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Posts tagged ‘Defiant Land of Ukraine’

Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency faces strong resistance

December 11, 2017

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — An anti-corruption agency established in Ukraine two years ago was expected to be the driving force that would uproot the endemic graft that depleted the nation’s resources and worried its Western allies.

But the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine instead has come under fire from allies of President Petro Poroshenko who are trying to curtail its operations and authority. NABU chief Artem Sytnik told The Associated Press in a weekend interview that fear is behind the recent attempts by political and business elites to weaken the agency that was supposed to be a visible symbol of reform in Ukraine.

“The old and new elites are quite scared” after realizing “there are no untouchables anymore,” Sytnik said. Last month, the Security Service of Ukraine and the prosecutor general’s office derailed a sting operation by undercover NABU agents to catch a State Migration Service official suspected of issuing passports and residence permits for bribes. The agencies accused NABU of illegal eavesdropping and released the names of its agents, blowing their covers.

Poroshenko’s faction and its allies in parliament also have submitted a bill that would allow lawmakers to fire the anti-corruption agency’s director with a simple majority vote. Under current law, NABU’s chief can only be fired for a criminal conviction, a provision that was intended to ensure independence.

“Those attacks are directly linked to the fact that we investigate an increasing number of criminal cases involving people who are in control of the media, material or administrative resources, which they turn against us,” Sytnik said.

Since its creation in 2015, NABU has investigated 461 cases involving business executives, government officials and judges accused of involvement in corrupt schemes. Sytnik thinks the current campaign against his agency results from a probe that targeted the son of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov for alleged involvement in a scheme to embezzle 14 million hryvnias (about $520,000) allocated for purchasing police rucksacks.

Avakov has insisted his son was innocent and alleged that NABU of falling under political influence. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde expressed concern about the recent developments “that could roll back progress that has been made in setting up independent institutions to tackle high-level corruption, including the National Anti-Corruption Bureau.”

“Fighting corruption is a key demand of the Ukrainian society, is crucial to achieving stronger and equitable growth, and is part of the government’s commitment under the program with the IMF,” Lagarde said in a statement last week.

She urged the Ukrainian government and parliament to safeguard NABU’s independence and to move quickly to set up an independent anti-corruption court “to credibly adjudicate high-level corruption cases.”

IMF made the establishment of a court where corruption cases could be prosecuted a condition for releasing further installments of a $17.5-billion aid package as Ukraine grapples with the separatist conflict in the east.

In what was seen as another attempt to block anti-corruption efforts, lawmakers from Poroshenko’s faction and their allies voted Thursday to dismiss the chairman of the anti-corruption committee in parliament.

“The former and present corrupt elite have colluded,” the ousted committee head, Yegor Sobolev, said. “Their plan is to break the independence of anti-corruption bodies, replace them with fake ones and stop the process of cleaning the government,” he added.

Popular anger over corruption was a factor in months of protests that drove Ukraine’s former Russia-leaning president from office in February 2014. Poroshenko’s failure to oversee progress has caused growing impatience and triggered calls for his impeachment led by Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgia president turned Ukrainian opposition leader.

After leading several rallies in Kiev, Saakashvili was arrested Friday on allegations that he colluded with Ukrainian businessmen tied to Russia to topple the president. Saakashvili scoffed at the charges, alleging they resulted from longtime hostility between him and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The detention of Saakashvili shows how far Poroshenko is ready to go to muzzle his opponents and those who expose corruption,” Sobolev said. Thousands of Saakashvili’s supporters marched across the Ukrainian capital Sunday, demanding his release and calling for Poroshenko to be impeached.

“Poroshenko is continuing the worst traditions of the old nomenklatura,” said Vitaly Shabunin, the head of watchdog group the Center for Fighting Corruption. “The same old elites, the same people have taken different political slogans, but their way of thinking and their goals have remained the same.”

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Saakashvili refuses to give himself up in Ukraine

December 06, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Georgia’s former president, who has become Ukraine’s top opposition politician, said Wednesday that he wouldn’t give himself up to authorities after the prosecutors issued an ultimatum. Authorities tried to arrest Mikheil Saakashvili at his home in the capital, Kiev, on Tuesday but he escaped with help from supporters. Saakashvili and his backers camped out outside parliament, demanding the resignation of the Ukrainian president. Prosecutors gave him 24 hours to turn himself in.

Saakashvili addressed the crowd outside parliament, called the Supreme Rada, on Wednesday, saying that prosecutors are welcome to see him there but he won’t turn himself in. Police officers and prosecutors went to the tent camp early in the morning to look for Saakashvili but were met with resistance from protesters, the Kiev police said in a statement Wednesday. Two protesters and 11 police officers were injured in a scuffle, the police said.

There were about 100 protesters outside the Supreme Rada late Wednesday morning. The detention of Saakashvili, now an anti-corruption crusader in his adopted home and arguably the country’s most popular opposition politician, has raised fears that Ukraine could be facing its most acute political crisis since the 2014 revolution.

Saakashvili has won broad popularity in Ukraine with his fiery campaign against official corruption, riding a wave of public frustration over President Petro Poroshenko’s failure to uproot endemic graft. He has staged a series of rallies calling for the president’s resignation, but they haven’t produced any visible impact.

Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko claimed on television that his office has evidence that Saakashvili’s representative received $500,000 from Ukrainian businessmen who have ties to Russia to finance the protests.

Protesters decry corruption in Ukraine, prevent arrest

December 05, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Hundreds of protesters clashed with police in Kiev and called for the ouster of Ukraine’s president following a botched attempt Tuesday by authorities to arrest Mikheil Saakashvili, a former Georgian president-turned-Ukrainian opposition leader.

The turmoil is just the latest challenge for the Ukrainian government, which has been weakened by months of political infighting and accused of not halting official corruption. Tuesday’s standoff began when officers of Ukraine’s Security Service, the SBU, went to Saakashvili’s home in Kiev to detain him. Trying to resist the arrest, he climbed onto the roof and threatened to jump off, but SBU agents took him down and put him into a van.

Several hundred protesters then surrounded the vehicle and blocked it from moving. They clashed with police, who unsuccessfully tried to disperse the demonstrators with tear gas. After a tense standoff that lasted for hours, Saakashvili was freed by his supporters and led them on a march to parliament to demand President Petro Poroshenko’s resignation.

“I will die for Ukraine,” Saakashvili shouted to the crowd. “I owe you my freedom and my life.” With the yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag around his neck, Saakashvili urged Ukrainians to rise against “Poroshenko and his gang.”

“Don’t be afraid, let them fear us!” he shouted. Saakashvili has won broad popularity in Ukraine with his fiery campaign against official corruption, riding a wave of public frustration over Poroshenko’s failure to uproot endemic graft. He has staged a series of rallies calling for the president’s resignation, but they haven’t produced any visible impact.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko claimed on television that his office has evidence that Saakashvili’s representative received $500,000 from Ukrainian businessmen who have ties to Russia to finance the protest.

Saakashvili rejected the accusation, noting the long-running hostility between him and Russian President Vladimir Putin. When he was president of Georgia, Saakashvili made a failed attempt to reclaim control over Georgia’s separatist province of South Ossetia, triggering a five-day war with Russia in 2008. He has repeatedly mentioned Putin’s reported threat to have him hanged.

Saakashvili won quick support from Tuesday other Ukrainian opposition leaders, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Speaking in parliament, Tymoshenko criticized the SBU’s attempt to arrest Saakashvili as “political terror.”

Oksana Syroyed of the Self Reliance Party also denounced the attempted arrest as an action by a “despotic machine.” But while opposition leaders expressed support for Saakashvili, their activists stayed away from the street protest, reflecting a cautious stance toward a potential competitor.

“Opposition parties see him as a rival and aren’t in a hurry to support the protest,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, a Kiev-based political analyst. Fesenko also said while Saakashvili has enough support to stage rallies, he lacks the power to force a government change.

“They can make a lot of noise, but most Ukrainians are wary of the negative and unpredictable consequences of a new Maidan,” Fesenko said, referring to the 2014 protests on Kiev’s main square that drove out Ukraine’s former Russia-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych.

Poroshenko named Saakashvili as governor of the Odessa region in 2015, but he stepped down the following year after falling out with the president. Earlier this year, Poroshenko stripped him of Ukrainian citizenship while he was out of the country, but Saakashvili came back in September, helped by supporters who broke through a police line at the Polish border.

The tensions in Kiev come as fighting continues between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The conflict, which erupted after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, has left more than 10,000 people dead since then.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, was clearly relishing the turmoil in Kiev. “We are watching those developments with interest,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “It’s Ukraine’s headache. It’s something you wouldn’t wish to even your enemy, but, of course, we don’t consider the Ukrainian people our enemy.”

Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report from Minsk, Belarus.

Supporters free ex-Georgian president detained in Ukraine

December 05, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Hundreds of protesters chanting “Kiev, rise up!” blocked Ukrainian police as they tried to arrest former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili on Tuesday. He later escaped with help from supporters and led them on a march toward parliament, where they planned to call for President Petro Poroshenko to resign.

The detention of Saakashvili, now an anti-corruption crusader in his adopted home and arguably the country’s most popular opposition politician, has raised fears that Ukraine could be facing its most acute political crisis since the 2014 revolution. Ukrainian prosecutors accuse him of colluding with Ukrainian businessmen who have ties to Russian intelligence as part of an effort to topple the president.

Saakashvili poses a threat to Poroshenko, who appointed him as governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region before the two had a falling-out. Saakashvili resigned in 2016, complaining that his efforts to root out corruption were being obstructed by officials.

When the SBU, Ukraine’s Security Service, went to detain Saakashvili at his home in Kiev on Tuesday, he climbed onto the roof and reportedly threatened to jump off. SBU officers went after him, detained him and led him to a waiting van.

Several hundred supporters surrounded the van, refusing to let it drive off. Footage from the scene showed protesters picking up cobblestones and construction rubble to build barricades. One protester climbed atop the van and waved the Ukrainian flag.

After Saakashvili escaped, he told his supporters that he would “lay down his life for the freedom of Ukraine” and called on them to follow him to the Supreme Rada, or parliament. He also called on Ukrainians to rally on Maidan, Kiev’s main square, the epicenter of protests in 2013 and 2014, to demand Poroshenko’s resignation.

Footage showed Saakashvili with the yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag around his neck marching in central Kiev, surrounded by crowds. “I will leave here only with the Ukrainian people, only as a winner,” the former Georgian president told supporters outside the Supreme Rada late Tuesday afternoon. “Call your family and neighbors, let them all come here, let’s all stand together.”

Serhiy Knyazev, chief of the Ukrainian police, in a statement posted on Facebook warned the protesters against “breaking the law” and “provocations.” Saakashvili was Georgia’s president for nearly a decade before he was prevented from running again by term limits. He left the country in 2013.

Poroshenko revoked Saakashvili’s Ukrainian citizenship in July. Saakashvili forced his way across Ukraine’s border with Poland earlier this year, with help from protesters. Saakashvili’s standoff with Poroshenko ignited long-simmering popular discontent with the slow pace of reforms the latter has promised.

The Security Service said in a statement that Saakashvili is facing a criminal investigation for “assisting members of criminal organizations or hiding their criminal activities.” Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko said on TV that prosecutors have evidence that Saakashvili’s representative received $500,000 from Ukrainian businessmen with ties to Russia to finance protests.

Saakashvili has spearheaded several protests in Kiev, but they typically drew fewer than 4,000 people. At one of the rallies, Saakashvili called on Poroshenko to resign. “All the rallies were financed by foreign oligarchs that aimed to seize power by illegal means,” Lutsenko said. The prosecutors plan to ask the court to place Saakashvili under house arrest, he said.

Analysts in Kiev, however, don’t see the Saakashvili case sparking protests big enough to challenge Poroshenko. “Saakashvili has a small but a noticeable number of hyperactive supporters ready for action,” Kiev-based analyst Volodymyr Fesenko told The Associated Press. “They can make a lot of noise but most Ukrainians are wary of negative and unpredictable consequences of a new Maidan.”

Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report from Minsk, Belarus.

Saakashvili calls for protest camp in Ukraine’s capital

December 03, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Anti-corruption campaigner Mikheil Saakashvili is urging Ukrainians to set up a protest camp in Kiev’s main square if parliament fails to adopt a law on presidential impeachment within a week.

He made the call at a Sunday rally that news reports say attracted 2,500 people. Saakashvili was a key figure in the 2003 Rose Revolution protests in Georgia that ousted the country’s president. He then served as president for nearly a decade.

He left Georgia in 2013 and later was appointed governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region. But he quit that office in 2016, complaining that his anti-corruption efforts suffered official obstruction. His citizenship was revoked this year while he was out of the country, but he returned in September when supporters broke through a police line at the Polish border.

Russia blamed for attack on Chechen pair who fought with Ukrainians

Tuesday 31 October 2017

Ukrainian officials said they believed either Russian secret services or pro-Kremlin Chechen assassins were behind an attack on a Chechen man accused of plotting to kill Vladimir Putin.

The Chechen man, Adam Osmayev, who leads a battalion of Chechens fighting alongside Ukrainian forces in the east of the country, was wounded in the attack, near Kiev, on Monday, and his wife, Amina Okuyeva, who also fought in the battalion, was killed.

Osmayev and Okuyeva were returning by car to their house outside Kiev, when unknown assailants opened fire on their car, apparently from a Kalashnikov rifle. Okuyeva was killed by two bullets to the head, while Osmayev was wounded but survived.

“I drove as far as I could until the car stopped, the engine was also hit. I tried to give her first aid, but she was shot in the head,” Osmayev told Ukrainian television from his hospital bed.

Oleksandr Turchynov, head of Ukraine’s security council, wrote on Facebook: “Russia, which continues its aggression in eastern Ukraine, has carried out terror right in the heart of the country.”

The attack on Monday was the second attempt to kill the couple this year. In June, a Chechen hitman posing as a journalist from French newspaper Le Monde attempted to open fire on Osmayev but was shot and wounded by Okuyeva.

Osmayev, the son of a successful Chechen businessman, was educated at a boarding school in the Cotswolds, in England, and studied economics at the University of Buckingham. He was arrested in Odessa, Ukraine, in 2012, on charges of planning the assassination of Vladimir Putin. He denied the charges, claiming he was set up, and he was released from prison in the aftermath of the Maidan revolution in 2014.

When the conflict with pro-Russia separatists broke out in east Ukraine, Okuyeva and Osmayev joined a pro-Ukraine battalion mainly made up of Chechens. The battalion’s commander, Isa Munayev, was killed in February 2015, and Osmayev took over as commander.

Okuyeva was a public face of the battalion, often posing in stylized photographs with a sniper rifle. She was an uncompromising critic of Russia and the regime of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya. Many of Kadyrov’s critics have been killed, in Moscow as well as further afield.

A group of Chechen fighters who fought alongside pro-Russian forces in east Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 said they had gone there with the express purpose of killing Munayev, whom they deemed a traitor. Osmayev and Okuyeva, as the highest-profile Chechens backing Ukraine after Munayev’s death, knew that they were also targets.

Okuyeva was the latest high-profile target killed in the Ukrainian capital, which has been rocked by contract killings on numerous occasions in the past 18 months.

Last summer, the investigative journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed in central Kiev by a bomb placed in his car. Ihor Mosiychuk, a nationalist MP, was wounded by a bomb that killed his bodyguard last week.

In March a Russian MP, Denis Voronenkov, who had fled to Ukraine and denounced the Kremlin was shot dead in broad daylight in central Kiev. Voronenkov had asked Ukrainian authorities for armed protection in the run-up to the hit, saying he had received threats.

In all these cases Ukrainian authorities have been quick to blame Russia, though in the case of Sheremet investigative journalists alleged that Ukrainian security agents could have been monitoring the scene before the hit.

A Ukrainian official, Anton Gerashchenko, said on Tuesday that Okuyeva’s funeral would take place according to Islamic traditions. “Amina was close to death many times, and asked her family to avoid a big, public, funeral,” he wrote on Facebook.

Source: The Guardian.

Link: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/31/russia-blamed-for-attack-on-chechen-couple-who-fought-with-ukrainian-forces.

Freed Crimean Tatar leaders fly back to Ukraine, vow to return to peninsula

October 27, 2017

Two Crimean Tatar activists sentenced for their political activities by Russian authorities in the annexed peninsula arrived in Ukraine Friday after being released thanks to an apparent deal brokered by Turkey.

Ilmi Umerov and Akhtem Chiygoz met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko after their flight from Ankara, the Kiev ally to which they had flown from Crimea upon their unexpected release Wednesday.

The men are two of the Crimean Tatars’ most high profile community leaders and have irked Moscow by opposing the Black Sea region’s seizure from Ukraine in March 2014.

The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic-speaking Muslim people native to Crimea who were deported under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and only returned to their homeland in the 1990s.

Umerov and Chiygoz both vowed to return to Crimea in the future after being given a rapturous welcome by their supporters at the Kiev airport.

“I am definitely going home to Crimea, no matter what awaits me there,” Umerov told reporters upon his arrival.

“No one gave me any terms or conditions upon my release,” he said.

Chiygoz added that he did not see himself as a free man because the Crimean Tatars still remained under Russian rule.

“This is not freedom,” the 60-year-old said in a quiet voice. “We will not be free until every person [jailed in Crimea] is released.”

Chiygoz was sentenced in September to eight years in prison over deadly clashes at a rally.

Umerov received two years in a penal colony on charges of separatism but was allowed to remain at home pending an appeal. He suffers from Parkinson’s disease and diabetes as well as other conditions.

Neither man explained what exactly prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to sign off on their handover to the Turkish authorities.

Mustafa Dzhemilev, the respected spiritual leader of the Crimean Tatar community, told the French Press Agency he had asked Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to call for the activists’ release in talks with Putin.

The two men also thanked Poroshenko for playing an instrumental role in their release. Erdogan met Poroshenko in Kiev earlier this month.

The Turkish leader has tried to preserve good relations with both Russia and Ukraine and has slowly begun to assume the role of mediator between the two countries.

Crimean Tatars are traditionally pro-Ukrainian. Since the annexation, they have been subjected to intimidation, house searches and arbitrary detention, rights groups say.

Moscow says the overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to join Russia in a proper and fair referendum.

Source: Daily Sabah.

Link: https://www.dailysabah.com/europe/2017/10/27/freed-crimean-tatar-leaders-fly-back-to-ukraine-vow-to-return-to-peninsula.

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