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Sexual Violence and HIV/AIDS in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Thu, 21/02/2019 - 02:41
Dr. Denis Mukwege (Photo From BBC)

In October of last year, the Nobel Committee awarded Dr. Denis Mukwege with the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Mukwege is a world-renowned gynecologist from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who established the Panzi Hospital, which practices a holistic approach to providing assistance to survivors of sexual assault. Congo has been deemed by the international community as the worst place in the world to be a woman, with 1100 women raped every day. Dr. Mukwege is one of only two doctors in Congo that can perform reconstruction surgeries after a woman has been raped, and his work has fundamentally changed access to health services in the country by making them more widespread and affordable. One of the programs the Panzi Hospital executes is focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, which has been a chronic  epidemic in the DRC. Despite this progress, the actual policies that the international community have implemented in the DRC have been lacking, excluding, and often counterproductive to survivors of rape who have contracted HIV/AIDS.

Rape is often employed as a devastating weapon of war in Congo. This tactic has fostered a clear link between conflict promulgation and AIDS transmission. Human Rights Watch estimates, approximately 60% of combatants in the DRC have AIDS. The spread of AIDS has been a significant issue in Congo for decades, officially declared a public health threat in 1983. The link between sexual violence and AIDS in Congo is apparent, as “an estimated 30% of survivors of rape in Congo are infected with HIV“. Virginie Supervie at the National Institute of Health conducted a study that statistically predicts the number of HIV/AIDS victims in relation to sexual violence relates in Sub-Saharan Africa. Her results are alarming, estimating that under extreme conditions, 10,000 women and girls in Congo who are victims of sexual violence could contract HIV/AIDS each year. She further argues that in order to effectively deal with the AIDS epidemic in Congo, victims of sexual violence are critical to take into account during policy formation, as they are often left out of the discourse around AIDS prevention and treatment.

In Congo, victims of sexual violence are often ostracized by their communities, forcing them to move.  This practice creates major obstacles to providing critical medical treatments. Jack Hyyombo explains in the Central African Journal of Public Health, that the most effective way to address this issue is a more targeted approach based on province should be implemented rather than blanket policies over the entirety of Congo. Different demographics in Congo have diverse needs. Creating targeted approaches based on province would allow the Congolese government to create a more tailored approach to meet the needs of different people living in different areas. From there, the government could concentrate specifically on areas where sexual violence occurs most often.

Congo has primarily used only blanket policies to address HIV/AIDS in the country. Joseph Kabila implemented a program headed by the Ministry of Health and the National AIDS Commission. This was supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN). Similarly, to many countries in the international community, the Congolese government expressed in 2015 that they aimed to eliminate HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by the year of 2030. In 2015, only 33% of known AIDS patients were taking antiretrovirals in the DRC. The government publically stated that “by April 2017, 34000 more people were on treatment which puts the country on track to reach the June 2018 target, which would see 73% of people living with HIV on treatment”. The fact that more Congolese citizens are receiving treatment is obviously a benefit, but victims of sexual assault are often not included. For example, “only 30% of female rape cases undergo prophylactic treatment against HIV in the DRC”. This is due to a top-down, homogenous approach by the UN and WHO. Blanket statements regarding progress on AIDS treatment and prevention in the Congo have unintended consequences. The woman who are often most at risk of the disease are forgotten about because there is a false sense that everyone is benefitting from the progress that has occurred.

(Photo From
The New York Times)

At first glance, it looks as if the United Nations is taking a hardline, effective approach to combating AIDS stigmatization and sexual violence. In 2010, the first ever offensive peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, was deployed in Congo. This mission was the first of its kind, as UN peacekeepers usually have to wait until conflict comes to them, while MONUSCO can be the aggressor against the groups it is trying to eradicate in order to protect the population. There is also a designated Sexual Violence Unit in MONUSCO. However, though the United Nations says that MONUSCO is helping, there are many points of contention surrounding the mission.

The implications of MONUSCO on the debate about responses to rape victims with AIDS is substantial. The rhetoric around MONUSCO makes it seem very beneficial, while in reality, peacekeepers often exacerbate existing issues. In only the first three months of 2017, five peacekeepers had already been accused of raping Congolese women. This is not limited to peacekeepers in the DRC. The Associated Press reported that “between 2004 and 2016, the United Nations received about 2,000 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against its peacekeepers”. Over 700 of those allegations occurred in Congo and number is assumed to be much higher as victims are often silenced or discouraged from coming forward.

There are many implications of peacekeepers contributing to sexual violence. One of the main consequences is that it promotes a mistrust of foreign actors. This is detrimental when worldwide policies are being developed to address both AIDS and sexual violence. Multilateral and transregional approaches are necessary when trying to tackle epidemics that span across the world because they provide resources. Furthermore, the perpetrators of these violent acts are often not held responsible, promoting an environment in which rapists are greeted with impunity.

There is no doubt that Dr. Mukwege is an extraordinary hero well deserving of the Nobel Prize. Resources are critically required to invest in other doctors to expand medical practice in Congo as well. This is the only way rape victims who have HIV/AIDS will no longer be left out of the dialogue of progress. While Dr. Mukwege’s awarding  of the Nobel Peace Prize has brought more attention to sexual health in the DRC, international responses to treat rape victims who have contracted HIV/AIDS have been lacking and often counterproductive. Broad statements about progress, and human rights abuses committed by those who are supposed to be there to help contribute to an environment where rape victims with AIDS are left out of the discourse about access to health infrastructure. Women are essential to include in these discussions as they often experience the worst parts of conflict. Only when rape victims and AIDS patients are advocated for, will comprehensive policies be effectively implemented to benefit all citizens in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The post Sexual Violence and HIV/AIDS in the Democratic Republic of Congo appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

The Absence of Justice for Syrians and Iraqis

Wed, 20/02/2019 - 17:56
Yazidis fleeing Sinjar, Iraq, in 2014 after forces loyal to the Islamic State took the town. Kurdish and Yazidi fighters retook it last fall.CreditRodi Said/Reuters

The generation that inherited the world right after the fall of Nazi Germany were in a unique position to teach future generations about how we should address justice after thousands of families lost their relatives during the war. While many former members of Hitler’s government were put on trial at Nuremberg, prosecuted and given their due sentences, many other perpetrators of genocide escaped the precedent setting trial. A case that stood out was that of Klaus Barbie, who organised the murder of thousands of Jewish people and resistance fighters from France during the war. While there was a warrant to arrest him, he was safely living in Latin America, even after he was convicted in absentia and for Crimes Against Humanity in the French legal system.

It was not an easy task to find Barbie and bring him to trial, but the Klarsfelds who spent their life seeking justice for their fallen family members and neighbours dedicated their lives to justice. Unfortunately, people who fought for those lost to genocide have left us over time, but the governments that turn a blind eye to human rights atrocities are still in place.

The current debate should be framed in what had occurred in Iraq and Syria to many minority groups living there since 2014. Over 6000 dead had been discovered buried in mass graves not long ago, and every few weeks leads to the discovery of more mass graves as survivors try to earn a place as a refugee from those atrocities. Survivors of genocide still are living in refugee camps, with no direct aid coming to them. There are still many girls and women missing and presumed dead or captured, all enslaved and all likely to be killed in the most brutal of ways, but no one speaks about them. When discussing those targeted groups in the region, no one addressed justice towards them or their murdered family members. The ones that escape are even threatened in safe countries overseas, with more incidences being revealed over time. In one instance, it was even suggested that focusing on minority groups from the region is “disgusting” and discriminatory, despite the fact that they are targeted specifically because of their race and religion to be killed, something that the French court in the Barbie case would call Crimes Against Humanity.

The resting excuse to not apply justice for those lost in Syria and Iraq is because there are no witnesses, but it has become evident in a few cases that Yazidi refugees in places like Canada and Germany have seen their ISIS torturers living in their area after they were resettled. Authorities do wish to seek justice even when they have those witnesses they claim do not exist living and being threatened as refugees in Canada and Germany. In a normal legal situation, if you commit a crime in another country or region, you are subject to the local laws of that region. So in the case where a non-Syrian or non-Iraqi would commit a murder in those countries, the local laws would be applied. We cannot simply take the murder of one person in a Western country as one individual murdering another and apply full justice to a trial, while claiming that the murder of 6000 Yazidis and Kurds is a statistic that cannot have justice applied, just because they are in Syria or Iraq. We should not set a precedent where if you kill all the lawyers and judges and burn the court to the ground while destroying a city, that you are able to simply return to your country of origin and leave Syria and Iraq with the aftermath of a genocide created by a murderer and fellow foreign nationals. Allowing citizens from a Western country to go abroad and commit genocide should have the most severe of punishments, and in some cases they are barely questioned. There should be money and funds set up to re-established a judicial system in those affected parts of Syria and Iraq, and trials should commence for all accused. It is clear that they committed Crimes Against Humanity, any justice minister and government that tries to hide that fact or shame victims are ignorant to the concept of justice themselves.

The post The Absence of Justice for Syrians and Iraqis appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

International Implications of Ukraine’s Decentralization

Thu, 14/02/2019 - 22:27

The local governance reform that Kyiv started in 2014 will, if successful, have cross-border repercussions by way of making the Ukrainian state more resilient, compatible with the EU, and a model for other post-Soviet republics.

The currently ongoing decentralization reform in Ukraine leads to beneficial effects for the everyday life of citizens. Public administration becomes more rational, flexible, visible and interactive. State-society relations strengthen, and democratic accountability increases. As transparency of resource allocation increases, opportunities for realizing corrupt practices are gradually reduced. Economic activity in, and cross-regional rivalry of, local communities are facilitated. Cities, towns and villages can easier cooperate with each other, but also compete for direct investment, touristic visitors, project funding, qualified personnel, and public resources. Talented youth in provincial regions can better self-realize at home. Patriotic energy is redirected from mythologizing imagined to improving real communities. Civic activism is encouraged and utilized for the public good.  Grass-roots initiatives can faster transform into efficacious public policies and become templates for nation-wide innovation.

In Ukraine, these and
similar positive effects of decentralization, in general, gain additional
weight in view of the country’s significance as one of Europe’s territorially
largest nations, civilizational frontier states, crucial post-Soviet republics,
and geopolitical pivot countries. Whatever course Ukraine takes in its domestic
affairs has, because of the country’s international emanation, larger
implications. The fate of the Ukrainian transformation, not the least of the
local governance reform, will deeply affect pan-European security and stability,
post-communist socio-economic development, as well as East European
liberalization and democratization.

increases resilience

First and foremost,
decentralization makes Ukraine as a state and nation more resilient. Along with
other reforms, it reduces, suppresses or contains various post-Soviet
pathologies of public administration and local development. This effect, in
turn, is not only of municipal, regional or national, but also – in view of
Ukraine’s geopolitical role – of international relevance.

decentralization devolves power to a level lower on, and to communities smaller
than those in, which most of the old informal networks operate. This makes
state-capture by private interest not impossible. But it complicates the
subversion of the public sphere by private interests. It is true that
decentralization sometimes simply transfers the locus of a corrupt network from
the national or regional to the local level. In certain cases, it can even
benefit clans that have been hitherto functioning within a municipal context.

On the whole, however,
decentralization in Ukraine – like everywhere else in the world – strengthens
rather than weakens democratic accountability
, and promotes economic
development. Newly empowered self-governing bodies are more exposed to public
scrutiny and responsibility by their local communities than Ukraine’s byzantine
administrative organs inherited from the Soviet system. When ambitious
entrepreneurs encounter a local – rather than regional or national – political
framework, their industriousness is more likely to turn into political and
developmental rather than informal and extractive activity. On average,
Ukraine’s novel Amalgamated Territorial Communities (ATCs) are thus less
susceptible to subversion by semi-secretive networks and rapacious rent-seeking
than the old oblast (regional) and rayon (county) administrations and councils.
The new ATCs are – more than the older, far less powerful and smaller communes
– motivated to engage in competition with other ATCs for attracting investment,
charming tourists, providing services, and gaining fame.

Decentralization thus
makes the Ukrainian state more stable, functional and effective. Ukraine’s
increased resilience and greater dynamism supports its general modernization.
Whatever makes the largely pluralistic and liberal Ukrainian state stronger –
rationalization, Europeanization, decentralization, privatization, deregulation
etc. – undermines, in turn, the legitimacy of the klepto- and autocratic orders
of other post-Soviet state. By strengthening Ukraine’s democracy and economy,
its decentralization helps – because of Ukraine’s size and role in Eastern
Europe – changing the entire post-Soviet area for the better.

improves cohesion

Second, in addition to
making Ukraine’s state more solid, in general, many Ukrainian politicians have
come to also see decentralization as a peculiar antidote to Russia’s hybrid
warfare, in particular. Not only does deeper involvement of ordinary Ukrainians
in governmental affairs via decentralization support the national cohesion of
Ukraine’s population and civic spirit of her citizenry. The currently ongoing
devolution of power to the local level in Ukraine deprives Russia’s various
hybrid warriors of customary institutional frames and critical entry points for
seditious action. A decentralization that is not a federalization complicates
the targeting and planning of irredentist operations similar to those in
Simferopol, Donetsk and Luhansk in 2014. As regional capitals and governments
gradually lose political relevance, it becomes more difficult for the Kremlin
to clearly delineate territories where it may want to support a secession
or/and prepare an annexation.

These anti-separatist
effects of Ukraine’s decentralization have, in turn, not only a national, but
also an international dimension. To the degree that local governance reforms –
along with other ongoing transformations, in Ukraine – help to support Kyiv’s
independence and to stabilize the Ukrainian state, they undermine Russian
revanchism. The stronger Ukraine, the less plausible looks Moscow’s
neo-imperial project and the Kremlin’s hegemonic pretense in the former Tsarist
or Soviet space. As Zbigniew Brzezinski quipped famously in 1997, “without
Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.”

supports Europeanization

A third geopolitical
aspect of Ukraine’s decentralization is that it supports Ukraine’s ongoing
integration into the EU’s political and legal space in connection with the
Eastern Partnership program started in 2009, and Association Agreement signed
in 2014. Decentralization helps preparing Kyiv’s forthcoming application for,
and eventual acquisition of, full membership in the Union. In a certain way,
Ukraine’s decentralization is a more fundamental aspect of Ukraine’s gradual
Europeanization than other dimensions of this process partially influenced from

Being a Ukrainian project
inspired by, but not modelled on any one foreign example, and not following any
pre-defined Western recipe, decentralization is in two ways significant. First,
it is a visible manifestation of Ukraine’s turn-away from the Tsarist and
Soviet centralist traditions of its past, within the former Russian empire. The
very idea and start of the Ukrainian decentralization reforms documents the
“European” character of Ukraine. It is practical proof of the civil, pluralist
and open character of Ukraine’s political tradition and culture.

Second, the ongoing
transition’s accumulating results are making Ukraine more and more compatible
with the Union. The member countries of the EU are, in general, more or less
decentralized. To one degree or another, many continue to further decentralize.  They, moreover, follow the well-known
subsidiarity principle in their relations with both Brussels and their own
regions as well as municipalities. The more deconcentrated and subsidiary
Ukraine becomes, the more similar it will thus look to other European nations,
and the better she will later be prepared for full accession to the EU.

The national origins and
Europeanizing effects of Ukraine’s decentralization are not only important in
terms of the spread of Western values and principles. They have also a larger
geopolitical dimension. In as far as Kyiv’s local governance reform expresses
and advances the “European” character of Ukraine, it demonstrates her belonging
to the Western normative and cultural hemisphere. That, in turn, makes
Ukraine’s ambition to enter the EU and NATO a more natural affair than it may
have otherwise been.

provides a model

A final – and, so far,
speculative – geopolitical aspect of the ongoing transformation of Ukrainian
self-governance concerns its cross-national diffusion potential.
Decentralization in Ukraine can, in the future, provide policy directions and
institutional templates ready for use by other, so far, highly centralized
post-Soviet states in their forthcoming reform efforts. This concerns not only,
but above all Russia herself for which a decentralization along the Ukrainian
localist rather than the older Russian federalist paradigm may one day become

As time goes by, each of
the post-Soviet republics will become affected by gradual social modernization,
cross-national norm dispersion, democratizing intra-elite divisions as well as
international economic integration. These processes will more and more change
all, so far, politically underdeveloped and culturally regressive post-communist
countries. When governmental crises, competitive disadvantages, and general
backwardness create sufficient pressure for deep reform in Russia, Belarus,
Armenia, Azerbaijan or/and Central Asian, their nations will be looking for
ideas and experiences that may help them to reconstitute their immobile
societies and remake their inefficient states.

The possibility or even
intention of cross-border diffusion is, of course, something im- or explicitly
entailed in many reform concepts and efforts around the world. The Ukrainian
local governance reform may, however, be of an even larger geopolitical
salience because of its above-mentioned nation-building and anti-secessionist
effects. The Ukrainian type of decentralization is not only an instrument for improving
state-society relations. It can also function as a tool to stabilize regionally
divided states threatened by separatist tendencies. In the same way that
devolving power to local and municipal levels helps Ukraine to hold its
territory together, an application of her decentralization model may one day
also support other post-Soviet states to remain unified. This concerns not the
least Russia whose sheer size and multi-ethnic character make her especially
vulnerable to autonomism and secessionism.

as an under-estimated reform agenda

The above list does not mean that local governance reform is a panacea for Ukraine and other post-Soviet states. Yet, its Europeanizing, anti-separatist and diffusion potential makes it an especially salient, interesting and consequential aspect of Ukraine’s ongoing socio-political transformation. Within the context of some specifically post-Soviet political challenges, the empire-subverting and state-supporting dimension of decentralization bestow this particular reform in Ukraine with a larger meaning than other substantively similar processes of devolution of power from the national and regional to the municipal and local levels have in other parts of the world. Neither the overcoming of the Tsarist-Communist empire nor the formation of new nation states are yet finished businesses, in the post-Soviet area. Decentralization may do the trick or, at least, be one of the main instruments to effectively meet both of these daunting challenges.


A longer version of this article is forthcoming, and has benefited from advice by Dr. Valentyna Romanova (National Institute for Strategic Studies, Kyiv). Responsibility for remaining imprecision lies, however, solely with the author

The post International Implications of Ukraine’s Decentralization appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

De-bunking Russian Language Myths About Ukraine and the Baltics

Wed, 23/01/2019 - 15:33
Soviet Great Patriotic War memorial, Riga

Since conflict erupted in eastern Ukraine in early 2014, regional observers have worried that Russia could instigate a similar incursion in the Baltics to ‘protect ethnic Russians.’ Seemingly – goes the narrative – the ethnic Russians are identified as those who speak Russian. The reality in these countries, however, is far from that clear-cut distinction.

Let’s start in eastern Ukraine. Russian is the
primary language spoken in the pro-Russia / separatist provinces of Luhansk and
Donetsk, as well as the other three neighboring Ukrainian provinces (Kharkov, Dnipropetrovsk,
and Zaporozhiya). There are scattered villages that speak Ukrainian, but
Russian is the regional lingua franca.
Somewhat complicating the demographics, to outside observers, is that all those
provinces are also over 50% ethnic Ukrainian. The
Russian-language dominance, and general political alignment with Moscow, came
about from ethnic Russian labor migration to the region to support
industrialization beginning in the 1930s. In this corner of Ukraine, language
is not a divider, it’s a common tongue. Moreover, many ethnic Ukrainians fight
on the separatist side of the current conflict, another sign that the conflict
is more one of regional identity than ethnicity or language.       

Some 700 km and a 10-hour drive to the northwest,
the residents of Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, speak Russian widely. I spent four days
here in July, checking in to my hotel, ordering food, and re-buffing street peddlers,
all in Russian. I would hear Ukrainian at times, though rarely. This is all the
more remarkable given that a 2015 survey by the International
Republican Institute found 94% of Kiev residents to be ethnically Ukrainian. On
the other hand, I found government signage, public transportation, and
advertising to be overwhelmingly in Ukrainian. “Yes,” responded an office
worker whom I had just met (who in conversation often used a Ukrainian ‘h’
sound in place of a Russian ‘g’ sound). “That started happening after the
Crimea take-over.”                 

Another phenomenon has been Russian-speaking
migrants to the capital. Rather than stay in a war zone, eastern Ukraine
residents have joined families in Kiev and other cities. Additionally, after
the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution, young social and legal reformers from other former
Soviet nations, especially Georgia, moved to Kiev to ‘carry on the torch’ of
greater independence from Russia and reducing corruption. Some learned
Ukrainian, notably Georgia’s former president Saakashvili, but as a backstop,
all can rely on Russian.

As the former Soviet capital, and an important
center of government and commerce, widespread use of Russian in the city is understandable.
Ivan Patrulak, a historian in Kiev, distinguished last year between
bilingualism and ‘diglossia,’ describing a situation when native speakers use
different tongues under different circumstances. “In Kiev,” he said, ”Russian language
is still considered to be prestigious.”  

Aboard a five-hour bus ride directly south to the
port of Odessa, when one traveler suffered a minor seizure, all conversation
about helping her was in Russian, as the default tongue and (still) common
currency. While enjoying summer nights in that storied city, all my conversation,
and that at nearby tables, was in Russian. Odessa, admittedly, is a linguistic
exception, sharing many socio-historical traits with Crimea – a historically majority
ethnic Russian population, and a major Black Sea port that has figured in
Russian literature and military exploits. That same 2015 IRI poll however
showed 68% of residents to be ethnically Ukrainian, and only 25% Russian.

Odessa, August 2018 – note the advertisements in Russian (in Kiev ads are in Ukrainian)

Latvia’s ethno-linguistic breakdown is similarly complex. In the capital, Riga, for a few days in August in this regional hub and sprawling metropolis, I ordered food and asked directions in Russian. Sitting at a bar watching a sports event, I heard the staff alternating among Latvian, Russian, and English. Per demographics, it is no surprise that Russian is so widely spoken. The city (and Latvia as a whole) barely had an ethnic Latvian majority during the Soviet era, a trend that has roughly continued. The 40ish mayor is an ethnic Russian who in 2011 proposed making Russian the 2nd official language and enjoys the support of most ethnic Russians.  

The population of the second-largest city
Daugavpils, in Latvia’s south-east corner, is overwhelmingly Russian. Russians
make up significant populations in the two smaller eastern cities. Riga is in
the center of the country and sits on the Baltic Sea. While portrayed in
various foreign policy press as ‘one of the countries where Putin could act militarily
to protect ethnic Russian speakers,’ that would be a difficult loaf to slice,
unless they take half the country.

Estonia’s linguistic geography is more clearly delineated.
While 25% of the country’s population are ethnic Russians,
they are in two areas: in and around Tallinn, the capital, where ethnic
Estonians make up 60% and ethnic Russians 31% of the population, and in and
around Narva, on the north-east border with Russia, where ethnic Russians number
just over 70%.

With Tallinn’s refurbished Old City as a UNESCO
World Heritage site, and the country’s investment in IT infrastructure and
start-ups, the country has won international praise for its planning insight
and economic growth. Largely shut out of these developments, however, has been the
ethnic Russian population.

After independence in 1991, there seemed to be two
Estonias: the central and western regions, and Narva. Narva’s industry was soon
privatized, tossing thousands out of work. A further burden has been a
citizenship law requiring ethnic Russians to achieve a passing ability in
Estonian language, which many (mostly older residents) have refused to do. As
‘non-citizens,’ they carry a grey passport, reinforcing their undetermined
status. In recent years the narrative of a poor, rights-bereft population of
ethnic Russians in Estonia’s east, who only watch Russian TV, has made its way from
foreign correspondents’ notebooks into the plots of television dramas.

Historic standoff: Narva (near side), Ivangorod Fortress (Russia, far side)

After eastern Ukraine erupted in 2014, Tallinn officials
shared the fears of others: a Kremlin-backed incursion to re-claim ethnic
Russians as their own. Since then, various efforts have sought to spur
investment in Narva and reach out to the local population, to emphasize inclusion.
In one effort, creative directors from Tallinn are staging dramatic and musical
productions with cross-over themes in a local factory space that was once the
largest cotton mill in the Soviet Union. The University of Tartu (Estonia) has
opened a campus in Narva to give locals the opportunity to earn advanced
degrees. Language teachers are volunteering time to hold coffees where Russians
can practice Estonian language. And in a sign of government buy-in, Estonia’s President
Kaljulaid has put her weight behind these initiatives, intending to propose Narva as a
European Capital of Culture when Estonia receives the mantel in 2024.   

With sizable Russian minorities in several of these countries, Kremlin-backed media outlets continue to promote the idea of simmering ethnic conflict and culture wars, at its least to promote internal chaos, or at most to encourage separatist activity. Ukraine is at war over regional identity, a separate issue from language; Latvia, at least in urban areas, appears to have integrated rather than separate ethnic populations; and Estonia is taking steps to integrate its ethnic Russian population in the east.

After exploring each of these cases, and given their unique dynamics, there is little suggestion that ethnic Russians in these countries are clamoring for their own separatist state, or encouraging incursion of Russian troops. While mandatory language laws can complicate integration and raise tensions between ethnic groups, minority groups should understand that such steps are taken in defense of the primary language and culture. Both Estonia and Latvia, each with under 2 million residents, need a mechanism to safeguard their language, with 145 million Russian-speakers living next door. Russian state media campaigns emphasizing ethnic discord in these nations certainly gain traction when ethnic Russians’ rights and economic opportunities are compromised. However, with continued engagement of the ethnic Russian communities, especially in Estonia’s Narva, greater ethnic integration should greatly reduce the risk of separatism.

The post De-bunking Russian Language Myths About Ukraine and the Baltics appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Op-ed: Rapid increase in violence within Bangladesh post-election

Tue, 22/01/2019 - 16:50

In the wake of reports of massive voter fraud in Bangladesh, when according to numerous opposition activists, the election was essentially robbed from the people by the Sheikh Hasina government, Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, reported that there is now a rapid increase in violence targeting both oppositions activities minority communities within the Asian country. According to him, post-election, there have been a series of attacks, assaults, murders and gang rapes in Bangladesh, which have occurred merely in order to suppress the Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and other minorities, as well as dissidents and members of the opposition, so that they will be compelled to flee the country.

For example, he noted that in Noakhali, Awami League members entered a home and tied up the hands of the husband while raping the man’s wife, a mother of four children. According to reliable sources, Basu reported that Parul Begum, a Muslim who voted for Paddy Shauf and the mother of 4 who was gang-raped, was badly injured in the incident and was hospitalized. He proclaimed that although Awami League leader Md. Sohel, the main man accused of implementing the gang rape, was arrested alongside two others, the other six accused in the case have not been arrested. According to locals in the area, the rapists can be released at any moment due to their affiliation with the governing party.

In another incident post-election, Basu noted that Bangladeshi MP Nixon Chowdhury, who was an Awami League member that ran in the election as an independent, was attacked as hundreds of local Hindus were in his home in Upazila of Faridpur district. According to him, his home fell victim to an arson attack and was vandalized. Basu reported that they also looted the valuables inside of the home. According to the report, Chowdhury was not the only victim. Locals reported that over 50 homes belonging to BNP supporters were plundered and vandalized as well in the Bangla Bazar Union of Doabarbaza Upazila.

Furthermore, according to Basu, a group of 30-35 people, including Former Chairman Fazlul Haque Bepari, looted, vandalized and ransacked the house of Rameezuddin at Dadpur village of Laxmipur Union in Kalkini upazila of Madaripur district. Ramijuddin’s wife Fazilah Khatun, his sons’ wife Toma who is pregnant and his sister’s daughter Hasina were seriously injured.
In addition, according to the World Hindu Struggle Committee, the home of Hindu Pashi Dasi was burnt to the ground, there was a rape attempt of a Hindu girl in Dinajpur and a Hindu couple disappeared from Brahmanburia and has not been heard from since. It is believed that they were probably abducted. According to them, there has also been anti-Hindu incitement reported in the Bangladeshi mosques post-election. It should be noted that the incidents listed above are only a small sample of the anti-opposition and anti-minority violence that has occurred within Bangladesh post-election.

As a result of these violent incidents, which followed a massive voter fraud that was accompanied by the arrest of tens of thousands of opposition activists and the killing of many others including members of minority groups within the Asian country, Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, stressed that he will be submitting a report to the UN Human Rights Council and he is presently drafting a petition against the Sheikh Hasina government, which will be sent to the International Criminal Court at the Hague: “We plan to submit a petition that will punish this criminal government.”

Written by Rachel Avraham, who is the President of the Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi Center for Human Rights in Middle East (under formation) and is a political analyst at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights. She is also a fellow at the Haym Salomon Center, a news and public policy group. For over 6 years, she has been an Israel-based journalist, specializing in radical Islam, abuses of human rights and minority rights, counter-terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Syria, Iran, Kurdistan and other issues of importance. Avraham is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media,” a ground-breaking book endorsed by Former Israel Consul General Yitzchak Ben Gad and Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara that discusses how the media exploits the life stories of Palestinian female terrorists in order to justify wanton acts of violence. Avraham has an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben-Gurion University. She received her BA in Government and Politics with minors in Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park.

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Ukraine’s Upcoming Presidential Elections: The Ambivalence of the Zelens’kyy Candidacy

Fri, 18/01/2019 - 00:42

Most political experts in and outside Ukraine have reacted negatively or very negatively to the announcement, on New Year’s eve, of Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelens’kyy that he will become a candidate in Ukraine’s presidential elections scheduled for 31 March (first round) and 21 April 2019 (second round of the two front-runners). Indeed, Zelens’kyy’s submission is – see below – in various ways problematic. Probably, his candidacy is an even more ambivalent enterprise than those of the other two top contenders, opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko and incumbent president Petro Poroshenko. Still, for all the apt skepticism, there is also – as in the case of certain positive aspects of Tymoshenko’s and Poroshenko’s runs – a bright side to the announcement of Zelens’kyy. One can identify, at least, three major risky or negative, but also three relatively encouraging dimension’s of Zelens’kyy’s entry into the race.

The first and foremost problem with Zelens’kyy is
that he would be a politically and diplomatically unexperienced president. He
has not held any governmental or any other public sector office before. His two
main competitors Poroshenko and Tymoshenko, in contrast, have each held, over
many years, parliamentary seats, party chairpersonships as well as high
executive posts. They are also well-connected internationally, for instance,
via the European People’s Party, while Zelens’kyy seems to have no foreign
affairs exposure.

In peaceful times and under stable conditions,
Zelens’skyy’s assumption of power would, perhaps, be an experiment worth
trying. Yet, as Ukraine’s current geopolitical situation is extremely complicated,
a Zelens’kyy presidency would be a chancy development. His partially naïve
statements on Ukraine’s international relations so far, and announced recruitment
of an explicitly non-political team indicate that there would have to be a
transition period before a Zelens’kyy administration becomes more or less
functional. Ukraine and her various foreign challenges may not have time for
such an interregnum, after the presidential elections.

Second, it remains unclear how truly novel a
Zelens’kyy presidency would eventually be, in terms of its approach to the old semi-criminal
patronage networks – the main cancer of Ukrainian politics. To be sure, Zelens’skyy
is justified emphasizing his clean hands, and non-involvement in the shadowy
schemes of Ukraine’s post-Soviet oligarchic rule. He is rich and made his money
on everybody’s watch, as a popular television star and producer of successful
entertainment programs.

Yet, there is much suspicion in Kyiv about his
links to Ihor Kolomoys’kyy, a notorious oligarch and owner of the influential TV
channel 1+1 that airs most of Zelens’kyy’s programs. A major reason for
Zelens’kyy’s popularity is his brilliantly played role as the non-corruptible
and oligarchy-slaying Ukrainian president Vasyl’ Holoborod’ko in the popular TV
sitcom “Servant of the People.” But many Ukrainian experts do not believe that
a real president Zelens’kyy would be as effective as the fictional president
Holoborod’ko, in curbing the impact of private business interests on Ukraine’s
governmental affairs.

Third, the political-satirical aspects of
Zelens’kyy’s comedy work and of his major TV show “Vechernyi kvartal” (Evening
Block) have acquired a strange aftertaste, following Zelens’kyy’s entry of the
race. His “95-yy kvartal” (95th Block) team has numerous times made
fun of various presidential candidates including Poroshenko and Tymoshenko. In
several sketches, Zelens’kyy has personally played Poroshenko as well Radical
Party leader Oleh Liashko, another likely presidential candidate.

While Zelens’kyy’s and his team’s political satire
was and is often extremely sharp, topical and funny, it now starts looking odd.
The well-written and -played video parodies, still widely watched on TV,
Youtube and other outlets, have recently gained a second meaning as support for
Zelens’kyy’s presidential bid. They now seem to be parts of an unconventional
negative electoral campaign by Zelens’kyy ridiculing his political opponents.

Yet, there are also some arguably bright aspects
of Zelens’kyy’s entry into politics, and especially so, if it goes beyond his –
likely unsuccessful – presidential bid in spring. Zelens’kyy’s mere
participation in the campaign is stirring up Ukrainian political debates on the
elections, and public interest for different visions of Ukraine’s future. Until
31 December 2018, it looked as if the 2019 contest will be largely between incumbent
Poroshenko, his Solidarity party as well as his allies, on the one side, and veteran
challenger Tymoshenko, her Fatherland party and her allies, on the other. Both
of these politicians have been active in Ukrainian politics for more than 20
years. Although Poroshenko and Tymoshenko have become irreconcilable enemies
over the last fifteen years, many Ukrainians perceive them as being of a
similar generation, type and quality.

There are also other alternative Ukrainian third
forces, on the right and left as well as in the political center. But Zelens’kyy
arrival has an especially high potential to break old templates of party
competition, political technology and oligarchic bickering. Many analysts in
Kyiv suspect, to be sure, that Zelens’skyy is merely a novel instrument of
manipulation in the hands of behind-the-scenes patrons, and especially of
unpopular Kolomois’kyy. Yet, even if Zelens’skyy may be obliged to one or more
oligarchs, it will be not easy for him to repay his possible debts.

Given his self-styled image as a non-nonsense
corruption fighter and new type of politician, it would be especially damaging
for Zelens’kyy, if he becomes perceived as being just another medium for
infiltration of private interests into governmental affairs. This constraint
may be even more important for his possible future faction in parliament than
for Zelens’kyy himself. While the unexperienced politician and his team might
be unsuitable for taking over the presidential administration, they could form
a useful Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council) group.

To be sure, Zelens’skyy and his entourage will
be as much a target of seductive corruption schemes as other political parties
and individual deputies. Yet, the followers of Zelens’kyy-Holoborod’ko will –
given his public image as a new and clean politician – be especially vulnerable
to any disclosures of bribe-taking, kick-backs, nepotism etc. Chances are that
Zelens’kyy’s faction will thus become a relatively alien element in Ukraine’s
corruption-ridden parliament. Whatever shakes the old structures of post-Soviet
political advancement, procedure and decision-making is arguably good for
Ukraine’s legislatures and executives on the national, regional and local

A second positive aspect of Zelens’kyy’s possible
rise are his roots in South-Eastern Ukraine, and his special appeal to
Russophone Ukrainians. Zelens’kyy is less demonstratively and outspokenly
pro-Western than Poroshenko and Tymoshenko. Yet, he presents himself as a
Ukrainian patriot, has taken a clear position in the Russian-Ukrainian
conflict, apparently knows English well, and seems to be intuitively liberal.
That makes him for many nationalistically inclined Ukrainian journalists and
experts still insufficiently trustworthy.

Yet, even these commentators might agree that a
Zelens’skyy party would be preferable as a representation of Russophone Eastern
and Southern Ukraine, within the Verkhovna Rada and local parliaments, than the
various successor organizations of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions with their
continuing ties to Moscow. If Zelens’skyy creates a real party that becomes
popular, electable and successful in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, he might be
able to make a substantial contribution to Ukrainian nation-building.

A final, in Ukraine, largely ignored positive (especially
foreign) political aspect of Zelens’kyy’s possible rise is his partly Jewish
family background. To be sure, many Ukrainians know of, or/and easily
recognize, Zelens’skyy’s Jewish roots. But – remarkably – this fact is not, or,
at least, has not yet become a topic of wider public debate, much in the same
way in which Prime-Minister Viktor Hroysman’s Jewish origins are only rarely
mentioned in Ukraine. Such private biographic aspects of various politicians
are in Ukrainian politics and media – as it should be – largely non-issues.

Yet, Hroysman’s, Zelens’skyy’s and other
Ukrainian politicians’ ethnically non-Ukrainian roots have considerable weight within
the skewed international informational sphere and political communication
regarding post-Euromaidan Ukraine. Lingering Soviet-era propaganda memes,
post-Soviet Russian defamation campaigns, radically left-wing anti-American alarmism,
and dilletante post-modern commentaries on Ukrainian politics in the West
continue to reproduce an imbalanced image of Ukraine as infected with
ethno-nationalism to an allegedly extraordinary degree. To be sure, Ukraine has
various problems related to its radical right-wing parties, internationally
offensive memory policies, violent ultra-nationalist war veterans, as well as
popular chauvinism directed, above all, against Roma, colored immigrants, and
sexual minorities.

Yet, with the partial exception of its
extra-academic official historical discourse since 2014, there is nothing
special about Ukraine’s various issues with ethno-nationalism – a phenomenon nowadays
widely spread across Europe and the world as a whole. In fact, the relatively
weak electoral performance and low parliamentary representation of the Ukrainian
far right during the last quarter of a century makes post-Soviet Ukraine, if
seen in a comparative perspective, somewhat unusual. The party-political and
electoral marginality of Ukrainian ultra-nationalism has recently become even
more surprising, in view of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, bloody war in
Eastern Ukraine, and deep economic downturn in 2014.

The rise of Zelens’kyy will be yet another source of cognitive dissonance within the continuing international reproduction of the stereotype about Ukraine as a hotbed of xenophobia. Whereas this geopolitical aspect of Zelens’skyy’s rise may look irrelevant or bizarre to many Ukrainians, it will be a real factor in the formation of Ukraine’s foreign image. In sum, while Zelens’skyy may not (yet) be a suitable president for Ukraine, his forthcoming engagement in Ukrainian party politics, parliamentary affairs, public discourse, foreign relations, and, possibly, a governmental coalition may not be that bad. 


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The Life Cycle of Populist Leaders

Wed, 16/01/2019 - 21:01
Juan and Eva Peron, the World’s most well known Populists

In my city, we had one of the first internationally known populist leaders in our city government. He won because his main challenger was seen as a part of a corrupt regional government that were far from allergic to scandals. His personal life was complicated and tragic, with the man himself succumbing to cancer after a few bouts at rehab for his drug and alcohol addictions. His funeral seemed to be one fitting a fallen President or Prime Minister, even though he was the mayor of a city for only a few short years. People either despised him or saw him as a voice of the average person. He was given the image of someone who challenged the former elite running the government in my city. Since he has passed, there are many that have been elected that fit a similar profile worldwide. They are often called Populists.

The years since my city had its populist experiment, the electorate chose someone who was often called a severe character by his opponents. The truth is, despite negative press on the current mayor before his election, he was a centrist and people had grown tired of a populist left in constant battle with a populist right. They elected someone that was too passive to be successfully labelled anything extreme. It seems as if the microcosm of my city, where populism gained international fame for some time, was the first to experiment with it and was also the first to balance itself politically for the time being. People do not like an elite cabal running their lives into the ground, and will choose the one who will challenge them effectively. In this case however, most people really seemed to want peace and tranquility in their political leadership in the long term. People just want to trust their leaders and know that someone will keep them safe and be honest with them it seems. Populists gain momentum because there are no other alternatives that offer solutions in their perspective. Populists often do not resolve many issues either, but its often the case of bad vs worse in conjunction with someone who commits to listening to their public.

Brazil has recently elected a populist President after years of every mainstream political party being indited in a large corruption scandal. While the mainstream parties were not populist, they burned away much of their credibility when Brazil’s judiciary sought to purge Brazil of corrupt party politics, dragging many of Brazil’s leadership with it in the process. The reality in Brazil is that very conservative politics are often feared due to the dictatorial governments of the past that were harsh and violent and seen as coming from the right. Politics coming from the left are also out of favour, as much of the scandals came out of left of centre parties in power over the last twenty years, mixed with fears that more extreme leftist parties might mirror Chavismo currently tearing apart Venezuela. In the end Brazilians elected their outsider, newly elected President Bolsonaro came into power being extremely hated or extremely liked by most partisans in Brazil. At this point, he has not been indited in the national corruption scandal but has created a vacuum of news around his new Presidency.

A new populist in Brazil might draw from populist movements in Europe and the US. The mid term populists seem to gain support when challenging issues that affect many people and are seen as ignored by elites. French President Macron in his election was able to separate himself from the mainstream parties and politicians, but was unable to maintain his position as an outsider as his policies did not reflect the needs of the average French citizen, according to many yellow vest protestors. President Trump may gain success in the long term if he retires himself but is able to encourage someone apart from the two main parties to push for his policy goals but is less of an obvious orange target. The argument that populism will take the place of current elite fuelled politics did not survive the life cycle in the case of the first real modern populist in my city, but the movement behind it may enshrine itself into the political system of these countries as Peronismo existed for generations in Argentina. While Peronismo adopted left and right positions over the years, it was often a party that fought internally for its mainstream identity as much as it did with opposing parties. As long as there is an elite that is seen as self serving and overbearing, Populismo will likely have a home in modern political discussions.

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Russia, Ukraine, and the Sea of Azov

Tue, 15/01/2019 - 17:31
Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a polling station during a parliamentary election in Moscow, Russia, September 18, 2016. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor – RTSO8SI

On November 25, three Ukrainian naval vessels, two 54-ton gunboats (technically, Gyurza-M-class armored artillery cutters) and a tug, were traveling from Odessa around the Crimean Peninsula and toward the Sea of Azov, en route to the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. As they approached the Kerch Strait, the access route from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, vessels of the Russian Coast Guard, which is part of the Federal Security Service (FSB), ambushed them and blocked their passage. The Russian cutter Don rammed the tug and apparently attempted to ram the gunboats, which outmaneuvered it. Later, as the Ukrainian vessels attempted to escape, the Russians opened fire on them, injuring six sailors, and then detained all three vessels and their crews. The strait remained blocked to vessels seeking passage to or from the Ukrainian ports. Cargo ships hauling grain were allowed through only on December 4, but the Russians continued slow-walking the process. Three days later, Ukraine noted that 140 civilian ships were backed up on either side of the strait, waiting to be inspected and cleared for passage. The costs associated with the delays—$15,000–$20,000 a day—began to discourage shipping companies from serving the port of Mariupol. Shipments of metal out of Mariupol fell by 40 percent following the Kerch Strait incident. Russia has rejected a German proposal that OSCE monitors be deployed to supervise shipping in the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait.

annexed the Crimean Peninsula in a bloodless maneuver in 2014. Since then,
intermittent fighting has occurred between government forces and Russian-backed
rebels in portions of the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk (Donets’k
and Luhans’k in Ukrainian) in which more than 10,300 people have died. Tensions
have been building up at sea in recent months. After Ukraine seized a Russian
fishing vessel, Russia began harassing, delaying, and detaining ships from
Ukraine and other states in the Sea of Azov. Moscow unilaterally introduced
advanced-notice requirements and an inspection regime at the Kerch Strait.
Russia and Ukraine moved ships into the Sea of Azov, and Ukraine built up its onshore
coastal-defense forces.

This latest episode was unusual in that it involved live fire by undisguised, official Russian units. The two sides have blamed each other for causing it. The Russian press has depicted the episode as a Ukrainian provocation instigated by the “deep state” in Washington, which was seeking undermine President Trump’s efforts to improve relations with Russia. Ukraine responded the incident by declaring martial law for 30 days in ten provinces bordering Russia or Russian-controlled territory. Many people saw this declaration as a first step toward postponing the presidential election scheduled for March 31, 2019 (elections are not permitted during states of emergency), but martial law was lifted on schedule on December 26, although a ban on the entry of military-age Russian males was continued.

Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait

most recent dispute between Russia and Ukraine concerns the Sea of Azov, a
shallow extension of the Black Sea that lies northeast of the Crimean Peninsula
and northwest of Russia’s Taman Peninsula. The Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and
Berdyansk are situated on its northern shore. These ports, especially Mariupol,
are the principal outlets for eastern Ukraine’s steel, coal, and grain. Mariupol
has been a target of Russian-supported insurgents, but both ports remain in government

Sea of Azov is connected at its southern end to the main body of the Black Sea
through the Kerch Strait. Since Ukrainian territory (not to mention active
combat operations) separated Crimea from Russia proper, Russia began construction
of an 11.2-mile (18.1 kilometer) double-span bridge connecting the Crimean and
Taman peninsulas across the Kerch Strait following the 2014 annexation of
Crimea. (Presidents Medvedev and Yanukovych agreed in 2010 to build the bridge,
but there was little follow-through, not even a feasibility study, until 2014.)
The highway span was opened in May of this year. Construction continues on the
railroad span.

Construction of a bridge across the strait had the potential to restrict access to the Sea of Azov. Russia and Ukraine have disputed the bridge’s impact on navigation. In practical terms, however, the level of restriction appears to be limited. To be sure, the largest cargo ships cannot pass under the bridge. Ships of Panamax size, for instance, may be up to 190 feet (57 meters) high, while clearance under the bridge is only 115 feet (35 meters). Ukraine has drawn attention to this. On the other hand, a Panamax ship draws up to 39.5 feet (12 meters) of water, and the Kerch Strait is only 26 feet (8 meters) deep. Thus few ships of that size try to traverse it, and certainly not if they are fully loaded. Most of the ships that traveled regularly from the Black Sea to Mariupol should still be able to do so, and smaller ones could be substituted for those that cannot. The ongoing war, which has reduced shipping out of Mariupol, is a far more serious deterrent to commerce in the area. The recent episode showed, however, that a single tanker anchored under the bridge’s main arch can block access to the strait’s main shipping channel.


Two aspects of the Law of the Sea come into play here, those regarding straits and enclosed or semi-enclosed seas. Article 38 of the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS III) of 1982 provides with regard to straits used for international navigation that “all ships and aircraft enjoy the right of transit passage, which shall not be impeded.” Thus ships minding their own business have the right to use the strait to pass from one larger body of water to another, especially if that strait is the only connection. In some cases, longstanding treaties have been grandfathered in, such as the 1936 Montreux Convention regarding the Turkish Straits, but UNCLOS III applies to the case at hand.

UNCLOS III, in Article 123, is less precise with regard to enclosed or semi-enclosed seas, saying only that the countries bordering them should cooperate with each other in the exercise of their rights and the performance of their duties, but in this case they have done so. Russia and Ukraine signed a treaty on this subject in December 2003, which came into force the following April. This states explicitly in Article 2, Paragraph 1, that commercial vessels and warships and also other state vessels under the flag of the Russian Federation or Ukraine being used for noncommercial purposes enjoy freedom of navigation in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. Disputes regarding the treaty’s interpretation and application, according to Article 4, are to be resolved by consultations, negotiations, or other peaceful means chosen by the two sides.

the treaty is still in effect, even though Moscow claims both sides of the
Kerch Strait as Russian territory since the annexation of Crimea. The Kerch
Strait is still an international strait connecting two seas. Russia’s view of the
situation has evidently changed, however, despite the lack of any announcement
to that effect. The sailors on board the Ukrainian vessels have been put on
trial in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, under Russian domestic law, for
violating the Russian border.


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s deep-sea surface fleet—what U.S. sailors would call the “blue water” navy—has deteriorated. (In October, Russia’s one floating dry dock capable of serving capital ships short-circuited, overloaded its ballast tanks, and sank while carrying Russia’s only aircraft carrier.)* In the interim, however, Russia has built up its force of coastal, or “littoral,” vessels—sometimes called the “brown water” navy owing to the discoloration of shallow coastal waters from runoff—and defending Russia’s maritime approaches and littorals is one of the surface fleet’s primary functions.

The Ukrainian navy was never large, and most of it was lost in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea. The navy subsequently concentrated on building up its marine corps, so that actual sailors constitute only 6 percent of naval personnel. Ukraine’s fleet currently relies mostly on three–five combat ships, the largest of which is a frigate, and various patrol boats. Only the Gyurza-class gunboats are less than a quarter-century old. It too is primarily a brown-water navy.

Small ships are not without their advantages. The advent of cruise missiles has increased the lethality of small, less-than-sturdy vessels; operating close to land permits supporting them with shore-based missile and artillery batteries; and their size allows for innovative logistical solutions. In the course of 2018, Russia reinforced its naval presence in the area by transferring ships from the landlocked Caspian Sea up the Volga River, across the Volga-Don Canal, and down the Don River directly into the Sea of Azov. Likewise, Ukraine successfully established its first naval base on the Sea of Azov at Berdyansk by transferring two gunboats over inland waterways. The vessels involved in the November 25 incident were being transferred from Odessa to that base via the maritime route.

The nature of the naval forces in question is well adapted to the conditions of the Sea of Azov. Moreover, the incident suggests that coastal-defense forces might be better suited to some offensive operations than people have imagined. (Also, in 2015, Russia used its Caspian Sea flotilla to launch cruise missiles at targets 920 miles away in Syria, overflying Iranian and Iraqi territory.)


The big question hanging over all of this is a simple one: What is going to happen next? For many, the more specific question is: Will Russia use this incident as a prelude to an open attack on Ukraine? It is true, statistically speaking, that maritime disputes connected to disputes over territorial and identity issues, as we have between Russia and Ukraine, can generate a high risk of war. Some have speculated that Russia could use its domination of the Sea of Azov to bombard Ukrainian onshore positions from ships at sea or to launch an amphibious assault against Mariupol and Berdyansk. Ukraine’s President Poroshenko has claimed that Russian troops are massing on the border. Andrei Illarionov, a former Putin adviser (albeit an economic adviser who fell out with the president 13 years ago and now lives in the United States), has predicted that Russian forces based in Crimea will move across the border to seize a Ukrainian canal that, before the annexation, was a vital source of freshwater for the peninsula.

Several of these claims should be addressed with skepticism. As Michael Kofman of the CNA Corporation (a defense-oriented think tank) has pointed out, Poroshenko’s evidence of a troop buildup consisted of photos of stockpiled T-62 tanks. The Russians stopped making T-62 tanks 45 years ago and no longer use them, having subsequently developed the T-64, the T-72, the T-80, the T-90, and most recently the T-14. They do still sell old T-62s to places like Syria, however, and the photos are more likely to represent a warehouse for deliveries to foreign clients than a preparation for invasion (which would require additional preparations beyond that). Likewise, there has been little evident preparation for a thrust through Crimea.

The possibility of an overt invasion cannot be completely excluded, of course, but it would mark a significant break from Russia’s recent behavior. If Russia is going to attack, it prefers to arrange a situation in which it can blame the victim of that attack. More often, Russia operates by deception, denial, and faits accomplis. The seizure of Crimea, for instance, came in a rapid move by disguised troops for which Ukraine was not prepared. Having created a new status quo, a fait accompli, Russia then dared Ukraine or others to undo it. Equating an attack on Crimea with an attack on Russia itself, the Russian foreign minister even made a veiled threat of nuclear retaliation if anyone tried (which is easy to do if you do not expect to have to follow through). Having annexed Crimea, Russia had used up the element of surprise and could not expect to carry out an unresisted move in eastern Ukraine, so there it relied on proxy forces—locally recruited militias—bolstering them when necessary with disguised Russian troops whose presence it denied.

Kerch Strait incident, carried out as it was by official Russian Coast Guard
vessels, was a more blatant aggressive move, but the level of violence was kept
low enough that it did not demand immediate retaliation. (Indeed, the incident
began with attempts to ram ships, something that might be blamed on the other
side or written off as an accident, and the Russians resorted to gunfire only
when that failed.) If the Kerch Strait incident was intended to provoke Ukraine
into making an openly violent move, justifying a larger Russian response, then
Ukraine did not fall into the trap.

While Russia may attempt to push the envelope further, it is more likely that it has already achieved its goal by creating a new fait accompli. It effectively controls access to the Sea of Azov and can, at will, strangle the economically important ports on that sea. While the Ukrainian president has called on NATO to deploy warships to the Sea of Azov as a sign of solidarity, that is highly unlikely to happen. Even under the 2003 treaty, warships from third countries may visit a port only at the invitation of one country and with the agreement of the other. As a practical matter, Russia’s proven ability to close the Kerch Strait by anchoring a ship under the bridge means it could close off access to any ship unwilling to commit an act of war to force its way in.

The most likely next move for Russia is simply to do nothing overt. It will quietly solidify its control over the Sea of Azov, threatening others who attempt to violate its “sovereignty” there but engaging in no provocation large enough to demand an immediate response from Ukraine or anyone else. It will try to outwait the West’s economic sanctions, hoping that the United States and Europe eventually tire of the issue and in the meantime striving to divide them or at least undermine their solidarity with regard to Ukraine and Russian sanctions.

side has accused the other of planning a diversionary war to distract attention
from its domestic problems, but diversionary wars are more common in people’s
imaginations than in actual occurrence. If further fighting comes, it’s more
likely to result from one side’s reaction (or overreaction) to an unexpected
probe by the other—at a time of heightened tensions and frustration—than to
result from a planned attack. That is the contingency to watch out for.

does not apply to the Russian submarine fleet, which is sophisticated and

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Op-ed: It’s not a bug, it’s a feature: Why Trump is gutting American Diplomacy

Mon, 14/01/2019 - 22:22

In the 2019 edition of Great decisions, Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns outlines the impoverished state of American diplomacy in the
Trump era, as well as the severe cuts and reductions endured by the State
Department. The diplomatic corp of the United States, Burns argues, is not able
to fully carry out its vital functions in protecting the citizens of the United
States and furthering America’s international interests due to a stark lack of
interest in the very concept of diplomacy. Despite already being a catastrophe
or two behind, as is often the case when writing about Donald Trump’s erosion
of American institutions, Burns’ argument that the State Department is being
undercut has clear applications to the current budget and wall crisis we are
currently witnessing. The disenfranchisement of the professional bureaucracy is
a danger to the United States, as a people and a functioning democracy. It is
by all means, a fantastic article written by one of the best minds and staunchest defenders of
multilateralism in foreign affairs today.

But why is this happening?

The root cause can be found in the shutdown
crisis over a political promise that was never more than rallying cry (full disclosure: this post was written prior to the President’s
speech scheduled for January 8th). It can be found when the President throws up
his hands and says “You know what, it’s yours, I’m leaving,” and abandons an entire region of people to the hands of tyrants
and butchers. It’s also why National Security Advisor John Bolton, who in rare
form has broken with Trump to try and slow the surrender of Syria and protect
the Kurdish militias in the region, can’t seem to get a meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan.

The root of these problems is that they are the
results of a leader who rules on whims, not the product of the tireless civil
servants described by Burns. And this centralization of authority is present in
every action taken by the Trump administration on foreign policy. It’s why we
are here, now, in this interminable dilemma, and thousands of hard working
federal employees have not been paid since the holidays.

Carefully laid policy can and often does go
awry; miscommunications exist in every hierarchical structure. However, clear
channels of communication, and department wide coordination accomplishes what
individual actors cannot. To refer back to Burns’ examples, the Marshall plan
and the creation of NATO were massive successes for the United States that
brought prosperity and security for decades. They were also the result of
countless hours spent by thousands of members of the American foreign service,
tirelessly working to create the intricate system that helped prevent another
great power military conflict for decades.

Trump is not interested. The wall, a reactive
and regressive idea if there ever was one, would not be such a legislative
impossibility if arguments for its existence were clearer. If it was a
carefully formulated plan worked on by analysts, engineers, and experts, the
administration could point to things like a definite cost estimate, or a way to
fund construction of the wall, or even fact-based benefits of having a wall in
the first place. But no, the only ones to workshop this idea are supporters who
 attend Trump rallies. To the public at large and not the red-hatted
converts, the only math shown for why the wall should exist is done on an
applause-o-meter. Campaign advisors Roger Stone and Sam Nunberg have already said as much.

In regards to trade and economics, the situation
is roughly the same.  Peter Navarro, who is the trade advisor to the White
House, told Bloomberg early last March:  “My function, really, as an economist is to try to
provide the underlying analytics that confirm [President Trump’s] intuition,”
 Ripples of this approach were felt in the stock market in
late December 2018 when Jerome Powell and the Federal Reserve increased
interests rates against the vocal protestations of the President. When it
appeared that Powell’s job was at risk, market volatility created the Dow
Jones’ worst week for markets since 2008. Laissez-faire capitalism and banking independence, two drums
long beat by Republican legislators, seemed to be in the same danger as the
State Department. Volatility only decreased when the White had reassured the
public that Powell and the independence of the Fed was safe, but the overall
impression remains clear: If the President wants to do something else, he will
try to force his way, and there is not much that can dissuade him.  

By allowing this accumulation of executive power
to continue, be it in foreign policy or the economic sector, the members of the
U.S. government become less effective. Well, the ones who are still employed,
anyway. For example, why would Erdogan bother negotiating with an advisor when Trump is already willing to give Turkey everything they
want for free?
Kim Jong Un has also
realized that dealing with underlings like Mike Pompeo is unnecessary because what the current Secretary of State is offering and
demanding don’t necessarily reflect what Trump wants, and may ultimately be
pointless when North Korea can get so much more with a military parade and a
weekend of schmoozing. And this does not even begin to approach the difficulty
of enacting consistent policy against Russia and China, two powerful global
rivals whose dealings with Trump have become more opaque and complicated with
every intimation of collusion and favor-trading. Every snub weakens the Foreign Service, every sudden pivot
strengthens Trump and his ever-shrinking circle of power, and authoritarians
who would strain against the international code of conduct gets a free pass.
For every Jamal Khashoggi, there is an equal and opposite Jared Kushner.

R. Nicholas Burns is optimistic that change will come soon, that bipartisan defense of our institutions will come, and eventually the State Department can be restored. Americans should consider themselves fortunate that someone as astute and experienced as Burns has found reason to be hopeful in the face of such intentional sabotage. In tumultuous times, one thing is certain: Change will eventually come, one way or another.

Written by Adam J. Camiolo, who is the Director of Membership for the Foreign Policy Association. He currently oversees the FPA Associates program, as well as numerous lectures, conferences, and events in New York City. He also works on building strategic partnerships, various task forces, and research conducted by the FPA.

Mr. Camiolo has a Master’s
degree in Public Administration with a concentration in International Economic
Policy and Management/International Politics from the School of International
and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University, as well as a BA in History
from SUNY Geneseo.

The post Op-ed: It’s not a bug, it’s a feature: Why Trump is gutting American Diplomacy appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Op-ed: America’s Addiction to Cheap Manufacturing Is Coming Back to Haunt It

Wed, 09/01/2019 - 14:43

America’s ongoing trade war with China has underscored the contentious business practices the Asian power has instituted over the years. Many of these have resulted from the United States’ over-reliance on external manufacturing, particularly for the technology sector. This over reliance has exposed the nation’s supply chain to vulnerabilities that have jeopardized the corporate and government sectors and that threaten economic prosperity and national security. To address this growing repertoire of technology supply chain-related threats, the US government and the American private sector need to forge a more strategic and collaborative partnership. This will ensure that American technology supply chains are comprehensively secured going forward and could also position the United States as a leader in the push for global technology supply chain security.

A July 2018 US
intelligence report found that supply chain attacks — attacks
which target software and hardware manufacturers and distributors, rather than
users —
are on the rise. To no surprise, these attacks have especially impacted the
American technology sector. An analysis of seven major US-based
technology companies — HP, IBM, Dell, Cisco, Unisys, Microsoft and Intel —  found that over half of the products the
companies and their suppliers used came from China. Microsoft’s reliance on
these products was particularly staggering, with the company sourcing 73% of
its products from China between 2012 and 2017.

Although a globalized supply chain is not in itself a bad concept (these supply
chains, for example, enable consumers to enjoy cheaper prices when buying
electronics), the consequences of vulnerabilities in the supply chain for the
private sector are significant. Such extensive supply chain vulnerabilities
open these tech giants up to major financial losses, often in the form of
intellectual property (IP) theft. China is the world’s primary IP infringer and
Chinese theft of American IP costs between $225 to $600 billion annually
through avenues such as espionage, forced
technology transfers and mandatory joint ventures for companies trying to
operate in China. This was most recently demonstrated in a Bloomberg
Businessweek report which found that a group
specializing in hardware attacks within China’s infamous People’s Liberation
Army (PLA) had implanted microchips into the motherboards of servers produced
by Taiwanese-American information technology company SuperMicro. These
compromised servers were then operationalized by major American technology
companies such as Apple and Amazon, enabling the PLA to spy on their internal
networks and steal valuable intellectual property. Both Apple and Amazon have rejected the claims in this report
as false, but many contend that the hack was one of the most deleterious
breaches of supply chain security in the American technology sector to date.

The growth of such attacks is particularly concerning considering that most American corporations seem unprepared to respond to and defend against them. Two-thirds of respondents in a survey commissioned by computer security firm CrowdStrike said their organizations had experienced a supply-chain attack in the past year, and 90% of these attacks resulted in financial losses. Despite this, only one-third of respondents said they vetted their suppliers and even fewer organizations expressed confidence in being able to effectively mitigate and defend against a supply chain attack or breach.

Supply chain vulnerabilities have also had a significant impact on US national security. Recent supply chain vulnerabilities that have targeted the US government have done so with the intention of jeopardizing the nation’s security. Many of the compromised SuperMicro servers were used by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense and even US Navy warships, demonstrating a significant breach of key intelligence agencies and their networks by Chinese agents. Similarly, Chinese telecom firms such as ZTE and Huawei have come under heavy fire for using their products to spy on US government employees and contractors on behalf of the Chinese government. This is a relatively common practice, one that is employed even by the United States. However, many were shocked to learn about the extent of ZTE and Huawei’s spying operations in the United States. In response, Congress recently enacteda ban that prohibits US government officials and contractors from using either company’s technologies. These companies have faced similar bans in countries such asIndia, Australia and the UnitedKingdom over national security concerns. In the US, however, this ban doesn’t prevent the companies from engaging with US infrastructure outside of the government sector and it will only come into effect gradually over the next two years.

As the United States invests heavily in developing 5G wireless networks that increasingly promote the use of interconnected devices, and in instituting many of the federal government’s IT modernization initiatives, the security of the technology supply chain is a serious concern. The consequences of the country’s over-reliance on external manufacturing are visible here too, as Chinese businesses are consistently able to underbid US companies on subcontracting opportunities, therefore positioning themselves as cost-effective partners, despite the national security risks posed.

The vulnerability of technology supply chains is an issue of economic and national security that will continue to grow in the US. The government has taken some strides toward addressing this issue. In early November 2018 the US Department of Justice (DOJ) establishedthe China Initiative which aims to combat the Chinese government’s national security threats, including supply chain related threats. However, in order for the American supply chain to be comprehensively secured against actors such as China as well as the growing range of supply chain vulnerabilities, there needs to be greater and more strategic collaboration between the public and private sectors. If such partnerships can effectively be formed, scaled and operated, this could position the United States as a leading figure in the push for global supply chain security. This is an important role the United States should seek to play, especially as China and other foreign adversaries ramp up their supply chain attacks on the United States and its allies.

Submitted by, Spandana Singh, the Cyber Security Fellow for the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. She is currently serving as a Millennial Public Policy Fellow at New America’s Open Technology Institute where she works on issues of privacy, surveillance, cybersecurity and countering violent extremism. Spandana is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and has previously worked at organizations such as the East West Institute, Twitter, the World Bank Group and UNICEF.

The post Op-ed: America’s Addiction to Cheap Manufacturing Is Coming Back to Haunt It appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Why Warsaw Should Go Soft on Kyiv

Tue, 08/01/2019 - 12:19

The recently intensifying memory conflict around the interpretation of some World War II events, between Ukraine and Poland, is distracting the two intertwined nations from their main international challenges and some critical tasks today. An increase of Ukrainian national security is in the core interests not only of Kyiv, but also of Warsaw.

An odd turn in Ukraine’s foreign affairs after the Euromaidan has been
its increasing estrangement from the country the relations with which should
have benefited most from Kyiv’s resolute turn westwards since 2014 – Poland.
Post-Soviet Ukrainian-Polish relations had been constantly deepening since the
break-up of the USSR in 1991. Especially after the Orange Revolution of 2004,
Poland became for many Ukrainians a prime model case the recent development of
which their own state should emulate with regard to both domestic affairs, such
as economic and public administration reform, and international relations, such
as accession to the EU and NATO. In addition, both nations harbor deep
grievances towards the currently revanchist Kremlin leadership in connection
with centuries-long Russian imperialism and the Tsarist as well as Soviet
regime’s repression of Polish as well as Ukrainian cultural life and political independence.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and covert intervention in the Donets Basin, in
spring 2014, have further increased Ukrainian and Polish perceptions of their
nations’ community of fate. Last but not least, hundreds of thousands of
Ukrainian migrants – including refugees from Crimea and the Donets Basin – have
settled in Poland during the last years, in search for well-paid jobs, decent
education, and a better life.

Why Poles and Ukrainians are quarrelling

Given these as well as an array of other historic and contemporary determinants, the partnership between Kyiv and Warsaw should have significantly strengthened after Ukraine’s successful Revolution of Dignity three years ago. And indeed, public opinion polls in both Ukraine and Poland document a high degree of mutual sympathy among ordinary people. Nevertheless, in many fields of cooperation and in the political atmosphere between the two nations, the exact opposite has happened over the last years. Worse, not only governmental, but also some people-to-people relations have deteriorated since 2014, with increasingly frequent verbal and, sometimes, even physical clashes mostly caused by radicals of the two neighboring peoples.

The major – though not only – reason for this unfortunate development is
a public international quarrel between the two neighbors around the
interpretation and evaluation of the saddest episode in recent Polish-Ukrainian
affairs – the so-called Volhynia Massacre (Ukr.: Volyns’ka riznia) that may have led to, according to different estimates,
between approximately 50,000 to 90,000 unnatural deaths in today’s Western
Ukraine. This 1943-1944 Ukrainian ethnic cleansing of Poles, which Poland now
officially classifies as a “genocide,” extended also to Eastern Galicia, and
went in parallel with a OUN-UPA cleansing campaign against the few remaining
Jews who had survived the Holocaust. It was an attempt by radicalized war-time
Ukrainian ultra-nationalists to prepare Volhynia and, to some degree, Galicia
to become ethnically cleansed parts of a future Ukrainian state designed
primarily for ethnic Ukrainians.

To be sure, Ukraine has formally acknowledged that this mass killing did
happen, and official Kyiv has asked Poland for forgiveness numerous times. In
2015, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko kneeled down at the monument
commemorating the victims of the Volhynia Massacre. Polish and Ukrainian
institutions, organizations and groups have issued joined statements on this
difficult episode. Moreover, some of the documents acknowledged that, before
and after the massacre, there were also Polish killings of Ukrainian civilians (mainly in the Chelm area) – though on a
smaller scale. In a certain sense, there is thus actually little disagreement
between the two nations on the factualness, salience and tragedy of these

The problem rather arises from the fact that, at the same time,
Ukrainian official memory policies have, on both the national and regional
levels, been officially heroizing, since 2006 and especially since 2014,
leading representatives of the two organizations – the OUN(B) and UPA – bearing
the brunt of responsibility for these mass-killings. Stepan Bandera’s
(1909-1959) radical wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN)
dominated the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Ukraїns’ka Povstans’ka Armiia – UPA) – an armed mass
resistance movement that emerged in 1943. The so-called Banderites provided
Ukraine’s major anti-Soviet volunteer army with a fascist-like ideology that
motivated and justified the UPA’s soldiers’ bloody ethnic cleansing of Western
Ukraine. To be sure, even this connection between the OUN-UPA and the mass
killing of Poles of 1943-1944 is questioned by only a few particularly escapist
Ukrainian memory activists today.

What instead constitutes the main issue in contemporary Polish-Ukrainian
relations is that the leaders and members of the war-time OUN-UPA are today
promoted – by Ukrainian governmental institutions, major political commentators,
and certain civil organizations – as impeccable “fighters for liberation.” It
is true that the OUN-UPA was, during much of World War II and even after,
engaged in an epic battle for the Ukrainian nation’s independence from Moscow’s
ruthless and mass-murderous rule. In fact, most of the ordinary soldiers of the
UPA were not guilty of any war crimes during their largely heroic resistance
against Soviet as well as, occasionally, German troops.

Moreover, the vast majority of those nationalist partisans who did not
manage to emigrate to the West were killed, tortured, imprisoned, deported or/and
repressed in other ways by the USSR’s security organs, once the Red Army had
reconquered Western Ukraine. Some had already perished under the Nazis’ killing
machine, or been, at least, imprisoned by the Germans during World War II. Even
a few of those Ukrainian nationalists who, after the war, lived in the West –
most spectacularly the movement’s most prominent and radical leader Bandera – were
assassinated by Soviet agents.

The issue today is that most of Ukraine’s memory politicians remain in a
state of cognitive dissonance regarding certain difficult aspects of the
history of Ukrainian nationalism. They dissociate the OUN-UPA’s fight for independence
from the organizations’ crimes against humanity during World War II. This
concerns not only Ukraine’s today ultra-nationalists, like those of the infamous
Freedom (Svoboda) Party, but also numerous pro-Western and otherwise liberal Ukrainian
politicians and intellectuals. Typically, they make a deliberate distinction
between the, on the one side, heroic as well as tragic aspects, and, on the
other side, “dark side” of the OUN-UPA’s battle against foreign rule. In
support of this imagination, a large array of Ukrainian historical publicists
formulates various apologies, justifications and moderations for the Ukrainian
war-time ultra-nationalists’ crimes against civilians.

The many dimensions of current Ukrainian

Recalling practices of selective national remembrance in other countries
around the world, many Ukrainians today tend to ignore, relativize or downplay Ukraine’s
war-time ultra-nationalists’ fascistoid ideas, as well as their partly genocidal
practices. Ukrainians who consider themselves “nationally aware” prefer instead
to focus on the exceptional and indeed real courage, patriotism and sad fate of
the majority of the UPA’s soldiers and their extraordinary anti-Moscow
insurgency. Recently, this way of commemoration has, moreover, become heavily
informed by Moscow’s ongoing war against Ukraine since 2014.

In 1959, above-mentioned Bandera was killed by a KGB agent, Bogdan
Stashinski, in Munich. Today a former KGB agent in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin,
is trying to destroy the Ukrainian state. During the current Russian-Ukrainian
war, Putin’s regime has killed, tortured, evicted etc. hundreds of thousands of
Ukrainians in the Donets Basin. During and after World War II, the Soviet
regime had killed, tortured, deported etc. hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian
patriots. That is the simple, but powerful connection that many Ukrainians make
between the historic OUN-UPA’s and their own current fight against Russian

To Warsaw, Tel Aviv as well as many Russophone Ukrainians, however, this
is an untenable state of affairs. As the number of Polish OUN-UPA victims
exceeds the number of Ukrainians killed by Poles, there is little willingness among
Poland’s politicians and intellectuals to respect Kyiv’s claim for historical
sovereignty. The tens of thousands of killed Polish civilians in Volhynia and
Galicia are not only a matter of Ukraine’s history, as some Ukrainian
politicians and intellectuals like to have it. Not only the OUN-UPA’s massacre
of the Poles itself, but also the ethnic cleansing’s Ukrainian ideologists,
instigators, perpetrators and justifiers are matters of Poland’s and not only
Ukraine’s national history. The same argument applies to Ukrainian
antisemitism, and its integral role for Jewish and not only Ukraine’s national history.

The Polish role in the radicalization of
Ukrainian nationalism

On the other side though, as historians of Eastern Europe know all too
well, the connection between Poland’s national history and the Ukrainian
ultra-nationalists’ massacre of Poles is deeper than some Polish politicians
and intellectuals might be keen to acknowledge. There happened a fundamental
transmutation of Ukraine’s originally emancipatory, inclusive and leftish nationalism
of the early 20th century into a more and more integral,
ethno-centrist and ultimately fascist-like ideology, during the inter-war
period. This transmutation happened not the least as a result of Polish anti-Ukrainian
policies in Eastern Galicia – from where most of the radical leaders of the OUN
came, among them Bandera himself.

To be sure, the Polish Second Republic’s repressive policies regarding
Ukrainians’ striving for autonomy, cultural life and political participation as
well as later Polish regressions against Ukrainians cannot serve as a
justification. They cannot diminish Ukrainian responsibility for the Volhynian
massacre, as some Ukrainian “patriotic” commentators argue. Still, the
inter-war Polish state’s manifold repressions of Ukrainians under its control,
between the two world wars, were among crucial historic preconditions for the
eventually genocidal turn of Ukrainian ethnic nationalism, in the early 1940s.

This means also that the origins of this Ukrainian radicalization, in
the inter-war period, were rather different from the sources and nature of the simultaneous
escalation of German nationalism. The latter became radicalized within the more
or less sovereign nation-states of Germany and Austria. In contrast, the parallel
emergence of an extremist form Ukrainian ethno-centrism was mainly determined
by a continuing lack of a state as well as Polish and Soviet political repression
of most forms of Ukrainian patriotism (as well as by historical learning from German
and Italian fascism). While the ideology of Bandera’s OUN eventually displayed certain
semblances with that of the Nazis, the historical conditions of the rises and the
eventual political aims of Ukrainian and German ultra-nationalism after World
War I remained more dissimilar than alike. In particular, Ukrainian
ultra-nationalist ideology still had as its main aim political independence. Though,
as turned out in 1943, it was also eventually mass-murderous, the OUN’s agenda lacked
the ruthless eliminationism, strident chauvinism and megalomaniac imperialism
of the Nazi doctrine.

In another way, Polish politicians and intellectuals may also take a
second look at their disagreements with Ukraine’s current memory policies. Poland’s
and many other countries’ view of their national histories is, as indicated, often
also selective. Without any doubt, for instance, the fight for independence of
the famous Polish “doomed soldiers” (Żołnierze
wyklęci) of 1944-1963
was a highly tragic and often heroic one. Curiously, it was partly reminiscent
of the UPA’s fighters’ battle, fate and suffering.

This Polish history of resistance has, however, also some “dark pages”
which are only reluctantly co-remembered by many nationally engaged
commentators in Poland. The heated Polish discussion around the Jedwabne
massacre of July 1941 should illustrate to Poles why it is so difficult for
Ukrainians today to modify their traditional view of themselves as exclusively
innocent victims of Stalinism as well as Nazism. Polish politicians should be
better than others able to understand why and how it is so difficult for Ukrainians
to acknowledge themselves as a nation that also included organized perpetrators
of mass crimes who were following a perverted idea of the Ukrainian national

As Ukrainians are eager to point out, there were Polish crimes against
Ukrainian civilians too, before and after the Volhynian massacre. Such “whataboutism”
can, of course, not diminish the significance and responsibility of Ukrainians’
numerically larger killing of Polish civilians. Yet, the instances to which the
apologists of the Volhyhnian massacre refer are often real and numerous.

According to a leading Canadian expert on Ukrainian nationalism Myroslav
Shkandrij, “ethnic cleansing in one way or another was
practiced by the Poles throughout the interwar period, and the Polish
government in exile and underground was preparing to reclaim all of Western
Ukraine for post-war Poland. Moreover, ethnic cleansing of Ukrainians was
conducted on a massive scale by the Polish government at the end of the war and
in the postwar period.” Not only
Kyiv, but Warsaw too is insufficiently active in adapting its official memory
policies so as to adequately commemorate Polish anti-Ukrainian crimes and publicly
name their perpetrators. Warsaw too could be today, on a smaller scale, accused
of those omissions and commissions that many Poles detect in current Ukrainian

history versus politicized remembrance

Finally, Poles may want to distinguish between, on the one hand,
dilettante memory activists, and, on the other hand, those Ukrainian academic
historians that are internationally published. The latter include, among
others, well-known older historians, like Yaroslav Hrytsak and Oleksandr
Zaitsev from Western Ukraine, or younger recognized experts, like Andriy
Portnov or Yuri Radchenko from Eastern Ukraine. Some of the most pertinent,
critical and original recent interpretations of war-time Ukrainian
ultra-nationalism and the pathologies of Kyiv’s post-Soviet memory policies
have come from Ukrainian female researchers at established Western universities
including Olesya Khromeychuk (Newton, England), Olena Petrenko (Bochum,
Germany), Yuliya Yurchuk (Stockholm) and Oksana Myshlovska (Geneva). Prominent
senior Ukrainian diaspora scholars in Canada – among them, John-Paul Himka (University
of Alberta) and Myroslav Shkandrij (University of Manitoba) – have over the
last years published a number of critical accounts of the OUN and its current
remembrance in Ukraine. Most of those serious Ukrainian scholarly researchers of
war-time Ukrainian ultra-nationalism, and its commemoration today who have
published in peer-reviewed high-impact journals and book series present interpretations
that are closer to the Polish academic mainstream’s opinion on the OUN(B)’s
responsibility for the Volhynia massacre than to recently whipped-up Ukrainian
historic patriotism.

In addition, there are publicly and academically prominent non-Ukrainian
scholars who have published or/and are continuing to publish influential
critical accounts of the OUN(B) and its leaders. To name only some examples from
two important Western countries, they include, in the United States, Omer
Bartov (Brown University), Jared McBride (UCLA) and Timothy D. Snyder (Yale
University), or, in Germany, Frank Golczewski (University of Hamburg), Grzegorz
Rossolinski-Liebe (Free University of Berlin) and Kai Struve (University of
Halle-Wittenberg). Against this background, the current aberrations in Ukrainian
memory policies may constitute temporary phenomena that should not be taken –
neither by Warsaw nor by Tel Aviv, Brussels, Berlin, Washington etc. – to
signify more than they actually do.

Towards a Polish-Ukrainian alliance

The current trends in official Ukrainian memory policies are unpleasant
for many Poles, and encounter sever criticism from the international –
including parts of the Ukrainian – scholarly community. Yet, they are not that
unusual for a young nation state with, moreover, gravely underdeveloped
academia, as demonstrated by the low places or plain absence of Ukrainian
universities, in international higher education rankings. One hopes that these
aberrations are temporary teething troubles in the building of an extremely troubled
nation which has only recently achieved proper independence within its own
state, for the first time in modern history.

Ukraine is under existential threat from Putin’s Kremlin which obviously
wants the Euromaidan project to fail as spectacularly as possible. In a
worst-case scenario, a collapse of the Ukrainian state – as a result of a
continuing Russian hybrid war or even further military advances into
rump-Ukraine – could destabilize the whole of Eastern Europe. A downfall of
Ukraine will have not only catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian people.
The repercussions of such an apocalyptic, yet entirely possible development
would also touch upon the core national interests of Ukraine’s immediate
neighbors – above all, of Poland.

Against this background, Warsaw should abstract its assessment of Ukrainian
domestic affairs, and the formulation of its policies towards Kyiv from the apologetic
discourses of controversial Ukrainian memory activists. This concerns above all
the current staff of the Ukrainian Institute for National Remembrance which pursues
a foreign political line distinct from that of Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign
Affairs. Instead, Warsaw’s policies towards Kyiv should prioritize and follow long-term
Polish strategic interests.

Warsaw can apply various instruments at Polish disposal to help making
the current grey zone in Europe – i.e. the post-Soviet countries that are
neither in NATO nor in Moscow’s so-called Collective Security Treaty Organization
– more secure. There is an array of potential opportunities for supporting the
stability and development of the Ukrainian state. They range from lobbying Ukrainian
interests in the EU to support for Ukrainian energy independence and to the
design of specifically East European responses to the continuing Russian

The latter’s direction most prominent tool could be a revival of the Polish concept of an Intermarium coalition of the countries between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic seas. This abortive inter-war project can today be used as a reference point for closer East European political and military cooperation to better protect the former Tsarist and Soviet colonies from Putin’s irredentist Russia. Such a security alliance existed, for example, for a brief moment in 1920 when Poland’s and Ukraine’s leaders Józef Piłsudski and Symon Petlyura concluded a defense pact against the Red Army. One hopes that Polish politicians, diplomats and intellectuals will be able to see the bigger picture in these stormy times, and not miss their chance to help Ukraine passing through her currently complicated phase of state-building.


Dr. Łukasz Adamski (Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding, Warsaw), Prof. Yaroslav Hrytsak (Ukrainian Catholic University, L’viv), Prof. Myroslav Shkandrij (University of Manitoba) and Dr. Per Anders Rudling (Lund University) made useful comments on an earlier draft of this text. A shorter version of this article was printed, in spring 2018, in the “Harvard International Review” (vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 53-57). Unfortunately, that printed version contains a number of unauthorized editorial changes that partly changed its contents, and, in one case, led to a manifestly absurd sentence. Please, do thus not refer to this unapproved printed article, but to the above text when quoting from it.

The post Why Warsaw Should Go Soft on Kyiv appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Continued Uncertainty in DRC Hindering Energy Growth

Mon, 07/01/2019 - 13:50

Photo: WikiCommons

The Democratic Republic of Congo has had its national election delayed again by President Joseph Kabila; on this occasion the election was delayed one week to December 30 and the announcement came three days before citizens were scheduled to head to the polls. On December 26, the electoral commission (CENI) announced elections in three regions – two in the east and one in the west – will be delayed until March due to Ebola and violence.

These delays come two years after the president initially delayed elections, violating the constitution, thus a new wave of questions have been raised about an attempt to retain his grasp of power or if elections will be free and fair, with Emmanuel Shadary representing the ruling coalition on the ballot. Twenty-one candidates will be running. Felix Tshisekedi, president of Congo’s largest opposition party the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), is seen by some pundits as a strong challenger.

Mr. Kabila, 47, came to office in 2001 after his father, Laurent, who was part of the revolution that overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997, was assassinated and is constitutionally mandated for his terms to conclude. He won the first open, multiparty elections in 2006 in a run-off vote. Discussing the future at a regional meeting, he was quoted as saying “I’m not saying goodbye, just see you later.” There is also speculation he may attempt to return to office in 2023.

The extra uncertainty is piling another challenge to foster an environment for sustained investor confidence, especially for direly necessary energy and infrastructure projects, for the country plagued with poverty, energy shortages and high levels of unemployment in the formal economy.

Pervasive uncertainty has fomented in the nation of about 80 million inhabitants not only because of political instability, revolution, ongoing violence and the recent Ebola outbreak, but also chronic corruption, nonexistent or crumbling infrastructure and energy systems, lack of accountability, insufficient transparency, high-levels of inflation and difficulties gaining access to capital.

Facing these challenges, ninety-five percent of export revenues are derived from mining and extractive industries. Many of commodities, such as cobalt, lithium and copper, have become vitally necessary globally to produce high-tech products such as hand-held devices, renewable energy and batteries for electric vehicles.

Added together, years of war and institutions that are inadequate to stave of the enormity of external and internal forces has left the infrastructure network in disrepair, access to reliable electricity (non-diesel generator) at stunningly low levels and diversifying its economy a tall order to overcome. It is difficult for the government to implement effective reforms to reach sustained economic growth as the nation is exposed to volatile commodity market swings – demonstrated in 2016-2017. The prices of many goods, services and financial activities are indexed to the U.S. dollar.

On the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index, DRC is ranked 184 out of 190 behind Haiti and ahead of South Sudan and on the UN’s Human Development Index it is ranked 176 out of 189. GDP per capita tallies about 460 USD, according to the World Bank.

Despite the barriers, DRC is often viewed with abundant socioeconomic growth potential from its burgeoning population, strategic location in central Africa and resource treasure trove and untapped energy potential to transition to be one of Africa’s most successful nations and even serve as a catalyst for African economic growth.

Extractive Industries Vast Impact

The DRC, which gained independence in 1960 from Belgium and is the second largest nation by land in Africa, is home to hundreds of minerals and metals. The need to attract foreign direct investment has left the nation prone to policy missteps or ineffectiveness at times. However, it has been able to implement a tax and customs duties regime applicable to mining rights. The terms of agreements signed by the parties involved, according to information from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), also must meet regulations of common law or fiscal policy. DRC began to implement the EITI in 2007 to attract foreign mining companies back to the nation, to overcome the increased national instability.

Chinese companies, similar it’s strategy in other nations, have been investing billions of dollars in pursuit of the DRC’s minerals. There is the expanding global, and especially on the African continent, dynamics of the West, with companies such as Glencore, and the Chinese state-owned enterprises for dominance of extractive minerals to support the expanding industries fostering new technologies for the future. For example, DRC Congo has close to half of the world’s cobalt reserves. There have been unsubstantiated estimates that DRC’s land could contain $24 trillion worth of raw minerals below its surface.

With such immense opportunity, mining companies have been constructing new power generation at their work sites for continued productive operations due to the lack of reliable energy.

The Persistent Energy Crisis

An overarching area that needs continued focus after elections, which can play a role in fostering socioeconomic growth in DRC in addition to economic diversification, is electricity access. Currently it is estimated that less than twenty percent of the country of 80 million has access (with some estimates well below that number), with less than 1 percent in rural areas. The access that is available is unreliable and there are frequent outages.

Unreliable or a lack of access to electricity has proven to be a drag on socioeconomic growth due to the inability to start a new enterprise or expand business to hire new employees, store vaccines, provide education, ensure security to vulnerable populations, charge communication technologies and continue productive activities once the sun goes down. Wider access to reliable electricity is a critical bridge to access to basic services.

Despite its mineral wealth, traditional biomass (such as wood and charcoal) represents more than 90 percent of total energy consumption – which is also having severe impacts on health and deforestation (70 percent of DRC’s land is forest). Like many of more than 2 billion people across the globe, inefficient biomass fuels are used for their basic energy needs such as cooking, heating and lighting.

National utility Societe Nationale d’Electricite (SNEL), the national utility, is mandated to oversee the transmission, distribution, generation and trading of electricity. SNEL has stated it has committed to partner with multilaterals, such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB), regional neighbors and private actors. In 2014, a new electricity law was adopted, enabling the energy sector to be opened up to more independent producers of traditional and renewable energy.

Lack of investment, no cost reflective tariffs, management problems, a small base of skilled workers and no independent regulatory body in the energy sector has left the sector with challenging operational abilities. Many power plants, transformers and transmission and distribution networks are in severe need of being refurbished or replaced due to lack of maintenance and age, leaving the infrastructure dilapidated and operating far below designed capacity. Estimates range that about one third of the national electricity capacity is not operational.

The electricity mix is dominated by hydro accounting for 96 percent of the electric supply of the 2,677 MW national capacity, with a potential of 100,000 MW the equivalent of 13 percent of the world’s hydropower potential. The balance of the mix is mostly heavy fuel oils.

A perfect example is the Inga I and II dams that have an installed capacity of 1,775 MW, about 100 miles southwest of Kinshasa and these facilities operate at about 60 percent generation due to decades of overdue maintenance and neglect.

Along the Congo River, a saga over a potential “Grand Inga” project has played out for years. In theory a completed multi-stage project would have the potential to produce 39,000 MW and cost $80 billion and $10 billion for transmission, which could provide energy for potentially 500 million Africans without electricity. There has been a myriad of schemes but controversy and many other issues have kept the project on the drawing board with many other calls for it to be completed scrapped. The latest iteration of plans has stakeholders from China, Spain, the AfDB and the European Investment Bank involved.

There is also vast potential in renewable resources such as biomass, solar, geothermal and moderate wind potential that can be harnessed with proper policy and investment structures.

DRC Home to Oil and Gas Reserves

DRC’s oil industry, dating to the 1970s, is operated solely by Perenco, an independent European company. In DRC it operates eleven fields onshore and offshore with an average production of 25,000 barrels per day, according to the company. Oil started being produced in 1975 and peaked at 33,500 b/d in 1985; output has continued to decline. All oil has been exported as there is no refinery. However, discoveries in the east of the country give the country the second largest crude oil reserves in Central and Southern Africa after Angola. There has been discussion of opening Virunga park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet home to about a quarter of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, to exploration for oil and minerals.

DRC may hold as many as 30 billion cubic meters of methane and natural gas in the three major petroleum deposits. In addition, Lake Kivu which has a border with Rwanda and recently commissioned a 25 MW plant, has a significant reserve of methane from natural gas. There is inherit risk with methane but it can be tapped for productive use as well.

In February 2017, a revised hydrocarbon code was published in hopes of making the sector more structured and attractive for investors.


Expanding Energy Options

With such low rates of electricity access, there is potential for decentralized systems to play a significant role in the energy market. The sheer size of the country leaves many areas without transmission and distribution infrastructure available and presents a problem to construct. Standalone gensets, mini-grids and household level systems can be an integral approach to combating the energy crisis.

Furthermore, new smart policy from the next administration could be developed to promote renewable energy sources using solar, wind, geothermal and biomass to tap the energy potential and stave off further energy crises.

Solar irradiation models show solar energy is viable throughout the country, but installed capacity is next to nonexistent currently. There is increasing micro-hydro being investigated and in operation but these systems can lead to problems with inter-seasonal deviations. Whichever technology, education at the local level is necessary for optimal operation and long-term sustainability.

Most Congolese have been caught in a no-win situation with apparent waves of growth only to be halted and not extend across the nation. With a new administration, a renewed focus onto energy infrastructure can lend a hand to provide a stimulant for sustained, expanded growth and be one spoke on the road to a strong nation.

The post Continued Uncertainty in DRC Hindering Energy Growth appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

How to Talk about Ukrainian Politics in the West?

Fri, 04/01/2019 - 16:21

Hyperbolic warnings about allegedly disastrous consequences of a Tymoshenko presidency are demobilizing Western support for Ukrainian reforms and defense

My recent article “What Would a Tymoshenko Presidency Mean?” for the Ukraine Alert of Washington’s Atlantic Council has caused indignation among numerous Ukrainian experts and journalists – some of them hitherto close colleagues and professional friends. I was reacting, with this text and two longer outlines on VoxUkaine and New Eastern Europe, to a – since then continuing – series of harsh attacks on Tymoshenko in Western outlets, by the prominent commentator of post-Soviet affairs Taras Kuzio. Responding to Kuzio’s comparisons of Tymoshenko with Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez as well as other, less controversial statements, I argued that Tymoshenko is leading in the polls for the presidential elections, with a wide margin. Her party too is currently ahead in the polls for the parliamentary elections, in autumn 2019. Kuzio has since rebutted my critique, in English, in the Kyiv Post, and, in Ukrainian, on VoxUkraine.

Ukrainian Reactions to a Presentation of Tymoshenko in the West

Obviously, there are a number of problems with Tymoshenko and her presidential bid such as her leftish populist slogans or the financial sources for her expensive electoral campaign. Yet, the fact remains that the real choice in Ukraine’s 2019 presidential elections may not be between a young reformer, on the one side, and a representative of the Kuchma-period elite, on the other, but, perhaps, between incumbent President Petro Poroshenko and opposition leader Tymoshenko. The latter is currently far more popular than the former. Volodymyr Zelenskii, a famous TV producer, actor and comedian with no political experience whatsoever, had by late 2018 become more likely to defeat Tymoshenko than Poroshenko.

Therefore, such was my argument, the West should start establishing a constructive relationship with Tymoshenko as the, so far, most likely future leader of Ukraine and with her team. As starting points for such a rapprochement, I listed some positive aspects of Tymoshenko’s possible rise in 2019 as her becoming the first female president in the Eastern Slavic world, having built a functioning nation-wide party, and having recently conducted several serious programmatic conferences with (arguably, too) many more or less original political as well as economic ideas.

“Shut up!”- was one of the more polite responses among the Ukrainian reactions, on various social networks, to the selective paraphrasing of my article on Ukrainian websites. The most common defamation, by dozens of commentators, was that my article had been paid for by Tymoshenko. These slanderers did not answer, however, the question why the presidential candidate would spend money on an article asking “where the enormous amounts of money that Tymoshenko is currently spending on her campaign come from.”

The libel concerning my alleged sell-out to Tymoshenko, and many less defamatory, but also dismissive comments misunderstood the purpose and context of my article in three ways. They saw it (a) as a contribution to Ukrainian rather than Western debates, (b) as an expression of a political position rather than of a policy prescription, or/and (c) as a propagation rather than introduction of Tymoshenko for Western audiences. Many unforgiving responders to my portrayal of Tymoshenko apparently either do not care much about, or do not comprehend well, the dynamics of Western discourse and policies regarding Ukraine. They do not appreciate possible after-effects that, in the Ukrainian context, well-received condemnations of Tymoshenko, such as Kuzio’s comparison of her with Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez, have in Western capitals. Publicly warning Ukraine to not follow the path of Venezuela, in Ukrainian mass media would have been one thing. Painting such a picture in respected Western analytical outlets is a different story.

Why Tymoshenko Needs to Be Introduced to the West

The substantive motivation for my articles on her was less any particular traits of, or opinion on, Tymoshenko than the results of a large October-November 2018 poll in Ukraine, by the Razumkov Center, Kyiv International Institute for Sociology, and Rating Group. These three reputed think-tanks conducted jointly a comprehensive opinion survey interviewing circa 10,000 Ukrainians. They thus used data from far more respondents than most other polling agencies usually base their predictions on. This poll did not only put Tymoshenko and her party far ahead of all competitors in the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections.

Apart from some other notable aspects, it also revealed an exceptionally high negative rating of incumbent President Petro Poroshenko who also heads an electoral bloc bearing his fore- and surname (“BPP”) and scheduled to participate in the parliamentary elections in autumn next year. Over 50% of the respondents said that they would not vote for Poroshenko, under any circumstances. The survey, moreover, predicted a clear victory of Tymoshenko in a hypothetical second round of the presidential elections where she would have beaten, according to that poll, all potential competitors. At least, as of mid-November 2018, the, by far, most likely new president of Ukraine and the probable winner of the 2019 parliamentary elections seemed to be Tymoshenko and her Fatherland party.

Articles like Kuzio’s imply that this would be nothing less than a disaster for Ukraine which could become a second Venezuela. Many experts and journalists in Ukraine are less alarmist, but of largely similar opinion. Worse, such comments – when publicized in English or other European languages – fall on fertile ground among Western diplomats, foreign entrepreneurs and international aid workers. These days, many external partners of Kyiv are, even without the bleak prospects that Kuzio offered, uncertain about Ukraine’s future.

European and North American officials, businesspeople, journalists and activists wonder about their continuing roles, impact and status within Ukraine, after the elections. Not only are apocalyptic warnings such as those by Kuzio & Co. as well other skeptical statements from within Ukraine on Tymoshenko fueling Western insecurity about the future of Ukraine’s foreign relations, developmental path, and internal stability. Many Kyiv elite members’ explicit rejection of Tymoshenko are, moreover, in stark contrast to her nation-wide relatively strong popular support, in almost all regions of Ukraine.

What Western Actors May Conclude from Ukrainian Hyperbole

There may be, among some public critics of Tymoshenko, hope that the harsher they attack the presidential candidate in English, the more the West will either try to prevent her victory, or attempt to neutralize the effects of Tymoshenko’s presumably calamitous presidency. Yet, this is not how the West’s international relations, in general, and interaction with Ukraine, in particular, work. Numerous Kyiv experts’ gloomy warnings concerning Tymoshenko’s rise to power may, instead, have the opposite effect in the West from what these critics might hope when voicing their apprehensions, in public or private, vis-à-vis European or American partners.

At best, the representatives of Western states and organizations may, as a result, conclude that Ukraine’s relatively anti-Tymoshenko elite and pro-Tymoshenko population need to sort out relations among themselves. At worst, they will believe fully or in part dark prognoses such as those by Kuzio as well as by similarly inclined Kyiv experts, and respectively react or prepare. Contrary to what some in Kyiv may anticipate, such preparation could, however, not result in higher interest in, or better engagement with, Ukrainian domestic affairs. It may have the opposite effect of causing temporary disengagement from, or contemplating containment of cross-border instability emerging from, a soon-to-be self-destroyed Ukraine.

If indeed Maduro Number Two (Tymoshenko) is about to start ruling Ukraine in spring 2019, as Kuzio and others insinuate, Western actors may not be asking themselves how to prevent or constrain such a disastrous turn of events. Instead, they may start calculating how to minimize the effects, on their own countries, of an East European Venezuela. Currently mobilized Western political, economic and non-governmental actors who take seriously Kuzio’s gloomy predictions, on reputed Western expert outlets, for a Ukraine under Tymoshenko may decide to put on hold their collaboration with, or to simply withdraw from, Ukraine.

Some actors are now, in any way, adopting a wait-and-see approach until it becomes clear how things develop after the elections. If Kuzio & Co. want to further postpone Western investments in, projects for, and cooperation with, Ukraine, they should continue their alarmist campaign against Tymoshenko, in Western outlets. They may succeed to trigger more freezing of activities of Western risk-averse partners in Ukraine. Continuing talk of imminent Kyiv chaos, Ukrainian decay, reform reversal etc. may result in more Western cautiousness and bewilderment. It can lead to reorientation towards more predictable other investment destinations, by economic or financial actors, or towards equally burning, yet less confusing challenges of current world politics, by political or diplomatic actors.

Something similar, by the way, goes with regard to the narrative of Petro Poroshenko as a Yanukovych Number Two – at least, if such a metaphor is pronounced vis-à-vis Western partners. There are today a number of Ukrainian civic activists and political oppositionists who have, over the last four years, become extremely disenchanted with Ukraine’s fifth president and his half-hearted reform-efforts. As a result, more and more reputed NGO representative and political journalists are starting to talk of his rule since 2014 as a repetition of Viktor Yanukovych’s reign from 2010 to 2014.

Such hyperbolic condemnation of Poroshenko via identification with Ukraine’s fourth president is being voiced in Ukrainian, but also in English at Western conferences and websites. It can be as frustrating for foreign actors and observers related to Ukraine, as Kuzio’s comparison of Tymoshenko with Maduro and Chavez. If things are or will become as bad as these allegories suggest, it would seem to make little sense for the West to cooperate, engage and integrate with Ukraine.

Repercussions of Portraying Tymoshenko as a State-Criminal

Even more subversive foreign after-effects are contained in the, among some Ukrainian critics of Tymoshenko, popular reference to the infamous 2009 gas contract signed between Naftohaz and Gazprom when Tymoshenko was Ukraine’s prime-minister. Rather than explaining this problematic treaty as a result of enormous foreign pressures on Kyiv, at the moment of the Russian-Ukrainian agreement’s signing, some opponents of Tymoshenko see her behavior in January 2009 as self-serving, or even as criminal, if not treacherous. If one takes this narrative seriously, Yanukovych’s imprisonment of Tymoshenko in 2011 was apparently a justified measure.

Moreover, the EU’s immediate demand of a release of Tymoshenko in 2011 and Brussels’s staunch insistence on her freeing until she was finally released in February 2014 was then, so it would seem, either mistaken or duplicitous. Worse, Yanukovych’s postponement of the signing of the EU’s Association Agreement was thus apparently justified. Ukraine’s fourth President was in no position to follow-up on Brussels’s condition that Tymoshenko should be released for the mammoth treaty to be signed, at the 2013 Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius.

In late 2013, Yanukovych, it would appear, was defending Ukraine’s rule of law while the EU was trying use its leverage to get the political felon Tymoshenko out of jail. Only Vladimir Putin was, it seems, seriously trying to help the embattled Ukrainian rule-of-law-defender Viktor Yanukovych. The Euromaidan uprising was apparently based on a spectacular misunderstanding: Yanukovych had been merely trying to preserve Ukrainian justice against the EU’s attempt to save Tymoshenko from responsibility for her deceitful actions. If that is indeed how the Ukrainian regime change of 2013-2014 came about, the EU may want to cancel its Association Agreement with Ukraine, reduce economic sanctions against Putin’s Russia, withdraw its financial help for Kyiv, make Yanukovych a candidate for its next Sakharov Prize etc.

Two Different Arenas, Two Different Audiences

The Western public continues to have relatively little factual knowledge about and deeper understanding of Ukrainian domestic and foreign affairs. Ukrainian-language internal political bickering within Kyiv, and English-language foreign political communication about Ukraine’s upcoming elections are, therefore, two different showgrounds. Had Kuzio published his attacks on Tymoshenko in Ukrainian language for a Ukrainian audience, I would not have bothered to write a rebuttal. I may have, instead, simply enjoyed reading his overarching critique and bold comparisons of Ukraine’s 5.3-foot female presidential candidate.

Yet, Kuzio had chosen influential Western analytical outlets such as Washington’s Atlantic Council website and Warsaw’s New Eastern Europe journal, as platforms for his strident attacks on Tymoshenko. He did so against the background of a dearth of other assessments of Tymoshenko as well as of analyses of her more and more likely (though, by no means, yet certain) electoral victory next year. I fear that, in the West, some may – as a result of Kuzio’s assessments – see a possible Tymoshenko triumph in the 2019 elections as the beginning of the end of Ukraine. A possible reduction of such uncertainty was the sole purpose of, and – alas – only gratification for my, articles “What Would a Tymoshenko Presidency Mean?” for the Atlantic Council, and “As Good as It Gets” for VoxUkraine.

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How We Have Failed Survivors

Thu, 03/01/2019 - 14:52

A displaced Iraqi girl from the Yezidi community holds a piece of bread Aug. 11 near the Iraqi-Syrian border. (Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom)

Various incidents that occurred a few doors down from the largest news team in Canada could be claimed to be the first spark of the MeToo era. A publicly funded radio star in Toronto was using his position to seduce women, and had a tendency to beat them up when alone with them. Despite many of the women also being members of staff and his union, and working in a government agency that has the added human rights protections under Canada’s Constitution, these incidences were known to have occurred for years. The women that accused him of these abuses actually lost in court and the accused, Ghomeshi, was declared innocent under Canadian law.

While there have been many convictions since the Ghomeshi era supposedly ended, it seems as if the perception of progress in protecting women has not evolved as much as was initially thought. Recently I have been made aware of a case where a man sought to attack a woman on her own in the same area of Toronto, Canada where people were targeted in a mass murder using a rental van last spring. The mass murderer who committed the crimes seemed to have issues with women, and in 2018 he killed many women and men. Despite the attack occurring a few short months ago, it seems as the woman who escaped her attacker in that area recently was given no effective assistance or help and that there is no safe area she can go to or security to depend on when she asked officials where she can go to be safe. She had also been told by many what her perception of what happened to her should be, interpreted by those who were not there and who did nothing to help her. With violence acts against women taking place for years in silence a few doors down from some of Canada’s top journalists because they didn’t listen to women who asked for help, it seems as if the Ghomeshi era perhaps never truly ended. With the mass murder in that same area targeting women, asking for help should not be subject to interpretation when her safety is involved. Let it be clear, attempted assault and harassment is a violation of Criminal Law in Canada, but despite a recent act of mass murder it seems as if there is no security in that area and no one wants to act to provide it in an appropriate manner.

We have failed women also on a massive scale in 2018. Recently the United States signed into law The Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act 2018. For years, minority cultures have been put into a modern Holocaust, one where women from these cultures were actually taken as children, used as sex slaves multiple times a day and eventually executed in the most brutal of ways, many being burned alive. To even find information about the new act is difficult, and it flows from the severe lack of information on the Yazidi and minority genocides taking place in Iraq and Syria. For minorities from these regions, even when they have escaped, they are still harassed by the same men who raped, abused and killed their family in Iraq and Syria. Back in Canada itself, a Yazidi refugee was told to not speak up when her ISIS abuser found her and started harassing her in a small Canadian city. Almost no media reported on the events, and today there is no discussion or realisation that these abuses still occur. Yes, what he does to her in Canada is a crime. Despite varied official explanations on why those who fought for ISIS cannot be prosecuted in Canada, a long tradition coming from the Nuremberg trials, to the case of Klause Barbie to trials for war crimes that took place in Bosnia and Rwanda demonstrate that committing crimes against humanity is deeply illegal, in all countries and communities. Anyone who tries to justify the opposite have deeply failed women. There is no positive side to anything that has occurred in these examples above, and they take places all over the world. We have failed the most oppressed, and when public officials cannot simply keep their own small community safe by way of parsing the experience of a woman asking for help, the failure continues to grow in our own hands. This has been the legacy of 2018 and it is a reflection of our era.

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Why and How Ukraine Should Open Up to the EU Now

Tue, 25/12/2018 - 16:59

Armed men in military fatigues block access to government buildings in eastern Ukraine’s rebel-held Lugansk on November 22, 2017.
The patrols began after an apparent standoff between the rebel region’s self-proclaimed leader Igor Plotnitsky and the interior minister, who’s been accused of seeking to destabilise the war-scarred city. / AFP PHOTO / Aleksey FILIPPOV (Photo credit should read ALEKSEY FILIPPOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Kyiv should foster Ukraine’s European integration, economic growth and national security by offering EU citizens instantaneous residence and work permission

Recent Eurostat data reveals that Ukrainians have been granted the most residency permits of any nationals in the EU last year. During 2017 alone, approximately 662,000 Ukrainians received such permission to live and work in the EU. Ukrainians are now integrating into Europe with an annual number roughly equivalent to the population of the official EU accession candidate country Montenegro.

More and more EU states – other than Poland and similar traditional destinations for immigrants from Ukraine – are starting to appreciate the quality of Ukrainians’ work and services as well as their adaptability and civility. Moreover, some countries are planning to open up further their labor markets for skilled migrants. For instance, Germany is discussing – not only, of course, out of altruistic reasons – a new immigration law. This trend is likely to continue during the next years. There is a chance that a post-Brexit UK could, in the future, accept Ukrainian labor under rules similar to those for other Europeans.

For hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians characteristically European liberties such as the freedom to work legally, live long-term and sell their services in the whole of the EU and European Economic Area are turning into reality. These rights are known as the freedoms of movement of labor and services of the European Single Market. They include the right of residence for persons with independent financial means.

However, this particular type of European integration of Ukraine is still largely a one-way street. There is very little movement of people in the opposite direction, i.e. from the EU into Ukraine. One reason for the minimal immigration of Westerners is that it requires a lot of paperwork for foreign citizens to acquire a Ukrainian residency and work permission. Ukrainian immigration policies are generally liberal towards applicants from Western states. Yet, the cumbersome Ukrainian procedures to receive a temporary (one-year) or long-term (ten-year) residency permit is today an effort that most EU citizens have become unaccustomed to, in view of the uncomplicated intra-European regulations for them. These problems are aggravated by some – to put it mildly – particulars of Ukraine’s post-Soviet central bureaucracy. As a result – of not only these, but also of other – circumstances, EU citizens settling in Ukraine, even for a limited period of time, are still few and far between.

Recently, Ukraine has started a process to change its constitution designed to make – even more explicitly than before – the country’s integration into the EU and NATO official objectives of the Ukrainian state. Ukrainian politicians, activists, intellectuals and diplomats continue to reiterate vis-à-vis their Western peers Ukraine’s deep desire for an as soon as and as full as possible inclusion into the West’s major organizations. Yet, Ukraine’s gradual incorporation into the West is not only dependent on larger geopolitical circumstances, and on Brussels’s assessments of how many EU and NATO standards Kyiv has implemented as a result of its domestic reform efforts. European integration is also a matter that Ukraine can foster itself, independently of Brussels, by modifying its foreign, immigration, labor, and demographic policies. It can, moreover, do so long before Ukraine’s negotiations for its accession to the EU and NATO even begin.

After the Orange Revolution, Ukraine took, in 2005, the unilateral decision to abolish visa requirements for short-term visits for citizens from the EU and some other countries. Twelve years later, in 2017, the EU responded in kind by allowing Ukrainian citizens, with a biometric passport, to freely travel to and move within the Schengen Area, for a short term without a visum. To be sure, the success of the EU’s Visa Liberalization Action Plan for Ukraine leading to this long-awaited result was not only dependent on Ukrainian visa regulations for foreign citizens. Yet, it helped a lot politically that Kyiv could point Brussels to the already liberalized travel for EU passport holders to and in Ukraine.

After this positive experience, it is time for Kyiv to take the next step for attracting Europeans to Ukraine, integrate the country more closely with the Union, and prepare Ukraine’s accession to the EU. This step could also concern citizens of other friendly Western countries like Switzerland, Norway, the US, Canada or Australia. Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council), should make it easy to settle for those Westerners who would consider living, studying and/or working in Ukraine temporarily or permanently. For economic reasons and out of Ukraine’s own national interests, Kyiv should unilaterally grant all citizens of the EU and some other countries those freedoms of movement of labor and services foreseen within the European Single Market – which Ukraine aims to join anyway. This includes the right to live in Ukraine as person of independent financial means – a right that is one of the privileges of European citizenship within the EU.

These freedoms and rights for Western citizens should be granted by a new Ukrainian law. The liberties should be framed, in that law, in the same fashion as those that apply to people moving within the EU. That would mean that these freedoms can be enjoyed without any need to apply for residency and with no bureaucratic procedure beyond a simple registration of one’s living address in Ukraine. All that should be needed for an immigrant to register would be a passport of an EU member state or of a similarly friendly country. Such registration should be sufficient to start working as an employee in a Ukrainian company, to found a business, to study in a Ukrainian educational institution, to work as a freelancer and pay taxes, or to live in Ukraine as a pensioner.

Such a generous regulation would not only make life much easier for Western friends and enthusiasts of Ukraine willing to move for a time period or even for good to Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa or Kharkiv. Adopting such a policy would also benefit Ukraine as a state and nation. Most importantly, Ukraine currently loses hundreds of thousands of people every year due to a negative birth-death ratio, and large outmigration – mainly, but not only, to the West. Theoretically, Ukraine should thus welcome every immigrant who comes to the country, as such new residents soften the nation’s enormous yearly demographic decline.

When moving in and out becomes an uncomplicated matter, this will mean more economic exchange with the West. More foreign direct investment will come when it is easier for entrepreneurs, managers, specialists or even entire companies to relocate from the EU to Ukraine. It can also mean more capital inflow from the EU into Ukraine, as permissive residency and work practices will make using such capital in Ukraine less complicated. Western citizens living for longer or permanently in Ukraine will demand from Ukrainian governmental offices, commercial companies, medical hospitals, public or private schools, and many other institutions attention, accountability, reliability and transparency, at the same level and of the same quality as they are used to from their home countries, thus increasing pressure from below to raise service standards and apply best practices.

Moreover, Westerners moving for longer periods to Ukraine would contribute to a gradual improvement of the country’s foreign relations and image. EU citizens living in Ukraine will mean more positive and realistic stories about Ukrainian matters communicated back to these citizens’ home states. More people from the West will be coming to visit their relatives and friends who live in Ukraine. These visitors too will contribute to a clearer as well as better image of Ukraine abroad.

More Western citizens living in Ukraine will lead to more opportunities for Ukrainian citizens to practice and learn EU languages. It will demonstrate to many in the EU that Ukraine is a pro-European country that offers opportunities for EU citizens. More exchange between Ukraine and EU countries and more Western visitors will enable the Ukrainian perspective on vital political and economic interest to reach a larger international audience.

Last but not least, immigration from the West would also have a security dimension. If tens of thousands of EU citizens move to and start living in Ukraine over the next years for various reasons, this will substantially increase the interest of Western consulates in Kyiv, in the stability and development of the Ukrainian state. When freelancers, employees, students or pensioners from the EU settle in far larger numbers than today across the country, this will make their and thus Ukraine’s security a higher priority for Brussels and the Union’s member states.

It is odd that Ukraine has not already taken such an easy and budget-neutral step towards satisfying a range of its urgent national interests. To be sure, extended residency and labor freedoms will – like all liberalizations – also create problems. Western immigration could, for instance, increase competition for certain categories of jobs, or for rents in top residential areas. One could imagine debtors or criminals from the EU trying to hide in a large European non-Union country, with permissive residency policies.

Yet, even these primarily negative repercussions could have secondarily positive after-effects. For instance, Ukrainian and EU law enforcement agencies will have to cooperate closer than today, in order to jointly catch, extradite and prosecute Western fugitives, on Ukrainian soil. This will foster Ukraine’s European integration in the fields of internal security and police matters. While some Ukrainians will lose when more Western-born legal residents in Ukraine operate easily on various Ukrainian markets, such as labor, real estate or services, Ukraine’s economy as a whole will win from higher competition.

The positive results of an opening of Ukraine for Western citizens will far outweigh possible negative upshots. Ukraine is in an especially difficult situation today. The urgency and extraordinariness of her demographic, economic and geopolitical challenges demand especially swift solutions and resolute action. Letting citizens from EU and other friendly countries easily settle on its quickly depopulating territory is an obvious way for Ukraine to reduce some of its most challenging problems regarding her demography, security and economy. It is a measure that should be taken by the Ukrainian parliament earlier rather than later.

[An abridged version of this article was earlier published in the “Ukraine Alert” of the Atlantic Council of the US, in Washington, DC.]

ANDREJ NOVAK is an independent expert on Eastern and Southeastern Europe, foreign policy and security as well as European integration, with Berlin-based European Cosmopolitan Consulting.

ANDREAS UMLAND is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, and General Editor of the ibidem­-Verlag book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society” distributed by Columbia University Press.

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Op-Ed: Nichervan Barzani saved Kurdistan!

Mon, 24/12/2018 - 16:55

After a very tense and difficult year for Iraqi Kurdistan, the relationship between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the government in Baghdad is finally improving.  Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi recently visited the Kurdistan region, where he stressed the importance of working with the Kurdistan region in order to fill the remaining ministerial posts and to start a constructive political process in Iraq.  He stressed the importance of helping the displaced peoples to return to their homes, finding common ground with the Kurdistan Regional Government on Kirkuk and agreed that the Kurdistan region deserves to receive their fair share of the budget as envisioned in the Iraqi Constitution.

With his visit, it appears that finally there is light at the end of the dark tunnel.  After a year of suffering and despair following the Kurdistan Independence Referendum, it appears that Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani saved his people from the intense suffering and despair that they were enduring.

When the Central Government decided to cut the KRG budget right at the time when the ISIS threat was emerging, it was a great tragedy for all of Kurdistan.   1.8 million refugees and internally displaced persons fled to the Kurdistan region but the KRG did not have enough funds to take care of them. To make matters even worse, the price of oil dropped right around the same period of time and oil is one of the main financial resources for the KRG.

When Abadi, the Shia militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards attacked Kurdistan about one year ago, they caused the KRG to suffer a further setback.  The Kurdistan region lost not only 50% of their lands but also 50% of their revenue.  To make matters worse, ISIS re-emerged in the areas vacated by the Kurdish forces in Sinjar, Kirkuk and the other disputed areas.   Following the Kurdish forces withdrawal, there has been a spike in kidnappings, insurgency attacks and general unrest.   Offices that used to belong to peaceful Kurdish political parties were transformed into bases belonging to Shia militias loyal to the Iranian regime, thus helping to reinforce the Shia Crescent from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea, thus posing a strategic threat to Israel, Europe and the US.  To date, Kirkuk and Sinjar have undergone systematic Arabization.  The Kurds, Yezidis, Christians and other groups have been ethnically cleansed from these areas.

However, what was a bad situation could have been much worse.   Sadly, the international community did not support Kurdistan’s Independence Referendum.  The US did not support the Kurds due to the timing of the referendum and was not willing to take any action in order to help Kurdistan.  Many heavy American weapons that were given to the Iraqis were being utilized in order to attack the Kurdistan region, which lacked such advanced weaponry since the weapons they were supposed to get in order to fight against ISIS did not materialize. Turkey was set to impose an economic blockade upon the newly founded nation, thus closing down Kurdistan’s only window to the rest of the world.   International flights were no longer permitted to land in Kurdistan.  Even worse, Abadi, the Shia militias and the Iranian regime were set on taking over all of Kurdistan, thus destroying the area’s autonomy.

Fortunately, thanks to the diplomacy implemented by Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the full reign of horror that Abadi and his allies set to inflict upon Kurdistan did not materialize.  No other world leader could have masterfully utilized diplomacy under such adverse circumstances in order to convince the Turks to back off from blockading Kurdistan, thus leaving open a gate between the Kurdistan region and the rest of the world.  No other leader could have so skillfully empowered his forces to fight in order to keep every corner of Kurdistan, so that Abadi and his allies would fail to take over the whole area.  Indeed, it was only areas administered by non-KDP forces that surrendered in the end, even though they had inferior weapons to Abadi, Iran and their allies.  Indeed, KDP-administered areas stayed under KRG control.

After Kurdistan’s Independence Referendum, Mr. Nechirvan Barzani did everything in his power to reach out to other countries, both regionally and globally. His diplomacy to end the blockade resulted in a better financial situation and him receiving important support from the international community. As a result of his diplomacy, there are international flights to Kurdistan, there is no blockade on the area and the situation is getting better by the day.  And now, there is now an agreement to send Kirkuk oil through the Kurdistan pipeline in order to help Iraq increase its revenue because now Baghdad needs the funds in order to rebuild post-ISIS.  He also brokered other deals related to water, military and security cooperation.   During his governance as the KRG Prime Minister, he built a strong economic infrastructure in order to guarantee a brighter future for this region.

His background and what he has done in the past makes him the best candidate for KRG President. If he becomes the KRG president, he will strengthen relations with the neighboring countries and the world, which will guarantee a secure region with a stable economic situation.  His diplomatic efforts would result in more positive outcomes in the near future, both for Kurdistan and the rest of the world.  Therefore, everyone should support Kurdistan’s Prime Minister taking on the position of KRG President.

Sivan Gamliel is a freelance journalist based in Israel and is a political analyst working for the Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi Center for Human Rights in Middle East.  

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