NEWS FROM UKRAINE - FAKE TERRORISM IN CRIMEA, RUSSIA'S PRESSURE ON THE WEST, FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION, E-DECLARATION, REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL...

20.08.16


UD. 20 August 2016.  By Iryna Terlecky.

As Ukraine prepares to mark 25 years of independence, reasons to celebrate seem thin on the ground.

Fake terrorism in Crimea

Ukraine hit the headlines with an accusation from Russia that they had foiled a terrorist attack in Crimea, which resulted in two dead Russian soldiers. 

Russia’s security service, the FSB, said in a statement that one of its officers had been killed during a shootout with a “group of diversionaries” on the night of 6 August, when they were supposedly discovered just inside Crimea’s border with mainland Ukraine. 

It said the group had 20 homemade devices with a total of 40kg of explosives in their possession.

The FSB claimed that there had been a further incident on 7 August involving “massive firing” from the Ukrainian side of the border and attempts to enter the region by force, during which another Russian soldier died. 

The FSB said that it had arrested a man named Evgeny Panov, allegedly a Ukrainian military intelligence operative born in 1977, and asserted that he had made a confession but gave no further information. 

President Putin used the alleged attack to warn Ukraine that there would be consequences and said that there was no point to further talks in the Normandy format in current circumstances.

The facts behind the alleged terror attack are unclear. 

Oleskandr Turchynov, the head of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, dismissed Russia’s claims. 

“The hysterical and false statement by Russia’s FSB has no purpose other than an attempt by occupiers to inflame the situation on temporarily occupied Ukrainian lands,” he said. 

The United States backed up Kyiv’s denials of involvement.

“[The] U.S. government has seen nothing so far that corroborates Russian allegations of a ‘Crimea incursion’ and Ukraine has strongly refuted them,” U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt tweeted on 11 August.

Many others have pointed out major discrepancies in the Russian narrative, including the absence of any social media reports of ‘heavy fighting’ in the area from residents – not surprising as all independent internet sites had been blocked just a couple of days in advance.

In addition there was the now-familiar ‘discovery’ of Ukrainian objects in the car that transported the alleged terrorists and a video purporting to show the attack, but with a full moon that had actually happened a week earlier. 

Yevhen Panov, a driver from the Zaporizhya oblast, held by the FSB as a key organiser of the alleged plot, was shown on Russian TV looking as if he had been badly beaten. 

His family are adamant that Panov would not have voluntarily gone to Crimea. 

Two other men are in custody, and none have had access to lawyers. 

The Russian servicemen allegedly killed have not been named.

Russia’s pressure on the West

There has been widespread speculation about Russia’s motives. 

A heavy build-up of troops and equipment in Crimea has raised fears in some quarters that Russia might take the opportunity to launch a full-scale attack on Ukraine. 

Others have been clearer that the move is intended to send a message about implementation of the Minsk agreement. While the Minsk process is stalled, sanctions against Russia remain in place, with the EU’s preconditions to lifting them growing no closer.

“Russia is intensely frustrated by the lack of movement on the February 2015 Minsk agreement, and has sought to put the onus for the lack of progress on Ukraine,” Paul Quinn-Judge, a senior adviser at International Crisis Group, wrote in a commentary.

Ukraine’s position is that while Russia refuses to give back control of Ukraine’s borders and continues to supply the separatists with arms, equipment and personnel, there is no basis for any further concessions on the Ukrainian side.

With Russia’s reserve fund set to run out next year and Moscow’s access to Western credit markets still closed because of the sanctions, many doubt that Russia’s economy can weather much more. 

By flexing his military muscles, Putin is sending a signal to the West that his patience is wearing thin and that he may resort to other options if Kyiv can’t be made to play ball.

The daily Vedomosti newspaper reported earlier this week, that one of Putin’s options might be to stop restraining separatist forces, and effectively allow localised skirmishes to re-escalate into a a full-scale conflict in eastern Ukraine.

And the fight against corruption?

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s much heralded fight against corruption appears to have taken several body blows in the last few weeks. 

First, open war seems to have broken out between the Prosecutor’s Office – headed by Poroshenko ally Yuriy Lutsenko – and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which was intended to be an independent spearhead to bring corrupt officials and businessmen to justice but which has been bedevilled with a lack of resources.

There have been tensions for some time with the Bureau accusing the Prosecutor’s Office of failing to transfer cases to them, while earlier in August, prosecutors had raided the Bureau’s offices, which anti-corruption campaigners say was in revenge for investigations into high-ranking officials, including a judge, Mykola Chaus, who was caught with a $150,000 bribe last week. 

On 15 August, the Bureau released video footage of interrogations in which the bureau employees say they were illegally detained, beaten and even tortured by prosecutors on 12 August while on a surveillance operation against prosecutor Dmytro Sus, who is suspected of ‘unlawful enrichment’. 

Sus’ version of the events was different. He said in an interview that he and other prosecutors had been followed by bureau detectives then the Bureau’s armed special-force unit arrived and began beating people – allegedly in retaliation for the August searches.

“This is an example of a conflict between Bankova’s puppet organisation and the first independent law enforcement agency,” reformist lawmaker Sergii Leshchenko wrote on Facebook on 13 August. 

Whatever the facts of the case, it appears that, at the moment, the two bodies are locked in a conflict which is doing nothing to combat the very real evils of corruption in Ukraine.

E-declaration

On 15 August Ukraine was expected to launch an online declaration of income, also called the e-declaration obliging over 50,000 officials all over the country to report on their income and bear criminal responsibility in case of avoidance, lying, or other misreporting of income. 

This would be one of the most significant steps forward in combating corruption.

However, e-declaration was launched without a certificate which was meant to provide security for all submitted data. This in turn has delayed the date on which criminal responsibility can be implemented. 

Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection (SSSCIP), which is responsible for issuing full certification, is trading blame with the developers of the system.  Hoerver, activists believe that blame lies squarely with the SSSCIP, which has  missed deadlines and contradicted its own documentation about the project plan.

The EU has issued an unusually critical statement about the incomplete introduction of the system,

“From what we understand there are no substantive reasons for withholding certification. It is now important that the relevant Ukrainian authorities at all levels resolve any outstanding technical or administrative issues without delay, in line with relevant EU-Ukraine commitments… 

“Failure to swiftly resolve this issue could undermine Ukraine’s important anti-corruption efforts, which are essential for a successful reform process, supported by the EU.”

Reasons to be cheerful

There are reasons for optimism: Ukraine’s technology companies are doing well and enhancing their reputation across the world for innovation; small business start-ups are increasing (though the tax system does not do them any favours); 

Ukrainian designers are making vyshyvanka the hottest fashion trend; and after two years of recession, Ukraine’s GDP is starting to grow, fuelled mainly by contruction and trade, with the EU and other markets opening up to Ukrainian goods – though growth would be faster with greater progress on fighting corruption. 

However, there is progress here too. From August, all government procurement will be moved to the ProZorro e-procurement platform, which has been operating in pilot form for the last year. 

During the pilot period ProZorro hosted 90,000 tenders involving 4,700 contracting authorities throughout the country and more than 15,600 suppliers. 

Savings on these deals are claimed to be around 900 million hryvnia.

But perhaps most importantly, the last two years has seen a major change in people’s sense of national identity with many more, regardless of language, identifying themselves as Ukrainian. 

Trust in Ukraine’s armed forces and the new police service is high and growing, and civic activism is making a real difference, both in terms of holding the government to account and in pushing for real democracy, inclusion and human rights. 

 



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