Category Archives: News & Views

Just Like Obama, Trump’s Russia Policy Speaks Louder Than His Words By Mikheil Saakashvili

I speak from personal experience on this topic: In 2012, Russian intelligence services interfered in the Georgian parliamentary elections, boosting the Kremlin’s preferred candidate through disinformation operations.

Thus, my opinion of President Trump’s policy vis-à-vis Russia is perhaps more positive than one might assume from my background. My reasoning is two-fold: After a lifetime of firsthand experience with Russian aggression, I must evaluate Trump’s actions against the proper historical context. In doing so, I have found that Trump’s actions speak for themselves.
The Outrage Seems Selective

On the first point, I consider it unfair that Trump’s performance in Helsinki has garnered harsher criticism than other incidents in recent memory. In 2012, for example, a hot microphone at a global nuclear security summit picked up then-President Barack Obama assuring Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to negotiate with Putin after the presidential election.

During a debate with GOP opponent Mitt Romney the same year, Obama casually dismissed the Russian threat, quipping: “The 1980s called; they want their foreign policy back.”

. . . .

This brings me to my second point: Trump’s actions toward Russia speak louder than words—and so did his predecessor’s. Indeed, the Obama administration’s foreign policy undermined America’s credibility in my region, which Putin considers Russia’s “backyard.” There are many opinions about Trump’s rhetoric on Crimea, but it is a fact that the Russian land grab in Ukraine happened on Obama’s watch.

How, exactly, did this happen? During and after Ukraine’s revolution of 2014, which ousted a Kremlin-backed dictator, on a daily basis the United States cautioned Ukraine not to escalate in response to Russian aggression. Thus, Putin saw an opportunity to annex Crimea without risking a direct confrontation with the West—and he seized it. Putin is a bully, but not a fool.
What a Difference Two Years Makes

Rather than changing his course after Moscow redrew the borders of Europe by force, Obama doubled down. Despite bipartisan consensus in favor of selling lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, and vocal support from his own administration officials (including Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton), Obama repeatedly refused to authorize the sales.

Instead of anti-tank weapons, the Ukrainians defending their territory from Russian invasion received hot blankets and canned goods from the Obama administration. At the same time, Obama asserted that the Ukraine conflict had “no military solution.” With these words—and more importantly, these actions—he was perceived by some on the Russian side as accepting the Kremlin’s sphere of influence in Ukraine.

Despite my warnings, the Obama administration also essentially turned a blind eye to Russian meddling in Georgia’s 2012 elections.

http://thefederalist.com/2018/07/18/just-like-obama-trumps-russia-policy-speaks-louder-words/

World Cup 2018: Croatia goal hero Domagoj Vida escapes semi-final ban after ‘Glory to Ukraine’ video following victory over Russia

In the video, posted on YouTube, pony-tailed Besiktas stopper Vida shouts out “Glory to Ukraine”, which is the chant of the Ukrainian army and the nationalist cause that is opposed to Russian territorial claims on the country.

Vukojevic, who earned 55 caps as a defensive midfielder before ending his international career after the 2014 World Cup, then bellowed: “This victory is for Dynamo (Kiev) and for Ukraine.”

The video has caused outrage in Russia, with TV networks showing the pictures and clearly furious.

https://www.thesun.co.uk/world-cup-2018/6724159/world-cup-2018-croatia-goal-hero-domagoj-vida-faces-semi-final-ban/

Ukraine Business News

I highly recommend tuning in to UKRAINE BUSINESS NEWS:

https://www.ubn.news/

Here’s a sampling of teasers from a recent morning update email:

🔵In the first year of the visa-free regime with the EU, border crossings by Ukrainians to the EU jumped by 15% to 20.3 million, reports Oleg Slobodyan, spokesman for Ukraine’s Border Guard Service. Almost one quarter of crossings were with the new biometric passports. In only 3% of the crossings – 555,000 – Ukrainians tested the new regime by entering the EU without a visa.

🔵Visa free has been accompanied by a dramatic surge in east-west travel links, the Infrastructure Ministry reports. The number of passengers taking trains to the EU exploded last year, increasing 5.5 times, to over 200,000. With trains often running at capacity, Ukrzaliznytsia is launching two new EU bound trains in coming months, one to Hungary and one to Romania. Since 2015, the number of EU cities served by flights on discount airlines from Ukraine has more than doubled, hitting 38. With Wizz Air adding new destinations this summer and Ryanair starting Ukraine service this fall, air traffic to the EU is to keep expanding.

🔵Behind the numbers, there is a marked psychological shift westward, argues the EU Mission to Kyiv. Ukrainians view visa-free travel as the main political event of 2017, according to a public opinion poll by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Razumkov Center. Myslovo, the dictionary of modern Ukrainian language and slang, chose “visa-free” as the word of 2017. More than 575,000 people have visited the Open Europe information website which explains rules and opportunities for visa-free travel and terms of stay in the EU.

🔵Visa free is conditioned on Kyiv continuing to make free market changes and pushing through anti-corruption measures, Hugues Mingarelli, EU ambassador to Ukraine, reminded politicians Monday. He said: “While overall Ukrainian citizens are respecting the rules of the visa free regime, it is important that Ukraine continues the implementation of all benchmarks set out in their visa-liberalization process.”

🔵Norway’s Scatec Solar ASA plans to start building later this year two solar projects totaling 83 MW and costing EUR 85 million in Cherkasy region, about 200 km south of Kyiv. The EBRD is providing initial finance and Oslo-based Scatec is seeking additional equity investors. “We are very enthusiastic about securing our first two projects in Ukraine,” CEO Raymond Carlsen says in a press release. Looking to commissioning the two projects next year, he adds: “We see it as a first step to develop a larger portfolio of solar power plants in the country.”

🔵Talking to the Financial Times, Oksana Markarova, the new Acting Finance Minister, says she expects the IMF to allocate the next loan tranche to Ukraine this autumn. “Negotiations on gas tariffs and energy market reforms are now under way and we hope to conclude them soon and expect to get the IMF tranche in the autumn,” she told the London daily. “The faster we get it, the better . . it proves that we are progressing on our reform agenda [and is] a very good signal for investors.”

🔵Central bank head Yakiv Smoliy predicts that Ukraine will receive its fifth tranche of IMF money this fall. In an interview with Zn.ua, the Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine bases his confidence on last week’s passage of a law creating an anti-corruption court and progress ingas price talks. Expected to be around $1 billion, the IMF money would unlock additional macro-financial aid from the EU and the World Bank.

🔵The National Bank of Ukraine has filed lawsuits in Swiss and Ukrainian courts against Ihor Kolomoisky, seeking recovery of $385 million from five bad loans made by PrivatBank to Kolomoisky. Until the bank’s nationalization in 2016, Kolomoisky was the bank’s largest shareholder. Kolomoisky has launched lawsuits to challenge the nationalization.

🔵Integral-Bud, one of Kyiv’s largest apartment construction companies, plans to commission almost 50% more apartments this year, hitting 250,000 square meters, Hanna Layevska, the company’s commercial director tells Interfax-Ukraine. Depending on the size, this would be 5,000 new apartments. Last year, real estate professionals estimated that there were about 65,000 unsold new apartments in Kyiv and its suburbs.

🔵The Ukrainian Exchange has drawn up requirements for new software supporting exchange transactions, including clearing of derivatives. Last month, Ukraine’s government expanded its sanctions list, ordering all the Kyiv-based stock exchanges to replace their Russian-made trading software.

🔵A Chinese food safety team is in Ukraine until Friday, studying Ukraine’s cultivation, storage and packaging of sweet cherries. One of the world’s top 10 cherry growers, Ukraine produces 72,600 tons a year, about 10 cherries for each Chinese. With the list of food products approved for export to China growing, Ukraine sold $1 billion worth of food to China last year, 12 times higher the level of 2012.

🔵The average farm salary in Ukraine was $225 a month during the first quarter of 2018, 21.5% higher than the same time last year. With more and more farm labor migrating to Poland for temporary or full time jobs, farm wages are rising. The leading regions are in Western and Central Ukraine: Ivano-Frankivsk up 41%; Ternopil up 39%; Chernivtsi up 35%; Cherkasy up 35%; and Zhytomyr up 35%.

🔵In the latest industrial company to improve working conditions to dissuade workers from migrating to the EU, Zaporozhye Iron and Steel Works is investing $4 million to install air conditioners in work areas, cafeterias and bath rooms.

🔵Amadeus IT Group, the Spanish-based IT supplier to the hotel and airline industry, has opened in Kyiv its largest support center in Europe. Tasked with supporting Russian-speaking clients of the multinational giant, the Kyiv call center handles about 250 phone calls a day and numerous email queries, Interfax-Ukraine reports. Located in Podil, the center is open 14 hours a day, Monday to Saturday.

🔵Yanair started direct flights between Lviv and Batumi last Friday. On June 19, the Kyiv-based airline will increase frequencies to two times a week, Tuesdays and Fridays.

An Inspirational Ukrainian startup: You Control

https://youcontrol.com.ua/en/landing_001/

You Control aggregates and makes available public information about contractors in Ukraine.

Though the data is officially public, it has been hard to access before You Control. Companies previously might bribe the SBU or security services of Ukraine for this information. It was incomplete, error prone, inconvenient and expensive.

Enter You Control.

They charge commercial customers for access, but for the commercial customers, it’s vastly superior than bribing the SBU.

They are free for journalists — who use it for anti-corruption research.

For their noble efforts, You Control has been searched and raided by the authorities, but so far, they’ve managed to stay open.

It’s important to keep a spotlight on this as Ukraine tried to defeat corruption, which is as important as defeating the Russian invasion.

Judicial Watch Obtains Emails Showing Podesta Group’s Work for Pro-Russia Ukrainian Political Party

Judicial Watch today released new documents from the U.S. Department of State showing the Podesta Group working on behalf of the pro-Russia Ukrainian political group “Party of Regions.” The new documents also show then-Obama White House Counsel John Podesta lobbying on behalf of his brother’s firm.

Judicial Watch obtained the documents in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the State Department filed on November 20, 2017, (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:17-cv-02489)). The lawsuit was filed after the State Department failed to respond to a September 13, 2017, FOIA request for:

– All records of communication between any official, employee, or representative of the Department of State and any principal, employee, or representative of Podesta Group, Inc.
– All records produced related to any meetings or telephonic communications between any official, employee, or representative of the Department of State and any principal, employee, or representative of Podesta Group, Inc.
– All records regarding the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine.
– The FOIA request covers the timeframe of January 1, 2012 to the present.

A March 28, 2013, email from now-Deputy Executive Secretary in the Office of the Secretary of State Baxter Hunt shows the Podesta Group, led by Tony Podesta, a Clinton bundler and brother of Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman John Podesta, represented the Party of Regions, a pro-Kremlin political party in Ukraine.

In the March 2013 email, to a number of officials including then-U.S. Foreign Service Officer John Tefft (who would go on to be U.S. Ambassador to Russia in 2014) and State Department director for the Office of Eastern Europe Alexander Kasanof, Hunt writes:

See below, I also stressed to them the need for GOU to take concrete steps to get new SBA with IMF and avoid PFC/loss of GSP. Podesta Group is noted among host of Ukraine lobbyists in article I’ll forward in article on low side.

– Ben Chang and Mark Tavlarides of the Podesta Group, which is representing the Party of Regions, told us they were working with Klyuyev on a visit he plans to make to Washington in early May. They are working to broaden the POR’s contacts on the Hill, including setting up a meeting for Klyuyev with Chris Smith, and have advised Kyiv to stop trying to justify their actions against Tymoshenko in Washington. They also noted that during his recent meeting with former EC President Prodi, HFAC Chairman Ed Royce said that Congress would not be enacting sanctions legislation against Ukraine.

The Party of Regions served as the pro-Kremlin political base for Ukraine’s former President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in 2014.

Like Paul Manafort, who is currently under indictment in the errant special counsel Russia investigation, the Podesta Group had to retroactively file Foreign Agent Registration Act disclosures with the Justice Department for Ukrainian-related work. The filing states that the Podesta group provided for the nonprofit European Centre for a Modern Ukraine “government relations and public relations services within the United States and Europe to promote political and economic cooperation between Ukraine and the West. The [Podesta Group] conducted outreach to congressional and executive branch offices, members of the media, nongovernmental organizations and think tanks.” Unlike Manafort and his partner Rick Gates, the Mueller special counsel operation hasn’t indicted anyone from the Podesta Group.

https://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-obtains-emails-showing-podesta-groups-work-pro-russia-ukrainian-political-party/

Savchenko arrested on terrorism charges with parliamentary approval

Ukraine’s parliament voted on March 22 to remove the political immunity of MP Nadiya Savchenko in order to allow for her arrest and prosecution for terrorism-related charges. 291 MPs voted to open a criminal case against Savchenko (out of a 226-vote minimum majority), 277 MPs voted to detain her and 268 MPs voted to arrest her.

Ahead of the votes, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko presented 28 minutes of three days’ worth of video evidence gathered by secret surveillance that showed Savchenko explaining her plot to violently overthrow the Ukrainian government, including planning bombings inside the parliament building and a mortar attack on the Kyiv city center. At one moment, she rejects her accomplice’s proposal for a widescale revolution, instead suggesting a swift overthrow. “They need to be eliminated physically,” she said. “All of them and quickly, at that.” Among these she planned to have assassinated are President Petro Poroshenko, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

In response to the charges against her, Savchenko criticized the government as an evil force that is working against peace. She criticized her colleagues in parliament for failing to make enough efforts to stop the warfare in Donbas and continuing to indulge in corruption. She accused Lutsenko and his fellow EuroMaidan activists of doing the same thing in overthrowing the Yanukovych government that she had planned, essentially repeating a Kremlin talking point. The difference is that they succeeded “but the people didn’t succeed,” she said, casting herself as the people’s representative in warning that the Ukrainian people will be the biggest threat to parliament, not her. She refused to surrender her Hero of Ukraine award that she gained from the president during her incarceration in Russia as a war prisoner.

Zenon Zawada: In the big picture, what’s most important from these events is the information that has been revealed from the recordings of Savchenko planning her coup with her accomplices. Savchenko, who was in close contact with self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko, revealed that his ideal scenario is to be reintegrated into Ukraine, but without the current government in place. Savchenko planned to kill Ukraine’s leaders in order to fulfill this goal, though it remains unclear whether Zakharchenko had any realistic hope for Savchenko to succeed or merely allowed her to fall victim to her own delusions. Savchenko also reveals, through her interactions with Zakharchenko, that Russia is not interested in annexing its occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Our best explanation for these bizarre events is that Savchenko is an idealist of the extreme kind who is incapable of applying a rational framework to her motives of punishing evildoers. It’s this reckless, unbounded idealism that led her to join Ukrainian paramilitary forces in Donbas, to repeatedly defy the Russian government with risky hunger strikes and now to overthrow a Ukrainian government that she accuses of killing its own citizens by waging this war in Donbas.

We expect Savchenko will be prosecuted and convicted of her crimes, receiving a harsh prison sentence despite her apparent cognitive deficiencies. The Ukrainian government will have to make an example of her to dissuade any other paramilitaries or separatists from considering similar overthrow attempts. Only until after the war is over, and the Russian threat neutralized, can she hope to be released, possibly on the basis of her cognitive deficiencies.

Needless to say, this is an incredibly tragic turn of events after Savchenko had become an international hero in her defiant stand against her illegal arrest and incarceration by the Russian government. Now she stands accused of plotting to overthrow the Ukrainian government, which could imprison her for life, far longer the 22-year sentence imposed by the Russian courts.

Good News. Privat Bank fraud still being investigated

A new court ruling in PrivatBank’s lawsuit against its former owners provides the first inside look at the court case, which has already seen Ukrainian oligarchs Ihor Kolomoisky and Gennadiy Boholyubov lose access to $2.5 billion in assets after a global asset freeze.

Judge Joanna Smith of the High Court of Justice in London ordered three companies linked to Ihor Kolomoisky and Gennady Bogolyubov’s Privat group to give up detailed information surrounding a series of loan agreements with the oligarchs’ former bank.
The contracts are alleged to be at the center of a massive embezzlement scheme that drove the bank to the brink of collapse in December 2016, when the Ukrainian government nationalized it to fill a $5.6 billion hole at the lender.
https://www.kyivpost.com/business/london-court-ruling-sheds-light-2-5-billion-privatbank-lawsuit.html

Russia Routed Millions to Influence Clinton in Uranium Deal, Informant Tells Congress

Told you so.

Moscow routed millions of dollars to the U.S. expecting the funds would benefit ex-President Bill Clinton’s charitable initiative while his wife, Hillary Clinton, worked to reset relations with Russia, an FBI informant in an Obama administration-era uranium deal stated.

In a written statement to three congressional committees, informant Douglas Campbell said Russian nuclear executives told him that Moscow hired American lobbying firm APCO Worldwide to influence Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, among others in the Obama administration, The Hill reported on Wednesday.

Campbell said Russian nuclear officials expected APCO to apply its $3 million annual lobbying fee from Moscow toward the Clintons’ Global Initiative. The contract detailed four $750,000 payments over a year’s time.

http://www.newsweek.com/russia-routed-millions-influence-clinton-uranium-deal-informant-tells-congress-801686