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Posts tagged ‘Defiant Land of Ukraine’

Saakashvili supporters march to demand Poroshenko step down

February 18, 2018

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Several thousand supporters of deported Ukrainian opposition figure Mikheil Saakashvili marched through the center of Kiev on Sunday, demanding the resignation of President Petro Poroshenko.

The protest included a nationalist faction, and some of its members broke windows at two Russian-owned banks and a Russian overseas agency after the march. Saakashvili, who was Georgia’s president during 2004-2013, later became governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region. He resigned in a dispute with Poroshenko and was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship last year.

He also lost his Georgian citizenship and is wanted in Georgia to face abuse of power charges. Saakashvili was abroad when he lost Ukrainian citizenship, but forced his way back into the country in September.

On Monday, he was detained at a Kiev restaurant and deported to Poland.


Abramenko’s aerials win gives Ukraine rare Olympic gold

February 18, 2018

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Growing up in Ukraine, Oleksandr Abramenko’s father pushed him toward sports. Well, one sport actually. Soccer. The problem? His son wasn’t feeling it. “I felt like extreme sports were my thing,” Abramenko said.

Good call. The 29-year-old made history on Sunday night, becoming the first man to win an individual Winter Olympic medal for Ukraine when he edged China’s Jia Zongyang in a tight aerials final. Abramenko and Jia both attempted the same jump in the last round, a back full, double full. Both of them executed it with precision. Both of them left Abramenko and Jia believing they had won.

Abramenko turned a Ukrainian flag into a cape and raced around when his score of 128.51 was posted. The score stood after Canada’s Olivier Rochon and Stanislau Hladchenko of Belarus both washed out in their last attempts, leaving only Jia.

Jumping last, Jia drilled his attempt and turned toward the landing hill with his arms raised in triumph. Abramenko seemed to cede he’d been beat, scooting over a bit toward the silver-medal position while waiting for Jia’s score to flash.

There was no need. Jia’s score of 128.05 was just short of gold and just enough for Abramenko to celebrate a milestone achievement. “I still can’t believe that I actually earned a gold medal,” Abramenko said. “I was hoping for any medal really.”

The only other gold medals won by the Ukraine at the Winter Games came in 1994, when Oksana Baiul captured the title in women’s figure skating, and in 2014, when the women’s biathlon team earned the top spot in a relay. Ukraine is a force at the Summer Games, capturing 11 medals in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 in sports ranging from fencing to wrestling to canoeing to gymnastics.

Success in the Winter Olympics has been more difficult to come by, which made Abramenko’s breakthrough all the more stunning. Maybe it shouldn’t have been. Sunday night marked a slow, steady climb to the podium. He was 27th in Turin in 2006, 24th in Vancouver in 2010 and sixth in Sochi four years ago.

“This is historic for me and I am actually writing the history of Ukrainian sport and the history of my sport as well,” Abramenko said. Jia initially seemed less than thrilled with silver. He stuck his index finger out while on the medal stand, seeming to signal he was No. 1. He downplayed it afterward, saying the score indicated there’s still a little bit of room for improvement.

“For me myself, I’m quite satisfied but for my country and my team there is still a bit of pity,” Jia said. The silver gave China three medals in aerials in Pyeongchang after Zhang Xin and Kong Fanyu took silver and bronze in the women’s event on Friday night. Still, it also continued a weird trend for the Chinese, one of the strongest aerial teams in the world. The Chinese women have seven Olympic medals but no gold. The men’s program has four Olympic medals, but just one gold, something Jia hopes will change when the Games head to Beijing in 2022.

Ilia Burov, an Olympic athlete from Russia, earned bronze. The Russian contingent remains without a gold in South Korea after winning 13 in Sochi four years ago, though that number has dropped to 11 after two were stripped due to doping.

American Jon Lillis topped qualifying on Saturday and advanced to the second round of elimination but ran into form issues in the semifinals. Belarus, which had won at least one medal in every men’s aerials competition since 1998, failed to reach the podium when Hladchenko’s final jump ended with a spectacular wipeout.

More AP Olympic coverage:

Ukraine deports opposition leader Saakashvili to Poland

February 12, 2018

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili was deported from Ukraine to Poland on Monday after being detained by armed, masked men at a restaurant in Kiev and rushed to the airport, Ukrainian officials and his supporters said.

Ukraine’s border guard agency had to use force to counter Saakashvili’s supporters at the Kiev airport, Oleh Slobodyan, a spokesman for the agency, said on Facebook. He confirmed the deportation of the former Georgian president-turned-Ukrainian opposition leader, citing rulings by Ukrainian courts that said Saakashvili was staying in the country illegally.

Saakashvili called the move “a kidnapping.” Saakashvili was stripped of Ukrainian citizenship while he was abroad last year, but he forced his way back into the country from Poland in September. Since then, he has led repeated protests against Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and the official corruption that still plagues the country.

Poland’s border guards said on the agency’s website that Saakashvili was admitted to Polish territory Monday at the request of Ukrainian immigration authorities. He was permitted into Poland as the spouse of a European Union citizen, the Polish guards said. Saakashvili’s wife is Dutch, and both the Netherlands and Poland are EU nations.

Upon his arrival in Poland, Saakashvili said his deportation showed Poroshenko’s weakness. He denounced the Ukrainian president as a “sneaky speculator who wants to destroy Ukraine” in a Facebook statement.

Saakashvili, Georgia’s president from 2004-13, came to Ukraine after his presidency ended as an ally of Poroshenko, who appointed him governor of the southern Odessa region. He resigned from that post in 2016 and harshly criticized Poroshenko for failing to stem corruption.

“I was very nicely met by Polish side, and Ukrainian side was absolutely outrageous, total lawlessness — it was a kidnapping, illegal one. But Poles are very good and I am very grateful,” Saakashvili told Polish Radio RMF FM as he left Warsaw Airport.

Vanessa Gera and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.

Belarus bristles at Kazakhstan’s offer to host Ukraine talks

January 19, 2018

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Belarus on Friday mocked Kazakhstan’s suggestion that it could serve as a new venue for Ukraine peace talks previously hosted by Minsk. Belorussian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said in a statement released to The Associated Press that the ex-Soviet nation “isn’t seeking peacemaker’s laurels unlike some others.” He added that moving the talks elsewhere wouldn’t change anything.

“The negotiations’ venue is hardly relevant,” Makei said. “The negotiations on Ukraine could even be moved to Antarctica if there is a certainty about their success.” He added that for the talks to succeed it’s necessary that every party to the conflict sincerely aims to end the bloodshed.

Belarus has hosted a series of negotiations to try to settle the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine that erupted weeks after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. A 2015 agreement signed in Minsk that was brokered by France and Germany helped reduce hostilities that have killed over 10,000 since April 2014, but clashes between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have continued and attempts at political settlement have stalled.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said Thursday that the Minsk talks were deadlocked and suggested that his country could host them. He said on a visit to the U.S. that he discussed the issue during a meeting with President Donald Trump, adding that Trump suggested moving the talks to another location.

The 2015 peace deal obliged Ukraine to offer broad autonomy to the separatist regions and a sweeping amnesty to rebels. Most Ukrainian political parties rejected that idea as a betrayal of national interests.

On Thursday, Ukraine’s parliament passed a bill on “reintegration” of the rebel regions that envisages the use of military force to get them back under Ukraine’s control. It contained no reference to the Minsk agreement, and Russia warned that the bill effectively kills the Minsk agreements.

Ukrainian authorities and separatist rebels swap prisoners

December 27, 2017

HORLIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian authorities and Russian-backed separatist rebels on Wednesday conducted the biggest exchange of prisoners since the start of an armed conflict in the country’s east and a sign of progress in the implementation of a 2015 peace deal.

Rebels from the self-proclaimed separatist republics in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions handed over 74 captives, while Ukraine’s government delivered 233. Some had been held for more than a year. Larisa Sargan, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office, said on Facebook that one of the 74 prisoners released by the separatists indicated she would stay in Donetsk.

Carrying their belonging, the prisoners were turned exchanged in the town of Horlivka and the village of Zaitseve, in an area dividing the separatist regions and Ukraine. One held a cat. “I’m out of hell. I have survived,” said Yevhen Chudentsov, who served with one of Ukraine’s volunteer battalions in the east and was taken prisoner in February 2015.

Chudentsov said he faced threats and beatings while in rebel custody, and his front teeth were knocked out. He was initially sentenced to capital punishment, which was later changed to 30 years in prison. He said after his release in Horlivka that he would join the Ukrainian military again.

The exchange was supervised by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a trans-Atlantic security and rights group that has deployed monitors to eastern Ukraine. The OSCE welcomed the swap and urged the two sides to build on the momentum from it.

“Allowing such a significant number of people, who have been held on both sides, to return home before the New Year and Orthodox Christmas is a very welcome development,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, the OSCE chairman. “Today’s exchange is not only a humanitarian act but also a helpful step in confidence-building.”

Ukraine was supposed to release 306 people, but dozens chose to stay in Ukraine or had been freed earlier, said Viktor Medvedchuk, who monitored the exchange on the Ukrainian side. Many of the captives were not combatants. Some were activists and bloggers who were charged with spying or treason.

Anatoly Slobodyanik, one of the prisoners traded by Ukraine, said he didn’t want to go to the rebel side and would return to his home town of Odessa. “I’m not guilty of anything and I don’t want to go to the other side,” he said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko praised the Ukrainian prisoners held by the rebels for their endurance. “I’m grateful to all those who remained loyal to Ukraine in those unbearable conditions,” Poroshenko said while greeting the free captives. “They have shown their adherence to the principles of freedom and independence.”

The Ukrainian leader also hailed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron for helping organize the exchange. Merkel and Macron welcomed the swap, saying in a joint statement that they “encourage the parties to the conflict also to enable the exchange of the remaining prisoners, grant the International Committee of the Red Cross full access and support the ICRC’s search for missing people.”

The simmering conflict between the separatists and government troops in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014. The 2015 deal brokered by France and Germany and signed in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, envisioned a prisoner exchange, but the two sides argued continuously over lists of captives and only a few dozen had been traded prior to Wednesday. Separatist leaders and a Ukrainian government representative finally agreed to the exchange last week, with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church acting as mediator.

Merkel and Macron emphasized that the exchange and a recommitment to a comprehensive cease-fire “should also serve to build up confidence between the parties to the conflict, also with a view to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.”

Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin, Yuras Karmanau in Minsk, Belarus, and Nataliya Vasilyeva and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

Ukraine grateful for US weapons, Russia voices outrage

December 23, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Ukraine’s president on Saturday thanked the U.S. for its decision to provide his nation with lethal weapons, while Russian diplomats and lawmakers expressed dismay, warning that it will only fuel hostilities in eastern Ukraine.

The angry response from Moscow comes a day after President Donald Trump’s administration approved a plan to provide weapons to Ukraine, including Javelin anti-tank missiles. Ukraine has long sought the weapons for its fight against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,000 since April 2014 and strongly welcomed the U.S. move.

“I am grateful for the leadership of President Donald Trump, clear position of all our American friends, and for strong bipartisan support of Ukraine,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Facebook in English. “American weapons in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers are not for offensive (purposes), but for stronger rebuff of the aggressor, protection of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, as well as for effective self-defense. It is also a trans-Atlantic vaccination against the Russian virus of aggression.”

In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that the U.S. administration’s move has “crossed a line.” “Washington has sought to cast itself as a ‘mediator,'” he said in a statement. “It’s not a mediator. It’s an accomplice in fueling a war.”

Without mentioning the U.S. decision, France and Germany on Saturday urged combatants to fully implement a much-violated cease-fire agreement. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron issued a joint statement urging combatants to observe a 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany. Its provisions include the withdrawal of heavy weapons such as tanks and rocket launchers from the front-line area and an exchange of prisoners.

The two leaders also urged the return of Russian military officers to a joint coordination center that plays a role in monitoring the cease-fire. Merkel and Macron said in their statement that “there is no alternative to an exclusively peaceful solution to the conflict.”

The U.S. and its allies say Russia has sent troops and weapons to help the rebels in eastern Ukraine. Moscow has denied the accusations, but acknowledged that Russian citizens joined the separatist forces as volunteers.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov warned that the U.S. move could warrant a Russian response. “The American weapons can lead to more victims in the neighboring country, and we couldn’t stay indifferent to that,” he said.

Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the upper house of Russian parliament, said in remarks carried by Tass that the U.S. move was a “big mistake” that would “pull them into Ukraine’s internal conflict.”

“With lethal weapons supplies, the U.S. gives a clear signal to Kiev that it will support a military option,” Alexei Pushkov, the head of the upper house’s information committee, said on Twitter. Tensions in the east have increased in recent weeks, with observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expressing concern about a recent spike in fighting.

Earlier this week, Russia withdrew its military observers from the joint group monitoring the truce, citing “restrictions and provocations” by Ukrainian authorities that made it hard for Russian officers to perform their duties.

Ukraine and the rebels declared an intention Wednesday to speed up efforts to exchange prisoners. They also agreed to maintain a cease-fire for the Christmas and New Year’s season starting Saturday, but immediately blamed each other for violating the deal.

David McHugh reported from Frankfurt, Germany.

Officials: US agrees to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine

December 23, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has approved a plan to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, U.S. officials said Friday, in a long-awaited move that deepens America’s involvement in the military conflict and may further strain relations with Russia.

The new arms include American-made Javelin anti-tank missiles that Ukraine has long sought to boost its defenses against Russian-backed separatists armed with tanks that have rolled through eastern Ukraine during violence that has killed more than 10,000 since 2014. Previously, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with support equipment and training, and has let private companies sell some small arms like rifles.

The officials describing the plan weren’t authorized to discuss it publicly and demanded anonymity. The move is likely to become another sore point between Washington and Moscow, as President Donald Trump contends with ongoing questions about whether he’s too hesitant to confront the Kremlin. Ukraine accuses Russia of sending the tanks, and the U.S. says Moscow is arming, training and fighting alongside the separatists.

Trump had been considering the plan for some time after the State Department and the Pentagon signed off earlier this year. President Barack Obama also considered sending lethal weapons to Ukraine, but left office without doing so.

The State Department, responsible for overseeing foreign military sales, would not confirm that anti-tank missiles or other lethal weapons would be sent. But in a statement late Friday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. had decided to provide “enhanced defensive capabilities” to help Ukraine build its military long-term, defend its sovereignty and “deter further aggression.”

“U.S. assistance is entirely defensive in nature, and as we have always said, Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to defend itself,” Nauert said. The White House’s National Security Council declined to comment. Russia’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Friday.

Although the portable Javelin anti-tank missiles can kill, proponents for granting them to Ukraine have long argued they are considered “defensive” because the Ukrainians would use them to defend their territory and deter the Russians, not to attack a foreign country or seize new territory.

Under law, the State Department must tell Congress of planned foreign military sales, triggering a review period in which lawmakers can act to stop the sale. It was unclear whether the administration had formally notified Congress, but lawmakers are unlikely to try to block it given that Democrats and Republicans alike have long called on the government to take the step.

The move comes as the United States and European nations struggle to break a long logjam in the Ukraine-Russia conflict that erupted three years ago when fighting broke out between Russian-backed separatists and government troops in the east. France, Russia and Germany brokered a peace arrangement in 2015 that has lowered violence but not stopped it, and a political settlement outlined in the deal hadn’t been fully implemented.

In recent days, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned that violence is up about 60 percent this year. In Europe earlier this month, Tillerson called Russia’s involvement the biggest tension point between the former Cold War rivals.

“It stands as the single most difficult obstacle to us renormalizing the relationship with Russia, which we badly would like to do,” Tillerson said. The intensified support for Ukraine’s military also comes amid early discussions about sending U.N. peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine, to improve security conditions not only for Ukrainians but for special monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who are on the ground in Ukraine.

The U.S. and other nations were cautiously optimistic when Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to send in peacekeepers. But there are major disagreements about how and where the peacekeepers would operate, especially about whether they’d be deployed only on the “line of conflict” between separatists and the government.

Both the Obama administration and the Trump administration had expressed concerns in the past that injecting more weapons into the conflict was unlikely to resolve it, especially considering that Russia is well-equipped to respond to any Ukrainian escalation with an even stronger escalation of its own. Sending lethal weapons to Ukraine also creates the troubling possibility that American arms could kill Russian soldiers, a situation that could thrust the two nuclear-armed nations closer to direct confrontation.

The United States, under Obama, also imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion and annexation of Crimea. The Trump administration has insisted those sanctions will stay in place until Moscow gives up the Crimean Peninsula.

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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