Citizens greet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) and Mikhail Saakashvili, the newly appointed governor of the Odessa region, in Odessa on Saturday. | AP

The VoxUkraine Brief: Russian Troops in Ukraine, the Struggle for the Country Foreign Debt Restructuring, Saakashvili Was Appointed the Odesa Region Governor

#VoxUkraine weekly selection of best articles on Ukraine.

By Volodymyr Bilotkach, VoxUkraine Editorial Board, Vita Faychuk, VoxUkraine

produced by Kseniya Alekankina

The long-known by the world but stubbornly denied by Putin presence of Russian troops in Ukraine this week received another proof — this time from a reputable international organization. Meanwhile, US highest officials and UK Queen provided their verbal support to Ukraine. On the Ukrainian government side — the struggle for the country foreign debt restructuring continues, while the former Georgian president M.Saakashvili was appointed the Odesa region governor.

US and UK Talk Tough Supporting Ukraine

This week was marked by some rather tough words from the US and the UK directed at Putin. In the US both President Obama’s and Vice-President Biden’s speeches early in the week have clearly pronounced support for Ukraine and condemnation of Russia’s aggression.

“We had a chance to discuss the situation in Ukraine and the increasingly aggressive posture that Russia has taken and we affirmed that NATO is the cornerstone, not just of transatlantic security but in many ways is the cornerstone for global security,” Obama said.

Vice-President Biden went further to indicate that the US is still considering sending defensive weapons to Ukraine. Biden, saying the debate over supplying Ukraine with weapons was “worth having,” didn’t shy away from using tough words against Putin in his address on Wednesday at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Biden blasted Putin for what he called “brutal aggression” in Ukraine, a “hyper-aggressivestate-sponsored propaganda program, and “aggressive repression at home.”

This stance comes in contrast to the Secretary of State Kerry’s seemingly conciliatory tone following his meeting with Putin in Sochi earlier this month. We have then noted in our brief that Kerry’s visit prompted some commentators in the West to suggest that the US is giving in to Russia. This week’s remarks by Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden prove those commentators wrong.

Meanwhile in the UK, Her Majesty the Queen has outlined the government’s legislative agenda in the official state opening of the parliament this week.

Among other things she mentioned that “My government will maintain pressure on Russia to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and will insist on the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.”

Evidence of Russian Involvement in Eastern Ukraine Mounts

This week brought additional evidence of direct involvement of Russian forces in the Eastern Ukraine.

International monitors tracking cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine reported on Friday that they had encountered four people wearing military uniforms with Russian insignia in a town about 25 miles southeast of the regional capital of Donetsk, which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Although there has been substantial other evidence of Russian military activity in eastern Ukraine cited by journalists, as well as by Ukraine and its Western allies, including the United States, the monitors for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have not previously reported a definitive observation of uniformed personnel bearing Russian insignia.

“Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin’s War in Ukraine,” a report published this week by the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank, provides still more “overwhelming and indisputable” evidence that shows Russia’s involvement in the fighting.

This weeks also marks the first mentioning by an internationally reputed source of the previously circulating rumors of the use of mobile crematoria by the Russian forces in Ukraine. It appears that what had been previously reported by Ukrainian intelligence has been independently verified by the US. According to Josh Rogin from Bloomberg View,

“The Russians are trying to hide their casualties by taking mobile crematoriums with them,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry told me. “They are trying to hide not only from the world but from the Russian people their involvement.”

In the meantime, Putin has issued a decree making Russia’s war and peacetime military deaths a state secret. This decree intensifies talks that Russia has something to hide, like its military losses in Ukraine.

“The move also increases fears for the safety of Russian media workers and civil society activists who have already faced harassment for trying to independently cover the conflict in Ukraine.” — writes Amnesty International.

Financial Front: the Battle Persists

Ukraine’s economic situation remains dire, prompting worries about the government’s ability to service its debts. This issue continues to receive some coverage in the press.

According to Financial Times,“For Ukraine time is running out. Kyiv is trying to restructure about $23bn of international debt in all. Without a deal by next month it risks losing its next tranche of International Monetary Fund funding, and default may be the only option left.”

As the IMF deadline grows closer, and following last week’s increased pressure from Kyiv in the form of the law on moratorium of sovereign debt payment, a group of Ukraine’s creditors is reported to make the first productive step to a mutually acceptable agreement. They agreed to extend bond maturities as much as 10 years and reduce coupon payments.

The government in Kyiv rejected the bid and stuck to a demand for principal reductions. The FT provides a great summary of the developments.

Next week, advisers for both sides negotiating Ukraine’s debt restructuring will meet in London to work on a deal. At stake is the restructuring of nearly $9 billion of debt.

Poroshenko Puts Georgia’s Ex-President in Charge of Odesa Region

End of the week brought a very interesting development. In a surprise move, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a longstanding nemesis of Russia’s President Putin, has been appointed governor of Ukraine’s hotspot. The appointment can be also seen as a move against Mr. Kolomoyskyy, Ukrainian oligarch and a former governor of Dnipropetrovsk region. Mr. Saakashvili replaced Ihor Palytsya, an ally to Mr.Kolomoyskyy.

Odesa is a large port city and a center of a pivotal region in Southern Ukraine. On May 2, 2014, the city was a site of clashes which left 48 people dead. The situation in this region remains tense. According to BBC,

“President Petro Poroshenko’s reasons will become clearer with time, but at the moment, many are struggling to see the strategy behind naming a former leader of another country to run a provincial government. Saakashvili is a political outsider, with few ties to the Odesa region, and comes with a reputation for divisiveness and a high level of self-involvement. But he is a also pro-Western, pro-reform and apparently very loyal to Mr Poroshenko — which will come in handy if he takes on local corruption and vested interests, as Mr Poroshenko apparently wants.”

From VoxUkraine This Week

Olena Nizalova and Natalia Shapoval deliver a simple yet powerful message: The population health in Ukraine can be improved dramatically through preventing policies in all areas of health and health behavior, because an ounce of prevention is worth a million pounds of cure.

Have a great week!

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