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The Ukrainian front lines
 
  Overview of events in Ukraine for 2016 March 29 –April 10

Algirdas Karijotas
2016 05 16

Foreign policy

The main topic for March 29 – April 10 was the advisory referendum held in the Netherlands which sought to identify the popular support for the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU. According to the preliminary results, 38.1% of voters have approved association, while 61.1% spoke against. President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko qualified the referendum as an attack on European unity and stated that the results of the referendum will not disturb Ukraine’s path towards European integration.

The President of Ukraine paid a working visit to the US and an official to Japan. During his three-day visit to the US, Poroshenko took part in the Nuclear Security Summit and a few bilateral meetings, including with US President Obama. During the bilateral meeting between Ukrainian and Australian governments, sides signed an agreement on cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Sides also agreed upon the supply of both raw uranium and its products to Ukraine.

In Japan, Poroshenko proposed the liberalization of the visa regime to Ukrainian citizens and invited Japanese companies to take part in the privatization process of Ukrainian ports and energy sector. He also expressed his content with the 12% growth of Japanese exports to Ukraine last year. In its turn, Japan promised to raise the Ukrainian agenda during the G-7 summit, which is to take place in Japan in May 26-27. Japan also agreed to allocate $13.6 million for the revitalization of Donbass infrastructure and $3.5 million – for the construction of a new nuclear waste storage facility for the Chernobyl nuclear energy plant. It should be noted, that the loan agreement, which was ratified a month ago, obliges Japan to grant a third loan, worthy of $300 million. Thus, the overall Japanese financial assistance to Ukraine will make up $1.8 billion. 

 Domestic policy

Important recent news is the announcement of Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's resignation He acknowledged that he decided to resign after the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council) of Ukraine managed to revive the coalition majority, because otherwise under the conditions of war the destabilization of authority could turn fatal.

The German Newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitunghas published the documents of the Panamanian company Mossack Fonseca & Co which became an object of interest of an international journalist investigation. Panama, known for its tax haven status, became a favored spot for registering companies led by internationally famous people, including politicians. Several Ukrainian surnames figure in the published papers, among whom – President P. Poroshenko. 

In this context it is worthy to pay attention to few more persons – former Prime Minister P. Lazarenko and British entrepreneur of Pakistani origin M. Zahoor, who lives and owns business in Ukraine. Among his partners were P. Lazarenko and Y. Timoshenko, with whom he had affairs linked to corruption in the Ukrainian gas sector. Published materials show that P. Poroshenko did not keep his promise of selling his assets and lied about the sale of his Roshen assets to an independent fund. It has been revealed that these assets underwent restructuring and were transferred to three offshore companies. The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine announced that they will not take up the investigation on published data concerning Poroshenko's assets, referring to the law which states that the President in duty cannot be considered an object of trial.

Ukraine’s security issues

The International Republican Institute (IRI) has announced results of new popular opinion polls. The Ukrainian topical issues have been reflected, including local governance, corruption, public trust in institutions and preferred direction of Ukrainian politics. According to the polls, 57% of participants showed preference to EU membership, 14% - to the Customs Union. 44% of Ukrainians favored NATO membership, while 27% opposed it. Plenipotentiary of Ukrainian President to Crimean Tatar issues M. Cemilev brought up some worrisome news regarding the persecution of Crimean Tatars. According to Cemilev, during the two years of Russian occupation of Crimea there were 200 cases of searches in the homes of Crimean Tatars , 22 cases of missing people (including 3 Ukrainians) and 4 cases of discovered bodies. The post-occupation authorities do not search for the missing people.

Economy issues

The Ukrainian national joint-stock company Naftogaz Ukrainy stated that from April 1, 2016 they will stop buying Russian gas from Gazprom due to higher prices for the second quarter in comparison with gas bought in other markets. It is worthy to note, that gas prices offered by Russia for the late 2015 - first quarter of 2016 fluctuated from 227.4 to 212 USD for 1000 cubic meters. As of November 25, 2015 Ukraine stopped buying Russian gas, although according to the contract signed in 2009, Ukraine was obliged to buy 41-52 billion cubic meters annually. Moreover, in March the Russian gas transit has increased by 42%. According to the current contract Gazprom was obliged to pump 110 billion cubic meters of gas via the Ukrainian territory. As soon as these commitments were not met last year, Ukraine applied to the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.

It seems that Ukraine’s economy decline has decreased and is gradually stabilizing, as soon as the World Bank confirmed the 1% growth of the Ukrainian GDP with 2% growth forecast for 2017.

Military and defense issues

In March 25, the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) celebrated its 24-th anniversary. On that occasion, the list of people accused of treason that remained in occupied Crimea to work for the new authorities, was published. Approximately 90 % of SSU employees have broken the oath (out of 2300 only 215 returned to Ukraine). During SSU's 24thanniversary celebration P. Poroshenko awarded General-Colonel V. Gricak with the highest military rank – General of Army of Ukraine. It should be noted, that within two years out of 17284 SSU workers, who were supposed to undergo lustration, only 7006 were checked. 58 of them were considered suspects. This relatively small number is explained by the fact that many allegedly disloyal employees had already left the service (2293 employees left SSU immediately after the Maidan revolution and 1022 more fled after the purges were announced). Also it has been revealed that 43 SSU employees were charged with criminal cases for espionage and treason. The SSU counter-intelligence office has prevented the establishment of 70 extremist groups and showed journalists the detention operation of a Russian military intelligence agent, who intended to smuggle secret documents from Ukraine.

Foreign citizens serving in the Ukrainian army gained the right to apply for Ukrainian citizenship after three years of service (previously – after five years) – the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine confirmed amendments to the law and the President signed a decree. After the issue of the Presidential decree in November 2015, foreigners were allowed to serve after signing a contract with the Ukrainian Armed Forces and other military units.

Ukraine’s defense minister S. Poltorak declared that since the beginning of this year over 18 thousand contract soldiers joined the Ukrainian defense forces. Recently, the Chief of Ukrainian Naval Forces Vice-Admiral S. Haiduk has resigned and was replaced with General-Lieutenant I. Voronchenko, who was the Deputy Chief of Naval Forces for coast security and had well established himself there, gaining popularity among soldiers. Later, Voronchenko was in charge of ATO forces in the Luhansk region.

Several outstanding events happened during this period. Four alleged saboteurs were detained in the territory of the Air Force unit, located in Chernihiv region. Detainees were dressed in Ukrainian military uniform and were provided with communication equipment, optical devices and terrain maps.

It is worthy to mention the following achievement of Ukrainian military industry: during the military armament exhibition DefExpo-2016 Ukraine and the Indian company Reliance Defence Ltd signed a memorandum for the creation of both civic and combat versions of a multipurpose military transport aircraft. The project value is equal to $5.3 billion and it is estimated that 50-80 seater aircraft will be constructed in the Indian city of Nagpur. Furthermore, Ukraine’s participation in the modernization of Indian Navy and a large park of Russian T-90 tanks is also anticipated.

Also, accomplishing its liabilities to Ukraine, USA will allocate $55 million for the utilization of solid fuel, used by ballistic missiles SS-34. Rocket fuel will be utilized in Pavlohrad chemical plant in Dnipropetrovsk region, which was supplied with additional capacities from US (there are around 5 thousand tons of non-recycled rocket fuel in Ukraine, given the fact that within the 1999-2014 period USA allocated $195 million for solving the issue). It is estimated, that the utilization will be finished by 2018.

It should be noted that until 1994 Ukraine owned 1300 intercontinental ballistic missile warheads, 136 missile launching mines, over 600 cruise missiles and a battle-group of strategic aviation. In accordance with the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, some equipment was supposed to be destroyed with the remaining part to be taken to the Russian Federation.

Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO)

In the ATO area during March 29 - April 10, 4 Ukrainian soldiers were killed with 64 wounded, 2 soldiers were captured. The largest number (91 cases) of armistice irregularities was recorded - . In accordance with SSU updates, since the beginning of the ATO, 690 people are considered missing, 127 - as held in captivity (with 12 kept in Russia). At that time Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations has been preparing to send the regular, 51th “humanitarian convoy”.

In Luhansk sector of ATO Zone separatists have violated ceasefire in the villages and townships of Stanychno Luhansk, Trokhizbenka, Novozvanivka, Popasnoe and Shchastye. Due to an intensified risk of fire, the ATO headquarters decided to close the Stanychno Luhansk border checkpoint on April 8.

In Donetsk sector ceasefire has been violated in Luhansk village in Stvitlodarsk arc, also in Zaycevo (the OSCE SMM patrol was attacked there) Mayorsk and Novhorodsk settlements in Horlivka perimeter. Yet the hottest spot was Avdijivka village near Donetsk – separatists fired howitzer D-30, МSТА-B; also four 152 mm. Giacint artillery systems have been identified nearby. In the Mariupol sector, ceasefire was violated in Marjinka, Starohnativka, Vodyanoe, Talakivka, Pavlopol, Hnutovo and Shirokino settlements. In the outskirts of Hranitnoe village Ukrainian soldiers repelled an attack of separatist subversive group.

Fulfilling the previous obligations of the Minsk Trilateral Contact Group, Ukraine opened a sixth checkpoint 2 km away from the separation line in settlement of Zolotoe. It is the second checkpoint in Luhansk region, but the only one, which permits the car crossing, while the checkpoint in Stanychno Luhansk is designed for pedestrians. Nevertheless, this checkpoint was closed after few hours due to disagreements between the sides and a high risk of civilian shelling.

On March 6, a meeting of Trilateral Contact Group held in Minsk did not bring any essential changes. The Ukrainian side pointed to the fact that as a result of continuing shelling it was impossible to accomplish mine clearing, the exchange of prisoners was being delayed and access was not provided to the Red Cross. When discussing the elections in the political subgroup, Ukraine took a hard-line stance, insisting on full ceasefire, withdrawal of foreign military units and return of the uncontrolled border section to Ukraine. Concerning conditions of holding elections Ukraine insists on the application of Ukrainian law and involvement of Ukrainian political parties and journalists. Russian representatives showed negative attitude to the Ukrainian proposal, which implied the invitation of international police forces to Donbass. In turn, separatists demanded Ukraine to accept the Amnesty Law as conditions to return the Ukrainian prisoners back home.

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