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  • 09:19 01.01.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
    UAH 8.8 bln needed to rebuild infrastructure in Luhansk region

    The general plan for the reconstruction of infrastructure of Luhansk region includes 7,800 facilities whose rebuilding requires UAH 8.8 billion, Luhansk regional military civilian administration head Heorhiy Tuka said.

    "The general plan for rebuilding infrastructure in Luhansk region covers 7,800 facilities. These are 6,719 destroyed and damaged residential houses, which need to be either rebuilt or their sum should be compensated to people. It also includes 418 roads and 32 bridges, 170 water supply and sewerage facilities, 94 hospitals and 112 secondary schools and pre-school educational institutions," Tuka told the a regional TV channel, the Luhansk administration's press service reported.

    In his words, all these measures require UAH 8.8 billion, which is an exorbitant sum for the regional budget.

    "I hope that we'll be able to implement if not all 100%, but at least 70% of the plan next year. The only thing that can stop us is new escalation of hostilities and a lack of our own capacities," Tuka said.

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    • Ukrainian interest 2015. Minsk prolongation, tango with EU, and UN factor
      01.01.2016 | 10:00 UNIAN Yevgeny Magda

      Minsk agreements have largely shaped the Ukrainian foreign policy, but failed to bring peace to the Donbas land. Kyiv and Brussels have been swirling in the tango of integration. Ukraine has obtained an opportunity to make greater use of instruments of the United Nations.

      Although the Minsk agreements defining the matrix of ending the Donbas conflict were signed as early as mid-February, we don’t see them being implemented. The agreement on the extension of Minsk-2 for 2016 reached between the Normandy Four on December 30 in a conference call is perhaps the only opportunity not only for Russia, but also for Germany and France to save face in the current situation. As it turned out, it’s not enough to put pressure on Ukraine. There should also be a good will of the Kremlin, which Moscow does not intend to show. The conflict in Donbas will remain next year one of the main factors of instability on the continent, and we shouldn’t forget about it.

      Ukraine took a straight course toward rapprochement with the EU. The Association Agreement between Moldova and the European Union has been ratified almost by all the member states. In April, a consultative referendum on this issue will be held in the Netherlands. However, a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between Ukraine and the EU will start operating in full from January 1, 2016 despite resistance of Russia, which will suspend a similar mechanism of free trade with Kyiv. There is reason to expect the visa free regime with the EU be abolished for Ukraine in 2016, though the process of adopting the required laws by the Verkhovna Rada was over-filled with emotions that have little to do with EU integration. However, the process has been useful for understanding by the Ukrainian politicians of upcoming difficulties on the path of rapprochement with the European Union.

      While the relations with Slovakia strengthened through reverse gas supplies to Ukraine, the warmed relations between Kyiv and Warsaw was a pleasant surprise. Polish President Andrzej Duda appeared ready to start a new page of bilateral relations on the basis of the existing format of strategic partnership, and this gives hope for Ukraine's participation in the implementation of the Baltic-Black Sea cooperation format. Another common enemy of Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia is Gazprom-offered Nord Stream-2 pipeline project, which is able to redraw the energy map of Europe in case of successful implementation. This problem seems especially important to the official Kyiv in light of getting rid of dependence on Russian gas supplies and the desire to play a more active role in Europe’s energy security.

      The relations between Ukraine and the United States have been developing steadily. Barack Obama can hardly be called a "hawk." He is rather called a "lame duck," but the awareness of the importance of our country is growing in the overseas establishment. That’s why we see $300 million allocated for strengthening Ukraine’s defenses in the US budget for 2016, and that’s why the IMF has become more amenable to dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s address to the Verkhovna Rada was a notable political event, demonstrating the U.S. interest, not only in the preservation of Ukraine’s independence, but also in dealing with its political problems.

      For the first time in several years, the arsenal of the Ukrainian diplomacy is updated with the UN factor. First, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly about the current situation in Ukraine, and then the country was elected a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2016-2017. The appointment of Ukraine’s new Permanent Representative Volodymyr Yelchenko succeeding Yuriy Sergeyev demonstrated the importance of social networks in the modern political life. Although the UN Security Council is by no means a world government, using it as a platform for the protection of national interests is a must thing.

      In 2016, Ukraine must give real meaning to its potential of an Eastern European leader, continue its fight in a hybrid format with Russia, be more active not only in the post-Soviet space but also in Central Europe, defend its interests in the existing markets for the Ukrainian goods and to seek for the new ones. Ukraine remains an important element of the European security system, but it has to constantly remind of its importance, not to let the Ukrainian issue be lost among the other challenges of the modern world.
      Ukrainian interest 2015. Minsk prolongation, tango with EU, and UN factor : UNIAN news

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      • 2015 The Year In Review - Why Russia Spent 2015 Half-Assing It in Ukraine
        VICE NEWS Ryan Faith Dec 31, 2015 part 1

        What went on in Ukraine in 2015 (after Russia sneaky-invaded the country in early 2014 and annexed Crimea) was not a Cold War or frozen conflict, where the shooting and killing lie either in the past or in a potential future. Nor was it a hot, high-intensity fight in which two countries spent their blood, toil, tears, and sweat on an existential battle to the death. It wasn't even an American-style quagmire like Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

        So what was it? From the Ukrainian perspective, it was and continues to be a sausage grinder consuming money and young lives. But it's not so clear how it all looks from Moscow. Is Russia winning? Losing? Or did they just doze off?

        It's reasonable to surmise — based if nothing else on the nature of NATO's concerns about the Baltics — that if Russian president Vladimir Putin got the itch, the Russian military would be fully capable of mustering enough firepower to flatten Ukraine. But then again, the Russian military had more than enough brute force to prevail easily in their first (1994–1996) and second (1999–2000) wars in Chechnya, yet it prevailed only in the second conflict. So it might not be as cut and dried as simply counting the number of guys with guns in the Russian Army.

        A lot has been written about why Putin may have gotten involved in Ukraine's Donbass region following the Great Crimean Heist of 2014. For starters, there's the slightly messianic vision of Putin as Protector of All Russians. He's been making increasingly louder noises about Moscow's responsibility to safeguard the various ethnic Russians scattered throughout the post-Soviet republics.

        Secondly, Putin has taken it upon himself to make Russia a strong counterbalance to creeping US hegemony — the bully who bullies the bullies. Busting into Ukraine and (metaphorically speaking) driving a big-ass Russian tank through the Western conceptions of a post-Cold War world has got to have some appeal.

        If fighting Kiev to the last Ukrainian is a popular concept in Russia, shouldn't winning be an even bigger victory for Putin, so to speak?

        A final, frequently cited reason for Putin's actions is that this Ukraine kerfuffle has done him no end of good at the polls. But Putin, as ballsy as he may be, is perfectly aware that gambling on a war going well forever is foolish. Why run the risk when he has the political capital right now to jump in with both boots and end this thing for good, locking in his successes while he still can?

        It may be that this polling success is just a byproduct of the first two reasons: standing up for Russians everywhere while facing down the big bully America. But it doesn't explain why Russia is still dicking around in the Donbass. If fighting Kiev to the last Ukrainian is a popular idea in Russia, shouldn't winning be an even bigger victory?

        This question is a bit vexing for Western observers. The vast majority of Western thinking aligns with the idea of war as a means to an end. A war is something you engage in to achieve some particular goal or objective — a.k.a., politics by other means. Even in the 70 years since World War II, the US is still wrestling with the idea that war isn't a straight-up two-position switch with settings at War and Peace.

        Anything that doesn't involve regular, uniformed people on the ground is deemed Peace — as far as the US public seems to be concerned, Special Forces and airstrikes don't count. Meanwhile, War is preferentially something with a bold, heroic campaign and decisive victory. It's taken decades for the US to even grudgingly admit to the existence of low- and medium-intensity wars, like Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, or Afghanistan. Even today, it's still possible to find politicians nattering on about "declaring war" against the Islamic State, or pundits endlessly parsing this or that particular permutation of "boots on the ground."

        And so in the West, the idea that Russia chooses to remain stuck in the middle of a war it could win at any time can seem rather baffling.

        One common rationale is that Putin won't pull the trigger on Ukraine because he fears the backlash from the West. But the logic doesn't hold water. After all, the Washington, DC crowd is all aflutter about the possibility that the US sending Ukraine proper anti-tank missiles will be seen as a sharp escalation in the conflict, drawing a dramatic Russian reaction. If the US is already cowed into a tepid response, then it sounds like Washington is a lot more afraid of Russia than vice versa. Besides, Putin appears to have trouble giving any ****s whatsoever about what the West thinks of him.

        All of that said, a few potential reasons remain for why Putin hasn't dropped the hammer on the Ukraine still remain.

        First, overrunning Ukraine brings its own problems. If the Russians aren't careful, they could earn themselves a nasty case of insurgency. Russia has made an important observation about warfare from both its various Chechen adventures and its observations of the US experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.

        "Taking territory isn't the same thing as holding it," says Olga Oliker, director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. "Ukraine, as a whole, doesn't want the Russians and can make it painful for Russia."

        But what if Russia contented itself with simply making off with the parts of Ukraine that do seem eager to be Russian: the secessionist Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR), which together make up the heart of the Donbass region. To begin with, owning the Donbass would involve paying a pretty hefty service fee for repair and cleaning, since that area was already a hot mess before everyone got around to trashing the merry hell out of it.

        And besides, Oliker notes, the longer that separatists in the DPR and LPR keep creating problems for the Ukrainian central government in Kiev, the longer Moscow can rail against Kiev for not living up to ceasefire and election promises in the breakaway territories.

        Or maybe Russia simply can't deliver the coup de grace. Phillip Karber, president of the Potomac Foundation, has toured the conflict zone numerous times and points out that the Russian military is in the midst of modernization and, as such, is broken into two tiers. There's a first level of highly trained volunteer troops that make up the leading edge of the modern military. But behind that well-trained professional group is a larger body of poorly motivated and badly led conscripts.

        "The entire Russian Army, as currently mobilized, is only 50 percent larger than the Ukrainian Army," Karber says. So while the Russian Army could, in theory, scare up a lot more manpower, it couldn't do so without throwing the entire Russian Army into the mix — meaning, the Bad News Bears conscripts — which would bring its own complications.

        Russia has done very well in Ukraine with a mix of professional Russian soldiers, mercenaries, oddballs, and freshly trained separatist Ukrainians. But stepping up to the next level would involve digging into the larger body of lower-grade recruits. The fact that the fighting in Ukraine is pulling units from all over Russia — for example, naval infantry from the Arctic port of Murmansk were brought in to fight for the Donetsk airport — Karber says, is a sign that Russia is scrambling to find enough high-quality troops to keep the pressure on.

        Switching to the vast, untapped legions of low-grade grunts would also shift the conflict into a new, more politically risky phase, Pavel Felgenhauer, a noted Russian military analyst, explained in a July interview. Russia has, like the Soviets before them, a pretty sizeable box of tools for low-intensity conflict and intervention in foreign wars. The problem is that going in full-strength as an advanced combined arms team — meaning, the close integration of air power and all flavors of ground forces, like tanks and artillery — would not just reach deep into the less-reliable mass of conscript troops, it would mean the active use of Russian aircraft for air support in Ukraine. If that were to happen, then the polite fiction of Russian non-involvement would come to a screeching halt, endangering all of Putin's political gains from the conflict.

        So why doesn't Putin just declare victory and call it a day?


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        • 2015 The Year In Review - Why Russia Spent 2015 Half-Assing It in Ukraine
          VICE NEWS Ryan Faith Dec 31, 2015 part 2


          "The Russians could leave tomorrow if they wanted to — but they want a mess," Oliker says. "They want to show what happens when you have a Maidan movement: disaster follows."

          In other words, a more traditional, short, all-out war differs from the Russian approach in Ukraine the way that an execution by lethal injection differs from a crucifixion: Both are intended to kill the prisoner, but one is intended to make a very public demonstration of a long and agonizing death in order to send a message to others. In this punitive scenario, cruel and unusual punishment is a feature, not a bug.

          This narrative, although chilling, makes sense. For years, Russia and its allies have been of the firm opinion that the so-called color revolutions that keep popping up all around the world, toppling dictators and authoritarian regimes, aren't, in fact, homegrown, natural movements. Rather, the allegation is that they are "AstroTurf" campaigns supported and funded by the West in general and the US in particular, with an intent to destabilize and remove governments. If you assume that the allegation has some truth to it, then the Maidan movement — a wave of civil demonstrations in Ukraine in 2013 — would be interpreted not as the ousting of an unpopular president, but the willful destabilization of a key Russian ally.

          Thus, the objective of intervening in Ukraine would ultimately be deterring other Maidan wannabes from getting too uppity and eloping with the West. Moreover, intervening in Ukraine would demonstrate to the West that Russia will counter any moves against its close neighbors and client states. So, according to Oliker, keeping the fight going is a way to prove that the government in Kiev is incompetent, can't control its own country, and can't comply with the provisions of the Minsk ceasefire agreements related to regional self-determination. If Russia were to just swoop in and take the place, it would let Kiev off the hook.

          An interesting riff off this idea is described more fully by Felgenhauer. His contention is that this whole thing is analogous to World War I's Verdun campaign. Sparing all of the historical details, the nut of it is the theory that if things can be made to go badly enough, it will cause political support for the government in Kiev to crumble.

          So, in a way, it's not about what Russia needs to do to seize the territory, but rather what it can do to make the Ukrainian government collapse and, in so doing, surrender the contested regions.

          Moreover, land surrendered by the Ukrainians to Russia would be far less likely to give rise to a viable insurgency, thus making the post-conflict peace a lot easier. If the local opposition to Russia has already been sold down the river by the central government in Kiev, is there really any reason for them to fight Moscow just to rejoin Ukraine?

          Future historians are the ones who'll figure out which of these scenarios is really happening, but in all likelihood, it's a combination of factors. The Russians probably look at Ukraine as not being worth the extra headache of defeating outright, because it would require making a serious military commitment and probably earn Russia a nasty insurgency problem. But if the Russians outlast the Ukrainians (which they almost certainly can do) and simply wait for Ukraine to cry uncle, then it makes all the relevant political points, domestically and internationally, far more persuasively than a pure smash-and-grab would.

          There are some relevant lessons for observers in the West here, beyond the obvious ones involving Putin's world-class levels of crankiness. The traditional Western mode of thinking, particularly about high-intensity modern warfare, is that it's either an on or off thing. A great deal has been written about "escalation ladders" and steps to raise or lower tensions in a conflict. Once you've tipped over into war, the conventional wisdom goes, then it's best to be as brutal and violent as possible, bringing about an end as quickly as you can manage.

          But US adventures in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have shown that there are limitations to this approach. And Russian involvement in Ukraine is showing the broader range of possibilities available to a country that doesn't put all of its military options on one neat sliding scale from peace to war.
          https://news.vice.com/article/why-ru...it-in-ukraine1

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          • RADIO FREE EURROPE January 02, 2016
            EU-Ukraine Free Trade Deal Comes Into Effect

            Ukraine's free-trade agreement with the European Union came into force on January 1, coinciding with the start of Moscow's food embargo against Kyiv.

            The free-trade deal, signed in June 2014, is part of the broader EU Association Agreement and stands at the heart of the drastic deterioration of Ukraine's relations with Russia.

            The deal grants Ukraine tariff-free access to the EU's giant market and is expected to boost Ukraine's struggling economy.

            The European Commission said in a statement of December 31 that "the agreement will contribute to the modernization and diversification of the Ukrainian economy and will create additional incentives for reform."

            Ukraine, whose market has been traditionally oriented toward Russia, will now have to turn itself toward the European market and adapt to EU standards and rules.

            Russia, furious at seeing its Soviet-era satellite turn to the West, has long been critical of the trade deal.

            An initial attempt to finalize the pact had failed in 2013, sparking protests in Kyiv that led to the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president, followed by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, and a Russian-backed separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine.

            Russia has taken retaliatory measures, suspending its free-trade agreement with Ukraine and banning the import of Ukrainian food.
            EU-Ukraine Free Trade Deal Comes Into Effect

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            • 11:08 01.01.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
              Ukrainian army reports 22 attacks on its positions in Donbas

              Ukrainian army positions in Donbas came under 22 attacks during the past 24 hours, including by use of small arms, automatic grenade launchers and 120mm grenade launchers; 15 attacks happened in the period from midnight till 6 a.m. on Friday, the army operation press center said.

              Precision fire of small arms, automatic grenade launchers and 120mm mortars was conducted on Ukrainian positions near Avdiyivka on Thursday evening, the press center wrote on Facebook.

              Army positions in Pisky were shelled by 82mm mortars.

              Large-caliber machineguns and grenade launchers continued to be fired near Pisky, Opytne, Novhorodske and Avdiyivka in Donetsk region.

              Ukrainian positions were shelled by automatic grenade launchers near Schastia and by small arms near Zolote in Luhansk region.

              Precision fire of automatic grenade launchers and small arms was conducted on Ukrainian positions on the approaches to Maryinka since midnight.

              The press center also reported random fire near Opytne, Pisky, Avdiyivka, Novhorodske, Luhanske and Troitske in the small hours of Friday. Small arms, grenade launchers and large-caliber machine guns were used.

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              • Walking with torches: Ukraine marks nationalist leader Bandera's birth anniversary
                01.01.2016 | 23:44 UNIAN

                Several Ukrainian cities across the country, including Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Kherson, Sloviansk, saw torch-lit parades on Friday, January 1, that marked the 107th anniversary of controversial World War II, anti-Soviet insurgent, Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera.

                More than 3,000 people came to Kyiv's Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, for a meeting to commemorate the anniversary on Friday. Prior to that, participants in the event had marched along the streets in the center of Kyiv, carrying torches, national blue and yellow flags, nationalist red and black flags, as well as the banners of the Svoboda Party, the Right Sector organization, the far-right political party Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, according to an UNIAN correspondent.

                They were chanting slogans: "Glory! Glory! Glory! To the Leader of the Ukrainian Nation," "We're Banderovtsi [Bandera followers]! We're coming!" "Stranger, Remember – Ukrainians Run Things Here."

                A young woman was carrying Bandera's portrait in the front of the column. Nationalists with a large red and black flag and blue-and-yellow banners with Bandera's quotations: "Our Ideas are Our Greatest Strength!" "Competition is Our Natural Environment, a Struggle is the Essence of Our Life," and others were walking behind her.

                They also called on the Ukrainian authorities to release all prisoners of conscience.

                The column was moving along Shevchenko Boulevard towards Besarabska Square, and then turned left to Maidan Nezalezhnosti for the meeting. Members of Parliament from the Svoboda Party, the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, members of the Right Sector organization, soldiers who participated in the Anti-Terrorist Operation in Donbas and others took part in the assembly.

                They noted the strong spirit of the Ukrainian nation in the fight against Russian aggression in the east of Ukraine. They also noted that Ukraine should rely on their own strength and should "cherish faith in God." Nationalists also stressed that that "it's unity that will lead to victory."

                It was the 10th Bandera torch march in Kyiv.

                A number of other Ukrainian cities and towns hosted similar torch parades and other events, including Lviv, Odesa, Kherson, Mariupol and the town of Sloviansk, which was occupied by the combined Russian-separatist forces from April to July 2014.

                Participants in the Sloviansk event were chanting the Bandera movement's slogan: "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes! Glory to the Nation! Death to Enemies! Ukraine Above Everything!" Their other slogans were: "Sloviansk is Ukraine. Crimea is Ukraine. Donbas is Ukraine."

                view all videos
                Walking with torches: Ukraine marks nationalist leader Bandera's birth anniversary : UNIAN news

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                • RADIO FREE EUROPE January 02, 2016
                  More Crimean Power Shortages Likely With End Of Ukraine Supplies

                  Residents of Crimea face several more months of power shortages as Russia appears to have ended a contract with Ukraine to deliver electricity to the peninsula it annexed in 2014.

                  A Kremlin spokesman said January 1 that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not renew the contract, which expired on New Year's day, as long as Kyiv keeps insisting on stipulating in the contract that the peninsula belongs to Ukraine.

                  "It can be assumed with a great degree of probability that the president will opt not to sign a contract on such terms," which would amount to an abnegation of Russia's annexation, Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov said.

                  After a month of on-and-off electricity supplies from Ukraine due to sabotage of the high-voltage transmission lines feeding the peninsula, power to Crimea was officially cut off at midnight December 31 when the contract expired, Russian media reported.

                  If Kyiv agrees to drop its demand for a clause designating Crimea as part of Ukraine, Peskov said, then Russia would be more inclined to renew the contract.

                  To support the Kremlin's apparent decision not to renew the contract, Putin commissioned an opinion poll to determine whether Crimean residents want to be a part of Ukraine to continue getting power supplies from the Ukrainian company Ukrenegro.

                  Russian news agencies reported on January 1 that Crimeans voted overwhelmingly by over 90 percent against renewing the contract under those circumstances, even if it meant experiencing more minor disruptions in supply.

                  The Kremlin said Putin will be guided by the results of the poll, which was conducted by a state-owned polling organization, in making a decision about the now-lapsed power supply contract with Ukraine.

                  Without power from Ukraine, officials have warned that Crimeans will continue to experience at least minor electricity shortages and rolling blackouts for three or four months until Moscow can complete construction of undersea cables transmitting more power supplies from Russia.

                  Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak has said the power shortages will be particularly acute at peak times of usage, when shortfalls of up to 10 percent are possible. More Crimean Power Shortages Likely With End Of Ukraine Supplies

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                  • Betrayal or Victory: what did 2015 bring for Ukraine?
                    EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2016/01/01

                    2015 was a year of contrasts for Ukraine. This year’s journey to fulfilling the promise of Euromaidan was laden with victories and betrayals. Or, to put it in Ukrainian: one year between “Peremoha” and “Zrada.” The Euromaidan Press team took a look at the past year to try seeing what we had of more.

                    Betrayal or Victory: what did 2015 bring for Ukraine? -Euromaidan Press |

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                    • Opinion: Propaganda lobotomized Russians in 2015 How the Kremlin’s manipulation of politics and public perceptions weakened the nation’s minds
                      MEDUZA 12:34, 1 January 2016 Vedomosti

                      The mediasphere was one of Russia's most-discussed topics in 2015. As lawmakers accelerated the push to drive out foreign interests and saddle the news industry with more regulations, the political establishment also managed the remarkable swap of a war in Ukraine for an intervention in Syria. But the new year promises continued economic recession and parliamentary elections scheduled in September. In an opinion piece for the newspaper Vedomosti, editorial staff Andrei Sinitsyn, Pavel Aptekar, and Nikolai Epple argue that the authorities succeeded in “weakening Russians' minds” in 2015, but the trials ahead in 2016 could open new doors for badly needed political reforms. Meduza translates that text here.
                      ----------------------------------------------------

                      Almost every day of Russia's political agenda in 2015 was set by military operations, terrorist attacks, and the course of the economic crisis.

                      With a news cycle like this, every new bad thing that happened replaced the last bad thing. Psychologists say people get used to bad news; they don't learn to like it, but it ceases to provoke a strong emotional response. The bar just gets higher.

                      Who today remembers Malaysia Airlines Flight 17? The investigation of this catastrophe was one of the most important and visible topics of the year, with the Dutch Safety Board publishing its final report on October 13.

                      Who remembers the battle for the Ukrainian city of Debaltseve? It lasted from January to February, and to this day there are still separatists from Donetsk and Luhansk in that city, along with Russian citizens "engaged in resolving certain issues in the military sphere," in Vladimir Putin's words.

                      On February 27, in plain view of the Kremlin, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot in the most high-profile assassination of Russia's post-Soviet era.

                      The year also witnessed the Russian justice system set several new records, freeing corrupt officials and sending innocent people to prison for years on absurd charges. Once again, the government adopted and enforced new laws restricting the rights of its citizens. This year, deadly terrorist attacks returned to Russians, though Metrojet Flight 9268 never made it back to Russia, exploding over the Sinai in Egypt—a terrorist attack few people seem to talk about anymore, just as they've gone silent about the Paris attacks, though they occurred less than two months ago.

                      The average Russian consumer of information today remembers only that the country is at war in Syria, that Turkey shot down Russia's Sukhoi Su-24, and that Russians are obligated to respond with sanctions.

                      And then, constantly in the background, is the recession. GDP is falling, as are average incomes. The Kremlin's hopes that oil prices would rebound quickly proved to be groundless. Russia's investment activity has bottomed out, and industry is stagnating. This truly troubling news raises serious issues for the state, which prefers not to discuss the matter. The weak attempt to resuscitate the economy by negatively motivating businesses and the people (the “import-substitution” mobilization) won't work.

                      It's already become impossible to solve the crisis with economic measures alone; only large-scale political reforms can put Russia back on the right track. But this would require accepting a genuine competition for power, which is impossible for the Kremlin, because it sees both the state and the economy as rents to be distributed. The recession keeps reducing those rents, so the authorities are faced with dual tasks: distract the people from both the crisis and the increasingly less equitable distribution of rents. To achieve this, they turn to propaganda built on bad news. Citizens are asked to escalate the fight against Russia's enemies, both foreign and domestic. The war in Ukraine became a war in Syria. In their efforts to exploit the legacy of the USSR's victory in the Second World War, Russian officials went to unreasonable lengths with the 70th anniversary celebration, even legislating and then enforcing new laws protecting “the Victory.” (All that's left is to patent it.)

                      Trying to condition people with information like this doesn't work, unless you also weaken people's minds. And that is precisely what seems to be happening. This process is being helped along by a declining quality of education and cuts in spending on education. The mental decay extends to the highest echelons of power, too, as the logical consequence of officials rejecting expert opinion and competence, in favor of loyalty.

                      In this situation, the people who rise to the top are the ones who are able to sell the same threats over and over. According to the official propaganda agenda, anything bad that happens, including economic news, is the result of foreign aggression and external influence on Russia.

                      And so the president faces a certain paradox: he needs to defend the members of his own elite, even the ones implicated in corruption and linked to the mafia. The Kremlin can't acknowledge the Anti-Corruption Foundation's investigation of the relatives and colleagues of Attorney General Yuri Chaika. Representatives of Russian civil society and Russian state officials can't even agree on basic facts, and denying facts and demonizing civil society are the only avenues left to the state today.

                      But this doesn't mean that such activism is meaningless. On the contrary, public inquiries and other grassroots civic activism are the only way forward for society. The information being collected and published today will be useful in the future for the very same political reforms today's authorities are afraid to undertake.

                      The Kremlin has meticulously stripped independently-minded citizens of the chance to participate in politics through parties and elections. The Russian political system hasn't been about those institutions for a long time, but in 2016 it should become clear to the country that Russia won't find a way out of the crisis or end its fighting with the world, until it returns to the domestic agenda and turns from the Syrian campaign to Russia's roads and schools. Intoxicated for years now on wars of bombs and propaganda, Russians can return to the facts of life and the country's domestic policy needs. The door is open.
                      https://meduza.io/en/feature/2016/01...ssians-in-2015

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                      • OSCE Chief Monitor in Ukraine: “The people of Ukraine seek peace and normalization”

                        KYIV, 31 December 2015 - The Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan, expressed today strong hope that the coming year will be pivotal in de-escalating the violence and taking concrete steps towards a comprehensive solution to the conflict in Ukraine. “The people of Ukraine seek peace and normalization of the country,” he said.

                        “We recognize the devastating impact of the humanitarian crisis that confronts so many in eastern Ukraine, and the need to put an end to the violence that perpetuates this crisis,” said Apakan. In anticipation of the upcoming holidays that are celebrated by people across the country and beyond, “we are mindful of the many who have lost, or are separated from, family and friends with whom they would otherwise celebrate,” added the Chief Monitor.

                        There were positive developments in 2015, he said, noting the signing of agreements on the ceasefire and on weapons’ withdrawal, but this still does not mean that peace has come, or that civilians’ safety is guaranteed, said Apakan. “A full and comprehensive ceasefire is still to be established. The fact that the number of ceasefire violations in the last weeks of December had increased again in eastern Ukraine reflects a worrying development as the year ends.”

                        “Ceasefire violations are not the only danger for civilians. On both sides of the contact line, mines continue to cause death and injury,” said Apakan, recalling that the signatories to the Memorandum of 19 September 2014 agreed that all mines have to be removed in the security zone. “It is urgent that they fulfil their commitments, for the safety of all the people of Ukraine,” concluded Apakan.
                        OSCE Chief Monitor in Ukraine: “The people of Ukraine seek peace and normalization” | OSCE

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                        • Another baker’s dozen of neglected Russian stories
                          EUROMAIDAN PRESS 2016/01/02

                          The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore.

                          Today’s selection is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, this week once again, one could have put out such a listing every day — but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

                          1. For Putin, Well-Being of Russians Ranks Only Third. In the new security doctrine he signed on December 31, Vladimir Putin listed the well-being of Russians third behind the defense of the country and of his political order.
                          2. Putin Praises Businesses for Hiding Unemployment. Vladimir Putin thanked Russian businesses for keeping employees on the books even when economic calculations might have caused them to be let go, a pattern that has kept the unemployment rate in Russia from soaring.
                          3.Rogozin Shoots Himself in the Foot – Literally. Russian politicians like their counterparts elsewhere routinely shoot themselves in the foot figuratively, but Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has taken the next step and done so literally during a military exercise.
                          4. Officials Denounce Workers at Psychiatric Hospital for Demanding Back Wages. Officials in the Transbaikal have criticized workers at a regional psychiatric hospital for demanding that they be paid the wages they have earned but not paid, an increasing problem across the Russian Federation.
                          5. Some Russian Radio Broadcasts No Longer Reaching Russian Far East. The Russian Orthodox Radonezh radio can no longer afford to broadcast to the people in what is now the Russian Far East [the area adjoining the Pacific coast – Ed.], a situation that some at the station say presages the eventual loss of that part of the country to others.
                          6. Orthodox Priest Denounces ‘Satanic’ Toys at Moscow’s Detsky Mir Toy Store. A Russian Orthodox priest is furious that the Russian capital’s largest toy store features games, dolls and other toys that reflect satanic values rather than traditional Russian ones and warns parents against buying them for their children.
                          7. Helmet of Russia’s Patron Saint was Made in Mongol Horde and Features Verses from Koran. The difficulties of using history to fit current political needs have been highlighted by a new discussion of something most Russians prefer to ignore: Great Prince Aleksandr Nevsky wore a helmet that was made in Sarai-Batu [the ancient city established by Batu Khan (c. 1207–1255), who was also known as Tsar Batu, a Mongol ruler and founder of the Golden Horde, division of the Mongol Empire. Batu was a grandson of Genghis Khan – Ed.] and the saint’s helmet features verses from the Koran. Given that this saint chose to ally with the Mongol Horde against the Christian West, that should come as no surprise; but it doesn’t quite fit Vladimir Putin’s “single stream” of Russian history.
                          8. Moscow Students Denounce Eurasianist ‘Conservative Terror’ in Education. Students at Moscow’s Institute of Literature held a demonstration to protest the appearance of Aleksandr Dugin and other Eurasianist writers at their school. They said that such people are seeking to launch a wave of “conservative terror” in Russian higher education.
                          9. Duma Extends Sochi ‘Eminent Domain Rule’ to All of Russia. The Duma has voted to extend the special rules that allowed officials to confiscate private property in Sochi in advance of the Sochi Olympiad to the entire country, yet another way in which Russians are still paying for that Putin extravaganza.
                          10. Flying in Russia Increasingly Unsafe. Just as its accident-prone military jets, civilian planes in Russia are increasingly unsafe because of the collapse of regulation and inspections, a trend that has increased the number of accidents and deaths in what is already one of the most unsafe air systems in the world.
                          11. Pskov Oblast has Highest Death Rates in Russian Federation. Pskov oblast [the westernmost federal subject of contiguous Russia – Ed.] has the highest death rates of any federal subject of the Russian Federation, the result of local policies that have deprived many of the people there of critical medical supplies like insulin and access to doctors and hospitals. As a result, life expectancy there has fallen dramatically, something especially striking because the region abuts Estonia where life expectancy is among the highest in the region.
                          12. Sakha Head Opposes Giving Land to Russians from Elsewhere. The head of the Republic of Sakha in Siberia says he is opposed to a Moscow program to give land to Russians from other parts of the country who agree to move to Siberia and the Russian Far East.
                          13. 70 Percent of Russians in One Poll Say They’re for Trump. Following the enthusiastic endorsement by Vladimir Putin of Donald Trump as a candidate for US president, nearly three-quarters of Russians in one recent poll say they share that view.

                          And seven more from countries around Russia’s periphery:

                          1. To the Celebration of New Year’s, There Need Be No End. Many Russians celebrate New Year’s according to both the new calendar and the old, but if they took their lead from non-Russians, they could have a New Year’s holiday any month at all.
                          2. Ukrainians Petition to Bring Holidays in Line with Those of Civilized Countries. A group of Ukrainians has launched a petition drive to bring church holidays into line with those of “civilized countries” rather than Russia.
                          3. Ukrainian Renaming on the Cheap. Some are proposing that the city of Dniprpetrovsk become Dniprpetrovsk with only the sources of the name changed and that streets like Luxemburg be considered in honor of the Grand Duchy rather that the German communist so that the names will remain the same and save money.
                          4. Russian aggression in Crimea and the Donbas has led to more than a million internally displaced persons, a figure greater than the much-more-attended-to one of Muslim refugees coming into Europe.
                          5. Anti-Russian Sentiment’ Prompts Lukoil to Pull Out of Baltic Countries. Russia’s Lukoil has closed its stations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, citing the anti-Russian attitudes of the three countries.
                          6. Tashkent Doesn’t Have Sufficient Funds to Pay for Planned Giant Jail. Economic problems can have positive consequences: the Uzbek government has announced that financial difficulties mean that it will not be able to build the enormous new prison Tashkent had been planning.
                          7. 95 Ways in which Belarus isn’t Russia. A blogger has come up with a list of 95 facts about Belarus which show that it isn’t the same nation or country as the Russian Federation, a useful guide for the many in Moscow like Vladimir Putin and in the West who don’t view Belarus and Belarusians as separate and distinct.

                          Another baker’s dozen of neglected Russian stories -- EUROMAIDAN PRESSEuromaidan Press |

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                          Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp

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                          • RADIO FREE EUROPE January 02, 2016
                            Gas Pipeline Springs Leak In Ukraine, But No Supplies Disrupted

                            A gas pipeline leaked in the Zakarpattia region of western Ukraine, but the leak is not affecting consumers, Ukrainian gas transmission system operator Ukrtransgaz reported January 1.

                            Ukrtransgaz said the leak has not affected supplies to the European Union and repairs are underway.

                            The incident, which occurred on the Soyuz pipeline near the village of Gorodilovo or Horodylove, led to a gas flare to prevent a dangerous buildup of leaked gas. But it did not result in any injuries or gas cutoffs, the gas company said.

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                            • RADIO FREE EUROPE Andrei Kolokoltsev January 02, 2016
                              Final Curtain For Embattled Crimean Children's Theater

                              SIMFEROPOL -- A popular children's drama school that staged Ukrainian-language plays in Crimea is shutting down after what its founders describe as a campaign of harassment from local officials on the Russia-annexed peninsula.

                              Svitanok (Sunrise) had taught children for more than 20 years and was a well-established institution in Simferopol, Crimea's regional capital.

                              Its latest performance unexpectedly landed the school in the crosshairs of local culture officials, who reportedly accused Svitanok of promoting both Ukrainian nationalism and Western symbols.

                              Co-founder Oleksandr Polchenko says the play drew the ire of officials from the state-run Palace of Child and Youth Art, where the school is based.

                              "The next day, the management ordered us to hand over all the texts and scripts for the show, as well as a recording," he told RFE/RL.

                              The play, Songs Of The Amazon, performed on December 19 to mark St. Nicholas Day, is based on a work by Crimean author Viktor Stus.

                              It tells the story of Amazons -- the female warriors of Greek myth -- battling evil and fighting for freedom and the independence of their native land.

                              Polchenko said officials saw alleged undertones throughout the performance.

                              According to him, they took particular offense at the costume of a little girl wearing a golden crown and impersonating the sun, which he says they interpreted as a reference to New York's Statue of Liberty.

                              "They were indignant, they asked what kind of propaganda of Western values we had staged for the holiday," he said. "They also described the embroidered clothing and the Ukrainian-language scenario as brazen Ukrainian nationalism."

                              Polchenko believes it was only a matter of time before Svitanok closed shop. He says the incident followed months of pressure on the head of the drama school, his wife Alla Petrova.

                              "They tried to force Alla Petrova to leave in summer, and again in fall," he said. "They conducted various inspections, they used every opportunity to find faults with her work, they insulted her, threatened her, and tried to lower her salary."

                              Polchenko describes the campaign against Svitanok as part of efforts by Crimea's new Russian-backed authorities -- installed after Moscow's annexation of the peninsula last year -- to "eliminate anything associated with Ukrainian."

                              He said Petrova had chosen to resign and announced her decision to parents on December 28.

                              "Of course parents as well as their children are trying to stop this destruction of all things Ukrainian on the peninsula, but they don't understand how these Soviet-era KGB old-timers operate," he said.

                              Veldar Shukurdzhiev, an activist with the Crimea-based Ukrainian Cultural Center, shares Polchenko's alarm.

                              The attack on Svitanok, he says, is "another round of repression and persecution of anything that even remotely evokes the past and is connected with Ukraine."

                              The head of the department for culture and drama at the Palace of Child and Youth Art, Svitlana Alekseyeva, declined to comment, saying media requests should be addressed to the institution's director, Valeria Kochetova.

                              RFE/RL tried to reach Kochetova's office for two days, but its calls were not answered.

                              Crimea's Culture Ministry, which oversees the Palace of Child and Youth Art, said it had no information regarding the situation around Svitanok.

                              Spokesperson Anton Garkavets, however, cast doubt on allegations that its woes are tied to language issues.

                              "Crimea has three official languages: Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar," he said. "We don't have any persecutions on this matter." Final Curtain For Embattled Crimean Children's Theater 

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                              • Kiev Struggles to Battle Rampant Corruption - Nearly two years after revolution, Ukrainians say government is falling short of promise to tackle graft
                                WALL STREET JOURNAL Laura Mills Jan. 1, 2016

                                KIEV, Ukraine—At a parliamentary meeting on combating corruption, Ukrainian lawmaker Volodymyr Parasyuk sought to land his own blow against graft—by kicking in the face an official he says owns luxury properties worth much more than a state salary could provide.

                                Almost two years after a revolution that brought down a president, Mr. Parasyuk’s outrage reflects public frustration that the new government isn’t doing enough to tackle the rampant corruption that fueled the uprising and that keeps Ukraine among the poorest nations in Europe.

                                “I wanted to remind him that he is made of the same sweat and blood as the rest of us, because that is what these bureaucrats forget," said the 28-year-old, one of the most visible protesters in the demonstrations that helped oust pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. He has since apologized to the nation for the attack in parliament in November, but says he won’t do the same to the official, who denies enriching himself.

                                In the chaotic and combative politics of Ukraine—where parliament is the site of frequent mass brawls—it is hard to untangle all the overlapping corruption allegations and squabbling over who is to blame. Mr. Parasyuk himself was named this week as receiving money from an organized crime suspect, a claim he denies.

                                Economic overhauls have helped stabilize the economy and unlocked billions of dollars from the International Monetary Fund, despite a 19-month conflict with Russian-backed separatists. But most Ukrainians say the revolution’s promise to replace rule by thieves with the rule of law has fallen short and the government acknowledges that there is still much to be done.

                                Only 7% of Ukrainians said they saw an improvement in the fight against corruption since then, according to a September poll by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Only 5% say the new government has addressed the issues, including corruption, that drove the revolution.

                                The failure is also frustrating Ukraine’s Western backers, who threw their support behind another government after a pledge by leaders of an earlier revolution in 2004 to “send bandits to jail” went largely unfulfilled.

                                U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited Kiev in December and urged Ukrainian lawmakers to crack down in a stern speech. This is “Ukraine’s moment,” he said. “It may be your last moment. Please for the sake of the rest of us…don’t waste it.”

                                http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/i...0101191809.jpg

                                Ukraine’s leadership has said it is trying to make up for lost time, establishing a new Kiev-based specialized anticorruption prosecutor to tackle a handful of high-profile cases and other offices meant to reduce graft. But it argues its powers are limited.

                                “We are not in Stalin’s times—we can’t just give the order to arrest people,” said Borys Lozhkin, President Petro Poroshenko’s chief of staff, in response to a question about how many people the government is willing to arrest.

                                Mr. Lozhkin conceded that the General Prosecutor’s office, which investigates a wide range of crimes and prepares cases for court at federal, regional, and local levels, has traditionally been a place where corruption has flourished.

                                “It is much easier to find a new building than to rebuild an old one,” Mr. Lozhkin said, referring to the new anticorruption prosecutor.

                                Critics have accused General Prosecutor Viktor Shokin of slow progress on prosecutions of high-level corruption and say he hasn’t done enough to deal with graft in his office. U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt has repeatedly called the office out as failing to follow through on any anticorruption reforms.

                                But Mr. Lozhkin said that the presidential administration didn't believe Mr. Shokin specifically was to blame for corruption in the prosecutor’s office.

                                The General Prosecutor’s office didn't respond to questions from The Wall Street Journal regarding the ambassador’s comments or other allegations of corruption. Mr. Shokin has denied that the prosecutor’s office is involved in wrongdoing or closing cases for any reasons that are illegal.

                                The office on Tuesday accused Mr. Parasyuk of receiving tens of thousands of dollars from another politician who has been formally charged with involvement in organized crime. Mr. Parasyuk, who hasn’t been charged, accused the general prosecutor’s office of fabricating the case. The office didn’t respond to a request for comment on his claim.

                                Mr. Yanukovych—whose opulent estate near Kiev has become a symbol of his rule—fled abroad, as did many of his allies. There been little action against those who remained in Ukraine: the European Union banned travel and froze the assets of more than a dozen members of the old regime who stayed, but because Kiev hasn’t brought criminal charges against them, EU officials have said the sanctions could be lifted in the spring.

                                There is a worry that “within a year all these people will have free access to their assets in the West. After that, nobody would back sanctions again,” one Western official said. “Many EU officials are fed up with Ukraine.”

                                Meanwhile, accusations of graft by anticorruption activists, journalists and diplomats have followed to the new government.

                                One key lightning rod has been Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, whose ratings have plummeted to single digits amid allegations in the media and among anticorruption activists of his associates’ corrupt dealings. Mr. Yatsenyuk has denied any involvement in corruption and his associates, one of whom resigned from parliament over the controversy this month, deny wrongdoing.

                                While the country’s leadership promised to keep Mr. Yatsenyuk in his post for now, one lawmaker lobbying for his ouster gave him a bouquet of roses and attempted to carry him away from the podium during a speech to parliament last week.

                                Blame for the failing reform effort could also threaten Mr. Poroshenko. He has come under particular fire for his appointment of Mr. Shokin.

                                “The prosecutor general is the last defense point for those with vested interests (in Ukraine),” one Western official told The Wall Street Journal.

                                Even as Western diplomats have taken tough public stances on corruption, members of the new government have sometimes dug in, according to one official in Ukraine’s presidential administration.

                                After Mr. Pyatt’s criticism of the prosecutor’s office, members of the administration were offended, the official said.

                                “They said, ‘How can he say this?,’ ” the official said. “We are not some banana republic where you can say whatever you want.”
                                Kiev Struggles to Battle Rampant Corruption - WSJ

                                ==================================================================================
                                Corruption in Ukraine: What Needs to Be Understood, and What Needs to Be Done?
                                VOXUKRAINE June 5, 2015

                                Ukraine’s widespread corruption cannot be understand without understanding four central features of Soviet society, whose legacy in part continues to haunt Ukraine to the present day. These features are:

                                1. moral degradation in the public sphere;
                                2. virtuality, i.e., the practice of systematically pretending that things are different than they actually are;
                                3. social atomization;
                                4. the fundamental deformation of the Soviet legal system so that the rule of law was minimally present or altogether absent.
                                Corruption in Ukraine: What Needs to Be Understood, and What Needs to Be Done? – VoxUkraine
                                ===============================================================
                                Today bribery, extortion and use of personal connections is a mundane reality for Ukrainians. Notwithstanding the recent initiation of legal mandates, all corruption just doesn't get wiped out in one year. It is a monster w/many heads that needs a systematic chopping down.
                                Last edited by Hannia; 2 January 2016, 19:35. Reason: down

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