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Posts tagged ‘Defiant Land of Ukraine’

Hungary, Ukraine still at odds over Ukraine education law

October 12, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary will continue to withhold its support for Ukraine’s further integration with the European Union as long as a new Ukrainian education law remains unchanged, Hungary’s foreign minister said Thursday.

The education law passed last month specifies that Ukrainian will be the main language used in schools, rolling back the option for lessons to be taught in other languages. Ukraine has some 150,000 ethnic Hungarians, mostly in the country’s west.

“We consider the new Ukrainian education law a stab in the back of our country,” Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said, speaking after a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin. Ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia, as Hungary calls western Ukraine, fear that the 71 Hungarian schools there could be at risk of having to close, Szijjarto said.

He said relations between neighbors Hungary and Ukraine are “at their most difficult period” since Ukraine declared independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991. Russia, Romania and Moldova have also expressed concerns about the new language law.

Klimkin said not knowing the native language made it hard for minorities to be successful in Ukraine. He said 75 percent of students in an area with a large Hungarian minority failed their high school exit exams.

“Everyone needs the opportunity to fulfill themselves in their country of citizenship,” Klimkin said. “But this is not possible without knowing the language.” However, he said “not a single school” would be closed or “a single teacher” dismissed because of the new language requirement.

Klimkin said Hungary’s move to grant Hungarian citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine would not benefit those people. He also alleged that Russia was using the language issue to “manipulate” and “provoke” in Ukraine, including “directly and indirectly” in the Transcarpathia region.

In reply, Szijjarto said ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine “don’t need any incitement from anyone to stand up for their own rights.” “As long as the Hungarians of Transcarpathia ask us to fight on this issue and not back down, we will fight and not back down,” Szijjarto said.


Ukrainian parliament approves bills related to rebel regions

October 06, 2017

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian parliament has passed hotly-disputed bills regarding the rebel-controlled eastern territories following debates interrupted by scuffles. The bills submitted by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko have drawn fierce criticism from some lawmakers. Opponents of the bills argued that they don’t assert Ukraine’s control of the eastern territories strongly enough and swarmed the speaker’s platform Thursday, causing the session to be adjourned.

The parliament on Friday finally passed the bills, which refer to elements of the 2015 peace deal for eastern Ukraine brokered by France and Germany. The agreement signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk has helped reduce fighting between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian troops, but clashes have continued and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled. Over 10,000 people have been killed in fighting since April 2014.

Ukraine rules out foreign sabotage plot in munitions fire

September 28, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Ukraine’s chief military prosecutor on Thursday ruled out a foreign sabotage plot in a massive fire at an ammunition depot that forced the evacuation of thousands of people. The fire at the warehouse at a military base in Ukraine’s central Vinnytsia region began late Tuesday, setting off a series of explosions and prompting the evacuation of 30,000 people. Electricity and gas supplies were cut off in the area, and trains were severely delayed across the country. The fire was still blazing Thursday.

Local media reported that about 188,000 tons of munitions were kept at the depot in the town of Kalynivka, 190 kilometers (120 miles) southwest of the capital, Kiev, including rockets for the Grad multiple grenade launchers.

Anatoliy Matios, the country’s chief military prosecutor, on Thursday denied earlier statements from authorities suggesting that a group of foreign saboteurs may have set the depot on fire. Matios said investigators were looking into possible negligence, abuse of power or sabotage by those who were authorized to handle the munitions.

Matios also said investigators discovered that the fire alarm at the depot wasn’t working and that its security force was understaffed. “Neither the investigators, nor the Security Service, nor any law enforcement agencies found any groups of saboteurs in the Vinnytsia region that people are talking about on Facebook,” Matios said, an apparent reference to comments made by several senior Ukrainian officials on social media Wednesday blaming Russian saboteurs for the fire.

Authorities launched checks at military bases across the country in the aftermath of the fire and discovered serious violations. Prosecutors found two “completely drunk” colonel and lieutenant colonel in charge of security at a military depot holding Soviet-era ballistic missiles.

“I think such cases are not unique,” Matios said on Thursday, quoted by the Interfax news agency. In Kalynivka, firefighters on Thursday morning were still unable to put out the blaze because there were still periodic explosions at the site, said Mykola Chechotkin, chief of the Ukrainian State Service for Emergency Situations.

“Explosions are still happening as you can hear,” he told reporters in Kalynivka. “It’s too dangerous for firefighters to access the area even though four fire tanks are working there.”

Ukrainian police arrive at Saakashvili’s hotel

September 12, 2017

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian border guards and police turned up at the hotel where Mikhail Saakashvili is staying Tuesday after he forced his way across the border from Poland in a move that puts him on a collision course with the authorities in Kiev.

Television footage showed Ukrainian security officials in Leopolis Hotel’s lobby in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. But it was unclear whether they had come to arrest the former Georgian president and ex-governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region.

Saakashvili poses a challenge to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was once his patron but revoked his Ukrainian citizenship in July. Surrounded by supporters, he broke through a cordon of Ukrainian border guards in chaotic scenes at the Ukraine-Poland border Sunday.

But returning to Ukraine was a risk for Saakashvili, who is stateless because he was forced to give up his Georgian citizenship when he received Ukrainian nationality. Saakashvili denies breaking any Ukrainian laws but Poroshenko has said that he committed a crime by entering the country.

The headstrong and divisive Saakashvili leads a small Ukrainian political party called the Movement of New Forces and has vowed to shake-up Ukrainian politics. In an interview with The Associated Press at his hotel on Monday night, Saakashvili called the current situation in Ukraine “tragic” and said he would devote himself to helping to create a “new political class for an emerging Ukraine.”

“We need new people. Ukraine is fed up with old corrupt political class. They want new people, new energy, new faces, new ideas,” he told the AP. Saakashvili was appointed governor of Odessa in 2015 on the strength of his record of fighting corruption as Georgian president between 2004 and 2013. However, he resigned from the Odessa post after 18 months, complaining that official corruption in Ukraine was so entrenched he couldn’t work effectively.

Saakashvili said Sunday that it is “very important not to allow oligarchs to get away with an imitation of reform.” Georgia, where Saakashvili faces accusations of abuse of power and misappropriation of property, has sent an extradition request for him to Ukraine. It is not clear if Ukraine intends to honor that request.

Stateless Mikheil Saakashvili breaks through into Ukraine

September 10, 2017

SHEHYNI, Ukraine (AP) — Mikheil Saakashvili and a small crowd of supporters shoved their way through a line of guards at the Ukrainian border Sunday, making good on the politician’s vow to return to the land that had stripped him of citizenship.

The return of the divisive and headstrong Saakashvili, who became governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region after being Georgian president from 2004-13, poses a strong challenge to Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko, who once was Saakashvili’s patron but then revoked his citizenship in July.

Saakashvili was appointed to the Odessa post in 2015 on the strength of his record of fighting corruption in Georgia. However he resigned the post after only 18 months, complaining that official corruption in Ukraine was so entrenched he could not work effectively.

The return carries risks for Saakashvili, who is stateless. Georgia, where he faces accusations of abuse of power and misappropriation of property, has sent an extradition request for him to Ukraine. It is not clear if Ukraine intends to honor that request.

Prosecutor-General Yuri Lutsenko said late Sunday that charges would be pursued against organizers of Saakashvili’s unauthorized entry. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said 17 police and border guards were injured in the confrontation.

The border breakthrough at the Medyka-Shehyni crossing point on the Polish-Ukrainian border came after a day of drama and repeatedly changing travel plans. Saakashvili had intended to travel through another crossing point, where hundreds of supporters had gathered on the Ukrainian side. But he changed his plans at midday Sunday, claiming fears that provocateurs on the Ukrainian side were gearing up for violence.

He then traveled to the Polish city of Przemysl, where he boarded a train bound for the western Ukraine city of Lviv. But the train was held at the station for hours — and then announced that it would not leave with a person who had no permission to enter Ukraine.

Saakashvili and his entourage eventually got off the train and took buses to the Medyka crossing, where Polish guards let him through. After passing the Polish checkpoint, he was confronted by cars blocking the road and a single line of guards in camouflage, carrying batons.

The crowd approached the line of guards and eventually began shoving, then broke through. Supporters who had gathered on the Ukrainian side rushed forward to greet Saakashvili and the crowd proceeded toward the Ukrainian town of Shehyni on foot.

In the evening, Saakashvili and others arrived in Lviv, western Ukraine’s largest city. Supporters who accompanied him to the crossing point included former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Mustafa Nayyem, a lawmaker who was a key figure in the 2013-14 protests that drove Russia-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych out of the country.

Saakashvili was a strong supporter of those pro-democracy protests and has accused Poroshenko of betraying their ideals.

Jim Heintz in Moscow and Monika Scislowska in Medyka, Poland, contributed to this story.

US takes another look at providing lethal weapons to Ukraine

August 14, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking leverage with Russia, the Trump administration has reopened consideration of long-rejected plans to give Ukraine lethal weapons, even if that would plunge the United States deeper into the former Soviet republic’s conflict.

The deliberations put pressure on President Donald Trump, who’s fighting perceptions he is soft on the Kremlin amid investigations into whether his campaign colluded with Moscow to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.

The proposal, endorsed by the Pentagon and the State Department, reflects his administration’s growing frustration with Russian intransigence on Ukraine and a broader deterioration in U.S.-Russian ties. The tensions were seen most recently in Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s order for America to eliminate more than half its diplomatic personnel in Russia.

Awaiting Trump and his closest advisers is an authorization to provide Ukraine with anti-tank and potentially anti-aircraft capabilities, according to U.S. officials familiar with the plan. It’s not dramatically different from proposals rejected by President Barack Obama, who feared an influx of U.S. weapons could worsen the violence responsible for more than 10,000 deaths in Ukraine since 2014 and create the possibility of American arms killing Russian soldiers. Such a scenario could theoretically put the nuclear-armed nations closer to direct conflict.

While Obama was still in office, Trump’s campaign also rejected the idea of arming Ukraine, preventing it from being included in the Republican platform. Now, however, it’s under discussion by Trump’s senior national security aides, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk about the matter publicly. While there is no deadline for a decision and one is not expected imminently, the debate is going on as U.S. and Russian diplomats prepare to meet as early as this coming week to explore ways to pacify eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have fought the central government for three years.

“The Russians have indicated some willingness to begin to talk with us about a way forward on Ukraine,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after seeing his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, last week in the Philippines.

Tillerson noted his recent appointment of a special representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, who will coordinate with Russia and European countries to give “full visibility to all the parties that we’re not trying to cut some kind of a deal on the side that excludes their interests in any way.”

Russia hawks in the U.S. and uneasy American allies have feared such a prospect since Trump took office after a campaign in which he questioned NATO’s viability and repeatedly expressed his wish for a new U.S.-Russian partnership. At one point, two years after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, Trump even challenged the notion that the Russians would “go into Ukraine.”

Volker has proposed a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Putin ally Vladislav Surkov, before the end of the month. Lavrov said after his talks with Tillerson that the meeting would be in Moscow. U.S. officials say no venue has been determined, with the neutral venues of Geneva or Vienna also in play.

Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO who is known as a Russia hawk, supports arming Ukraine. Such action, he says, would boost the U.S. negotiating position in the east and offer Kiev the means to defend itself against any future aggression. Unsurprisingly, Russia opposes such assistance and warns of consequences.

“I hear these arguments that it’s somehow provocative to Russia or that it’s going to embolden Ukraine to attack. These are just flat out wrong,” Volker told an interviewer last month as he visited Europe on his first trip in his new post. He argued that arming Ukraine would help rather than hurt efforts to stop Russia from threatening or interfering in its neighbor’s territory.

All proposals in recent years have focused on arms that are deemed “defensive” in nature and none would appear to give Ukraine any strategic edge over Russia’s vastly superior military forces. “We have not provided defensive weapons nor have we ruled out the option to do so,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Aug. 3. “That’s an option that remains on the table.”

A White House official would not comment on internal administration deliberations but noted that since the crisis began in 2014, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with support equipment for its forces and training and advice to further defense reforms.

Some U.S. officials say the idea is gaining currency because of Washington’s impatience with Russia and its start-and-stop implementation of a 2015 agreement designed to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Minsk Accords were agreed to by Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia with the goal of enforcing a cease-fire in the east and introducing political reforms to give the area more political autonomy.

While the Obama administration allowed Europe to take the lead on the Minsk process, Volker has been empowered to make the U.S. a player in the effort. The objective now is to change Russia’s strategic thinking, one official said, and providing defensive weapons to Ukraine would be one way to do that.

Ukraine says it will focus on reforms, not NATO membership

July 10, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says his country will focus on reforms and will not seek NATO membership for the time being. Poroshenko was elected in 2014 after a pro-Western government took over from the pro-Russian president who fled the country following months of protests.

Shortly after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and threw its weight behind separatist rebels in the east. Russian officials have claimed the new Kiev government would have turned Crimea, home to a Russia-leased naval base, into a NATO base.

Speaking at a meeting Monday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Kiev , Poroshenko said Ukraine would not be applying for a NATO membership “immediately” but would instead “build a genuine program of reforms” to meet NATO requirements for membership in the future.

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