Ukrainian media digest, September 13-19, 2016  

Situation in the combat zone in eastern Ukraine

Situation in the combat zone became calmer by the end of the week as a result of the visit of Germany and France foreign affairs ministers to eastern Ukraine. In the beginning of the week Russia-backed militants were actively using heavy weapons including 82-mm mortars, 122-mm artillery and 152-mm Giatsynt-B artillery systems. Before another ceasefire came into effect, the one emphasized by Ministers Steinmeier and Ayrault, militants were actively firing upon the positions of Ukrainian troops using all types of weapons available. Near Avdiivka alone combat actions lasted for seven hours incessantly.

A total of 244 attacks upon Ukrainian positions were registered over the last week. Five Ukrainian servicemen were killed in action and 29 were wounded in action.

Leaders of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (‘DPR’) and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ (‘LPR’) stated that they would cease fire in Donbas at midnight between September 14 and 15. In the end of last week leader of Donetsk separatists Aleksandr Zakharchenko said that militants may restart combat actions in case there are violations by the Ukrainian side.

Despite the agreements complete ceasefire never came into effect on September 15, militants continued opening fire at key locations using light weapons.

According to the ATO Staff, on September 18 Russia-backed militants violated ceasefire with the use of grenade launchers, machine guns and small arms in the Luhansk sector near Novoleksandrivka and Novozvanivka, in the Mariupol sector near Maryinka, Pavlopil and Starohnativka, in the Donetsk sector in Verkhnyotoretske, in Avdiivka’s industrial zone.

Heavy equipment and artillery systems return to the contact line
Military intelligence has recorded an increase in violations of the Minsk agreements on withdrawal of weapons and military equipment. In particular, it is 49 tanks and more than 56 units of artillery systems and self-propelled artillery system. “MLRS (multiple launch rocket systems) continue returning to the contact line. In particular, we detected 16 units of 122 mm Grad systems near Alchevsk, Horlivka, Makiyivka, Rozdolne, Staromykhailivka, Oktyabr,” said Vadym Skybytskyi. Russia also continues to supply weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, including directly to the contact line. “Over the last week, 2,500 tons of fuel and more than 400 tons of ammunition, 15 tanks, 25 armored vehicles, 4 artillery systems and 5 MLRS BM-21 Grad were delivered to the units and depots of the 1st and 2nd army corps by rail and road routes,” specified  the representative of the military intelligence.

Liberation of captive Ukrainians
On September 17 two Ukrainians Volodymyr Zhemchugov and Yuriy Suprun were liberated from captivity of Russia-backed militants. Civilian Zhemchugov lost upper limbs and eye sight in a grenade blast. Instead of the medical aid provision he was kept in a prison cell and taken to “court hearings” where he was threatened to get a 30 years sentence for subversive activities. Another liberated Ukrainian citizen, Yuriy Suprun, was employed with the UN and detained by Russia-backed militants “for spying” in spring 2016. Militants threatened to gun him down. He was “sentenced” to 18 years in “prison” by the self-proclaimed “DPR” at night before his liberation between September 17 and 18 and then “pardoned”.

 

Elections to Russia’s State Duma in annexed Crimea

Voting to Russia’s State Duma (Parliament) took place in the annexed Crimea on September 18. Kremlin stated that Russia will not respond to possible refusal of foreign states to recognize the results of elections in Crimea.

Voter turnout at the elections to the Russia’s State Duma in the annexed Crimea and in Sevastopol as of 6 p.m. on September 18 constituted 42 per cent (634,533 voters), reported Mikhail Malyshev, head of the Kremlin-controlled Crimean election commission. Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs ministry condemned the elections.

Crimean activist Oleksiy Shestakovych was detained and subsequently released by the police regarding the case of graffiti in Simferopol calling to boycott the Duma elections.

Most Crimean Tatars appear to have boycotted the elections which Russia illegally held in occupied Crimea. How many other Ukrainians also refused to take part is as yet unclear. Judging by previous experience since Russia’s invasion of Crimea, the boycott could lead to an escalation in repression. All Crimean Tatar leaders, including the forcibly exiled head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Refat Chubarov had called on all Crimeans to boycott the elections (Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group).

Elections to the State Duma at the Russian diplomatic representations in Ukraine

Elections to Russia’s State Duma took place on September 18 at the Russian Embassy in Kyiv, Russia’s General Consulate in Odesa, Kharkiv and Lviv. Diplomatic representations were secured by law enforcement officers. According to the Russian Embassy in Ukraine, as quoted by TASS, over 350 Russian citizens were able to cast their votes. “According to preliminary data 155 persons voted in Kyiv, 38 in Lviv, 120 in Odesa and 56 in Kharkiv,” the statement says.

In Kyiv activists were trying to block the passage to the Embassy’s entrance. Moreover protesters tried to break the fence that caused clashes. Law enforcement staff detained three protesters. Protests also took place in front of the Russian Consulate General in Odesa. Clashes started, two activists were detained.

In Kharkiv there were no incidents in relation to the voting. It was calm by the Consulate General, policemen stood guard in the courtyard and were patrolling the adjacent streets.

Expert in international relations and head of the NGO “Maidan of Foreign Affairs” Bohdan Yaremenko is convinced that the incidents resulted from inconsistency of actions by Ukrainian authorities. Thus, according to him, on the one hand the authorities officially prohibited holding of elections in the territory of Ukraine, but on the other hand, were securing their protection by stopping the protesters.

Economy: conflict between Naftogaz and the Economy Ministry

The most scandalous reform of the week: the government takes over the gas operator company ‘Ukrtransgaz’, taking it out control of the state oil and gas company ‘Naftogaz Ukrainy’. This occurred without notifying the latter and even contrary to agreements with international partners.

The third energy package
In July 2016, the Cabinet approved a plan to restructure Naftogaz in line with the EU Third Energy Package and the law “On the natural gas market”. The main prerequisite of this package is a European requirement that the same body may not simultaneously control both the gas transmission function and the gas supply/production function. Currently, Naftogaz has a monopoly, since it produces gas through Ukrgazvydobuvannya, transmits and supplies it all by itself. It was obvious that the functions of producing, transmission and supplying had to be separated.

However, there were problems with the mechanism of separating functions under the Third Energy Package. The Economy Ministry and Naftogaz see the procedure differently.

Different views of the procedure
The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, which amended Naftogaz Regulations by taking over all the management functions of Ukrtransgaz and GTS, stated that it had changed Naftogaz Regulations in order to fulfill Ukraine’s obligations under the Third Energy Package, according to which Ukrtransgaz should be a GTS independent operator.

Naftogaz, in its turn, stated that such actions pose a threat to the implementation of the Naftogaz Corporate Governance Action Plan. “The Plan was a prerequisite for a USD 300 million loan provided by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for gas procurement,” reads the statement. Also, Naftogaz may not be able to receive a USD 500 million loan from the World Bank, which is crucial for ensuring secure gas supplies during the winter of 2016-2017.

Another argument of Naftogaz is the fact that the Naftogaz Restructuring Plan, in order to fulfill the requirements of the Third Energy Package, stipulated establishment of a new operator with an independent supervisory board, but not handover of Ukrtransgaz to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. The Plan does not imply any change in control over Ukrtransgaz; a supervisory board should be created instead.

According to Naftogaz CEO, Andriy Kobolev, “there is an attempt to return to the point when Naftogaz was actually a donor for all private, criminal and corrupt businesses.” Such actions lead to the manual control over state enterprises, stated Naftogaz.

Reaction of European partners
The European Bank  for Reconstruction and Development requires the cancellation of the decision of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade (MEDT) to change the statute of Naftogaz Ukrainy and to shift control over its “daughter” Ukrtransgaz from Naftogaz to the MEDT. This was stated by Francis Malige, the Managing Director for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus at the EBRD.

Possible consequences. The Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce may deny the lawsuit on the transit contract of 2009 filed by Naftogaz against Gazprom because of the decision of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade to change the statute of Naftogaz Ukrainy. Naftogaz requests that Gazprom pays USD 12 billion, introduce virtual reverse, guarantee gas transit for the future and so on.

Ukrainian Paralympic atheletes in Rio: third place

According to the final results Ukraine’s Paralympic team is on the third place based on the number of medals at the Paralympic Games in Rio. The information is based on the official ranking on the website of the Paralympic Games.

On the tenth day of the Paralympic Games Ukrainian sportsmen set a new record based on the number of medals gained over the entire history of the team’s participation in the competition. Ukraine won a total of 117 medals including 41 gold, 37 silver and 39 bronze ones.

China took the first place (239 medals), the UK is on the second place (147 medals).

The success of Ukrainian Paralympic sportsmen stirred important discussion on the importance of support to the disabled. Ukraine in comparison to the EU member states has a poorly developed infrastructure for people with special needs. “There are no persons with disability but there are medals”.

Culture. Documentaries on reforms, theatre and performance at the festival, Ukrainian female film directors in the UK.

A series of Ukrainian documentaries “Ucrazyans” about the struggle of civic activists for implementation of reforms in the country was presented in Kyiv. The series comprises three films: “CounterAction” (ProtyDiya) by investigative journalist Serhiy Andrushko [Ukrainian trailer], “Strong communities of Donetsk region” (Sylni hromady Donechchyny) by Dmytro Konovalov [trailer] and “United by reforms” (Obyednani reformamy) by Dmytro Tyazhlov [trailer]. In the films civic activists are monitoring the setup of anticorruption agencies, train the activists of Donetsk region to control local authorities and work to implement the judicial reform. The films have already been screened in Ukraine’s 10 cities.

Multidisciplinary artistic festival “Gogolfest” is on in Kyiv. The annual event traditionally presents a strong program of theatrical shows, performances and choreography featuring Ukrainian and international artists (including the ones from Spain, Lithuania, Japan and Israel). Cinema, contemporary music, visual arts, literature and fashion are also part of this year’s edition. Gogolfest also helps develop this year’s location – Platforma arts factory, a former industrial site that is being gradually turned into artistic and entertainment space.

Ukrainian films will be screened in the UK within the framework of the Ukrainian Focus at the Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival in Bristol on September 20-25. The program is made up of three parts: retrospective of Myroslav Slaboshpytsky, focus on Ukrainian female film directors and best films of the “Molodist” film festival.

Articles about the situation in Ukraine in English

Reportage

«German, French Foreign Ministers visit eastern Ukraine» – Ukraine Today’s report

«How to build a new economy in Ukraine?» – KyivPost’s report from the YES summit held іn Kyiv

«Оccupied Elections» – Hromadske International’s report from Crimea

«IMF approves USD 1 billion disbursement for Ukraine» – Ukraine Today’s report

«Two Ukrainian hostages released from captivity in occupied Donbas» – KyivPost’s report

«It is not a civil war. It is nothing but aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine – Poroshenko’s speech at the YES summit» – Ukraine Today

«Russian soldier surrenders to Ukrainian Army in Donbas» – Ukraine Today

«Fiery arguments over Europe’s future during Brexit panel at Yalta European Strategy» – KyivPost

”Crimean authorities” make people vote at upcoming Duma elections» – Ukraine Today

«Freed captives of secret prisons» – KyivPost’s report

Interviews

«How Russia makes Crimean Tatars ‘happy’» – Ukraine Today’s interview with Emine Dzheppar, Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Information Policy

«It’s a hybrid ceasefire» – Hromadske International’s interview with Pat Cox, Former President of The European Parliament

«Ukraine’s international reputation attracts more attention» – Ukraine Today’s interview with Kateryna Smagliy, Director of the Kennan Institute

«EBDR appeals to the Ukrainian Government to restore Naftogaz charter» – Hromadske International’s interview with Francis Malige, EBDR Director for Eastern Europe

Opinions

«Putin’s hopes and disappointments at the G20 summit: political expert Oleksandr Hara» – Ukraine Today

«Russian policy in Crimea is a colonization: Yuri Smelyanskyi» – Ukraine Today

Analytical materials

«Оfficially: the EU extended sanctions against Russia»: інфографіка та аналіз Ukraine Today’s  infographics and analysis

«What you need to know about the elections in Russia and Crimea» – Hromadske International’s analytical studio

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