A solider stands guard in Sartana, a village on the edge of Kiev’z zone of control, Dec. 17, 2014. Photo: Alan Chin/Newsweek

The VoxUkraine Brief: Ukraine Continues to Drift Away From its Soviet Past But the Road Ahead is Bumpy

#VoxUkraine weekly selection of best articles on Ukraine.

By Ilona Sologub and Vladymyr Bylotkach, VoxUkraine Editorial Board

produced by Kseniya Alekankina

A “separatist” confession in war crimes, adoption of de-Sovietization laws, persisting war on Russia and corruption — these were the main topics of international reports on Ukraine this week.

International community was shocked when in a phone interview to Kyivpost published on April 6th, one of separatists warlords Arseniy Pavlov, known as Motorola, admitted having killed at least 15 Ukrainian detained soldiers.

Following the revelation, on April 9th, Amnesty International published a report claiming that it has photo and video evidence, as well as witnesses’ statements of summary killing of Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas.

An AI representative called for an investigation and a “fair trial” of those responsible for these crimes. Leading EU news outlets almost immediately republished the story.

Ukrainian parliament drew much attention this week leaping away from the Soviet past of the country by passing the bills on banning Communist and Nazi symbols, opening KGB archives and recognizing Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA, 1942–1949) soldiers the fighters for Ukrainian independence (in order to become laws, the bills need to be signed by the President).

Foreign reporters did not express much enthusiasm over the adopted laws.

“Dealing with Nazi imagery may prove to be an easier task than dealing with Soviet imagery. Hundreds of statutes, memorials and Soviet symbols pepper Ukrainian cities, and according to a lawmaker supporting the bill, they would all have to be taken down.” — writes Dennys Lynch in International Business Times.

Deutsche Welle briefly reports that some people in Russia as well as “pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine” condemned the law.

To the contrast, NYTimes provides a lengthy quote of the Putin’s press-secretary Peskov who stated that by equating Communism and Nazism Ukraine was disrespecting Russian war veterans.

Another important law adopted by the parliament on April 9th was the law on natural gas market (from the so-called “IMF package”). The law dismantles the state monopoly Naftogas by dividing gas extraction, storage and transportation, opens the market for investment and is likely to increase competition. Yet, the problems with Naftogas remain. Thus, Paul Thomas on VoxUkraine explains that recently published Naftogas audit report is incomplete and therefore useless. Simonova claims that some provisions of the adopted law have to be corrected.

Nolan Theisen elaborates on the topic explaining that although Russia intends to decrease its gas transit through Ukraine, it will not be able to do that in the short- to medium term because the prospects of the “Turkish stream” are rather bleak. Meanwhile, diversification of gas suppliers by Europe implies decreased transit through Ukraine, but at the same increased possibilities for Ukraine to buy gas from the EU.

In anticipation of Ukraine, Russia and European foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin on Monday, April 13th, the international observers again discuss Western policy towards Russia, as well as Ukrainian “war on two enemies” — external (Russia) and internal one (oligarchs and corruption).

Bloomberg provides an inside on the topics of Monday talks: “Disputes include how to decentralize power in Ukraine and getting the government and Russian-backed separatists to hold talks, said the diplomats, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.”

Tymothy Garton Ash and George Soros both argue that Putin will continue the war, and that his ultimate goal is not even Ukraine — it’s the EU, and then the US (perhaps, no one by now has doubts about this). However, they make contrasting conclusions about the desirable EU policy:

“…we must understand that Putin is unlikely to be content with just a “frozen conflict” in eastern Ukraine — which many here in Kiev privately describe as the least worst option for now. He wants a simmering conflict, one that ensures the whole of Ukraine remains a weak, unstable, dysfunctional state. Our job, as Europeans, is to prevent him achieving that objective. Yet at best, we can only create the conditions in which the Ukrainians themselves may seize the opportunity created by this crisis, and build a new Ukraine. The rest is up to them.” — writes Timothy Garton Ash.
Instead, George Soros argues that “there is something fundamentally wrong with EU policy… [it is] drip-feeding Ukraine, just as [it did in the case of] Greece”. He thinks that EU should “…do “whatever it takes” to help, short of becoming involved in a direct military confrontation with Russia or violating the Minsk agreement. Doing so would not only help Ukraine; it would also help the EU to recapture the values and principles that it seems to have lost.”

Brian Mefford provides an update on Ukrainian war with oligarchs claiming that recently dismissed Dnipropetrovsk oblast governor Ihor Kolomoiskiy remains very powerful and in no way can be considered defeated.

Newsweek collects the evidence on victims of this war in the report on murders and suicides of people related to the Party of Regions and its main sponsor Rinat Akhmetov.

Of course, the most pleasant event of this week was the victory of Mariya Muzychuk in the Women’s World Chess Championship.

There are a few regional reports on Ukraine in the world news outlets.

Vice News publishes an astonishing collection of photos to the “anniversary” of formation of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”. This is the case when one picture is worth a thousand words.

Reuters covers Lviv, where people seem to be tired of war, and business faces problems with foreign counterparts fearing of war and instability.

Yet, there are some positive things too — because of hryvnia devaluation (for which the NBU’s refinancing policies cannot be directly blamed, as shown by Yuriy Gorodnichenko and Oleg Korenok on VoxUkraine), Lviv has recently seen an influx of Ukrainian tourists who view it as “Europe without a visa”.

Kharkiv shows no risk of rebelling but is far from secure” — writes The Economist. Recent polls show that Poroshenko Party has the highest rating in the city but the Opposition Block comes closely second. While people there are mostly struggling with economic hardship, city’s mayor tries to remain in his seat as prosecutors are investigating his support for the former president Yanukovyich during Maidan protests.

Also on VoxUkraine

At this time, the government is developing the tax reform (again) but is either lacking the general view on the main direction of changes or not communicating its view. This article suggests that Ukrainian tax system should be at least marginally better than in the neighbouring countries in order to attract both foreign and domestic investment.

Twitter is one of the most efficient ways to deliver a message both to Ukrainian and foreign audiences. Yet, we found that only three of seventeen Ukrainian ministries have professionally run Twitter accounts while five do not have Twitter accounts at all.

Have a great weekend!

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