UD. 5 March 2016.  By Iryna Terlecky

Ukraine’s coalition in limbo as Russia turns its attention to Eastern Ukraine again and human rights in occupied territories take another battering. 

After the drama of the coalition collapse, as Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna and the Samopomich groups left, pressure is mounting for a new coalition agreement to be reached. 

With the clock ticking towards new elections if a coalition is not formed, and western allies anxious about stagnation and a halt to reforms, President Poroshenko weighed in with a statement that provided new impetus for a parliamentary deal.

In the statement, which was posted on the Presidential website, Poroshenko ruled out an early national election and urged a majority coalition in parliament to decide on a new cabinet to end the worst political crisis since 2014.

“We don’t have the time because it will mean half a year of total inaction and populism… And there is no need, because we won’t get a better parliament. The parliamentary coalition needs to decide on candidates for the cabinet and the head of government as well as on the reform agenda.”

Talks are continuing behind the scenes, with Speaker Volodymyr Groysman saying in a meeting with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini that it was likely that a deal would be reached soon to re-create a coalition with a parliamentary majority.

The beating heart of democracy

In a rather ironic coincidence of timing, while political manoevering continued in Kyiv, the European Parliament held a ‘Ukraine Week’, which brought together MEPs, national and Ukrainian MPs to share experience on good parliamentary practice, law-making and representation.

Conference co-chairs Elmar Brok and Andrej Plenković stressed that there is no sustainable democratic and political development of a country without a proper efficient, independent and well-functioning parliament. 

At the opening, former European Parliament President Pat Cox presented his report and a capacity-building roadmap for Ukraine’s parliament. 

That report outlined 52 key recommendations for Ukrainian parliamentarians to make Verkhovna Rada a beacon of democracy. 

In an interview with Ukraine Today, Cox summarised the recommendations in three key areas: improving processes and procedures; radically modernizing the Soviet-style parliamentary administration with greater investment in staff skills to move away from command and control; and  a medium-term e-parliament strategy to open the parliament to ordinary society and improve the dialogue between parliament and citizens.

Cox’s report also recommended a parliamentary code of conduct and ethics which would allow MPs to be suspended or disciplined to prevent the brawls which have become an unwelcome feature of parliamentary proceedings. 

He gave some praise, saying that Ukraine’s parliament has been operating under staggering pressure, amidst annexation, threats to sovereignty, an externally assisted war, and macroeconomic and social crisis. 

However, parliamentarians needed to change their attitudes and drive forward real transformation to meet the expectations of the Ukrainian people, otherwise they created real weakness at the very heartbeat of democracy.

“The pressures, the expectations of the Revolution of Dignity set the bar very high. So I would say that the aspirations of society are not fullfilled in the delivery by the politicians. When you have a gap between aspiration and delivery you risk a credibility gap. The time is not endless. The patience is not endless. Ukraine really needs to act.”

Embracing reform

Ukraine week ended on a positive note, with MEPs and Ukrainian delegates hailing it as the start of a new era of co-operation. 

In a joint communique, the EU reiterated its “unequivocal support for the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders” and called on Russia to implement the Minsk agreements in full, and end its occupation of Crimea as well as its ongoing aggression on Eastern Ukraine. 

The EU parliament also gave recognition for the reforms that have already been implemented as well as the implementation of the DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement) which opens up opportunities for Ukraine’s economy. 

However, there was also a clear message that much more needs to be done.

“…Support for Ukraine places upon the Ukrainian authorities a historic task of implementing in-depth reforms in the country to respond to the citizens’ high expectations. First and foremost, this encompasses the eradication of corruption, the de-oligarchisation of society, and the reform of the judiciary.”

Verkhovna Rada Chairman Volodymyr Groysman affirmed that, “We have opened up to Europe not only our doors, but also our hearts. We hope to work as a team and to conduct the necessary changes in order to make Ukrainian institutions strong, professional and able to take the needed decisions.”

Hostilities sharpen in the East

As the international community was reacting with cautious relief to cessation of hostilities in Syria, it was becoming clear that Russia was turning its attention back to Eastern Ukraine, with more arms shipments and an increase in separatist attacks.

NATO’s top commander General Philip Breedlove spoke to reporters in Washington on 1 March to warn of a dramatic escalation in attacks along the frontlines of eastern Ukraine, including sniper activity and shelling. 

He said that in the last week alone, there were over 450 attacks along the line of contact and that there were disturbing trends, including attacks in new locations that were previously quiet and use of weapons that are banned and should have been withdrawn, including from Grad missiles. 

Breedlove’s remarks came on the same day as three Ukrainian soldiers were reported killed and two wounded when their car hit a mine in the former Soviet republic’s pro-Russian separatist east. 

A military spokesman in Kyiv said another three government troops were wounded in separate exchanges of fire near the front separating separatist-run parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions from the rest of Ukraine. 

Ukrainian officials reported that on 1 March Russia sent three trains with ammunition to the occupied city of Ilovaisk and two tanks and four armoured personnel vehicles to Novoazovsk.

In the last 24 hours alone, the Ukrainian military has recorded 60 attacks on their positions, with mortar attacks becoming more frequent.

At the same time, Minsk talks continued and it was reported that an agreement had been reached to de-mine the line of contact and end military exercises in the conflict zone but that there had been no further agreement on prisoner releases. 

As we go to press, the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany are meeting in Paris to discuss progress on the Minsk agreement.

Enemies of the state

The Chief Prosecutor in the annexed territory of Crimea, Natalya Poklonskaya, has submitted documents to the regional Supreme Court, seeking a Russia-wide ban on the Mejlis (Parliament) of the Crimean Tatar people on the grounds of extremist activity. 

This follows a sustained period of legal pressure on Crimean Tatar activists, which has seen several, including Musafa Dzemiliev banned from entering Crimea, while others have been reported as ‘disappeared’. 

Several international organisations, including Amnesty International, the UN and the OSCE have documented and reported on continuing violations of human rights since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“We found in Crimea that those Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars who openly supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine, refused Russian citizenship or did not support the de facto authorities were in a particularly vulnerable position,” said Astrid Thors, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. 

“Since the annexation of Crimea, the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian communities have been subjected to increasing pressure on and control of the peaceful expression of both their culture and their political views.”

In the meantime, the show trial of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko is drawing to a close, with the final statements of the prosecution and defence having ended as we go to press. 

The prosecution is demanding a 23-year prison sentence, at the end of proceedings which have seen defence documents disregarded by the court and a refusal to call so-called prosecution witnesses for cross-examination.

Savchenko has remained characteristically defiant. 

In a statement to the court on Wednesday she said:

“This trial has failed to prove any guilt on my part.  I am an officer in the Ukrainian Army and I had the right to defend my land.  You have no right to try me…You haven’t broken me and you won’t.” 

She warned that if the sentence is delayed, she will go on a dry hunger strike, keeping her life in her own hands, rather than the hands of a corrupt Russian court.

However, following the final prosecution and defence statements on Thursday, Savchenko lost her temper after her own final statement was refused, despite 90 minutes remaining of what was expected to be her last full day in court. 

The judges hurredly closed the hearing until 9 March.

Savchenko shouted from her courtrroom cage that she was declaring a hunger strike. “Even if they kill me, they won’t break my spirit or the spirit of Ukraine”.

She has already been on two prolonged hunger strikes whilst in detention. This time, however, she has vowed to refuse water as well.






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