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  • REUTERS AMSTERDAM Sat Jan 9, 2016
    Juncker: Dutch Ukraine vote could spark 'continental crisis'

    European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has warned that a Dutch advisory referendum in April on the bloc's association agreement with Ukraine could lead to a "continental crisis" if voters reject the treaty.

    In an interview published on Saturday by the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, Juncker said Russia would "pluck the fruits" of a vote in the Netherlands against deepened ties between the European Union and Ukraine.

    The April 6 referendum, whose result will be non-binding, was triggered by the raucously anti-European satirical website GeenStijl last year, which collected more than the 300,000 signatures needed under the law to force a vote.

    The website admitted that its reasons for seeking the referendum, to be held during the current Dutch presidency of the bloc, had less to do with its views on the EU's ties with Ukraine than with its desire for a vote on the bloc itself.

    "I want the Dutch to understand that the importance of this question goes beyond the Netherlands," NRC quoted Juncker as saying.

    "I don't believe the Dutch will say no, because it would open the door to a big continental crisis," he added. "Russia would pluck the fruits of an easy victory."

    A founding signatory of the Treaty of Rome that created the incipient EU in 1957, the Netherlands has cooled on European integration as fears about high immigration, slow growth and economic insecurity have grown.

    While most Dutch parties are pro-European, the anti-EU, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim Freedom Party of right-wing populist Geert Wilders is leading in polls and would win more seats than the entire Liberal-Labour coalition if elections were held now.

    But the association agreement, seen as a key step in the process of bringing the one-time Soviet republic out of Russia's orbit and closer to the EU's, could test the forces of anti-EU populism.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin is an unpopular figure in the Netherlands, where he is widely blamed for the July 2014 downing of Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine that killed 298 people, two-thirds of them Dutch.

    Relations between Russia and the West hit a post-Cold War low over Ukraine, where Moscow annexed Crimea from Kiev last year and stands accused by Washington and Brussels of driving a separatist pro-Russian revolt in the east.

    In November, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said campaigners for a referendum were unwitting pawns of Putin. It is unclear how many signatories of the petition - 430,000 in a nation of 17 million - will turn out to vote. Juncker: Dutch Ukraine vote could spark 'continental crisis' | Reuters

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    • World's Richest Lose $194 Billion In First Trading Week of 2016
      BLOOMBERG Brendan Coffey,Jack Witzig January 8, 2016

      -Amazon's Jeff Bezos, last year's biggest winner, lost the most
      -Number of billionaires who shed more than $1 billion: 47

      The world’s 400 richest people lost almost $194 billion this week as world stock markets began the year with a shudder on poor economic data in China and falling oil prices.

      Forty-seven billionaires lost $1 billion or more during the worst week for U.S. stocks since 2011, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The combined drop was almost seven times the $29 billion lost in the first five trading days of 2015. The 400 people on the index had a combined $3.7 trillion at the end of the week, compared with more than $4 trillion a year ago.

      http://assets.bwbx.io/images/iKKu8OZfYA5o/v2/-1x-1.png

      Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, the best-performing billionaire in 2015, lost the most, his fortune dropping $5.9 billion this week as shares of the world’s largest online retailer fell more than 10 percent. Bezos is the world’s fourth-richest person with $53.7 billion and more than doubled his net worth in 2015 as investors cheered profits at Amazon.

      The world’s richest person, Bill Gates, fell $4.5 billion to $79.2 billion, while Spain’s Amancio Ortega, the second-richest, dropped $3.4 billion to $69.5 billion.

      billionaire YTD Drop Net Worth Percentage Change
      Jeff Bezos -$5.9 billion $53.7 billion -9.9%
      Carlos Slim -$5.7 billion $46.6 billion -10.8%
      Bill Gates -$4.5 billion $79.2 billion -5.4%
      Wang Jianlin -$4 billion $32.4 billion -11.1%
      Amancio Ortega -$3.4 billion $69.5 billion -4.7%

      The combined loss among the billionaires represents a 4.9 percent dip in their total wealth, according to the index, a slightly better performance than world equity markets so far this year. Global stocks tumbled 6.2 percent for the week, according to the MSCI ACWI Index.

      There were 11 billionaires among the 400 whose fortunes rose this week, including the five heirs to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The five Waltons added a combined $2.5 billion as Wal-Mart gained a little over $2 a share. Jim Walton, son of company founder Sam Walton, had the biggest gain, a $759 million increase.

      The combined net worth of the 400 people on the index is $3.7 trillion, about equal to the gross domestic product of Germany. World's Richest Lose $194 Billion In First Trading Week of 2016 - Bloomberg Business

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      • New coin in Ukraine commemorates world famous 'Shchedryk' Christmas folk song
        UT UKRAINE TODAY Jan 7, 2016 VIDEO

        Ukraine's National Bank issued two coins prior to Orthodox Christmas

        On January 5, Ukraine's National Bank presented two commemorative coins which mark 100 years since the Ukrainian folk song 'Shchedryk' (known to the English-speaking world as Carol of the Bells) was first performed by Ukrainian composer and conductor Mykola Leontovych and the Kyiv University choir.

        One coin is made out of nickel-silver with the nominal value of UAH 5 (nearly 20 US cents), and the other coin is made out of silver with the nominal value of UAH 20 (nearly 1 US dollar).

        Ukraine's traditional festive ‘Shchedryk' songs are among the most popular Christmas tunes in the world and can be performed in a wide range of styles. They have been featured in a number of TV shows and movies including Harry Potter, Home Alone and South Park.
        New coin in Ukraine commemorates world famous 'Shchedryk' Christmas folk song - read on - uatoday.tv

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        Revelers flock to Lviv for annual Christmas stars parade
        UT UKRAINE TODAY Jan 9, 2016 VIDEO

        Hundreds join festivities marking long winter holidays

        Holiday celebrations are in full swing in Ukraine's western city of Lviv. Hundreds of people have taken part in the city's tenth annual Christmas stars parade in the downtown area. The festive procession has become a tourist attraction over the past few years.

        The designers tell us that the all of the stars echo the Star of Bethlehem but they also represent different guardian angels.

        Bohdan Novak, designer: "This is a historic star, because it's been in all the Christmas festivals. I made it for my children. Along with 18 other stars it was sent to Rome and was blessed by the Pope."

        Bohdan Makarov, designer from Slovyansk: "I think this star symbolizes Ukraine's unity and power and that Crimea is ours."

        Winter holidays are known to last nearly a month in Ukraine starting on December 19th and ending on January 19th. Revelers flock to Lviv for annual Christmas stars parade - watch on - uatoday.tv

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        • Week’s balance: record inflation, Russian sanctions, and Ukraine's response
          09.01.2016 | 17:00 UNIAN Olesia Safronova Part 1

          Ukraine has entered a new era in trade relations with the European Union, announced a record high annual inflation rate and is preparing a package of additional sanctions against the Russian Federation, which banned from January 1 the Ukrainian imports and transit of the Ukrainian goods - these are the main economic news of the past week.

          Ukraine has lived through the first week of the new year with the new budget, the updated Tax Code, simplified trade regulations with its key partner, the European Union; sanctions from Russia and reciprocal steps by Kyiv.

          Last month Ukrainian the Ukrainian companies were repaid a record amount of VAT - almost $9.5 billion, which is more than half the monthly average in 2015. State Treasury has accumulated on its correspondent account UAH 9 billion, which also turned out to be sufficient for the beginning of the year. Part of the pensioners was pre-paid their January pensions.

          A new inflation rate was announced: as of the end of 2015 (December to December), it has grown to a 20-year high and amounted to 43.3%. However, this number caused no shock. The government, the rating agencies and the world’s key financial institutions have all forecast the inflation in Ukraine within a 43-45% margin. Besides, the December inflation was not so significant - just 0.7% compared to 2% in November 2015.

          On the international arena, Ukraine declared that is was getting ready for litigation with Russia over a $3 billion “Yanukovych debt” and imposed retaliatory duties on Russian imports ranging between 1.5% and 19% on various product groups with a transition period of three to five years. A 200-page document with the full list of rates and mechanisms of their calculation was published last week. The duties were introduced as a "mirror" action in response to similar steps of the Russian side. But this will hardly be the end of the trade "pleasantries" exchange.

          Ukrainian export was denied routes
          From January 1, in addition to import duties, Russia has imposed commodity embargo on a number of Ukrainian goods, especially foodstuffs. However, later it became clear that the measures will not stop with the embargo and the duties. From January 4, Russia has closed to the Ukrainian exporters the transit of goods through its territory, thereby halting shipments of Ukrainian goods to the countries of Central Asia.

          The Kremlin’s decision was not unexpected to the Ukrainian authorities. The establishment of barriers to transit was earlier stipulated in the decree of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and the Russian government's resolution signed in mid-December last year. However, according to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine, the ban was supposed to be temporary and target certain goods, but it appeared to be complete and indefinite. The ministry immediately organized an operational headquarters, which included representatives of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the State Fiscal Service. Its task is to monitor the situation and offer the exporters new routes of deliveries, as well as the methods for their rapid customs clearance.

          The Ukrainian companies do suffer losses from these measures. It’s not yet possible to assess them, but they are significant. As of the end of last week, about 150 rail cars and dozens of trucks packed with Ukrainian goods, meant go on a transit route via Russia, returned to Ukraine.

          Ukraine’s Trade Representative Natalia Mykolska noted that the transit ban is the most painful measure that can be imposed on trade flows. In particular, it hits the businesses that were able to set up the sales in the markets of Kazakhstan, which, along with Belarus, refused to support Russia in its sanctions against Ukraine and did not come out of the Agreement on a free trade zone within the CIS framework. Restrictions also affect trade with other partners: Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and Mongolia.

          So far Ukraine has not announced similar measures regarding the transit of Russian goods. Mykolska said that Ukraine intends to hold consultations with the EU and the WTO on this issue. Meanwhile, from January 10, an embargo takes effect, as planned, on imports to Ukraine of more than 30 product groups from Russia, including food processing products, tobacco, and vodka products of the chemical industry and railway equipment.


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          • Week’s balance: record inflation, Russian sanctions, and Ukraine's response
            09.01.2016 | 17:00 UNIAN Olesia Safronova Part 2


            The budget is to be revised
            Last week several reasons emerged to revise the 2016 budget. First, in late January, it will become clear, whether the new tax changes work and whether it’s needed to adjust the budget revenues. Second, there came a sudden scandal with the "additions” to the country’s main financial plan in terms of delaying the introduction of electronic reporting of assets and income of state officials.

            While studying the already published budget, MP Viktor Chumak saw that this reporting is stipulated to be delayed for a year - until January, 2017. This contradicts Ukraine’s obligations under a visa liberalization action plan, and most importantly - impedes the implementation of anti-corruption measures.

            The President of Ukraine, who had signed the budget with the said provision, explained that the document was badly needed, in general, "to preserve macroeconomic stability and commitments to the country’s key creditor - the International Monetary Fund." However, the flaws should be corrected immediately, according to the President.

            But will the Parliament be able to fulfill the recommendation of the head of state quickly? The bill with the corresponding amendment has already been registered in the Parliament. However, the parliament will start its work not earlier than on January 26.

            The National Bank has divided the banks under the new criteria
            The National Bank was also active on the New Year’s Eve. It announced the new criteria and categories for the 117 banks operating in Ukraine as of the beginning of 2016.

            In accordance with the new criteria, banks are categorized into: banks with state share (with more than 75% state-owned), banks owned by foreign banking groups (which majority owners are foreign banking institutions), group I (banks, the assets share more than 0.5% of the banking system assets), group II (with the assets share less than 0.5% of the banking system assets).

            The group of banks with state share includes seven financial institutions: PJSC Oschadbank, JSC Ukreximbank, Ukrgasbank, JSC Rodovid Bank, Rozrakhunkovy Center, State Land Bank Goszembank, UBRR. The group of banks owned by foreign banking groups includes 19 banks – PJSC Prominvestbank, PJSC Raiffeisen Bank Aval, PJSC Sberbank of Russia, PJSC Ukrsotsbank, JSC UkrSibbank, PJSC VTB Bank, PJSC Credit Agricole, JSC OTP Bank, CJSC Commercial bank Citibank, PJSC ING Bank Ukraine, PJSC Kredobank, PJSC Pravex-Bank, VS Bank, JSC BM Bank, PJSC Piraeus Bank ICB, PJSC Marfin Bank, Credit Europe, PJSC Deutsche Bank DBU, and PJSC SEB Corporate.

            Group I of banks includes 13 financial institutions - Privatbank, Alfa-Bank, First Ukrainian International Bank, Bank Pivdenny, Khreshchatyk Bank, Megabank, Credit Dnipro, Procredit, Fidobank, Universal Bank, Platinum Bank, Bank Vostok, Diamant Bank.

            The second group of banks includes 78 financial institutions.

            Also, it was reported last week that the Individual Deposits Guarantee Fund sold in 2015 the assets of 63 insolvent banks worth UAH 1.2 billion. The payments to depositors of troubled banks over 2014-2015 exceeded UAH 59 billion. In addition, the Fund repaid ahead of schedule the loans to the NBU in the amount of UAH 10.3 billion.

            Gas gets cheaper, transit price goes up
            The first week of the year saw some “gas news” as well. It was reported that as of the end of 2015, Ukraine doubled its natural gas imports from Europe to 10.3 bcm, and reduced by 2.3 times the import of fuel from Russia, which had been for many years a monopoly gas supplier to Ukraine. The Russian gas imports in the overall balance of supply amounted to only 6.1 bcm in the past year, while in 2014, the figure was 14.5 bcm.

            Secondly, the Ukrainian government's forecasts have come true that Ukraine would buy gas in 1Q 2016 at a price lower than $200. In early January it was announced that the Russian government had approved the export duty for gas supplies from Russia to Ukraine and the discount rate. According to the data disclosed, the price of a 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas for Ukraine in 1Q 2016 was set at $230. Taking into account a $51.2 discount, the final cost of the fuel will not exceed $178.8 per 1,000 cubic meters. According to the government’s calculations, the European price of gas for Ukraine should be similar. The Cabinet has not yet voiced its plans for the procurement of fuel.

            Third, the state-owned Ukrtransgaz announced last week of a 8% increase the volume of gas transit in 2015. The transit of Russian gas to Europe over the past year amounted to 64.2 bcm compared to 59 bcm in 2014. The company believes that the increased transit is a good sign, but it is still far from the obligations Russia took upon itself in 2009. Under the signed contract, the volume of transit through Ukrainian pipes should be at least 110 bcm. As UNIAN reported earlier, Ukraine challenges Russia’s failure to comply with its transit obligations in the Stockholm Arbitration. Moreover, Kyiv is now drafting the new, higher, price proposals to the Russian side for the transit of fuel. Now the price of transit is $2.88 per 1,000 cubic meters for each 100 kilometers.

            And that's not all. Last week it was reported that Naftogaz filed a complaint through the Secretariat of the Energy Community to the European Commission over the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. The complaint points at the violations of the Energy Community regulations, which will be inevitable in case the project is implemented.

            However, along with the global challenges, Naftogaz had to deal with a number of local problems in the past seven days. During the New Year holidays, due to a sharp and severe cold snap, the city of Henichesk in the southern Kherson region was left without gas, light and heat. Residents of more than 2,000 high-rise buildings and private houses were scared that he situation will repeat the almost-forgotten events in Alchevsk, where all utility services halted in severe frosts. However, the tragic turn of events was averted this time. The situation was resolved in two days: as early as January 4, gas supplies were restored, and all residents received heat, water and electricity.

            Next week will just as full of economic developments and announcements. The celebrations will move to the background, the students will return to their desks, while the companies will continue with their regular business routine. Ukraine is expected to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund over the cooperation program, and the exporters will count the first "pros" of the Ukraine-EU DCFTA. In addition, it will become clear, what will be Ukraine’s response to Russia's ban of commercial transit – the negotiations with the WTO and EU experts will be held in the coming days.

            Meanwhile, the weather forecast warns that Ukraine will be covered with snow next week. Quite an unpleasant news for motorists, but it’s a real blessing for the farmers, as heavy snowfalls are a sign of a better harvest.
            Week’s balance: record inflation, Russian sanctions, and Ukraine's response : UNIAN news

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            • Militants deploy heavy weapons in Sloviansk and Mariupol direction - intelligence
              Jan. 10, 2016 UT UKRAINE TODAY

              Russian-backed militants violated the ceasefire in Donbas 29 times over the past day, according to the ATO press center.

              UNIAN: Representatives of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission operating in the Anti-Terrorist Operation Zone (ATO) have informed about the presence of weapons, which are prohibited according to the Minsk agreements, in areas near Debaltseve and Mospyne, the Chief Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry reported.

              Militants are said to have secretly deployed large-caliber weapons banned under the Minsk peace agreement in Sloviansk and Mariupol directions, the intelligence data show.

              "During the last day militants focused on regrouping and strengthening their units, conducting the reconnaissance of ATO forces, increasing the defense capability of combat units and formations, logistical support, secret deployment of the weapons banned according to the Minsk accords in Sloviansk and Mariupol directions," a statement reads.

              Russian-backed militants violated the ceasefire in Donbas 29 times over the past day, according to the ATO press center. Militants deploy heavy weapons in Sloviansk and Mariupol direction - intelligence - read on - uatoday.tv

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              • Is the Moscow Patriarchate Russia’s agent in Ukraine?
                EUROMAIDAN PRESS Petro Kraliuk 2016/01/10

                The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is actually an agent of another state.

                Recently the hybrid war in Ukraine has become not so much external as internal. After all, if not for the internal factors, especially the active development of the “Russian world,” the external war might not have occurred. It is quite another thing that many of us do not understand this fact. Or do not wish to understand.

                In this war a significant role is played by religious formations, or, as we often call them, churches. The activities of these formations have never consisted simply of religious activities. Politics, culture, economics and so forth have occupied and continue to occupy an important place. Therefore, it is only natural that the state should regulate the activities of these formations one way or another

                Should the state intervene in church affairs?
                In Ukraine the idea that the state should not interfere in church affairs is widely held by politicians and experts on religion. Ukrainian legislation reflects that view, which appears to follow existing practices in the developed countries in the West, especially the United States. However, what is overlooked is that many Western countries arrived at their current position only after prolonged religious conflicts where the interests of the different faiths had to be balanced. As for the United States, it was formed as a multi-religious state from the very beginning. This is why the state’s non-interference in matters of religion was the only possible policy. But even so, the various U.S. denominations demonstrate loyalty to their state.

                In Ukraine there is another situation and different traditions. Despite the existence of different faiths, the dominant one is Orthodoxy, which in turn is fragmented in its affiliations. Furthermore, the largest denomination is the so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which in reality is a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, under the direction of the Moscow Patriarchate. This denomination is actually an agent of another country. Furthermore, it is the agent of a country that has invaded and occupied our territory and is waging a war against us. What is paradoxical is that, according to various surveys, most of the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine support an independent church. For many of them, this church is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP).

                How this situation came about
                Let us begin with the fact that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church– Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) is the result of our colonial dependence on Russia. In the beginning of the Ukrainian state there was the possibility of creating an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Moreover, this was supported by the Kyiv Metropolitan Filaret (Denysenko) (now officially His Holiness, the Patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus’–Ukraine — Ed.) and the president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk. But they were not able to withstand the pressure of the Russian church and government circles as well as the numerous Russian agents in Ukraine. As a result, we ended up with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church–Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that is independent from Russia. At the same time, the former communist bureaucracy, which generally remained in place and assumed positions in government, generally supported the UOC–MP. This fact, as well as Russia’s financial and political support, allowed this denomination to expand its presence significantly. It got to the point that churches and monasteries were being forcefully seized. For example, the former prior at the Pochayiv Lavra, Yakiv (Panchuk), supported Metropolitan Filaret of the UOC-KP. However so-called “monks” sent from Russia kicked him out and seized the monastery.

                In reality, ever since Ukraine’s independence the government authorities have supported and continue to support the UOC-MP. This was especially evident during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych. On major religious holidays he demonstrably visited only the churches of the UOC-MP and performed his official “pilgrimages” only at “canonical” monasteries. However, support for the UOC-MP came not only from political powers that openly demonstrated their pro-Russian position. Often this support also came from representatives who claimed to be pro-Ukrainian. Why did they do this? Some hoped that the UOC-MP would provide electoral resources. Others, under the guise of Ukrainian patriotism, worked for Moscow. And some were simply “useful idiots.”

                A succession of ordeals
                Of course, such an abnormal situation has and will provoke resistance. For example, after the Orange Revolution there were cases where individual parishes of the UOC-MP expressed the desire to transfer to the UOC-KP. I had the opportunity the witness one such transfer. Exactly 10 years ago, the faithful of the Resurrection Church in Ostroh expressed such a wish, which was supported by their priest. Events then developed as follows. A small group of people appeared who opposed this move. Most of them did not attend this church, but they supposedly represented the “legal,” legally registered community of the UOC-MP. The “canonical” priests began to bring their “combat brigades” from all directions — not only from nearby parishes but also from Pochayiv Monastery and even from Crimea. Then the matter went to court. And the court ruled in favor of the fictitious UOC-MP community while referring to the laws of the Russian Empire. Absurd you will say. But we have plenty of such absurdities. Especially when very real interests are involved, including financial ones. The position taken by the pro-Ukrainian political forces in this conflict is revealing. In fact, they have washed their hands of the matter and sometimes even played along with the “canonicals.” Five years after this conflict,the Ostroh Resurrection Church, which ended up in the hands of the UOC-MP, celebrated its 100th anniversary. And lo and behold this anniversary was attended not only by representatives of the administration, who represented the Party of the Regions at the time (which was quite understandable) but also by representatives of the Ostroh city and district councils, who represented the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Our Ukraine political parties.

                We have many similar situations in Ukraine today. Ever since Russia occupied Crimea and launched the war in the Donbas, the UOC-MP has made no secret of its pro-Russian position and some of its clergy have openly supported the pro-Russian separatists. Law-abiding, patriotic faithful do not want to continue to stay in this church. The greatest number of parishes that expressed the desire to transfer from the UOC-MP to UOC-KP are located in the Rivne Oblast as well as in other regions of Greater Volyn. It is here that the greatest percentage of the supporters of an independent Orthodox Church in Ukraine are located.

                But events are developing according to an established scenario. It looks something like this. A church community wants to move from the UOC-MP to the UOC-KP. A few “opponents” (usually people set up by the “canonical” priests) are found. Suddenly a group appears from outside to support these “dissenters.” For example, various “canonical titushkys” (mercenaries — Ed.) are often used for this purpose — seminarians, so-called “monks.” An interdenominational conflict is provoked. Then “Orthodox journalists” appear who specifically enflame the conflict and present it in a suitable light. This is followed by statements by senior hierarchs. For example, Patriarch Kirill (Gundyaev) of the Russian Orthodox Church, no less, spoke of the conflict in the village of Ptycha in the Dubno raion (district) of the Rivne Oblast (another instance where the faithful wanted to transfer from the UOC-MP to UOC-KP — Ed.).

                The Ukrainian government generally tries to maintain neutrality. And the “patriotic parties” in power traditionally wash their hands of the matter. There are also the “useful idiots” (if not Kremlin agents) who begin to discuss religion and tolerance, non-interference in church affairs, and other “correct” matters. Law enforcement agencies get involved as well. And then the situation generally “comes to a dead end” or is decided in favor of the so-called “canonical” minority.

                Will there be UOC-MP communities who want to move to the UOC-KP after observing similar situations? I think the answer is obvious. Unfortunately, in Ukraine there are no clear legal mechanisms for the transition of religious communities from one denomination to another. There is no desire on the part of political parties and the government either, especially the judiciary, to settle these issues fairly. After all, there is no understanding that in the religious life of our country there are glaring disparities in the denominational disproportion that must be addressed. But which are not being addressed. Is the Moscow Patriarchate Russia's agent in Ukraine? -Euromaidan Press |
                ======================
                Historian Petro Kraliuk is vice-rector at the National University of Ostroh Academy
                Source: Radio Svoboda

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                • Jan. 10, 2016 UT UKRAINE TODAY
                  AFP: Russia blocks transit of Ukrainian goods

                  Transit problem is holding up trade with Ukraine's partners such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan

                  Russia has blocked the transit of Ukrainian goods heading to other countries, Kiev officials said Saturday after the two neighbouring nations imposed food embargoes in their mutual trade war.

                  "The transit of Ukrainian goods has not yet begun", having been blocked since the start of the new year, the spokeswoman for Ukraine's infrastructure ministry, Kristina Nikolayeva, told AFP.

                  The ministry said that since January 1, under new Russian regulations, Ukrainian goods headed for Central Asia or China can only enter Russia via Belarus. They must also be sealed to prevent them from being unloaded in Russia.

                  A Russian embargo on Ukrainian food imports took effect on January 1, with Kyiv issuing mirror sanctions in response.

                  Moscow has also barred Ukraine from a free trade zone linking numerous ex-Soviet countries.

                  Russia introduced the latest measures on transit of goods without explaining how they should be implemented, said Nikolayeva.

                  "They brought in these transit rules but didn't prepare a mechanism for how exactly this will work: what kind of seals are needed, what kind of control measures are needed. As a result Russia is not letting Ukrainian trucks across its border," she said. AFP: Russia blocks transit of Ukrainian goods - read on - uatoday.tv

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                  • ISIS commander killed in Iraqi airstrike
                    CNN Hamdi Alkhshali & Steve Almasy Jan 10, 2016

                    The second deputy of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed during an Iraqi air force strike in the city of Barwana, just east of Haditha, the Iraqi military said Saturday.

                    Assi Ali Mohammed Nasser al-Obeidi was a top ISIS military commander in western Iraq and eastern Syria, Iraq's Joint Operations Command said.

                    Obeidi had been a brigade commander in the special forces of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guards, a fugitive from Abu Ghraib prison and a former prisoner in Camp Bucca, a spokesman of the Iraqi Joint Operations Command, Col. Mohammed Ibrahim, told CNN.

                    Haditha is 145 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Ramadi in Anbar province.

                    In recent weeks, the U.S.-led coalition has announced similar killings.

                    In late December, it said multiple figures within ISIS senior leadership had died over a few weeks. One of the leaders killed was an operative closely linked to the ringleader of the November attacks in Paris, a spokesman for the coalition said.

                    Col. Steve Warren said 10 senior ISIS leaders operating in both Iraq and Syria, "including several external attack planners," with designs on attacking western targets, had been killed in airstrikes. ISIS commander killed in Iraqi air strike - CNN.com

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                    • Weapons cache bust in eastern Ukraine, arsenal includes anti-tank grenades, mortar shells, detonator
                      Jan. 10, 2016 UT UKRAINE TODAY

                      Arsenal uncovered in Zolote which is part of the buffer zone between government troops and militants

                      Weapons and explosives are being stored in damaged buildings in eastern Ukraine.

                      Security services have uncovered a small weapons arsenal in a building's basement in the town of Zolote.

                      Officers retrieved the cache which includes TNT, electric detonators, anti-tank grenades, mortar shells, and grenade cartridges.

                      The small town in the Luhansk region is part of the buffer zone between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed militants. Weapons cache bust in eastern Ukraine, arsenal includes anti-tank grenades, mortar shells, detonator - watch on - uatoday.tv

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                      • REUTERS AMSTERDAM Thomas Escritt Jan 10, 2016
                        Dutch PM says will push for 'yes' in Ukraine vote

                        Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he would argue for a "yes" vote in an upcoming referendum on a treaty on closer ties between the European Union and Ukraine which threatens to overshadow his presidency of the 28-member bloc.

                        Rutte's remarks came a day after European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned that a rejection of the treaty by Dutch voters could lead to a "continental crisis".

                        While the vote, on establishing an association agreement between the EU and its troubled eastern neighbor, is not binding, most Dutch parties have said they would feel bound to take a "no" into account.

                        It had not been previously clear whether the government would weigh in on the campaign or instead hope that the vote would be undermined by low turnout.

                        "I will vote 'yes' in the referendum," Rutte said on public television's Buitenhof show. "And I and my colleagues will explain why we are doing so. It's about free trade ... not an accession treaty as its opponents say."

                        Anti-European website GeenStijl collected 430,000 signatures to trigger the plebiscite, claiming an association agreement with Ukraine would lead eventually to full membership for the war-torn country of 45 million.

                        The April referendum will be held during the current Dutch presidency of the European Union, putting pressure on Rutte as a "no" would be a blow to the bloc's attempts to bring the former Soviet republic further into the EU's orbit.

                        Juncker warned that a Dutch rejection of the treaty would play into the hands of Russia, which is backing separatist rebels in a war in eastern Ukraine and annexed its Crimean peninsula in 2014.

                        Russian President Vladimir Putin is an unpopular figure in the Netherlands, where he is widely blamed for the 2014 downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine, in which 298 died, two-thirds of them Dutch.

                        While Rutte said Juncker's remarks were over-the-top, a "no" vote would also evoke memories of the Dutch rejection in a 2005 referendum of a proposed EU constitution, which threw the continental body into a year-long crisis.

                        "It's the 2005 trauma. I have an incredible feeling of deja vu," said one government official who campaigned on the losing side of that vote.

                        An enthusiastic founding member of the EU, Dutch attitudes to European integration have been cooling ever since the country became a net contributor to the bloc's budget in 1991.

                        While most Dutch parties are pro-European, the anti-EU, anti-Muslim Freedom Party of right-wing populist Geert Wilders is leading in polls.

                        A Maurice De Hond poll on Sunday showed the Freedom Party would win 41 seats in the 150-member parliament in elections now, more than the two coalition parties combined. Dutch PM says will push for 'yes' in Ukraine vote | Reuters

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                        • Banking sector cleaner, but still no lending
                          KYIV POST Brian Bonner Jan 10, 2015

                          Vladyslav Rashkovan, one of four deputy governors of the National Bank of Ukraine, can list many areas that are finally going right with the nation's banking sector.

                          But the biggest problem remains: Almost no lending is happening. And lending is what banks are supposed to do.

                          Without affordable credit flowing, Ukraine's economy will have a hard time growing. Bankers, despite having record-high liquidity of Hr 100 billion ($4.3 billion), don't want to risk lending because they've been burned in the past by deadbeats and courts that don't punish fraud and make it difficult for banks to collect on non-performing loans. So they're sastisfied to park the money with the central bank and earn 18 to 20 percent annual returns.

                          "There has never been such liquidity," Rashkovan said. "The problem is it will not go to the market for lending for one simple, stupid reason: creditor rights." Parliament has still not enacted legislation to protect the rights of creditors, perhaps for self-serving reasons, or depositors for that matter.

                          "What we need to resolve is non-performing loans and it's again about the courts. If you loan $100 million and the guy is sitting in parliament and we have a number of such cases, for these people having corrupt courts makes it very easy not to repay the loans," Rashkovan said. "Banks say our capital is being eaten by the corruption."

                          While Rashkovan said overhauling the legal system "is not the mandate of the central bank, we will try to do everything possible to push other state officials to enforce and to speed up those changes in the the court system, legal system, rule of law, anti-corruption. Without this, the economy will still not see money from lending. If this does not happen there will be no economic growth. There are very weak internal sources of funding to feed the economic growth - and also no external funding to feed economic growth. For external funding, they need the rule of law to work. They need courts judging fairly."

                          Rashkovan said external audit companies will be hired to find cases of fraud involving banks, including Delta and Nadra. "We are in favor of some bankers to be in jail. We want this and we are sure we will achieve it," Rashkovan said.

                          So, there it is in a nutshell: a banking system with more than Hr 1 trillion ($43 billion) in assets remains frozen partly because of past fraud and the inability or unwillingness of prosecutors and judges to punish wrongdoing.

                          The analogy for the central bank's curernt role is that of a renovator who has gutted a home in terrible shape to prepare it for a proper and complete remodeling.

                          That is what is under way in Ukraine's banking sector, a painful process that will continue in 2016.

                          "Today we have a new national bank," Rashkovan said in a recent interview with the Kyiv Post. "We are one team working to achieve the same target - to build a real sustainable banking sector and drive it forward."

                          Since Rashkovan and a team of reformers came on board after the EuroMaidan Revolution ended in February 2014, driving President Viktor Yanukovych from power, the central bank has racked up an impressive string of successes.

                          Stress tests led to the closing of 60 of the nation's weakest banks, leaving only 120 of the strongest left on the market. And that number is likely to shrink as more banks undergo audits and the smaller ones are unable to meet capital requirements.

                          Bank ownership is now fully transparent in almost 100 percent of the cases -- and accessible online. Before Rashkovan came in, the central bank didn't know who owned more than half of the banks, making them fertile grounds for fraud, especially for owners who simply used deposits as a source of private funds -- so-called "vacuum cleaner" bankers.

                          Curbs have been placed on related-party lending, another source of much corruption through insider financing deals.

                          All of the clean-up has come at a high cost.

                          Some Hr 70 billion, or $3 billion, in deposit insurance has been spent to reimburse customers up to Hr 200,000 who lost savings in the weak or corrupt banks, for which no one has been held to account.

                          Additionally, the National Bank of Ukraine has shed more than half its workforce -- to 5,500 from 11,800 -- as it dropped the previous focus of keeping the hryvnia tightly pegged to the value of the dollar and defined new core functions.

                          "What was done in the past – fixed rate pegging (proved) too costly for the state, especially when reserves are eaten year after year after year, Rashkovan said.

                          Instead, the central bank set price and financial stability as its core functions followed by employment and economic growth. Still, the bank is involved in 41 projects, including anti-money laundering efforts and economic research and forecasting.

                          Still, the new central bank leadership team under Governor Valeria O. Gontareva were able to lay off most employees because they were not engaged in priority areas.

                          "We found out 6,700 people were doing non core-functions," Rashkovan said. "All the areas which were non-core, there was a separate project to sweep them out...it’s the largest HR (human resources) reduction in any state-owned enterprise."

                          The main aim of the post-revolution team was to "return trust to what the central bank is doing," Rashkovan said. The return of hrvynia deposits to banks is a sign the new policies are working and that people have more trust in banks.

                          "Believe it or not, not everything is money," Rashkovan said. "We can calm down the panic sometimes with just strong words." ​Banking sector cleaner, but still no lending

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                          • Ukraine desperate for U.S. surveillance equipment in standoff with Russia
                            THE WASHINGTON TIMES Rowan Scarborough January 10, 2016

                            When Ukraine’s border defense forces look east and south, they see nothing but Russian trouble.

                            Yet for one of the world’s most dangerous stretches of territory, the Ukrainians are woefully short of devices to spy on the other side to anticipate the next attack and spot intruders.

                            Pockets of pro-Moscow separatists periodically penetrate the “line of contact.” Russian troops and their heavy weapons stand on Ukrainian soil, ready to invade at any time while conducting periodic low-intensity combat: a mortar shot here, a sniper’s bullet there.

                            Ukraine has launched reconnaissance drones, but Russia is adept at hacking the aircraft’s software and guiding them back to President Vladimir Putin’s troops. As a makeshift solution, Ukraine took U.S.-supplied counterbattery radars and rigged them into a network through which commanders can watch some border areas. Such radars are miscast. They are normally used to pinpoint the source of artillery or missile fire so it can be targeted.

                            The White House is adamantly opposed to shipping lethal defensive aid with which Kiev could blunt the next Russian assault, but some help may be on the way.

                            Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who toured eastern Ukraine this fall, has submitted a bill that tries to finesse around the White House ban. It authorizes the Pentagon to ship counterjammers to protect the drones and to supply early-warning sensors.

                            Meanwhile, a California company is installing eight tactical towers this month along the southeastern border. Mounted on them will be infrared cameras, like the ones on surveillance drones, as well as radars that can monitor sea, air and land.

                            These are small steps. But with a beleaguered State Border Guard Service, which has lost scores of troops in combat and is sometimes blind to enemy movements, any new equipment is welcomed.

                            John E. Herbst, who directs the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council think tank, is a retired career diplomat and ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006, a pivotal time of a presidential election and subsequent Orange Revolution street protests.

                            He says new surveillance equipment is “very useful” for two key reasons.

                            First, Russian troops on the eastern front continue low-intensity military operations against Ukraine.

                            “Moscow has a huge edge over Kiev in border surveillance technology,” Mr. Herbst said. “This means that Moscow has a better idea of where and how well fortified Ukrainian troops are near the line of contact. That translates into more casualties for Ukrainian forces and fewer for Russian separatist ones. It is certainly in Ukraine’s interest, but also in our interest, to help reverse that equation. Providing better surveillance equipment would help do that.”

                            Second, Mr. Herbst said, a network of sensors would alert Kiev to Russian troop movements beyond the line of contact, allowing it to see forces flowing into the region.

                            “If we provided Ukraine with intelligence assets enabling them to better monitor their border with Russia that is currently under Kremlin control, Kiev would have a much better idea of what equipment and soldiers are arriving in Ukraine from Russia,” he said. “This would help make the case that Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine is not diminishing despite its Minsk process obligations.”

                            The Minsk Agreement of 2014 and February 2015 among Mr. Putin and European leaders has brought an uneasy lull in the fighting in the volatile, rebel-filled Donbass eastern region bordering Russia.

                            The eye-opener for Mr. Hunter was when he broke away from State Department handlers in October and rode an old Soviet-designed helicopter to the eastern front. There, he saw little in the way of technology, besides binoculars, to watch the Russians.

                            The Ukrainians told him Russia had stolen their drones.

                            “The Russians, no joke, would not just take the drones down,” said Mr. Hunter, a former Marine Corps officer. “They would take them. Fly them back to the Russian side and land them.”

                            Mr. Hunter said Ukrainian defense forces badly need lethal defensive weapons against one of the world’s largest armies.

                            “They need the ability to take out Russian armor and not let them mass artillery fires,” he said. “This is war to them. The Russians were massing artillery fire on them, using drones as forward observers and tank columns rolling into the Ukraine. This is not about training insurgents or giving them [U.S. military rations]. This is about how do you help a country like Ukraine stave off a massive conventional military.”

                            With the White House firmly saying no, even against advice from American diplomats, Mr. Hunter is trying a new tactic.

                            His bill, which could become part of the fiscal 2017 defense budget, would fund jammers to protect the drones and different types of sensors.

                            “We’re giving them as much as we can within the confines of the administration not really trying to help them,” he said.

                            In the meantime, a private, State Department-approved transaction has a Montebello, California, company, Worldwide Aeros, set to erect eight sensor-mounted towers that would deliver immediate surveillance along the southeastern border this winter.

                            “This system will provide a much more robust capability to detect incursions into their territory,” said Drew Shoemaker, vice president of government relations for Aeroscraft, a division of Worldwide. “It detects with the radar and then confirms with the camera.”

                            With a maximum range of 40 miles, the Elevated Early Warning System, he said, “can look quite a distance into whatever territory they are looking at. They can track movements of goods and services in and out of the rebel-held territories. There’s still a large of amount of military equipment in there.”

                            Ukraine eventually may opt for blimplike aerostats with even more powerful ranges.

                            Worldwide Aeros was founded by a Ukrainian-born engineer, Igor Pasternak, who has won Pentagon contracts to develop different sizes and shapes of airships.

                            After invading and annexing the Crimea Peninsula on the Black Sea in 2014, Moscow has designs on more Ukraine territory. Its ambitions were underscored last month with reports that Russian hackers disabled parts of the country’s electrical grid, causing massive blackouts.

                            It is believed to be the first time a cyberattack has been able to bring down a centralized electrical system. It was likely in retaliation for Ukrainian operatives’ mission to blow up power lines to Crimea.

                            The Minsk accords require Ukraine to monitor what is considered a “controlled” 1,200-mile border with Russia and another 250 miles that have no controls, plus a 120-mile stretch along Crimea.

                            Mr. Herbst said the Obama administration “has been slow to recognize the dangers of Putin’s revanchist politics and timid in supplying Ukraine with assistance it needs.”

                            But he said that new Pentagon leadership, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, Joint Chiefs chairman, with Congress, are pushing for a “tougher policy in support of Ukraine.”

                            “While the administration still refuses to send Ukraine defensive lethal weapons,” he said, “early last year it agreed to send Humvees and in September it sent counterbattery radar for missiles, which are very important for reducing Ukrainian casualties.” Ukraine desperate for U.S. surveillance equipment in standoff with Russia - Washington Times

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                            • For Capital-Starved Ukraine, Fresh IPOs Remain Distant Aim
                              BLOOMBERG Kateryna Choursina & Daryna Krasnolutska Jan 11, 2016

                              ---Investors seek judicial overhaul, greater political stability
                              ---Country pivots toward EU as access to Russian markets barred

                              Interpipe Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest supplier of tubes and railway wheels, has waited eight years to sell shares. As 2016 rolls around, the Ukrainian company that has served the likes of Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Bombardier Inc. has already given up the effort for another year.

                              It’s no small matter. Interpipe, based in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, near territories controlled by pro-Russian fighters, lacks the financing to boost output destined for the European Union and beyond. Yet there seems no end to the bad news that’s driven investors out of the former Soviet republic.

                              "What’s Ukraine today? A war zone and a zone of instability,” said Denis Morozov, the chief financial officer. “The only investors interested now are the ones seeking risky businesses at a great discount. It’s obvious that if one does an IPO now, the sale price will amount to peanuts.”

                              Ukrainian executives have found themselves increasingly unable to raise money on capital markets since a pre-2008 wave of initial public offerings from Warsaw to London yielded as much as $1.1 billion in financing. Plans to revitalize the market in Ukrainian equities have died since the last IPO in 2012 as the fate of the war-ruined eastern regions remains uncertain, the hryvnia is almost 80 percent weaker than in 2007 and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s government has failed to pass enough reform measures to reassure investors concerned about rampant corruption.

                              Investors want proof that the government can weed out the bureaucracy and graft partly inherited from past regimes.

                              “We are not planning to invest in Ukraine for the time being,” said Sebastian Kahlfeld, a senior portfolio manager at Deutsche Asset Management. “We basically require seeing more stability in terms of political development. Also we want to see how the reforms are going to be enacted. There is a lot of potential, but I’d like to see some action first.”

                              Many local companies, including London-listed poultry maker MHP SA, had already tried to reduce their reliance on Russian markets before protests began in Kiev in late 2013. While a trade pact has brought the promise of deepening integration with the European Union, that may only partly make up for the loss of exports after Russia blocked traffic from Ukraine and imposed a ban on the country’s agricultural goods from Jan. 1.

                              Deutsche Asset Management, which had about 750 billion euros ($815 billion) under management as of September, invested in Ukraine before 2008 in retail, banking and real estate, but eliminated its investment exposure over time.

                              That has proven prescient as the UX index fell 34 percent in 2015, the worst performance among major indexes worldwide, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. PFTS, another local index, has fallen by 50 percent since a peak in July 2014. The UX slid 0.3 percent by 10:46 a.m. in Kiev, while the hryvnia weakened 2.7 percent to 23.9845 per dollar, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

                              Legal System

                              Ukrainian stocks had seen better days. More than 20 Ukrainian companies held IPOs in Warsaw, Frankfurt or London, raising more than $2 billion between 2006 and 2011, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report.

                              Astarta Holding NV, a farming company whose 2006 IPO was among the first in that period, has been affected by the political situation. In 2014, the year when thousands were killed in the armed conflict with Russia-backed separatists, Astarta shares fell 70 percent in Warsaw.

                              “The market is waiting for reforms and nothing else,” said Oleg Tkachenko, the head of the stock exchange. “In 2015, expectations were not realized.” For Capital-Starved Ukraine, Fresh IPOs Remain Distant Aim - Bloomberg Business

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                              • Life in the Trenches: Ukrainian soldiers endure harsh weather conditions without shelter
                                UT UKRAINE TODAY Jan. 10, 2016

                                In case of flare up, this battalion wouldn't defend themselves well, their equipment is frozen

                                No shelter and days of bitterly cold weather greets these Ukrainian soldiers. They're stationd at unequipped checkpoints in the east of the country. Dropped off in the middle of this field, their task is to dig trenches and set up equipment. For several nights in a row they've slept on the ground. The temperature was nearly minus 20 degrees Celsius.

                                Soldiers say central command's failure to equip their position has placed them in danger. In case of a flare up in fighting, the battalion would not be able to defend itself. Some of their equipment is frozen and now needs mending.

                                "Rolya", serviceman: "Do you see it's completely frozen, we have to dry it. Otherwise it won't shoot. See it's all wet. But we don't have anywhere to dry it…Everything has frozen."

                                Another soldier tells us he's been serving for nearly a year without demobilization.

                                "Artist", serviceman: "I've been on the frontline for nine months. Without holiday, without any breaks."

                                Within an hour of our camera crew arriving at the checkpoint a military press officer and a commander appear.

                                Evhen Boyko, deputy commander of 24th brigade: "We've arrived so we'll sort it out. This was a planned move of the brigade."

                                Despite setbacks and shortfalls such as this one, Ukrainian army officials tell us that the armed forces are continuing to change for the better. Prior to the Russian-backed insurgency in east Urkaine, the country's military was neglected for more than two decades. Life in the Trenches: Ukrainian soldiers endure harsh weather conditions without shelter - watch on - uatoday.tv

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