Biden Calls On Ukraine To Press On With Reforms, Says Sanctions On Russia Must Remain Until Crimea Returned

January 16, 2017
Joe Biden and Petro Poroshenko. Photo: Presidential Administration of Ukraine

Ukraine Day 1064: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.

Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.


An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlin’s Dirty War in Ukraine


1 Ukrainian Soldier Wounded; 17 Attacks by Russia-Backed Forces on Front Line; Ukrainian CinC Visits NATO

One Ukrainian soldier was wounded in Marynika, and there were 17 attacks today on Ukrainian positions, reported today January 16, citing Col. Oleksandr Motuzyanik, press secretary of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry for ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation] issues and the morning ATO dispatch today. There were 60 attacks in the previous 24 hours, according to the ATO’s morning dispatch.
On the Mariupol line, militants fired with small arms on Pavlopol, Gnutovo, Vodyanoye, Krasnogorovka, and Shirokino.

On the Lugansk line, grenade-launchers were fired on Novozvanovka.

On the Donetsk line, grenade-launchers were used on Luganskoye and Mirinovsoye.

POW Exchanges Stalled 

The Russia-backed separatists insist on the immediate amnesty of 700 persons, in exchange for 50 POWs, Irina Gerashchenko, vice speaker of the Verkhovna Rada or Ukrainian parliament announced, Liga reported. She commented (translation by The Interpreter):
“Despite the promise to release the teenagers who have been accused of diversion by the New Year’s holidays, ORDO [Certain Regions of Donetsk Region] continues to hold the minors in prison, that is the price of the militants’ word.”

Although the Normandy Quartet leaders and Trilateral Contact Group had called for the release of the POWS before New Year’s as a sign of good will, after Ukraine released 15 people to the separatists’ side, the further release was blocked.

The separatists said that their release of Taras Kolodiy and two women whose cases had been raised repeatedly  was their “gesture of good will.” 

Ukraine has continued to call for nearly two years for the involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the negotiations to release the POWs and find the missing.

Poroshenko Speaks with Hollande and Merkel 

President Petro Poroshenko held a conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francis Hollande, three of the four Normandy Format leaders. (The four are the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, so named for the location of their first meeting in France on the anniversary of the Normandy invasion.]
The conversation was reported differently by Ukrainian and Russian media. said President Poroshenko stressed the need to resolve the situation with the POWs and Ukrainians unlawfully detained in Russia. Ukraine’s unilateral release of 15 people to the separatist side was noted. The French and German leaders also noted that the process of ratifying the association agreement between Ukraine and the EU and the introduction of a visa-free regimen would be completed soon.
Meanwhile, the story about the call in Izvestia didn’t mention all these points, and claimed that Hollande only called on Poroshenko to make “a real observation of the cease fire the principles of which were agreed on December 24” and also of the “urgent need for progress on humanitarian issues including release of prisoners and restoration of water supply in Ukraine.”
Izvestia cited a French government communique but we were unable to find it on the French foreign ministry web site.

Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Visits NATO

Lt. Gen. Viktor Muzhenko, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian General Staff began a visit today to NATO headquarters in Brussels, reported. He plans to take part in a meetingof NATO’s Military Committee on compatibility formats and in another meeting on countries that contribute to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

Gen. Muzhenko will also have a number of bilateral meetings with NATO countries.

The visit has not (yet) been reported on the NATO.into web site. It follows a recent NATO seminar on Ukraine’s Defence Education Enhancement Programme (DEEP) with officers from six military educational institutions in Lviv, Odessa, Zhytomyr and Kyiv on December 16, 2016 which was reported.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Biden Calls On Ukraine To Press On With Reforms, Says Sanctions On Russia Must Remain Until Crimea Returned

US Vice President Joe Biden is in Kiev today.

During a joint press conference with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, Biden, who will leave office on Friday, said that Ukraine must continue to enact reforms and “root out those who want a return to “cronyism and kleptocracy.”

Ukrainska Pravda reported that Biden said:

“The leadership of the country and the people must put Ukraine’s needs before their narrow personal interests. The common good must be placed above parochial interests and petty achievements. This applies to members of the government, deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, who have sworn to serve the people of Ukraine, judges, who have taken upon themselves the responsibility to administer justice, representatives of the media, civil society and ordinary citizens, whose task is to demand accountability from those in power.

If you can continue the reforms, Mr President, if you continue to work hard and make the choice to put Ukraine before everything else, I guarantee you that the American people will support you.

This won’t be easy…  you have to work against the cancer of corruption, which continues to corrode Ukraine’s democracy from within, and fight against the Kremlin’s aggression.”

Biden’s words are a reprise of his message to the Verkhovna Rada just over a year ago: reports that the Vice President said that Ukraine must continue to cooperate with the International Monetary Fund and reform its energy sector in order to secure independence from Russian gas.

Stressing the need for Ukraine to adhere to the stagnant Minsk peace plan, while acknowledging the difficulty presented by Russia’s continued violations of the agreement, Biden was quoted as saying [in reverse translation] it was “the only hope for Ukraine to move forward as a unified state.”

“After Russia and their henchmen in the east fulfil their obligations on the cessation of military activities, and allow the Donbass to establish peace and security, we can expect from Ukraine the full implementation of its political commitments.

And it’s no secret to anyone that Russia doesn’t want you to achieve success, Mr President. This is true not only of Ukraine, but of the future to which we aspire – a whole, peaceful Europe.

Your success as a free democracy is very important for the realization of this goal.”

Biden also said that sanctions imposed on Russia by the US in response to the Kremlin’s intervention in the Donbass should remain in force as long as Russia fails to adhere to the Minsk agreements.

Furthermore, he said that sanctions imposed in March, 2014, after Russian forces took over Crimea, should not be lifted until Russia returned the peninsula to Ukrainian jurisdiction.

This is significant, because US and European officials have made very little mention of the return of Crimea as a condition of sanctions relief in the last year, with the focus exclusively remaining Minsk compliance.

It also places the outgoing Vice President in direct opposition to Donald Trump, who will be sworn in as President on Friday.

In an interview with Michael Gove, who was Britain’s Secretary of State for Justice until July last year and a prominent campaigner for the UK to leave the European Union, published yesterday by The Times, Trump suggested that he may tie sanctions relief to an agreement on the reduction of Russia’s nuclear arsenal:

“They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit.” 

Trump made no mention of Ukraine in this context.

Reuters reports that Biden was asked today about the chances of Trump maintaining support for Ukraine:

As Biden left the room, a journalist asked if he thought the Trump administration would give Ukraine the same priority as he had. Biden gave a thumbs up and said: “Hope springs eternal.”