresaw that the money from the Kyiv customs office will be sent to infrastructure facilities and roads. This is a good practice. However, I cannot say that I'm satisfied with the budget," he said. National budgets puts Kyiv city in situation of surviving, not developing - Kyiv mayor

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    • 14:36 28.12.2015 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
      Frosts on way to Ukraine could worsen state of winter crops in east of country – weather center

      The state of winter crops in the eastern regions of Ukraine could worsen due to frosts that are on the way to the country, Head of the agrometeorological department of the Ukrainian Weather Center Tetiana Adamenko told Interfax-Ukraine on Monday.

      "In the areas where temperatures at night will fall to minus 15 centigrade and no snow blanket will be seen, crops would be killed and their state could be worsened. I speak about Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv regions and a part of Poltava region," the expert said.

      She said that in the next two days snow blanket of 3-5 centimeters is expected to form in Chernihiv, Sumy and Poltava regions, eastern districts of Kyiv region and it would remove some risks linked to the worsening of the state of winter crops.

      Adamenko said that it is early to announce pessimistic forecasts, as the state of the crops will depend on the duration of frosts. Temperatures could grow by 10-15 degrees after January 5 or January 6 in the eastern regions.

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      • 14:07 28.12.2015 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
        Yatseniuk asking business to pull out of shadows

        Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk has asked representatives of Ukrainian business to pull out of the shadows and legalize salaries to their employees.

        "Now I would like to ask businessmen: the radical reform of single social security tax requires your understanding, responsibility and position. We halved single social security tax for you, and this gave you an additional resource. I ask each Ukrainian businessman to pull out of the shadows and stop paying back door salaries," he said on the "Ten minutes with the prime minister" TV program on Sunday night.

        He said that single social security tax was halved from 41% to 22% to stimulate business. He said that the government took a liability that despite the reduction of the tax, the Pension Fund would fulfill its liabilities and provided UAH 100 billion to the fund.

        Yatseniuk expressed hope that the additional resource received by business will be sent to its development and the increase of salaries. Yatseniuk asking business to pull out of shadows

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        • Donbas on its way to becoming Chechnya of 1998, Babchenko says
          EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2015/12/27

          However much some in Russia, the West, or even in Ukraine may hope that the Donbas will become “a frozen conflict,” that is not going to happen, according to Russian military journalist Arkady Babchenko. Instead, the facts on the ground point to it becoming a Chechnya of 1998 unless and until Ukrainian forces restore order there.

          In an interview with Apostrophe’s Artem Dekhtyarenko posted online today, Babchenko says that there is no basis for thinking that any accords will transform the situation into “a frozen conflict” with “some kind of quasi-state like a second Transdniestria.”

          That is “because the Donbas is a territory which is controlled by separate armed groups,” a situation that recalls Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus at the end of the 1990s. And as was the case then, “there will be war, banditism and kidnappings” in the Donbas for the foreseeable future.

          “There are no other variants in this region,” Babchenkok says. That horrific situation will end only when Ukraine uses its military to restore Kyiv’s control over the region. No political resolution is possible, the military analyst argues, and consequently, “the only way out is via the use of force.”

          It is of course possible that a larger war could return, he continues, but he suggests that this is not “a highly probable scenario.” “As long as Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is in power in Russia, the Russian Federation will always be involved in a war. Only the theater of military operations will change,” just as it has now shifted from Ukraine to Syria.

          “But if Syria will not fulfill those domestic political tasks which [the Kremlin] has placed on it, then the theater of military action could shift back to the Donbas.” Those tasks are two:

          -Distracting attention from Putin’s failures, from thinking that “the tsar is bad,”
          -And providing Russians with a new enemy to blame for their own economic and societal problems.

          At the same time, Babchenko says, were Putin to be replaced just now, that “would mean the complete loss in Russia of state power and control,” a development that would leave the Donbas in a state of anarchy. His departure would mean that Moscow would have no control there and require Kyiv to intervene to restore order.

          For the time being, he adds, “Putin doesn’t need a major war on the territory of Ukraine,” and without Moscow’s support, those anti-Ukrainian elements in the Donbas are not capable of launching one. Consequently, the war there will continue at a low level of intensity with various people proclaiming falsely an armistice again and again.

          Those fighting against Ukraine in the Donbas “do not have any final goal and cannot have one,” Babchenko explains. “These are people with arms who live in the here and now while pursuing, as their only goals, killing ‘Banderites’ and engaging in marauder actions.” They don’t have any bigger goals than that.

          And those who think that Russia doesn’t have the resources to support this kind of conflict are deluding themselves. Moscow has sufficient military equipment left over from Soviet times to continue such a conflict in eastern Ukraine “over the course of decades,” an unpleasant reality but a reality nonetheless, Babchenko concludes. Donbas on its way to becoming Chechnya of 1998, Babchenko says -- EUROMAIDAN PRESSEuromaidan Press |

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          • The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore Dec 28, 2015
            The Daily Vertical: War Returns To Donbas
            The Daily Vertical: War Returns To Donbas

            =================================================

            The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore Dec 28, 2015
            The Briefing: Church And State

            Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin, one of the most visible and controversial figures in the Moscow Patriarchate, was fired last week.

            Chaplin then launched into a fierce attack on what he called Russia's "immoral elites" and predicted that Partiarch Kirill would soon be replaced.

            On this week's Power Vertical Briefing we look at what Chaplin's sacking means going forward. Joining me is RFE/RL Senior Editor Steve Gutterman.

            Enjoy...The Briefing: Church And State

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            • Motorized Rifle Regiments of Russian Armed Forces stationed in Kominternove
              UT UKRAINE TODAY Dec. 28, 2015

              Russian regular troops invade again - Ukrainian military intelligence

              A Russian motorized rifle regiment company is hunkered down in the area of Kominternove, Zaichenko and Nova Tavriya near the strategic port city of Mariupol in Donetsk region. That's according to the Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine's Defense Ministry.

              "The situation in the Anti-Terrorist operation zone remains tense. It was found out that a company of the 9th Separate Motorized Rifle Regiment (Novoazovsk) of the 1st army corps of the Center for Territorial troops of the Southern Military District of the Russian Armed Forces is stationed in Kominternove. Moreover two squadrons from the 1st and the 2nd Motorized Rifle Regiment are stationed near Zaichenko and Nova Tavriya," a statement by Ukraine's Main Directorate of Intelligence says.

              Ukrainian military intelligence also reported on more casualties among Russian troops in Donbas.

              "Seven corpses on December 25 were transported to Donetsk together with 12 wounded troops, who took part in armed clashes near Mayorsk and Maryinka," the statement says.

              Combined Russian-separatist forces have stepped up reconnaissance operations, using sabotage units, drones and surveillance aircraft in recent days.

              Ukrainian military officers on December 28 provided representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe with information about the presence of heavy weapons banned by the Minsk agreements in Donetsk region. Motorized Rifle Regiments of Russian Armed Forces stationed in Kominternove - read on - uatoday.tv

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              • RADIO FREE EUROPE Christian Borys December 28, 2015
                In Odesa, Ukraine's Reform Agenda Faces Crucial Test

                ODESA, Ukraine -- To many of those living or doing business in this otherwise laid-back slice of southern Ukraine, even a whiff of the salty Black Sea breeze can't mask the smell of corruption.

                It is a persistent problem that rankles Kyiv and figures prominently in the Ukrainian leadership's Western-backed push for cleaner government and national unity, key factors in the country's pitched battle against armed separatism farther to the east.

                With that significance in mind, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in May recruited Mikheil Saakashvili, a Georgian ex-president with a pugnacious reputation, to become Odesa's governor.

                Half a year later, a perceived lack of progress and concerns that Saakashvili's real aim is to use Odesa as a stepping stone to national prominence have conspired to cast doubt on the process.

                By virtually all accounts, there is plenty of work ahead to achieve real reform in this city of 1 million and its surrounding region.

                A case in point is the bright-eyed, 26-year-old head of customs whose appointment drew sharp criticism, Yulia Marushevska. A former literature and history student who shot to fame at the height of the Maidan unrest thanks to her appearance in an überpatriotic (but Western-made) YouTube video titled I Am A Ukrainian, Marushevska joined Saakashvili's team over the summer and was tabbed in October to tackle corruption plaguing the city's bustling commercial port.

                Some have suggested it's the toughest customs job in all of Europe.

                Her boss, Saakashvili, built a reputation in his previous political life as the blunt-speaking face of reform and anticorruption while president of his native Georgia. And still, his appointment in May by Ukraine's oligarch-turned-president Petro Poroshenko raised eyebrows.

                Marushevska, on the other hand, was immediately derided following her appointment for a perceived lack of notable qualifications or any record of achievement battling corruption.

                But now two months into her job, she seems undaunted and is adamant that their shared goal is to usher in a wave of young reformers who can finally clean up one of the country's most corrupt cities.

                "The scale of the corruption here is unbelievable," Marushevska says during an interview in the two-story building near downtown Odesa that houses the customs authority. "But seeing the extent of it all is also inspirational, because now I know how much we can pay people if we clean up corruption. People could actually earn normal salaries."

                Odesa's residents aren't necessarily buying it.

                "It's a temporary show by Saakashvili to prove that he's made changes," Oleksandr Zakharov says from his seat in a dimly lit cafe near the shore. Zakharov is a former businessman who now heads a confederacy of freight forwarders in Odesa. "No one knows who this girl Marushevska is. Where did she come from? What does she know about this place?"

                Laying The Groundwork?

                The stakes are high, as Odesa is Ukraine's biggest port and the largest passenger port on the Black Sea. According to the port administration, around 8,000 employees from 400 state and privately owned companies are directly employed at the ports. They currently handle more than 25 million tons of dry cargo and 25 million tons of liquid cargo annually. Some 100,000 more people -- around one in 10 people -- are indirectly involved and earn money from the ports' commercial activities.

                The numbers point to a massive potential for bribery, from business licensing to what insiders suggest is perhaps the most lucrative sector, direct money transfers for container processing.

                One of the earliest initiatives has been the digitization of as much of the ports' and city's administration as possible. The idea is to replace as many human-to-human interactions as possible with computers to reduce the likelihood of bribes. In Odesa, Ukraine's Reform Agenda Faces Crucial Test

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                • Ukraine arrests top militant leader in east Ukraine
                  UT UKRAINE TODAY Dec. 28, 2015

                  Individual helped Russian operatives seize Slovyansk in east Ukraine in April 2014

                  Ukrainian law enforcement officers over the weekend detained a Russian-backed militant leader in the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk region. The detainee helped seize the city in April 2014, according to Ukraine's State Security Service (SBU).

                  "An an active member of a terrorist organization under the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, this individual helped the first group of Russian armed mercenaries and local criminals to occupy the Slovyansk city police department and other municipal buildings last April," the SBU's press office said.

                  From April to July 2014, the detainee oversaw activities of the militants. Ukrainian government forces liberated the city in July 2014. He then fled to Donetsk along with militants under Russian citizen Igor Girkin (aka Strelkov) and the self-proclaimed 'Slovyansk people's mayor' Vyacheslav Ponomarev.

                  SBU agents arrested the individual after he secretly returned to Slovyansk. Ukraine arrests top militant leader in east Ukraine - read on - uatoday.tv

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                  • Court rules to remand UKROP leader Korban in custody for two months
                    28.12.2015 | 16:16 UNIAN

                    Judge of Kyiv's Dniprovsky district court Mykola Chaus has satisfied a claim filed by prosecutors for remanding UKROP Party leader Hennadiy Korban in custody for 60 days, an UNIAN correspondent reported.

                    Having read the ruling, the presiding judge left the courtroom, the correspondent said.

                    Korban addressed those present in the room and urged them to remain calm and keep order. He said he was sure that a court of appeals would repeal the ruling as his legal reasoning was very firm.

                    "I wouldn't like anybody to be harmed because of me. Let us achieve our results, using legal means. We've got two days [until December 31] for the lawyers to submit an appeal – it has already been submitted. We have a good legal position. I ask you all to come when there are hearings on the appeal," he said.

                    After that he was taken out of the courtroom through the side door usually used by judges to exit, at the same time, free attendees, journalists and Members of Parliament who came to attend the hearing were kept in the courtroom.

                    "The ruling was read out by judge Mykola Chaus accompanied by chants: 'Shame on you!' The court's conclusions mentioned the names of the lawyers dismissed by Hennadiy Korban. The [other] lawyers claim that the wording of the ruling had been prepared beforehand," head of the UKROP Party's press service Yevhenia Kravchuk said.

                    "It was a telling trial. Today there are two Ukraines – the one that is fighting and wants change, reform, an honest life, and the other that we've inherited from the past, which is living according to old rules, imposing illegitimate justice and committing acts of corruption. But thanks to such civil society we will win," she quoted Korban as saying.

                    As UNIAN reported, Korban was detained by the SBU Security Service of Ukraine. He was charged with several crimes, namely the creation of a criminal group. Korban refutes all the charges.

                    On December 26, Kyiv's Dniprovsky district court started considering a claim filed by the Prosecutor General's Office for changing the defendant's pre-trial restriction from home arrest to detention on remand.

                    Korban's home arrest expires on December 31.
                    Court rules to remand UKROP leader Korban in custody for two months : UNIAN news

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                    • Belarus refuses to follow Russia in canceling FTA with Ukraine
                      28.12.2015 | 19:44 UNIAN

                      Belarus will not follow in the Russian steps in canceling the free trade area with Ukraine in the CIS framework from January 1, 2016, Ukraine’s Trade Representative Natalia Mykolska tweeted on Monday commenting on the visit of the Ukrainian delegation to Belarus.

                      "All urgent trade issues were discussed at the meeting. The main thing is that the Republic of Belarus will not exit the FTA with Ukraine," Mykolska tweeted.

                      As UNIAN reported earlier, on December 28, the Ukrainian delegation arrived in Belarus to resolve trade problems arising in connection with the entry into force on Jan. 1, 2016 of the Ukraine-EU Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

                      Earlier, Mykolska said that Kazakhstan would not support Russia in waiving the FTA with Ukraine within the Commonwealth of Independent States.

                      On December 25, Russia’s Federation Council endorsed a law signed by President Vladimir Putin "On the suspension by the Russian Federation of the Agreement on the free trade area in respect of Ukraine."

                      The memo states that in connection with the implementation from January 1, 2016, of a trade and economic section of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union "the circumstances, which were essential for Russia at the conclusion of the Agreement, have changed fundamentally."
                      Belarus refuses to follow Russia in canceling FTA with Ukraine : UNIAN news

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                      • Ukrainian interest. Middle East voyage, Minsk prolongation and Kremlin sublimation
                        28.12.2015 | 17:40 Yevgeny Magda UNIAN

                        Petro Poroshenko paid a visit to Israel, where he tried to make the most of the Knesset’s podium for political statements. Minsk process is by default extended throughout 2016. Russia responded to the extension of European sanctions and a new batch of the U.S. economic restrictions by suspending the free trade area with Ukraine.

                        The Ukrainian-Israeli relations are definitely going uphill, while the state visit of Petro Poroshenko to the Promised Land is the best evidence for such assumption. In addition, the Ukrainian leader tried to use the political environment for the development of relations with Israel, as the talks on a free trade zone between the two countries has dragged for years. Poroshenko used the podium of the Israeli parliament, to emphasize that there is in fact a conflict of worldviews between Ukraine and Russia. This thesis, as well as numerous analogies between Israel and Ukraine, was aimed at the Russian-speaking Jewish community, often sympathetic to Moscow.

                        Meanwhile, the situation in Donbas remains stably tense, which, however, did not prevent the OSCE Special Representative Martin Sajdik from declaring the prolongation of the Minsk agreements throughout 2016. Frankly, it’s not clear who authorized the European diplomat to make such high-profile statements. For Ukraine, such developments are of a dialectic nature: on the one hand, the official Kyiv will not be pushing with decisions that could spark sharp dissent, on the other - a conflict in Donbas is indeed becoming frozen.

                        The European Union has officially extended sanctions against Russia for another six months, pointing out the Kremlin's reluctance to fulfill the Minsk agreements. The United States has also launched a portion of new sanctions, thus denying the assumption that Ukraine was “exchanged” for Syria in geopolitical confrontation with the Russian Federation. The flywheel of the election campaign is spinning faster overseas, so the Ukrainian issue will surely be activated from time to time.

                        As the Russian Foreign Ministry had vowed, Russia resorted to an asymmetrical response. The State Duma and the Federation Council promptly voted to cancel the free trade area between Russia and Ukraine. At the current stage of bilateral relations, the move is more of a psychological nature, as Russia is hardly able to go for a vendetta against the West, so it chooses to drive its evil toward Ukraine. Speaker of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko (a native of Ukraine’s Shepetivka, by the way) did not rule out the introduction of visa regime with Ukraine. In relations with Ukraine, Russia is still guided not so much with the emotions as with the sophisticated propaganda fantasies.

                        New Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations, Volodymyr Yelchenko gave a series of interviews in which noted a rather modest role the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon plays in the Donbas conflict settlement. He also confirmed the relevance of the invitation to the east of Ukraine of the blue helmets, and made it clear that he intends to defend the Ukrainian position no less intense than his predecessor, Yuriy Sergeyev. Since January 1, Ukraine will become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, which opens plenty of new opportunities.
                        Ukrainian interest. Middle East voyage, Minsk prolongation and Kremlin sublimation : UNIAN news

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                        • Political feuding imperils Ukraine's future, Obama's record
                          REUTERS KIEV Alessandra Prentice & Pavel Polityuk Dec 28, 2015

                          On his most recent visit to Kiev, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden said he spends more time speaking to Ukrainian officials than to his own wife.

                          He may not be exaggerating: senior U.S. officials, including Biden, are deeply embroiled in trying to persuade Ukraine’s leadership to hold the line and implement the reforms they have promised to carry out.

                          But despite these efforts, divisions inside the ruling coalition are growing and many of the reforms are stalled. If the leaders fail, it will be a deep embarrassment to Washington, the EU, and the IMF which sacrificed relations with Russia to support these people.

                          "I think we may have logged close to 1,000 hours on the telephone," Biden told reporters during his visit this month, referring to his calls with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, before adding the quip that it was more time than he spends talking to Mrs Biden.

                          The Obama administration, with the EU, has invested deeply in making a success of Ukraine's Feb. 2014 revolution, when protesters forced a Russian-backed leader to flee and pro-Western opposition figures took over.

                          A look at statements issued by Biden's office shows that since 2014 the vice president spoke by telephone 40 times with Poroshenko and 16 times with Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk.

                          That is in addition to four visits by Biden to Kiev since the change in power, and multiple meetings with Poroshenko and Yatseniuk in Washington and in Europe.

                          Biden was not alone in spending time on Ukraine. In 2014, U.S officials and members of congress paid more than 100 visits to Ukraine, according to a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

                          Yet despite intense efforts by the White House the project is now in danger of unraveling.

                          If that happens, it will be a squandered opportunity for Ukraine to break a 25-year cycle of chaos and corruption and would rob the Obama administration of a rare foreign policy success.

                          RARE BRIGHT SPOT

                          When Viktor Yanukovich, the Moscow-backed Ukrainian President, fled Kiev on Feb. 21, 2014 en route to exile in Russia, Washington saw an opportunity to realize its foreign policy goals.

                          It hoped the new Ukraine would be the kind of free market democracy Washington wanted to promote, and also that it would pull out of Moscow's orbit.

                          After Russia responded by annexing Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula, and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine tried to secede, Washington doubled down on its commitment to Kiev.

                          Along with Europe, it imposed sanctions on Russia, even though that tipped relations between Moscow and Washington to their worst since the Cold War.

                          Meanwhile, the new pro-Western Ukrainian authorities faced a dire situation. War against the separatists killed thousands of people and made hundreds of thousands homeless. State coffers were empty, the currency in freefall, and business and homes still dependent on Russia for energy supplies. Soviet-era industries were held by politically-connected insiders. Corruption had become entrenched.

                          The International Monetary Fund agreed to keep Kiev afloat but demanded a restructuring of its debt and a swathe of reforms to its finances, politics and industry.

                          Initially, the news from Kiev was positive. In a statement before the Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress in March this year, senior U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland reeled off a list of reforms enacted by the new authorities.

                          "Ukraine began to forge a new nation on its own terms," Nuland said.

                          That was a welcome bright spot for an administration that had suffered foreign policy setbacks in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. But in the past few months Ukraine's reform drive has stuttered.

                          While Kiev has made some headway on its pledges, including cleaning up its banking sector and revamping the police force, many promises have either stalled in parliament or remained on paper only.

                          For example, little progress has been made in reforming the office of the general prosecutor, which U.S. officials and other Western supporters have repeatedly said should be a key focus of efforts to root out cronyism and graft.

                          After much wrangling, the Ukrainian parliament on Friday approved next year's budget, a prerequisite to secure the next tranche of $17.5 billion in IMF loans.

                          However, it remains to be seen whether the budget meets all the requirements of the IMF. Previous amendments to the tax system were only temporary, and a new tax code is still pending.

                          Meanwhile, public disputes have broken out between allies of the president and Yatseniuk, whose partnership had formed the core of the reform push.

                          There was a mass brawl in parliament earlier this month between feuding members of the ruling pro-European coalition that saw Yatseniuk lifted from his feet by an irate lawmaker.

                          Days later, during a meeting that was supposed to discuss reform but turned into a shouting match about corruption, the interior minister threw a glass of water at Mikheil Saakashvili, a former president of Georgia who took Ukrainian citizenship and was appointed a regional governor by Poroshenko.

                          LAST CHANCE

                          At his meetings in Kiev with Poroshenko, Biden delivered a warning, according to a source close to the Ukrainian president who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

                          "Biden showed that results are important to the United States. That the current team have a last chance to do something," the source said, when asked what was discussed during their latest meeting in Kiev. "Patience is close to

                          running out."

                          Preaching against corruption is not easy when any hope of resurrecting Ukraine's economy depends on reviving the very industries that have been crooked for decades.

                          Just months after Ukraine's revolution, Biden's own son Hunter Biden took a post as a director of a Ukrainian gas company. The New York Times said "the credibility of the vice president's anti-corruption message may have been undermined" by the role. Biden says he and his son do not discuss business.

                          According to several Ukrainian lawmakers who spoke to Reuters, the prime minister may be dismissed early next year, possibly after losing a vote of no confidence in parliament. That could trigger an early parliamentary election.

                          Losing Yatseniuk would be a blow for U.S. policy in Ukraine. In a leaked recording of a telephone call between Nuland and the U.S. ambassador to Kiev, she described him by the affectionate nickname "Yats." Washington sees Yatseniuk, a fluent English speaker, as the lynchpin of Ukraine's reform effort.

                          According to a second source close to Poroshenko, Washington will work with any prime minister, as long as a reformist coalition keeps power.

                          "Their view is -- sort out the top people yourselves," the second source said of Washington's approach.

                          "The main thing is to save the coalition and prevent any backwards steps. The two main points the Americans are pushing at Kiev are 1) protect political stability, 2) strictly fulfill the IMF demands on which financial help depends," the source said.

                          If he was forceful in his meetings with Ukrainian officials behind closed doors, Biden was only slightly less blunt in a public speech to the Ukrainian parliament.

                          "If you fail, the experiment fails," he said in his speech, during which he appeared to be trying to address his remarks as much towards the box where the government sits as to lawmakers.

                          "It may be your last moment. Please for the sake of the rest of us, selfishly on my part, don’t waste it. Seize the opportunity. Build a better future for the people of Ukraine."
                          Political feuding imperils Ukraine's future, Obama's record | Reuters

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                          • Opinion: Ensuring that the regime doesn’t escape faceless Naming names in the judicial and legislative machine of Russia’s modern-day repression
                            MEDUZA 11:44, 28 December 2015 Vedomosti

                            More than three years after violence erupted at a protest in Moscow, the Bolotnaya Square case is still churning out criminal convictions. On December 22, a Moscow court sentenced Ivan Nepomnyashchikh to 2.5 years in prison, making his the 33rd conviction in an investigation that many view as political persecution intended to intimidate demonstrators against repeating the protests that caught the Kremlin off guard in 2011. In an opinion piece for the newspaper Vedomosti, journalist Maria Eismont argues that the Bolotnaya Square case is a reminder that Russia isn't ruled by Putin alone. She believes the historical record must fully reflect the names of those who collaborate with the regime today. Meduza translates that text here.
                            -------------------------------
                            Ivan Nepomnyashchikh is the 33rd person to be sentenced in Russia's Bolotnaya Square case—an investigation into street violence that occurred in Moscow more than three years ago in May 2012. If, like many people, you think Nepomnyashchikh is innocent of assaulting the police, it likely seems his sentence is far too harsh. If you bear in mind how long he could have been sent to prison, however, the sentence seems much lighter.

                            This is how many of Ivan's supporters were talking when they showed up at the Moscow courthouse. The judge, Alexey Kaveshnikov, condemned the 24-year-old engineer to a penal colony for two-and-a-half years. It was less than the maximum potential sentence. This is what happens when the system won't let you acquit someone, but your conscience won't let you hand down the full sentence.

                            “I, too, was relieved when I got 3.5 years instead of 5.5 years,” Alexey Polikhovich, another Bolotnaya Square case, wrote on Facebook after going free recently. “The system has driven us to such a state that we consider it society's victory over the state, when we're sentenced to time already served, and we see it as a neutral outcome, when we're sentenced to anything less than the maximum penalty. Our reference points and our sense of how things should be have been distorted by the state's aggression against us and against the whole society.”

                            ”It's pocket change,” Ivan's father said in the courtroom, after hearing the sentence. Later, outside the courthouse, he continued: “And don't forget that he's already spent 10 months under house arrest. I mean, guys, what else can we hope for in this country?!” He then added that it was Putin who sent his son to prison, and that the judge, the prosecutors, and the investigators are merely pawns.

                            But we shouldn't accept this. Even in today's Russia, everyone has the opportunity to obey both their conscience and the law. And if you're not up to protesting or fighting, you can at least still avoid participating.

                            On Grani.ru, which is blocked in Russia, Dmitry Borko and Darya Kostromina run a project called “Bolotnaya: Lies Have Names,” where they demonstrate the importance of documenting individuals' contributions to Russia's legal and political system today. “It would be wrong,” they write, “to leave faceless and nameless the gang that ‘was just doing its job,’ putting dozens of innocent people behind bars.” Borko and Kostromina collect information about the role of each investigator and judge involved in the Bolotnaya Square case.

                            Making sure that the authors of Russia's repressive laws and repressive court sentences don't escape as faceless and nameless is just as important as ensuring that these decisions are repealed. Just a year after enacting the Dima Yakovlev Law, which banned US citizens from adopting Russian children, Duma lawmakers were already angered by questions about it. “What more is there to say on the subject?!” they'd ask annoyedly.

                            Not long ago, I happened to meet Duma deputy Anton Ishchenko. When I told him that I hope he dreams every night of the orphans he left without a family by supporting that law, he told me that the vote “went along party lines.” In other words, responsibility rests with the political parties, and not with Mr. Ishchenko and his colleagues. But the eight lawmakers who voted against the legislation showed that it was possible to go about it another way.

                            Sooner or later, the repressive laws will be repealed. They'll be ruled either unconstitutional or inhumane. When that happens, we mustn't forget who made these measures possible. When Nepomnyashchikh and his allies in the Bolotnaya Square case are rehabilitated, we cannot pretend that there was never any Judge Kaveshnikov or District Attorney Amirkhan Kostoev, who, according to Borko, conducted himself in trial ”very politely” and “showed himself to be a man who understands the full nonsense of the case and quietly and discreetly tries to correct this savagery.”
                            https://meduza.io/en/feature/2015/12...scape-faceless

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                            • Poroshenko greenlights NATO military exercises in Ukraine next year
                              28.12.2015 | 23:10 UNIN VIDEO

                              President Petro Poroshenko has signed a decree authorizing multinational military exercises in Ukraine in 2016, according to Ukraine Today.

                              Under the plan, US forces along with other NATO members and states involved in the Partnership for Peace programme - will be allowed to operate with appropriate weapons and equipment. The decree published late Saturday also permits Ukrainian soldiers to train abroad, Ukraine Today reports.

                              A number of military exercises will be hosted by Ukraine next year – including Maple Arch 2016 – which focuses on stabilization and peacekeeping missions and Sea Breeze 2016, centered on international maritime operations.

                              Poroshenko greenlights NATO military exercises in Ukraine next year : UNIAN news

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                              • REUTERS MOSCOW Dec 28, 2015 4:31am EST
                                Kremlin does not rule out phone contacts on Ukraine crisis in 'Normandy format' before year-end

                                Russia does not rule out phone contacts in the so-called "Normandy format" on the Ukraine crisis before the end of 2015, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday.

                                The "Normandy format" includes France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.

                                "We do not rule out that telephone contacts of the leaders of the Normandy quartet may take place before the New Year," Peskov said.

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