LIVE VIDEO FROM THE YES CONFERENCE IN KIEV:
For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?
At the YES conference in Kiev, many people here believe that sporadic fighting between combatants on the line of contact may happen, but the narrative of the Ukrainian government is that the ceasefire is holding — or holding enough. Yesterday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that for the first time in a year and a half there were no ceasefire violations. The mood in Kiev is optimistic.
Today, however, ceasefire violations have been reported. The Ukraine Crisis Media Center reports:
Near the Donetsk airport, the enemy held a series of armed provocations with the use of rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. As a result of hostile attacks, one Ukrainian serviceman was wounded.
Also Colonel Lysenko said that the enemy had not ceased to gather intel on the location of the Ukrainian military. According to Andriy Lysenko, 2 flights of enemy drones were detected yesterday in Donetsk region.
Colonel Lysenko reported about the return from enemy captivity of two Ukrainian soldiers, Serhiy Furaev and Artem Komisarchuk, who were kept in captivity of a so-called “DPR” for more than a year.
Colonel Andriy Lysenko said that there were a total of five ceasefire violations, and one Ukrainian serviceman was injured near Donetsk airport, where small arms, RPGs, and grenade launchers were used.
Lysenko also said that soldiers were being rotated out of the front.
Retired U.S. General David Petraeus is now speaking. He was asked directly whether anyone in Washington believes that Crimea will return to Ukraine.
Petraeus started with opening remarks, noting that while “there is no military solution to this crisis, there is a military context.” Petraeus said that it is time to increase what the U.S. is doing to improve Ukraine’s military position.
As far as Crimea is concerned, he interpreted Nuland’s remarks that Crimean was “special” as code that this was a long-term goal, not an immediate reality.
Petraeus says that he has a kinship with Ukrainian soldiers because he has trained with them, and he believes they “truly are heroes,” in terrible weather and with equipment that is “no match for what is provided by the Russians to the separatists.”
“We have provided a great deal,” but clearly it is time to increase the equipment given to Ukraine’s military. “It is time for Western countries to think about defensive anti-tank systems” such as the U.S. Javelin, and the short-range AT-4 — weapons which “would make Russian elements pay a higher price.”
Petraeus was asked what he though Putin’s strategic intentions were.
“He would love to reestablish the Russian empire. He will never do that but he has taken steps in various in various directions” to do so.
Refat Chubarov, Member of the Parliament of Ukraine; Chairman, Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, was also asked if Crimea would become “Ukrainian in any meaningful sense.” Chubarov said that the name of the conference was a sign that Crimea will return to Ukraine.
Chubarov also noted the “surreal” presence of Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Vladimir Putin who are touring Crimea at the moment, at the same time as this conference, the Yalta European Strategy Conference, is held in Kiev, not Yalta.
Chubarov reads a letter he received from a Crimean Tatar who is in a prison run by the Russian FSB. He says it was written by a young person who took place in rallies in support of territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Chubarov recommended strengthening sanctions against Russia, targeting Putin’s “retinue” directly. “We cannot ‘unzombie’ the Russian people, but be can sill influence them.” He also stressed the need to reform Ukraine, something within their control. “We have to restore the justice that is placed on international law.”
Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma (1994-2005) is speaking about the importance of restoring control of the border. Ukraine, Kuchma says, is suffering due to the war in the east, the lack of control of Donbass and Crimea, Russian sanctions, and obviously the economic issues springing from the legacy of Yanukovych and the revolution.
Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State, started her remarks by saying that she is glad the name of the conference (Yalta European Strategy) has not changed because it is a reminder of the Russian occupation of Yalta, on the Crimean peninsula.
Nuland praised the country for coming so far in just 19 months. “Less than two years ago people were standing in the snow in the streets of Kiev to protest in the Euromaidan movement. Less than a year ago hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers were dying on the battlefields in the east.” She praised reform efforts, and though she urged that Ukraine needs to continue to make progress, Nuland stressed that the United States will continue to support Ukraine.
Nuland highlighted the more than $200 million the U.S. has given to Ukraine, the training operations which have assisted national guard units and now the regular Ukrainian army, and other efforts which have been given to Ukraine to boost Ukraine’s economy and security.
But there is a shift in Nuland’s speech as she urges more reform, internal unity, and resistance to Uklraine’s oligarchs, some of whom pay no taxes.
Sackur, however, calls her back to the topic — security. Is the U.S. prepared to give Ukraine what it has asked for — more defensive assistance.
Nuland says that the U.S. support for Ukraine’s military has already had an impact on Ukraine’s battlefields. We’re not sure that’s accurate, however, and Sackur expressed his skepticism as well.
Next up, OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier:
Zannier says that there are signs that the ceasefire is holding and his team is working to move to next steps — to ensure the withdrawal of heavy equipment and long-range artillery from the line of contact, the improvement of monitoring capabilities including UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles — drones) and other vehicles.
Zannier says he has no access to the border, but sees significant amounts of equipment present on the battlefield which “someone has provided” which was not there at the start. “There are large amounts of ammunition — there is a continued strengthening of the fighters on the ground,” referring to the separatists. Zannier is clearly implying that the separatists continue to receive direct military support from Russia.
Zannier also stressed that facilitating elections and withdrawal of heavy equipment could bring the next stage of peace, and if those efforts fail this conflict could quickly return to its previous state (hot).
— James Miller
Ivan Mikloš, Member of the National Council of the Slovak Republic; Minister of Finance of the Slovak Republic (2002-2006, 2010-2012), started his remarks by saying that it is important to think about Ukraine’s corruptions as part of a legacy of the Soviet Union. As we see with many former Soviet states (perhaps most notably Russia), the Soviet system of corruption did not die with the end of the Cold War.
However, as guests noted, Poland has thrived as Ukraine has suffocated. Populism is also blamed. Mikloš said that many who champion reform are not popular, and the same may be true in Ukraine. Politicians find themselves blocked by both oligarchs (nearly 20% of the wealth of Ukraine is concentrated in just 10 individuals) and people who expect the government to provide services without raising taxes.
Atlantic Council’s Anders Åslund notes, however, that progress is being made, and history shows that the early stages of reform governments are messy, unpopular, and constantly changing. He also cautioned, however, that recent progress is not encouraging. There is concern that the reform efforts are slowing down — Sackur suggested that the government is becoming “a little bit comfortable” with the status quo.
Minister of Infrastructure Andriy Pyvovarsky says that the “old blood” in his ministry is a problem, but the new blood is already changing the culture. Lack of fair compensation for government officials, however, is a major obstacle — many of the new members cannot afford to stay in the government for long because of the low pay.
Aivaras Abromavicius, Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine, insists that progress is being made and the ministers just need to continue to do what they’re doing. He held up reforms within Kiev’s police as the best model to copy.
James Miller is at the YES conference in Kiev, where the current panel is debating the effectiveness of the government reform effort. Today’s panel:
PRIVATIZATION, DEREGULATION, TAX REFORM – MIRACLE CURE OR MIRAGES?
Moderator: Stephen Sackur, Presenter, HARDtalk, BBC World News
Aivaras Abromavicius, Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine
Anders Åslund, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council
Valeriya Gontareva, Governor, National Bank of Ukraine
Ivan Mikloš, Member of the National Council of the Slovak Republic; Minister of Finance of the Slovak Republic (2002-2006, 2010-2012)
Oleksiy Pavlenko, Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine
Andriy Pyvovarsky, Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine
Today’s panel started with a video presentation of key members of the Ukrainian government discussing the obstacles and challenges in the reform effort. Key speakers include Dmitro Shymkiv, a deputy in the Presidential Administration, and Natalie Jaresko, in charge of the Treasury — interestingly, Jaresko is also an American, and Shymkiv was an executive in Microsoft before this crisis. Both have returned to Ukraine specifically to tackle reform efforts.
Jaresko made an interesting comment — a major obstacle in reform is populism. In between election cycles, Jaresko is finding that people want more government handouts, lower taxes, and free gas — but as we know, a key element of the IMF loan package received by Ukraine is that the government needs to cut spending and increase revenue, which it is attempting to do while fighting a war, reforming the government, and facing an incredible economic slowdown and currency devaluation.
All of the ministers, however, sound optimistic that within a decade or less Ukraine will look a lot more like Europe.
The soundtrack for the video — the theme from the movie Mission Impossible. Moderator Stephen Sackur remarked that the only thing missing from the movie was a car chase.
Sackur also noted that the team of ministers is very young, energetic, and ambitious. Sackur asked Andriy Pyvovarsky, Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine, if he regretted leaving a career in banking in the private sector to join the government. Pyvovarsky said that on two occasions this year the bad press and hateful comments from the public made him wife cry, but joining this government is like joining the army to fight bureaucracy and corruption. Oleksiy Pavlenko, Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine, echoed those comments, saying that this was a chance to leave a beautiful life to tackle an incredibly important challenge.
A theme from all of the panelists — corruption needs to be fought at the same time that the economy is reformed. Pavlenko stressed that people who are responsible for the corruption, at all levels, need to land “behind bars.”
“We have a limited time to act, and this is what people in the business community expect of us… Not enough progress is being made to combat corruption.” Interestingly, he seemed to place responsibility for this at the foot of the Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Another video presentation demonstrates the abysmal numbers of Ukrainian GDP growth, as well as the even-more disheartening rankings of nations based on corruption, doing business, and rule of law. However, then the video notes that 55% of parliamentarians are new, reform efforts are underway, and things are changing.
But the video notes that reform pace is slowing and Ukrainians believe that the country is moving in the wrong direction. The question — is this the “populism” that Jaresko spoke of, or a reflection of lack of reform. The video is a bit open-ended, since the answer is perhaps a mix of both. Progress has been made, but entire sectors of government, particularly the judiciary, remain exactly the same, “staffed by the old guard.”
“Parliament has show little support for the cabinet… the percentage of parliament that tends to vote together is shrinking.”