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  • ATLANTIC COUNCIL Anders Aslund May 6, 2019
    The Illusions of Putins Russia

    Vladimir Putins regime is much easier to understand than it might first appear. In October 1939, Winston Churchill famously stated that Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest. That was a long time ago. Today, the key is crony capitalism. Putin is about two thingspower and wealth.

    At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2000, the American journalist Trudy Rubin famously asked a panel of Russians: Who is Mr. Putin? Wisely, none of them answered. During his first term as president, 2000-2004, Putin consolidated power by being everything to everybody, and the Russian market economy worked better than ever. An obvious parallel is to the first term of Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan from 2003-2007. Both have degenerated as they have consolidated power.

    Putins second presidential term was premeditated by the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the main owner and CEO of the Yukos Oil Company, and Russias richest man when he was arrested on October 25, 2003. The ensuing confiscation of Yukos amounted to a war on the oligarchs, but the other big businessmen kept quiet. The essence of Putins second term was state capitalism. Putin did not care about the efficiency, social values, or profitability of state companies. He wanted control through loyalists in charge who transferred the surplus of the companies toward him and his friends. Accordingly, the market value of Gazprom has sunk from a peak of $369 billion in May 2008 to currently barely $60 billion. CEO Alexei Miller who has cost the company $310 billion remains in place, showing that Putin does not mind.

    During Putins third informal term, Dmitri Medvedev was formally president. Then Putin went all out, opting for real crony capitalism. His friends indulged in massive asset stripping from state companies, chiefly from Gazprom. The four primary cronies are long-time friends of Putin from St. Petersburg. The brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg make money on building pipelines for Gazprom and roads for the Russian state in no-bid contracts. Gennady Timchenko also builds gas pipelines but he also produces gas benefiting from favorable licenses. Yuri Kovalchuk, CEO of Bank Rossiya, is in charge of financial and media asset stripping from Gazprom and controls twenty television channels. In March 2014, the US sanctioned all four and their companies, while the European Union did not sanction Boris Rotenberg and Timchenko, because they had acquired Finnish citizenship in the 1990s.

    After Putin resumed the presidency in 2012, his rule is best described as manual management as the Russians like to put it. Putin does whatever he wants, with little consideration to the consequences with one important caveat. During the Russian financial crash of August 1998, Putin learned that financial crises are politically destabilizing and must be avoided at all costs. Therefore, he cares about financial stability. Russia maintains huge currency and gold reserves, balanced budgets, minimal public debt, low inflation, and tiny unemployment.

    In contrast, Putin could care less about the standard of living or economic growth. Officially, Russias disposable incomes declined by 13 percent from 2014-2018, but before the statistics were revised it was even 17 percent, and the decline continues. After a decade of 7 percent growth a year, Russia has had an average economic growth of 1 percent a year since 2009.

    A key question is how much wealth Putin has accumulated. The irony is that having undermined all property rights in Russia, Putin and his cronies are compelled to launder their loot in offshore havens. If they were to lose power in Russia, they would also lose all their assets there.

    Total Russian private wealth held abroad is assessed at $800 billion. My assessment is that since Putins circle got its looting fully organized around 2006, they have extracted $15-25 billion a year, reaching a total of $195-325 billion, a large share of the Russian private offshore wealth. Presuming that half of this wealth belongs to Putin, his net wealth would amount to $100-160 billion. Naturally, Putin and his cronies cannot enjoy their wealth. It is all about power. If they are not the wealthiest, they fear they will lose power.

    Putins crony capitalism condemns Russia to near stagnation for as long as he stays in power. No political or economic reform is on his agenda, since reform would undermine his political power. Instead, Putin needs foreign adventures, such as the wars in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria to rally his people around the flag.

    The best defense of the West against Putins authoritarian and kleptocratic regime is transparency, shining light on this anonymous wealth, which is probably held predominantly in the United States and the United Kingdom, the two countries with good rule of law that allow anonymous companies on a large scale and have deep financial markets.
    https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blog...putin-s-russia



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    • Vandals Smash New Monument To Crimean Tatar WWII Victims
      RFE/RL May 09, 2019 17:30 GMT Crimea Desk

      https://gdb.rferl.org/65A75BAE-5E34-...w1023_r1_s.jpg
      The desecrated monument contained the names of Crimean Tatars who died during World War II.

      Unknown vandals on May 9 desecrated a memorial outside the city of Sevastopol in Ukraine's Crimea region to Crimean Tatars who died during World War II.

      The Crimean Tatar community on May 9 published photographs of the monument, which consisted of two black marble tablets inscribed with the names of 64 local people including 57 Crimean Tatars who died during the war.

      The memorial was erected just three days earlier in the village of Orlovka by the Crimean Tatar community.

      Ukraine's Black Sea region of Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014. Since then, the Crimean Tatar community has been subjected to repression by the de facto authorities for its opposition to the annexation.

      In May 1944, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the mass deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar community from the region, baselessly accusing it of collaboration with the Nazis.

      Tens of thousands of them died during the operation and the first severe months in Kazakhstan and other remote parts of the Soviet Union.

      They were only allowed to begin returning to Crimea in the late 1980s under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov.

      The de facto authorities in Crimea have not reacted to desecration of the Orlovka monument.
      https://www.rferl.org/a/newly-instal.../29931904.html


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      • Congressional Democrats Suggest Early Departure Of U.S. Ambassador To Ukraine Is Politically Motivated
        RFE/RL Ukraine May 07, 2019 19:44 GMT

        Two top U.S. Democratic lawmakers have suggested that the early departure of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine may have been a politically motivated move on the part of President Donald Trump's administration.

        In a statement released on May 7, Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, and Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, questioned why Marie Yovanovitch was leaving by the end of May, more than two months before her scheduled departure.

        A career diplomat who has served during both Republican and Democratic administrations, Yovanovitch has recently been the subject of unusual public attacks by Ukraine's prosecutor-general.

        Some of those attacks have been amplified by conservative U.S. media outlets.

        A State Department spokesperson on May 7 confirmed earlier reporting by RFE/RL that Yovanovitch was leaving early, but declined to comment further

        "Ambassador Yovanovitch is concluding her three-year diplomatic assignment in Kyiv in 2019 as planned," the official said.

        Her departure comes ahead of the inauguration of Volodymyr Zelenskiy as Ukraine's new president. He defeated incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in the April 21 runoff vote.https://www.rferl.org/a/congressiona.../29927364.html



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        • Russia Frees Two Ukrainian Fishermen Held For Months After Incident Off Crimea Coast
          RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service May 07, 2019 15:12 GMT

          Two Ukrainian fishermen detained last year by Russian border guards after their boat broke down off the coast of the Crimea Peninsula have been released.

          Lyudmyla Denisova, the human rights ombudsman for Ukraine, said in a post to her Facebook page on May 7 that she had been informed that Ruslan Kondratyuk and Andriy Morosov are now on the way back to their families in the Kherson region.

          Denisova said Russian border guards detained the fishermen in September after their motorboat broke down, forcing them to land the craft in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014.

          An official with the Russia-backed government in Crimea confirmed to the Russia news agency TASS that the fishermen had been released.

          Lyudmila Lubina, identified as a Crimean human rights ombudsman, said a court had fined the men an undisclosed sum, although she said they had faced up to five years in prison.

          Russia, meanwhile, continues to hold 24 Ukrainian seamen who were jailed after Russian border guards seized their vessels near the Kerch Strait between Russia and Crimea in a flare-up of tension in November 2018.

          Moscow accused them of illegal entry into Russian territorial waters, which they deny, and they are formally charged with illegal border crossing.

          Russias annexation of Crimea has not been recognized by the international community. The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Moscow for the seizure and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
          https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-frees.../29926655.html


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          • Media Watchdogs 'Appalled' By Brutal Attack On Ukrainian Journalist
            RFE/RL May 07, 2019 23:48 GMT

            International media freedom watchdogs said they were appalled by the recent brutal attack on Ukrainian journalist Vadym Komarov and urged the countrys authorities to do their utmost to ensure that it does not go unpunished.

            In a statement on May 7, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that Ukrainian authorities should leave no stone unturned in identifying the motive of the attack on Komarov and bringing the assailants to justice.

            Gulnoza Said, CPJ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said that her organization was "appalled by the brutal assault," which she said comes amid "a range of threats faced by investigative reporters in Ukraine."

            Komarov was hospitalized and underwent unspecified surgery following the May 4 attack in the city of Cherkasy, about 200 kilometers south of Kyiv, and as of May 7 remained in a coma.

            Police are treating the case as attempted murder, but did not say whether Komarov was targeted for his reporting.

            In Paris, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that Komarov is well known in Cherkasy for his coverage of local corruption, real estate issues, and administrative incompetence.

            Sergiy Tomilenko, head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, said that Komarov had been investigating official corruption in local sports schools prior to the assault.

            The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Desir, said that the attack against an investigative journalist known for his reporting on corruption is particularly alarming and cannot remain unpunished.

            Quickly identifying its perpetrator and any instigators is the only way to dispel this murder attempts chilling effect, said Johann Bihr, the head of RSFs Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

            In its statement, RSF said Komarov was shot in 2016 and was beaten the following year while participating in a protestagainst a company that executes public works contracts.

            Ukraine is ranked 102nd out of 180 countries in RSFs 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

            Investigative journalists in Ukraine have recently faced surveillance, harassment, and assault from government and private entities, according to the CPJ.https://www.rferl.org/a/media-watchd.../29927551.html

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            • Russian Energy Minister: European Oil Shipments To Resume By Mid-May
              RFE/RL Russia May 07, 2019 17:52 GMT

              Russia's energy minister said that oil is expected to resume flowing through a key pipeline to Europe by the middle of May, after contaminated supplies disrupted exports.

              Aleksandr Novak also said on May 7 that four people had been arrested as part of an investigation into the contaminated oil, which caused major disruptions and tarnished Russia's reputation as a reliable supplier.

              Russian news agencies quoted Novak as saying that the government had put in place stricter measures to prevent a repeat of the problems with the Druzhba pipeline, which first emerged on April 25.

              "Investigations revealed a group of companies was carrying out illegal activity," Novak was quoted as saying.

              He said some unnamed companies were allowed to introduce into the system oil that had excess chlorine compounds. The state-owned pipeline operator Transneft has accused a small private company of being responsible.

              "The normalization of the situation" is expected in the first half of May, Novak said.

              The Druzhba pipeline crosses from Russia into Belarus and then branches off. Some oil then heads toward Poland and Germany and some toward Ukraine, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

              Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, and Belarusian officials met in Minsk last month to discuss the issue.

              Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the contamination had caused very serious damage to his country's reputation as an oil exporter, and to Russias oil infrastructure.
              With reporting by AFP and TASS https://www.rferl.org/a/russian-ener.../29927083.html

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              • Russian Authorities To Remove Tatar Collaboration Slur From Crimean History Textbook
                RFE/RL Crimea Desk May 07, 2019 09:46 GMT

                The Russian authorities who control Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula have promised to remove a section of a high-school history textbook that claims many Crimean Tatars collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II.

                The senior education official in the Russian-imposed government of Crimea, Natalya Goncharova, said on May 6 that the pages in question would be removed from the 10th-grade textbook History Of Crimea by the end of the month.

                Educators and lawyers -- some of them members of the indigenous, mainly Muslim Crimean Tatar minority -- have urged the authorities to remove the book from the curriculum, saying that it threatens to incite ethnic and religious hatred among teenagers.

                The pages that are to be removed include a claim that the majority of Crimean Tatars "were loyal to" the Nazis, and that "many actively helped them."

                The claim echoes the pretext that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's government used when it deported Crimean Tatars en masse from the Black Sea peninsula in 1944, asserting that they were collaborators.

                Many died on the journey or in exile in Central Asia and the steppes of southern Russia.

                Crimean Tatars were allowed to begin returning to their homeland in the late 1980s, and make up some 12 percent of its population.

                Russia seized control of the peninsula in March 2014, sending in troops without insignia, securing key facilities, and staging a referendum deemed illegitimate by Ukraine and most other world countries.

                Rights groups and Western governments say Russia has conducted a persistent campaign of oppression targeting Crimean Tatars and other citizens who opposed Moscow's takeover of the peninsula.
                With reporting by TASS and Interfax
                https://www.rferl.org/a/russian-auth.../29926085.html


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                • 'Your Move': Graffiti On Putin Mural In Crimea Taunts FSB
                  Crimea Desk, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service May 21, 2019 12:27 GMT

                  SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- A mural in Crimea depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin has been defaced with a profane piece of graffiti calling the Federal Security Service (FSB) a "*****."

                  Painted stencil-style lettering appeared on the mural on an apartment building in the capital of the Russia-controlled Ukrainian region, Simferopol, on May 21.

                  The white lettering standing out from the blue naval uniform Putin is depicted wearing read "FSB, shall we play? E2 - E4. Now it's your move, *****."

                  The site was cordoned off by police and what appeared to be plainclothes law enforcement officers.

                  E2 - E4 is a popular opening move in chess, and many in the former Soviet Union would recognize it as a reference to The Twelve Chairs, a 1928 satirical novel by authorial duo Ilf and Petrov.

                  Putin headed the FSB in 1998-99 and was a longtime officer of its predecessor, the Soviet KGB.

                  The graffiti also included the wording "Telegram-Party of Crimea's Independence, Sovereign Crimea," and the little-known group's address on the social network Telegram. Its account was created in April.

                  People identifying themselves as representatives of the group contacted RFE/RL on Telegram and said that the 100-centimeter-by-150-centimeter graffito was painted on the mural on May 21.

                  They said that their final goal was Crimeas independence from any country, and that they plan similar stunts in the future.

                  Russia seized control of Crimea in March 2014, sending in troops without insignia, securing key facilities, and staging a referendum deemed illegitimate by Ukraine and most other countries.

                  Rights groups and Western governments say Russia has conducted a persistent campaign of oppression targeting Crimean Tatars and other citizens who opposed Moscow's takeover of the Black Sea peninsula.https://www.rferl.org/a/your-move-gr.../29954656.html

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                  • Ukraine's New President Vows To Dissolve Parliament As PM, Other Key Officials Resign
                    RFE/RL Updated May 20, 2019 17:19 GMT

                    KYIV -- New Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has pledged to dissolve parliament as the prime minister and key members of his government announced they would resign as the country's new leader seeks fresh political support.

                    In remarks after taking the oath of office at the Verkhovna Rada on May 20, Zelenskiy also called for the dismissal of top security officials, including controversial Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko, Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak, and the head of the state Security Service, Vasyl Hrytsak, all seen as loyal to former President Petro Poroshenko.

                    Hours later, after Poltorak and Hrytsak announced they would quit, Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman announced his intention to resign on May 22 after the next government meeting.

                    A 41-year-old comedian and actor with no previous political experience, Zelenskiy broke with tradition by walking through a park on the way to parliament, high-fiving people, taking a selfie with supporters, and then quoting former U.S. President Ronald Reagan -- who was also an actor -- in his address.

                    Zelenskiy, who until now has sought laughs for a living, said that he would do everything he could to ensure "Ukrainians do not cry" and declared that he is ready to lose the job he just got if it would bring peace to the war-ravaged eastern region known as the Donbas, where Russia-backed separatists hold parts of two provinces.

                    Moving to consolidate power on his first day in office, Zelenskiy -- who ran without the support of a political party and has no formal backing in parliament now -- declared he would "dissolve the Verkhovna Rada."

                    Media reports said that he had not immediately signed a decree to disband the legislature but might do so later in the day.

                    The next parliamentary elections had been scheduled for October 27, but Zelenskiy did not propose a specific date for a snap vote. He said that lawmakers must dismiss the security officials and pass several key pieces of legislation, including bills to cancel lawmakers' immunity and to prosecute officials for illegal enrichment, within two months -- the maximum period of time, according to the constitution, between a published decision on the dissolution of parliament and the election of a new one.

                    Before that announcement, Zelenskiy said he will bring many changes and invoked Reagan to suggest that he would go straight to the people for solutions to pressing problems in the country of 44 million, which faces deep-seated corruption, economic challenges, and the conflict with Russia-backed militants that has killed some 13,000 people in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk since April 2014. The same year, Russia seized control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

                    Zelenskiy said in his speech that "our first task is a cease-fire in the Donbas," which drew large applause. "We didn't start this war but it is up to us to end it," he said.

                    "We are ready for dialogue," he added, urging the handover of Ukrainian prisoners in an exchange of "all for all," as is outlined in the Minsk peace accords signed as a road map for resolving the fighting.

                    There has not been an exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and Russia since 2017.

                    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commended Zelenskiy's call for the full exchange of prisoners, RIA Novosti reported.

                    Zelenskiy also said that government officials should not hang his picture in their offices. Instead, he urged them, "Hang up photos of your kids -- and before you make every decision, look them in the eye."

                    There have been disputes over whether Zelenskiy has the authority to dissolve parliament because of the timing of his inauguration and because the governing European Ukraine coalition fell apart last week after the People's Front party announced it was quitting -- a move seen by many as a bid by his political foes to bar him from disbanding the parliament.

                    Opponents say the constitution gives parliament 30 days to form a new coalition and that the president cannot dissolve it during that time. Zelenskiy and his allies argue that European Ukraine, in fact, stopped being a ruling coalition after three political parties left its ranks years ago.

                    Initially, the coalition that was established in November 2014 consisted of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, the People's Front, Samopomich (Self-Reliance), Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), and the Radical Party. The latter three parties quit the coalition in 2015-16.

                    Zelenskiy's opponents also point out that the constitution prohibits the president from dissolving parliament less than six months before its mandate expires. But there are differing opinions on whether that date is November 27 or later, in December, and allies of the new president contend that he is within his rights to dissolve the legislature.

                    Ahead in the polls from the early stages of the presidential campaign, Zelenskiy easily won the most votes in the first round on March 31 and beat Poroshenko by a large margin in the runoff on April 21.

                    After his victory, Zelenskiy accused lawmakers of trying to block him from dissolving parliament and holding snap elections, but lawmakers from several parties said after his inauguration that they would not challenge his call for a new vote.

                    "I see no reason to challenge Zelenskiy's decision," Ivan Vinnyk, a lawmaker in Poroshenko's faction, said.

                    Unlike his predecessors, instead of arriving at the ceremony in a heavily guarded vehicle, Zelenskiy walked to the Rada in Kyiv through an adjacent park, where thousands of people were gathered.

                    Flanked by several bodyguards, Zelenskiy high-fived some of the people and took a selfie with a spectator's mobile phone.

                    In his remarks after being sworn in, Zelenskiy said that "not just me, but all Ukrainians have just put their hands on the constitution and been sworn in."

                    Zelenskiy said that he is ready to grant citizenship to Ukrainians around the world who choose to come to the country and bring the "knowledge and values we need here."

                    In part, that promise sounded like a retort to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who last month signed a decree that made it easier for people living in the portion of eastern Ukraine held by Moscow-backed militants to obtain Russian citizenship.

                    Putin did not congratulate Zelenskiy on his election and no Russian officials were invited to the inauguration.

                    Zelenskiy returned to naming the conflict in eastern Ukraine as the a chief priority of his five-year term.

                    "I'm ready to do all I can so that our heroes don't die there, and if necessary I am ready to lose my post to bring peace there," Zelenskiy said, adding that peace must be reached without Ukraine losing any territories.

                    Zelenskiy gave his inauguration speech in Ukrainian, but delivered two short passages in Russian.

                    One was on the exchange of captives and in his second statement in Russian, Zelenskiy assured Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Russian-held Crimea and the separatist-held parts of Donetsk and Luhansk that he will always consider them Ukrainian citizens.

                    When Radical Party leader Oleh Lyashko interrupted Zelenskiy, saying that he could speak in Ukrainian as Russian-speaking Ukrainians can understand it, Zelenskiy answered by thanking him and adding, "Mr. Lyashko, you continue to divide our people."

                    Lavrov noted Zelenskiy's reaching out to Russian speakers.

                    "Today, in his inauguration speech President Zelenskiy stood against the attempts to divide the Ukrainian society on the basis of language," he said. "There are no doubts that this stance should be fully applicable to the religious sphere, including the broader context of implementing the Minsk accords."

                    Lavrov was referring to the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which broke from the Russian Orthodox Church after receiving a declaration of autocephaly in January. The move, which was championed by Poroshenko, angered the Kremlin and caused it to break off relations with the spiritual head of Orthodoxy in Istanbul.

                    Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill said on May 20 that he hoped "the newly elected president will not repeat the mistakes of his predecessor and we sincerely wish him successes in uniting and reconciling the Ukrainian people."

                    Zelenskiy ended his remarks by saying: "All my life, I have done my best to make Ukrainians laugh, and in the next five years to come I will do what I can so that Ukrainians do not cry. Glory to Ukraine!"

                    Athough Hroysman, Poltorak, and Security Service chief Hrytsak all tendered their resignations, there was no such public offer from Lutsenko, who is at the center of concerns about corruption in Ukraine.
                    With reporting by Merhat Sharipzhan, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Current Time, Reuters, AP, and AFP

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                    • UN Security Council Rejects Russian Request For Ukraine Meeting
                      RFE/RL Ukraine May 21, 2019 01:40 GMT

                      The UN Security Council has rejected a Russian request to hold a meeting on a new language law in Ukraine.

                      Russia managed to garner only four votes -- from China, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, and the Dominican Republic -- out of the nine it needed from the 15-member council.

                      The United States and five other countries -- France, Germany, Britain, Belgium, and Poland -- voted against and four other countries --
                      Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Kuwait and Peru -- abstained.

                      The May 20 vote was held on the same day that Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was sworn in.

                      Jonathan Cohen, the acting U.S. ambassador, called Moscow's request "a clear attempt by Russia to distract from the peaceful, democratic transfer of power happening today in Ukraine."

                      France's ambassador to the UN, Francois Delattre, told the council ahead of the vote that the Russian move was "not intended to have a constructive discussion" but to "put the new president of Ukraine in the worst light."

                      Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed the law in April.

                      Under the new legislation, Ukrainian-language TV and radio programming is increased and all citizens have the obligation to speak Ukrainian, which becomes compulsory for civil servants, doctors, teachers, and lawyers, under the threat of fines.

                      Russian, which is also widely spoken in the country, is permitted in personal communications.

                      Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said that the Russian language was being "pushed out" of Ukraine and accused the council of "censorship."

                      He said that the vote to refuse the meeting was "a blatant demonstration of double standards" by members who approved other meetings.

                      Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko said it was "not a coincidence" that Russia had asked for the council to meet on the day of Zelenskiy's inauguration.

                      Zelenskiy said after his inauguration that his main goal was to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.

                      Russia seized control of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and fomented unrest in eastern Ukraine, where the conflict between government forces and Moscow-backed separatists has killed some 13,000 people and continues despite a cease-fire and peace deal known as the Minsk accords.

                      Moscow's attempt "to send a very powerful message to the new leader from the Security Council" ended up instead being a message for Russia, Yelchenko said.
                      With reporting by AP and AFP
                      https://www.rferl.org/a/29953773.html

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                      • Ukrainian PM Hroysman Announces Resignation
                        RFE/RL Ukraine May 20, 2019 15:15 GMT

                        Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman has announced his intention to resign.

                        Hroysman said in a televised statement that he would step down at the next government meeting on May 22.

                        Hroysman's announcement came hours after Volodymyr Zelenskiy was sworn in as president and announced that he would dissolve parliament and hold new elections within two months.

                        Hroysman, who is a member of the Petro Porshenko Bloc, said he would compete in the next parliamentary elections.

                        The 41-year-old has been prime minister since April 2016. He had previously served as chairman of the parliament.

                        His resignation follows that of two other cabinet members whose resignations were demanded by Zelenskiy -- Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak and Security Service chief Vasyl Hrytsak. Both resigned earlier on May 20.
                        Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP
                        https://www.rferl.org/a/ukrainian-pm.../29953270.html


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                        • RFE/RL Crimea Desk Ukraine May 18, 2019 19:55 GMT
                          Crimean Tatars Mark Anniversary Of Stalin-Era Deportations

                          SIMFEROPOL -- Dozens of Crimean Tatars have marked the anniversary of the Stalin-era deportations from the Black Sea peninsula, with police warning participants that the event was unauthorized but otherwise not interfering.

                          The May 18 event, held in the peninsula's capital city Simferopol, took place without incident or any reported detentions, even as some participants argued with law enforcement officials.

                          Around 100 people recited prayers at a city park where a small monument stands to the tens of thousands who died during the 1944 deportations.

                          Some participants dressed in traditional garb, while others carried the flag of the Crimean Tatar community. Several elderly survivors recalled their experiences from the deportations.

                          he Black Sea peninsula was annexed by Russia in March 2014.

                          The Crimean Tatar community has refused to recognize Russia's assertion of authority over the region, and many activists have been harassed or detained.

                          https://flashvideo.rferl.org/Videoro...c_manifest.mpd

                          In May 1944, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the community deported, accusing them of collaboration with the Nazis.

                          Tens of thousands died during the operation and during the first severe months in Kazakhstan and other remote parts of the Soviet Union.

                          They were only allowed to begin returning to Crimea in the late 1980s.https://www.rferl.org/a/crimean-tata.../29949920.html

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                          • RFE/RL Moldova Ron Synovitz & Diana Raileanu February 27, 2019 08:18 GMT
                            Copycat Hacks: Moldovan Facebook Trolls Used Russian Tactics To Promote Kremlin Foes

                            CHISINAU -- A fraudulent Facebook campaign in Moldova used the tactics of Russias notorious troll farm -- the Internet Research Agency -- to promote a political party that, ironically, is at odds with the Kremlin.

                            Victor Spinu, co-founder of the Chisinau-based social-media monitor that helped Facebook investigate the network, told RFE/RL that the Moldovan ruse promoted Prime Minister Pavel Filips ruling Democratic Party (PDM) and was very close to the activity of Russian troll farms.

                            Filip and his Democratic Party are at odds with the Kremlin over such issues as Chisinaus aspirations to join the European Union.

                            Spinu said his civic group, Trolless, found that those who ran Moldovas fake Facebook operation learned lessons and copied tricks used by the Russian trolls who allegedly tried to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

                            Spinu said social-media monitors in other former Soviet republics at odds with the Kremlin have expressed concerns to him about similar copycat tactics in their countries.

                            Monitors in Ukraine and Georgia have told us that they also are seeing the same kind of troll activity in their countries the same kind of coordinated tactics weve seen used by the Russian trolls and copied in Moldova, Spinu said.

                            'False Amplification'

                            Like previous Russian troll campaigns, Spinu said, the Moldovan trolls set up fake Facebook accounts to pose as legitimate voters and civic groups.

                            He said the network generated and distributed fake news, disinformation, and memes ahead of Moldovas February 24 parliamentary elections.

                            He said those fake accounts also worked together with legitimate accounts in Moldova to flood web forums with posts aimed at manipulating online public debate.

                            Facebook has said thats a Russian troll tactic called false amplification.

                            RFE/RL has documented how the same tactics were used by the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based troll farm thought to be financed by President Vladimir Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin.

                            An April 2017 case study co-authored by Facebook security officer Alex Stamos also described similar tricks being used by Russian trolls to try to influence the 2016 U.S. election.

                            That study defined false amplification as a coordinated activity by inauthentic accounts with the intent of manipulating political discussion, either by discouraging some groups from joining an online debate or by amplifying sensationalistic voices over others.

                            From there, organic proliferation of the messaging and data through authentic peer groups and networks was inevitable, the Facebook study said.

                            Moldovan Copycats, 'Coordinated' Campaign

                            On February 13, just 11 days before Moldovas parliamentary elections, Facebook shut down 200 Moldovan accounts and pages for what it called coordinated inauthentic behavior.

                            Although Filip in 2018 publicly stepped back from his staunchly pro-EU rhetoric, the Kremlin continues to favor Filips pro-Russia rivals President Igor Dodon and the Socialist Party of Moldova that Dodon formerly headed.

                            Facebook's cybersecurity policy chief, Nathaniel Gleicher, said the fraudulent online behavior originated in Moldova and was carried out by people who attempted to conceal their identities but were known to include employees of Moldovas government.

                            Facebook also released samples of what the Moldovan troll network posted and shared online. All of those examples either favored Filips Democratic Party or cast an unfavorable light on opposition groups and candidates.

                            Moldovas troll network "used a combination of fake accounts and some authentic accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing," Gleicher said. They "typically posted about local news and political issues. They also shared manipulated photos, divisive narratives, and satire."

                            Altogether, Facebook removed 168 Facebook accounts, 28 pages, and eight Instagram accounts in Moldova that were suspected of spreading fake news, political propaganda, and misinformation ahead of the elections, he said.

                            In one case, Gleicher said Facebook removed a fake page for impersonating a legitimate Moldovan fact-checking organization that calls out others for spreading fake news."

                            Two samples of troll posts released by Facebook confirm the impersonated fact-checking group was StopFals a Chisinau-based misinformation watchdog led by journalist Lilia Zaharia from the Association of Independent Press of Moldova (API).

                            Zaharia told RFE/RL that all of the material published by the fake StopFals Facebook page either favored Filips ruling PDM or denigrated its opponents.

                            They stole our articles and took our images and they shared this on social media, Zaharia said. On a Facebook page that mimicked our work, they shared only some of our material, mixing it together with their own fake stories and manipulated photos.

                            A Democratic Party official also confirmed that his authentic party page Good Step -- was among those removed in Facebooks crackdown against coordinated troll activity.

                            Ion Harghel, vice president of the Democratic Partys youth branch, denies being part of an online troll network.

                            He accused Facebook of helping opposition parties by removing his Good Step page less than two weeks before the parliamentary elections.

                            Spinu says data collected since 2016 by Trolless also confirms that only pro-Democratic Party accounts were involved in the kind of coordinated troll activity described by Facebook.
                            /**/ /**/ /**/ The Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg
                            SEE ALSO:
                            Report: U.S. Cyber Command Cut Internet Access To Russian 'Troll Factory'

                            We reported 700 fake accounts to Facebook in early February, Spinu told RFE/RL. Some of them were inactive since they were set up as far back as 2016, but there was a surge of activity with others as the parliamentary elections approached.

                            There were many fake accounts that favored the Democratic Party, Spinu said. There also was a smaller number of fake accounts that favored opposition parties, including Dodon and the pro-Russia Socialist Party.

                            We didnt report any authentic accounts to Facebook because people have the right to exercise their freedom of speech, Spinu said, noting that Harghels Good Step page was not among the 700 accounts and pages that Trolless reported to Facebook.

                            We did monitor the posts of hyperactive trolls involving both fake and authentic accounts, Spinu said, adding that the trolls were very active on the Good Step page.

                            The coordinated activity we saw only favored the ruling Democratic Party, Spinu said. We didnt see any coordinated activity that supported opposition parties. So we can conclude from our observations that the 200 pages deleted by Facebook were only accounts favoring the Democratic Party.

                            Government Denial

                            Filips administration distanced itself from Facebooks charge that employees of Moldovas government were part of the troll network.

                            A government statement issued on February 14 suggested that any fraudulent social-media activity by government employees on behalf of the Democratic Party was carried out by rogue workers.

                            The statement declared there are more than 200,000 government employees on the state payroll and that Moldovas government does not check social-media activity on the private accounts of its employees.

                            They have different political options and opinions, the statement said. The state is bound to keep separate the issue of fighting fake news and guaranteeing freedom of expression to its citizens.

                            In the aftermath of the parliamentary elections, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that the vote was competitve and that fundamental rights were respected.

                            But the international monitors concluded that the campaign was marred by strong indications of vote buying and the misuse of state resources.

                            A preliminary ballot count shows the Socialists captured the most votes to win 35 of the 101 seats in parliament.

                            Those preliminary results showed Filips Democratic Party taking 30 seats, the pro-EU opposition ACUM group taking 26 seats, and the conservative Shor party winning seven seats.

                            The remaining three seats were expected to be taken by independent candidates.
                            Written and reported by Ron Synovitz in Prague with additional reporting by RFE/RLs Moldovan Service correspondent Diana Raileanu in Chisinau
                            https://www.rferl.org/a/moldovan-fac.../29793394.html





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