Ukraine sets course for Europe, but rough waters lie ahead

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Last November, Ukraine was thrust into chaos after its then-president, under pressure from Moscow, rejected a European Union trade and association deal.

Now, seven months later, after losing Crimea to Russia and in the midst of a deadly conflict with pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine, the country’s new, Western-leaning President Petro Poroshenko has put a final signature on the deal.

Proponents say that in the long term, the deal will set Ukraine on a course for much needed economic and institutional reforms. But those potential long-term benefits will extract a more immediate, heavy cost from the former Soviet republic of 46 million people.

The deal is likely to provoke more tensions, both political and economic, with neighboring Russia, which Kiev accuses of trying to destabilize Ukraine in order to steer it away from Europe’s orbit.

“By signing this, Ukraine will make a clear statement that the country is Westernized and not oriented to Russia and the Customs Union,” says Timothy Ash, the head of emerging market research at Standard Bank in London.

Under the agreement, Ukraine and the EU will eliminate nearly all of their import and export tariffs, potentially making it easier for Ukrainian producers to reach deeper into the EU market. This will be significant for Ukraine; already, one quarter of all its exports go to Europe.

The European Commission in a statement said that “the deal is expected to boost Ukraine’s income by around 1.2 billion euros [$1.6 billion] per year,” behind an increase of 1 billion euros per year in Ukrainian exports to the EU.

The new markets won’t materialize instantly. The agreement includes thousands of regulations and standards that Ukrainian products will have to meet before they can be sold in the EU market – making the trade agreement “much more complicated … in the short-term,” says Jaba Devdariani, EASI-Hurford Next Generation Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Many of the necessary reforms and modernization requirements will be costly. Investment will be key to reviving Ukraine’s staggering economy, which even before the political crisis was looking at negative growth and possible default.

Perhaps most significantly, Ukraine’s agreement with the EU will force it to create institutional reforms to improve the climate for businesses and potential investors. This will include establishing transparent government procurement procedures, and reducing Ukraine’s crippling and omnipresent corruption. Judicial reform will be tantamount to Ukraine’s ability to ensure potential investors that their assets will be safe.

“The process here is the most important part of the deal,” Mr. Ash of Standard Bank says. “Ukraine has the opportunity and has shown its willingness to get rid of its Soviet past, which they never were able to do before.”


But by signing the deal, Ukraine can expect to see retaliation from Russia, a long-time key trading partner. Russian President Vladimir Putin had pressured Ukraine to become a member of its nascent Eurasia Union, which rejoins former Soviet partners Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

In fact, Ukraine has already felt Russia’s economic wroth amid its crisis: Russia threw up barriers after opposition leaders gained control of Ukraine’s parliament when former President Victor Yanukovych, who rejected the EU deal in November, absconded in late February. And just two days ago, Russia said it was considering more trade barriers on Ukraine.

During the first quarter of 2014, Ukraine’s overall exports decreased by 30 percent, a hugely significant reduction for a country in which 50 percent of its gross domestic product is made up of exports, says Oleg Ustenko, the executive director of The Bleyzer Foundation in Kiev.

Still, any new Russian-imposed barriers to Ukraine’s exports might have little effect today, Mr. Ustenko says. “What they have already been able to impose, they have. So we are already losing.”

But if Mr. Poroshenko’s commitment to joining his country with Europe is sincere, Ash says, the losses in trade with Russia could translate into new markets opening up for Ukrainian products meeting EU standards.


While the hard work of adopting difficult and expensive reforms will be left up to Ukraine’s new government to adopt – and the population to grin and bear – the former Soviet nation will need to attract European investors.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March and the unrest that followed in eastern Ukraine gave rise to the most unsettling East-West standoff since the Cold War. Suddenly, Ukraine emerged as a much bigger priority for the EU overall.

Before that time, many Europeans felt ambivalent about the Ukrainian deal, which will be signed Friday along with similar agreements with two other countries that Russia considers to be part of its “sphere of influence,” Georgia and Moldova.

While some EU nations, led by Poland, argued for the bloc to form closer alliances with Ukraine and post-Soviet nations, the bigger countries in Western Europe were skeptical. The prospect of Russia’s reaction, as well as EU enlargement fatigue confounded by the European debt crisis, all played a role.

The bloc has disagreed over sanctions for Russia, on which it is heavily dependent for gas. But now the importance of a trade and association deal is largely considered a necessary step to make sure “Ukrainians do not waste another revolution,” says Jan Techau, the director of Carnegie Europe in Brussels.

The best way Europe can counter Russia is not via sanctions or NATO, but by building a stable Ukraine, with rule of law and a healthy economy not run exclusively by oligarchs, he says.

How the EU Can Make Putin Play by Its Rules

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Its a good read, and mirrors my thoughts on what Russia / Putin is actually doing…it makes sense…especially with Ukraine…Russia is trying to make sure that NATO is not on its border…..yet another reason for Ukraine to be neutral.

The State Duma’s decision Wednesday to revoke Russia’s right to invade Ukraine, made at President Vladimir’s Putin’s request, is hardly the first step to real peace.

Instead, it is part of a grander strategy in which Russia seeks to form an “arc of instability” in its post-Soviet states, discouraging the West from incorporating them while they struggle with frozen conflicts and domestic unrest.

The Kremlin’s greatest aspiration is to reshape the current European security architecture and force the West to recognize post-Soviet space as Russia’s zone of influence. Russia wants to become a veto holder, having the final say in every countries’ move in this region. The Kremlin’s revisionist policy, which harkens back to the Soviet Union, is a serious challenge for stability in Europe and one that is not fully understood by the West.

Moscow’s interference in Ukraine is a logical consequence of its regional and global policies. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s influence in the region decreased significantly: once a major superpower capable of influencing political decisions in global politics, it now seems to be unable to control its own backyard.

The Baltic States, together with Poland and other countries, have joined the European Union and NATO. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, even during the tenure of Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych, was and still is on the brink of signing an association agreement with the European Union.

But Ukraine, the seventh biggest country in Europe and a direct neighbor of Russia with a border of almost 2,300 kilometers, is by far the most important. Without Ukraine, as U.S. political strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski once noted, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.

If the EU wants to keep Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit, it should first learn Georgia’s lesson. Putin’s strategy in Ukraine, is, noting the difference in tactics, very similar to that of the 2008 war in Georgia.

The strategy basically consists of three steps. First, Russia uses military force to achieve its strategic goals while ignoring international reaction or condemnation. Second, it de-escalates its involvement. Third, it returns to business as usual with other countries by emphasizing the need to avoid any further mutual damage, economic or otherwise.

Russia successfully implemented this strategy during its 2008 war with Georgia. As the war began, Western countries were quick to denounce its actions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel diplomatically called Russia’s invasion “disproportionate” or, as the Baltics and Poland labelled it, “aggressive” and “reprehensible.”

Yet when Russian troops stopped moving forward and the Kremlin signed a cease-fire agreement with Georgia, mediated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the international community’s perception of Russia rapidly improved.

Even though Russia did not fulfill its obligations to withdraw its troops from occupied territories in Georgia and blocked further international attempts to settle the conflict in a mutually beneficial way, the EU resumed talks with Russia on a partnership agreement later in 2008. In other words, it was back to business as usual.

It is no surprise Putin is confident that this strategy may be repeated in Ukraine. After all, two of three steps have already taken place. First, Russia invaded Crimea, despite international condemnation. This achieved Russia’s strategic objective of pushing Ukraine away from NATO. Now, Russia seeks to de-escalate the situation by publicly revoking the right it gave itself to invade eastern Ukraine and expressing support for Poroshenko’s peace plan.

Yet the most important step is the last one. Will Russia be able to convince the West that further conflict will only lead to needless mutual damage?

From our perspective, the West should only normalize its relations with Russia after first significantly strengthening its own position.

The EU’s inability to speak with one voice limits its response to the crisis in Ukraine. As one voice is hardly achievable due to very differing perceptions of relations with Russia between member states, the basic red line for getting back to business as usual in the EU-Russia relations must be drawn.

Russia cannot be granted veto power because this would mean accepting its zone of influence in the post-Soviet space. Association agreements must lead to integration, therefore the EU’s Eastern Partnership Policy should be clearly recognized as a halfway point toward full-fledged membership for the most advanced partners. NATO enlargement should also be on the table for countries seeking it, with Georgian membership a top priority.

Moreover, military security should be strengthened in Central and Eastern Europe. It is commonly agreed that Crimea’s annexation places the CEE region at a higher level of risk, and the region’s military capabilities are far from satisfying.

Allied military bases could be deployed in the region at least temporarily to show that the West will not tolerate Russia’s violation of the international rules. Also, the West should reconsider any commercial commitments that could strengthen Russia’s military capabilities. France’s decision not to suspend the sale of its four Mistral warships to Russia and train more than 400 Russian specialists is intolerable.

Finally, reducing the EU’s dependence on Russia’s energy resources should become a top priority. About 50 percent of Russia’s budget are revenues from oil and gas exports. This is both Moscow’s short-term strength and long-term weakness in relations with the EU.

All these steps would help European powers gain more strength in their relationship with Russia, and prevent Ukraine from becoming another Georgia.

Ukraine, EU sign free trade and association deal in Brussels

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I don’t really agree with some of of this article, I think Ukraine DOES need to be neutral, and become a trading ‘bridge’…which it was unable to do before because of pressure from Russia / EU

This is a landmark agreement for Ukraine, and will be transformational. Poroshenko has indicated that Ukraine aims for EU membership, but this is a long run goal – likely 10-15 years away, if then. Ukraine is realistic, and understanding of the changing politics in the EU, against further enlargement, as nationalism builds in EU member states. But as with Turkey, arguably, the EU integration/accession process is more important than the end result. The process will transform Ukraine by providing a key anchor for reform across the various acquis – it will enable Ukraine to adapt to key European core values, including rule of law, democracy and market economy. This is what the Maidan demonstrations were all about.

Many people (surprisingly even in the West) would argue that the EU was wrong in making Ukraine decide between east and west, and is responsible for subsequent developments (violence) in Ukraine. They would also argue that Ukraine would benefit by being placed between east and west, as a conduit for trade between the two. I could not disagree more, this is simply naive:

First, Ukraine has held this position – a bridge between east and west – for the past 23 years of independence, and it has totally and utterly failed. This was not a ‘bridge’ but in reality a ‘no mans land’ between East and West, where the rule of law had no writ and shady oligarchic interests ripped the population off of national wealth. This resulted in the events on Maidan, and not the EU’s efforts to make Ukraine choose. By late last year the population had simply had enough, and answered to the European calling. Evidence of the failure of this no-mans land scenario is the fact that per-capita GDP in Poland – which chose the EU course – is around $14,000 at present, while in Russia – which chose the power vertical/sovereign democracy – is around a similar level, but for Ukraine it is currently only around $3,000, less than one quarter. And note that at the outset of transition in 1991, per-capita GDPs of the three were very similar.

Simply put the status quo for Ukraine was not working for the many, but only the very few.

Second, Ukraine has been a sovereign, independent country for 23 years, and it should have the right to self-determination. Opinion polls suggest that two-thirds of the population now favour European integration over an Eastern orientation through membership in the CIS CU/Eurasian Union. If this is Ukraine’s choice, it should surely have the right to decide, and not be subject to blocking efforts from Russia, and as proven the case – direct cross-border incursions by Russia.

Signing the Association Agreement/Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (AA/DCFTA) should bring significant long-run benefits to Ukraine in terms of trade access and development, and social, political and institutional transformation. In the short term though there will be undeniable costs, likely as Russia has indicated it could well apply countermeasures in the field of trade – it has also announced a programme of import substitution away from imports supplied by Ukraine, and the West. With around one-third of exports from Ukraine directed to the Russian market, this could be very disruptive – particularly in southeast Ukraine which has the greatest trade orientation to Russia. However, similar challenges were faced by Georgia after the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, and indeed when Georgia faced a full-blown trade blockade between 2008 and 2013 – and it survived and even prospered. Indeed, Russian actions rallied the Georgian nation behind a far reaching reform agenda which brought transformation changes which survived the ousting of former President Saakashvili – particularly a successful fight to rein in endemic corruption.


Technically, many aspects of the AA/DCFTA already apply after the agreement was signed in a provisional format earlier in the year – this agreement lapses in November, so it will be important that before this date various administrative/legal hurdles are jumped.

First, after signing the AA/DCFTA has to be ratified by the Verkovna Rada – Poroshenko is promising its speedy ratification, albeit this will still be a key test of enduring parliament support for the ruling coalition, and perhaps a chance for the former Regions opposition to regroup. However, given the changing national mood in the country, any such actions to now stall European integration could be the death knell for Regions as a political movement;

Second, the instruments of ratification have to be deposited at the Council of Ministers in Brussels;

Third, notification by the EU of the completion of its procedures to apply the AA/DCFTA provisionally – seemingly a simple administrative step – and prior to formal ratification by the parliaments of the 28 EU member states and the European parliament;

Fourth, provisional application of the AA/DCFTA (the effective date the agreement comes into force) will be the first day of the second month following the date of receipt by the Depository of the documents mentioned above.

In order to avoid a legal miss-step, the date of the provisional application must be on or before November 1, as this is the date by which the Autonomous Trade Measures (agreed early in the year) run out. In effect this means that the above steps have to be completed by the end of September.

The focus on the near term will hence be on the Verkovna Rada and its need to ratify the AA/DCFTA – and this suggests that parliament would be advised to ratify the agreement before it goes into summer recess in July. Also note that ratification of the AA/DCFTA should likely happen before the Verkovna Rada goes into recess for early parliamentary elections – assuming the aim still that these should be held by October. The Poroshenko administration will hence likely want to get the AA/DCFTA ratified over the next month.

Ratification by the parliaments of EU member states, and the European Parliament, could take two years, but note that the bulk of the provisions of the AA/DCFTA can apply before then on a provisional basis after signature – this follows the decision of Member States and the European Parliament back in September/October 2013, just before the Vilnius summit. Not all the AA will be applied on a provisional basis – as some, eg. in the area of Justice require full ratification by member state parliaments. The DCFTA will be fully applied, except in the area of intellectual property rights.

In effect, there seems to be little way back now in terms of the AA/DCFTA, even if Russia tries to use leverage to stall ratification in the parliaments of EU member states, and perhaps in the newly composed European Parliament – the bulk of the terms of the AA/DCFTA will go into effect. By signature of the AA/DCFTA, Ukraine’s European course has been set.

Crimea Brings in Bumper Grain Harvest, But Nobody’s Buying

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International grain sellers have been pushed out of Crimea even as the peninsula’s early harvest is expected to climb to more than two and a half times its 2013 levels, Crimean Agriculture Minister Nikolai Polyushkin said.

“Almost all operators [on the international grain market] have left us, they were simply banned,” Polyushkin said at a press-conference in the region’s capital Simferopol on Wednesday, Interfax reported.

Droughts pushed last year’s early grain yields down to about 10 quintals (1,000 kilograms) per hectare, he said, and farmers had anticipated poor harvests this year as well in light of scarce rainfall in March and April, but downpours in May and June have improved forecasts.

Polyushkin said this year’s early harvest should reach 1.1 million tons with farmers gathering about 24 quintals (2,400 kilograms) per hectare of farmland.

The question now is whether Crimea can find buyers for this ample harvest. Polyushkin said that, in addition to local consumers, Crimea will look east and south for customers.

“Feed barley, which is grown in Crimea, is in demand in countries in Southeast Asia, the Near East and Northern Africa,” the minister said.

The EU’s ban on imports from Crimea, which went into effect on June 25, will have no impact on grain sales, he added — even before the ban, the European market was “essentially shut” to grains from Ukraine.

President Poroshenko: Russia must return Crimea to Ukraine

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KIEV, Ukraine, June 26 (UPI) –Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke Thursday about Ukraine’s relations with Russia.
At a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Poroshenko said that “Our relations cannot be normalized without the return of Crimea.”

He went on to speak about his proposed peace plan for the restive eastern region of Ukraine, and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed support for the plan during a phone call on Wednesday.

Such words, however, require action.

“We are waiting for such actions,” Poroshenko said, and urged Russia to “Step up the border protection, put an end to the illegal flow of equipment, stop recruiting mercenaries and lastly, withdraw the troops.”

Poroshenko suggests granting status of regions to Crimea, Kyiv, Sevastopol, creating new political subdivision of ‘community’

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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has proposed changing the political division of the country, which should include regions, districts and “hromadas” (communities).

“The country’s administrative-territorial structure includes such administrative units – regions, districts and communities,” read draft constitutional amendments put forward by the Ukrainian president and made available to Interfax-Ukraine.

According to the document, the regions of Ukraine include the Autonomous Republic of Crimea; Vinnytsia, Volyn, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zhytomyr, Zakarpattia, Zaporizhia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kyiv, Kirovohrad, Luhansk, Lviv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Poltava, Rivne, Sumy, Ternopil, Kharkiv, Kherson, Khmelnytsky, Cherkasy, Chernivtsi, and Chernihiv regions, and the cities of Kyiv and Sevastopol.

The bill defines a community as an administrative territory, formed according to the procedure established by law, which includes one or more settlements (villages, towns, cities), as well as adjacent areas.

A day with Ukraine’s volunteer fighters

Turmoil in eastern Ukraine has continued despite Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s offer of a cease-fire to pro-Russian rebels, with both sides accusing each other of violating it. At least 11 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the June 23 cease-fire. Perhaps alarmed by the prospect of punitive sanctions by the United States and the European Union, on June 25 the Russian parliament at the request of President Vladimir Putin rescinded the March 1 resolution that authorized him to intervene militarily in defense of Russian speakers in Ukraine and other non-Russian states.

Putin’s actions may also have been motivated by the Ukrainian armed forces’ successful counterattacks. After several early setbacks, Ukraine’s counterterrorism operations in recent weeks have squeezed the insurgents into an area of about one-third of the Donbas region and regained control of much of the border with Russia. Self-defense units comprising volunteers from the region, who have thrown in their lot with Ukraine in the ongoing struggle against pro-Russian rebels, have been instrumental in that offensive. The volunteers come from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds (including Ukrainians, Russians, Jews and many others), possess a sincere commitment to a democratic, pro-Western Ukraine and share a remarkable interethnic Ukrainian patriotism. One such unit is the Donbas Battalion.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the battalion’s training camp outside Kiev as part of a small group of opinion-makers and experts on a three-day study tour sponsored by the NATO Information and Documentation Center in Kiev. The visit brought home several points. First, Ukrainians are determined to fight and retain their sovereignty. Second, residents of the Donbas, generally considered indifferent to Ukraine, can be as patriotic as western Ukrainians. Third, the interethnic patriotic sentiments suggest that Ukraine is witnessing the emergence of an all-inclusive polity. These developments bode well for Ukraine’s future and portend a sad end for Putin’s imperialist adventures in the mineral-rich eastern region.

‘Glory to Ukraine’

The camp was located about 12 miles north of Ukraine’s capital, on the grounds of a National Guard base, about a mile south of former President Viktor Yanukovych’s lavish estate, now a popular museum that serves as a reminder of the vast scale of his regime’s corruption, venality and bad taste.

Guards met us at the gate and provided us with passes. They asked that we refrain from photographing the soldiers: They would not be wearing masks, we were told, and a carelessly taken photo could jeopardize the safety of their families, who remained in the Donbas. Our guide, a Russian-speaking adviser to Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, took us past Ukrainian-language billboards and several training grounds. We reached a dusty clearing amid a pine forest where the battalion was assembled. Several hundred men, ranging in age from their early 20s to mid-50s, stood at ease, wearing combat boots and various military fatigues. They watched us gather around their legendary commander, an ethnic Russian businessman turned guerrilla fighter from Donetsk known by his nom de guerre, Semyon Semenchenko. I had seen photographs of him before, but he was always wearing a balaclava mask. This time his face was fully exposed, and, expecting a formidable fighter, I was struck by his regular-guy appearance.

Avakov’s adviser said 800 people had volunteered for the battalion a few weeks ago. But only 462 (including fewer than 20 women) had passed muster and been accepted into the unit. They were now being trained and would shortly return to the Donbas to fight pro-Russian militants. Avakov’s adviser then turned to the soldiers, thanked them for their patriotism and sacrifice — all in Russian — and assured them that, once the “terrorists” were defeated, they would all have jobs in the reconstituted and reformed Ministry of Internal Affairs.

A commander shouted, “Slava Ukraini!” (“Glory to Ukraine!”), and the soldiers responded with a thunderous “Heroyam slava!” (“Glory to the heroes!”). These greetings were employed by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the anti-Soviet nationalist underground (largely confined to Ukraine’s western provinces), during and after World War II. They were also widely used by the Euro-Maidan demonstrators during the protests that climaxed in February and have now become part of everyday discourse throughout the country.

I was in the presence of something Ukraine had never had: a Ukrainian nation whose identity and allegiance were based not on ethnicity but on patriotism.
We were encouraged to go and speak to the soldiers. I approached a unit of 20 to 30 men and talked to them for about 15 minutes. When I switched from Ukrainian to Russian, several assured me that they understood both languages. “We speak Ukrainian, too,” said one of the soldiers. “Why doesn’t the West do more to help Ukraine?” some of them asked. “Doesn’t Europe understand that Putin is a threat to the world? Don’t the Europeans care about Putin’s assault on democracy in Ukraine?”

I told them that Europeans cared more about cheap energy from Russia. “But,” I continued, “at least the Americans understand what your struggle represents.” If that’s so, several responded, why doesn’t Washington provide them with real weapons? “We don’t need American soldiers here,” said one of them. “We can fight. We will fight. We need equipment. We need guns.”

Another soldier, this time a Ukrainian speaker, continued, “Tell Obama we need M-4 and M-5 rifles.”

As our group walked over grassy fields, I asked the soldier next to me where he was from. Fox, a pseudonym, was an ethnic Russian from the city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, liberated from rebel control earlier this month.

“Back in 1991,” he told me in Russian, “independence just fell on us, and no one understood what it meant. It was only after Russia started a war against Ukraine that I realized that this is my country — that I love it. The same happened to the other guys.”

Fox’s wife and daughter are still in Mariupol. “You know,” he said, “I raised my daughter as a Ukrainian. This is where you live, I told her, this is your home.” He paused. “When she asked me one day just why it’s dangerous for her to go outside in an embroidered Ukrainian blouse, I decided to join the battalion.”

“So this is a national liberation struggle for you and the others?” I asked.

“Da,” he replied. “We are all Ukrainian citizens, and this is our homeland. We’re not fascists, as the Russians say. We are fighting for our homeland. We’re Russians, Ukrainians, Greeks, Jews and many others.”

It occurred to me that I was in the presence of something Ukraine had never had: a Ukrainian nation whose identity and allegiance were based not on ethnicity but on patriotism. A little later I saw a soldier in a skullcap leading Ukrainians and Russians in a training exercise.

“We all agreed on a dry law,” Fox told me about his troops’ exemplary discipline, “and everyone knows that drinking will be punished severely.”

As we entered his tent, I saw more than a dozen soldiers lounging about on their cots, their Kalashnikovs at their sides. Fox introduced me as a professor from New York, but not one with two f’s, jokingly alluding to Yanukovych’s inability to spell “professor” correctly.

Fox then pointed to a soldier on his left: “This one is a Ukrainian Bandera” (a reference to the controversial leader of the interwar nationalist movement, Stepan Bandera). “And I’m a Russian Bandera, and that one is a Jewish Bandera.” He explicitly used the term “zhidobandera” in reference to his Jewish comrade, the preferred self-designation of the Jewish Ukrainian oligarch and Dnipropetrovsk province governor, Igor Kolomoisky.

“We’re not fascists,” the Jewish Bandera said. “We fight fascism.”

As we parted ways, Fox gave me a child’s crayon drawing of their camp, with “Heroyam slava!” emblazoned along the top. Another soldier, who looked like a teenager, gave me a moving Russian-language poem about the vigilance of the Donbas Battalion. A third soldier — a Russian speaker — handed me a black-and-red Ukrainian nationalist flag with a caricature of Putin sporting black hair and a small square mustache, which read “Putler Kaput.”

What does one say to volunteer soldiers who will soon be deployed to eastern Ukraine and could be killed in a few days? I was tongue-tied, moved and confused. But I was certain of one thing: Putin’s mercenaries would stand no chance against people who are defending their families, their homes and their newfound country.

Interview with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

Brussels, Belgium (CNN) — New Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says peace is possible if Russian President Vladimir Putin is in the right mood.
“Sometimes, the position of Mr. Putin is quite pragmatic, sometimes it is very emotional,” Poroshenko told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday in an exclusive interview, his first since taking over as Ukraine’s leader on June 7. “I just try to find out the time when he is more pragmatic than emotional.”
He said negotiations with Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine would continue on Friday, the day his unilaterally declared cease-fire expires and the day that he also will sign a cooperation agreement with the European Union that sparked the crisis in his country.
Escalating conflict?

The talks are intended to end fighting between the Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian military and militia forces that threatens to escalate into a broader conflict.
“I am optimistic and I’m thinking that within a few weeks, maybe months, we can have a deal to establish peace,” Poroshenko said in the interview with Amanpour while he was in Brussels for EU talks that will include signing the cooperation agreement between Europe and the former Soviet satellite.
Poroshenko: No tolerance for corruption Poroshenko: No tolerance for corruption
With the signing occurring the same day Poroshenko’s seven-day cease-fire expires, concerns increased of further unrest in parts of eastern Ukraine and economic retaliation by Putin.

Asked by Amanpour if he was the person who could forge a peace deal with Putin, Poroshenko said that was his goal.
“I’m ready to make peace with anybody”
“I’m ready to make a peace deal with anybody,” he said. “I want to bring the peace to my country, not because we are weak, not because we are less patriotic than anybody. We are ready to defend my country because I hate the idea not to use the last opportunity to bring the peace to the region.”
Russia and Ukraine have been engaged in a tense standoff since March when Russia annexed the previously Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and massed troops along other parts of its border with Ukraine.
In an effort to calm the situation, Poroshenko declared a cease-fire last week in Kiev’s fight against pro-Russia separatists, but the violence continued. On Tuesday, Ukrainian authorities said pro-Russia militants shot down a military helicopter in eastern Ukraine, killing nine.
Poroshenko told Amanpour that Friday’s negotiations, which will include European officials, must show some progress before his unilateral cease-fire expires at the end of the day. He seeks a commitment to negotiations, the release of hostages, a cease-fire and the withdrawal of Russian-backed forces from Ukraine.
Without Russian withdrawal, “it is a real war”
“All the troops on Ukrainian territory are Russian, they are Russian citizens,” he said, adding that separatist leaders were from the Russian secret service. “If that continues, it is a real war.”
Asked what would happen without a sufficient response from the other side, Poroshenko only said he would make that decision Friday.
On Wednesday, Russia’s upper house of parliament voted, at Putin’s request, to revoke the President’s right to use troops in Ukraine. The move appeared to be an effort by Putin to defuse tension before Friday’s watershed Ukraine-EU moment, which Putin opposes.

Poroshenko called signing the agreement with the EU the second-most important moment in his nation’s history, ranking only behind independence.
“Geographically we are already in Europe,” he said, adding that Ukraine connected with European values.
Asked whether he was worried about a negative economic reaction on Putin’s part, Poroshenko said the Russian President recently promised not to undertake such steps.
“He promised that we will have a negotiation in a trilateral format, together with a European Union representative, so we do not expect any immediate negative reaction,” Poroshenko said.
At the same time, he made clear that in his mind, the Russian annexation of Crimea — which has an ethnic Russian majority — cannot stand.
“Crimea is Ukrainian”

Calling the issue a top priority, Poroshenko declared: “Crimea is Ukrainian and the whole world confirmed that Crimea is Ukrainian.”
Peace talks involving representatives from all sides occurred Wednesday in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, Ukraine’s official Ukrinform news agency said.
Those participating included Ukrainian government officials, pro-Russia separatists from the restive eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, Russian officials and members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States and Europe plan on possible further sanctions aimed at specific sectors of Russia’s economy, depending on what choices Moscow makes ahead.

“It is critical for Russia to show in the next hours, literally, that they are moving to help disarm the separatists, to encourage them to disarm, to call on them to lay down their weapons and begin to become part of a legitimate political process,” Kerry said Thursday after meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Ceasefire and formal talks in Donetsk to end military violence in southeast Ukraine (Maybe)

Talks to reach a ceasefire and an eventual cessation of military conflict in southeast Ukraine took place in Donetsk city on June 23. Agreement was reached on a ceasefire to last until 10 am on June 27. Below is a news article on the talks, translated from the Worker Correspondent (‘Rabkor‘) Russian-language website.

The Ukraine government in Kyiv did not participate directly in the talks. It asked a former president of the country, Leonid Kuchma, to act on its behalf. President Petro Poroshenko said in a press release reported on Russia Today, “Leonid Kuchma’s participation indicates the Ukrainian president’s close attention to this mission”.

Neither the CBC or BBC news reports on the peace talks provide information of seven peace proposals advanced by representatives of the autonomous governments of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Those proposals are detailed in the Rabkor article below.

Russia Today has a lengthy article on the talks. It mentions the seven proposals of the autonomy governments but does not explain their content.

A key source of news on Ukraine is the website of the recently-founded campaign in Britain Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine. The campaign is urgently asking readers to write to the Ukraine government or its embassies and demand that the government ensure the safety of Maria Matyushenko. She is a member of the left wing group Borotba and was kidnapped from her apartment in the city of Dnepropetrovsk by unknown persons on June 24. For many months, Borotba’s offices and activities in cities throughout Ukraine have been attacked and closed down by rightist and fascist groups.

Ukraine: The Donetsk People’s Republic does not reject beginning talks with Kiev
From the Rabkor (‘Worker Correspondent’) website,, June 24, 2014, translation from the Russian by Renfrey Clarke

A genuine process of negotiations between Kiev and representatives of the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics will be possible only if Kiev fulfills seven conditions set out by Oleg Tsarev, the Joint Chairperson of the People’s Front of Novorossiya.

This was stated by Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic Aleksandr Boroday, relaying the outcome of consultations held today, June 23, in Donetsk. Tsarev had listed the seven points, saying that once Kiev had fulfilled them it would be possible to discuss a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

The points are as follows:

1. Withdrawal from the territory of the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics of the National Guard, of the armed formations of [oligarch Ihor] Kolomoysky and of the Right Sector, along with units of the Ukrainian Army guilty of killing peaceful civilians.

2. Payment by Kiev of compensation to the families of peaceful citizens killed in the fighting.

3. Payment by Kiev of compensation to residents of the republics for destruction of their housing.

4. Payment by Kiev of compensation to municipalities for damage inflicted by Ukrainian forces on communal infrastructure.

5. Payment by Kiev of compensation to the owners of industrial installations destroyed in the fighting.

6. Agreement by the President of Ukraine and by the parliaments of the Republics on a draft for a constitutional act defining the status of the People’s Republics.

7. Amnesties for all participants in the militias and for all political prisoners held in Ukrainian jails.

Boroday also stated that the militia would halt its military operations in response to the Kievan side beginning a cease-fire. “In response to a cease-fire by the Kievan side, we undertake to observe a truce. The duration of the truce will be until 27 June.”

He voiced the hope that monitoring of the truce would be organised by the Russian Federation and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). “We hope,” Boroday said, “that during the joint cease-fire we shall be able to reach agreement and proceed to conducting talks—or at least to begin consultations on conducting talks—aimed at a peaceful resolution of the conflict.”

The Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic emphasised that what took place in Donetsk on 23 June had been informal preliminary consultations, and that the question of such talks had not been under discussion.

It should be noted that the consultations on 23 June involved a tripartite contact group. The participants included Heidi Tagliavini, the special representative of the acting chairperson of the OSCE; Viktor Zurabov, the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Russian Federation; Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s second, post 1991, president; Viktor Medvedchuk, head of the social organisation “Ukrainian Choice; Oleg Tsarev, leader of the ‘South-East’ movement, and also representatives of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

EU Pushes for Restart of Russia-Ukraine Gas Negotiations

From –

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top negotiator in the gas price row between Ukraine and Russia said Wednesday that he would call Moscow as soon as possible to try to get both sides back to talks and that Ukraine meanwhile should fill up its gas storage.

In what he said was “a first step” to getting Moscow and Kiev back to talks to work out an interim solution, EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger met Ukrainian Energy Minister Yurii Prodan and Andriy Kobolev, chief executive of Ukraine’s Naftogaz, in Brussels on Wednesday.

Prodan told journalists in Brussels that Kiev is ready to renew negotiations and to sign a temporary agreement to continue gas supplies to Ukraine, Interfax reported.

The row over how much Ukraine should be paying Russia for its gas is unresolved after more than a month of talks brokered by EU Energy Commissioner GЯnther Oettinger. Three-way negotiations broke down at the start of last week, and Gazprom turned off gas supplies to Ukraine.

Both Kiev and Moscow are now suing each other at the international arbitration court in Stockholm for the billions they say they owe each other, a process that could take years.

Oettinger told reporters Wednesday that he would call the Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller as soon as possible to try to move negotiations forward.

Meanwhile, he emphasized the need “to fill Ukraine’s storage as full as feasible” ahead of the coming winter.

Apart from depending on Russia for more than half of its gas needs, Ukraine is the transit route for roughly half of the gas Russia supplies to the European Union, which counts on Gazprom for about 30 percent of its consumption.

In a previous gas crisis in 2006 and 2009 involving Ukraine and Russia, Gazprom said there was knock-on disruption of the EU because Kiev siphoned off gas meant for the EU.

Prodan told Oettinger on Wednesday he was willing to admit EU monitors to check Ukraine respected its transit commitments.

Since the previous gas outages, all sides have been working on their options. Russia built the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany, bypassing Ukraine, and Gazprom has pushed ahead with its giant South Stream project, which would make Ukraine all but irrelevant as a transit nation.

The European Commission says South Stream is so far in breach of EU law and has suspended negotiations on bringing it into line, while trying to improve energy security for both Ukraine and the EU with better infrastructure and larger amounts of storage.

No problems have been reported so far for Ukraine or the European Union as gas stocks are high following a mild winter.

Asked about how long Ukraine can survive without Russian gas, Prodan said it depended on volumes of reverse flow gas.

Reverse flow pipelines allow Russian gas to be shipped back to Ukraine, although they are not enough to meet Ukraine’s demand of more than 50 billion cubic meters per year. Oettinger said any reverse flow gas would be sold at the market price.

Slovakia, whose strategic position on the border with Ukraine makes it best placed to ship gas back, says reverse gas flows from Slovakia, Hungary and Poland to Ukraine could reach about 16 billion to 17 billion cubic meters per year.