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The number one question between #Ukraine government and its people.

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The 20th EU - Ukraine Summit was recently held in Brussels, where both sides discussed many issues, including those connected with the partnership between the two sides, in particular the implementation of the provision for Association Agreement, signed in 2014. Taking into consideration the previous year, this meeting was more successful for Ukraine, as European officials made important formal announcements admitting Russia to be an aggressor in the Crimea’s annexation and Donbas conflict. In addition, Brussels praised Ukraine for carrying out different reforms. However, the issue concerning corruption was high on the agenda in the dialogue between representatives from Brussels and Kyiv.

At the same time many experts say that the results are not satisfactory enough for the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. During this summit it was especially important for him to get endorsement of the intentions of European integration from his western colleagues, as this factor was among the most important ones in his pre-election campaign. In the meantime, Ukrainian sociological research demonstrates that suspicion towards authorities is increasing.

The primary causes of crisis

Let’s figure out what is actually going on in Ukraine. What are the primary causes of the situation right now? They are, without doubt, extremely interesting.

Having dedicated a lot of time and effort to exploring Ukraine  in order to communicate with my Ukrainian colleagues, I came to the conclusion that the primary cause of the current crisis is the oligarchic influence, which as you know, exists in Ukrainian politics and economics, being the main brake on the way of  development. This problem is fundamental, because it cannot be changed even by large-scale actions, as Euromaidan.

As for Ukrainian political forces during the last 15 years, in the Western Ukraine they are regarded as a field for fighting between different financial and industrial groups of Ukraine and have influence and an access for resources, which give posts in the administrative apparatus. It is quite obvious that the result of this is the corruption in Ukrainian journalism and the poor rating by Transparency International, according to which Ukraine is in the 130th place, equal to Gambia, Iran and Sierra Leone. Let’s agree that it is not impressive. One of the reasons for such at rating is considered to be the lack of political will by the authorities to fight corruption and can really be explained by the fact that future draft laws, which should be approved in parliament depends on such mechanisms. Of course, I don’t assume that all members of the Ukrainian parliament are submerged into corruptive schemes, but if we try to gain an understanding of the way in which a mandate is given, and draft laws are passed, we’ll come to the conclusion that such phenomenon exists within legislature.

Infographics. The source: Transparency International:

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-VpzJJXbctlE/Wo9RAMWx_sI/AAAAAAAAb80/vv6iDmu9nzwopga3MP7QDa7I8FUh50ciACLcBGAs/s1600/CPI2017_EasternEuropeCentralAsia_EN.jpg

Ukraine needs more investments now than at any time. On the one hand this country is indeed attractive for investors as it is still an unknown market for them. There are projects which are worth investing in.  First of all, there is the agrarian sector, the IT sphere, forestry, and other branches. What is more, with the opening of the New Silk Road new possibilities will be available. On the other hand, however, according to an estimate by the political expert in international relations Anton Kuchuhidze, constant changes of rules and the corruption of political forces are not a guarantee of the correctness of their investments. Unfortunately, this factor often prevents foreign investors from investing their money in Ukraine. It is obviously not good for the national interests of the country.

That’s why I have the following question: Why is it impossible to make MPs change the rules of the game, move towards the model of flourishing country, where everyone has the possibility to realize themselves within consensual norms as it was in Georgia? Successful examples exist, and they are very close. The monopolization of mass media, economy and politics, corruptive schemes, unofficial agreements, pressure, intimidation – all these examples are the vestiges of the past. Ukrainians needs to get rid of them in order not to lose themselves and to continue moving towards a successful country.

‘Forest-related problem

Ukrainian corruption scandals are not new even for Europeans: publications about such events as the ‘Rotterdam+’ program of last year is a vivid proof of it. However, being here, I mean, at a distance, we cannot review these issues and all we have are general facts, without any details, that   will explain the anatomy of Ukrainian politics

Having understood that, I started to communicate more with my colleagues, journalists from Kyiv and to get to know many interesting things. I want to share with you the recent example, which is extremely painful for me. Recently, my attention was drawn by the law № 5495.  “The amendment of some laws of Ukraine about the preservation of Ukrainian forests and the prevention of illegal export of raw materials” has drawn my attention. It was prepared to save Ukrainian forestry and prevent the illegal export of raw materials. It is generally known that in Ukraine the name of the law does not always reflect its essence and intentions and what is more, they can often be different things.

Photo. The source: Vsapravda http://vsapravda.info/?p=74223

According to an estimate by the coordinator of  ‘Stop, corruption’ and well-known journalist Roman Bochkala, the forest-related problem is on the Ukrainian agenda for a long time and its essence lies in the need for preservation of resources of the country, which were destroyed in huge quantities. For example, in 2014 in Ukraine almost 25 million cubic meters of wood were destroyed, while only 58 thousand hectares were renewed. As if to solve this problem, and improve the situation in the forestry, in 2015 the moratorium on export of round timber for a term of 10 years was approved. Now it can be assumed that the results of this moratorium were not justified.

Ukrainian forest is used now as it was used earlier but the difference is that the forestry now is aimed more at the internal market than at the external one and sinks into corruption. In addition, after 2015 the ‘lishosps’ (the objects of material production, which deal with accounting, protection, deforestation, and renewal of forests) stopped getting government financing. Thus, they found themselves in a difficult situation with a lot of problems with the absence of a legal mechanism for getting enough money, necessary not even for making a profit but for the maintenance of the current situation. During the last year, the number of workers has decreased by 10%, scores of them have faced bankruptcy and the scale of reforestation has decreased due to the lack of money. In such conditions these problems mentioned before are still actual and the cases of the self-willed deforestation will increase in geometrical progression.

Photo. The source: Pogliad https://pogliad.ua/news/bukovina/salagor-poyasniv-zvidki-berutsya-vagoni-z-lisom-na-zaliznichnih-stanciyah-bukovini-303136

Unfortunately, in Ukraine this problem is still being manipulated by politicians, who want to satisfy their business needs, the proof of which is the aforementioned law №5495. I want to mention that in a declarative way it is aimed at strengthening the moratorium, approved in 2015 and to compensate its disadvantages through limiting the amount of timber cutting to 25 million cubic meters a year, and especially importantly will increase the responsibility for the violation of law. However, it is not so simple as it can look like from the first sight. The new law does not constitute criminal liability for the illegal deforestation and the size of the administrative responsibility decreases. Practically, the new law makes the process of punishment easier and lets them continue doing their illegal activities.

Apart from this, the issues about reforestation stay unregulated by law and without them the moratorium and any restrictions will not make sense in the short nor long term. The same is true about the implementation of the economic measures to restrain the export of sawn timber and the stimulation of the export of the products, both are neglected. The first is possible because of the increase of the custom tariffs on the export of the raw materials and the products of the low degree of processing. The second one – because of the government support of timber industry in general. Instead of that, we get regular lobbying draft laws ‘ –economy expert  Yuriy Gavrylechko said.

Who is standing behind the law №5495 and why?

Being lobbied by the representatives of populist Radical party by Oleh Lyashko, under loud declarations on the protection of the nature, this law moves forward the interests of Ukrainian oligarchs, who are trying to reverse the local market of the wood and therefore put it under their control, in order to gain a lot of profit. In this case, this is about such figures as Leonid Yurushev and Yuriy Kosyuk – persons, who are very different according to their publicity, but both extremely powerful in Ukrainian business and politics.

Taking into consideration this duo, Mr. Kosyuk,  is currently a dollar billionaire and is constantly on the list of the five richest people in Ukraine (according to Forbes ($ 1 billion)), and is unofficially known as a close friend of Petro Poroshenko, whose daughter-in-law runs a joint business project - presented last year in Davos -  with Yuriy Anatolyevich . Being known as the “Agrobaron” and one of the largest Landowner in Ukraine, Kosyuk holds key positions in the agriculture sector at the expense of the minimum taxes, export quotas and state subsidies with a refund of UAH 4.5 billion. All other entrepreneurs did not receive more than 250 million even though, most likely, they needed more. There are legends about the wealth of the "chicken baron" (in particular, about a huge estate near "Pheophany", built on the territory of the Scythian settlements), which was loudly selected at the National Academy of Sciences. As for Leonid Yurushev ($ 900 million (2015)), his activity is displayed much less often, but he is known of being one of Arseniy Yatsenyuk's investors and owns many enterprises, including the Ukrainian Holding Sawmill Company.

Photo. The source: RBK-UKRAINE https://styler.rbc.ua/static/ckef/img/17097381_1729670643727971_4950521622478185267_o.jpg

At the moment, it can be said that the forestry sector was interesting for Mr. Kosyuk, who is trying to purchase Mr. Yurushev's business, which lobbied by all possible means for the adoption of the Law 5495, in order to help the partner and to get more benefit from this. Aimed at creating incentives for the development of forestry, this law actually destroys it, since it makes it impossible for forestry companies to trade with European countries and receive much more money than it is possible in Ukraine, and thus become economically self-sufficient. Given that the lishosp is a state-owned enterprise, it transfers the majority of its profits to the state treasury without leaving the necessary minimum in order to fulfill its primary functions (prevention, firefighting, effective control of the territory) and maintain the forest area in good conditions, taking into account that there are enough problems with the forest in Ukraine. One of the most important threats is the distribution of bark beetles, and to overcome it, it is necessary to cut out "sick" trees in time. In general, in Ukraine there is a false idea that the forest can not be cut off. It is not only possible but also necessary: but I admit that it must be done exclusively in a civilized way, paying attention to resource recovery, because otherwise it will turn into thoughtless exploitation and resource utilization.

Euros, obtained from European partners and investors, will help Ukrainian foresters to solve this problem. European countries have long understood this principle, and therefore, even in ecological countries, they continue to engage in logging. For example, in 2016, 73.3 million cubic meters of timber were harvested in Sweden, 57 million in Finland, and 16.4 million in much less in Ukraine, but the above-mentioned Scandinavian countries do not complain about environmental problems, on the contrary. they are examples to the whole world. Ukraine must realize how to use effectively the natural resources, which are given by nature. Against this background, it is sad that the recently adopted law does not foresee such a development path; at the moment, it is not the best suited for the short-sighted business interests of the duo Yurushev-Kosyuk, since it actually enables them to access cheap, almost free raw materials, which are circulating only on the local market will  and be sold in the cost price, and then in the form of finished items will be exported. Such a scenario does not take into account the interests of forestry and local communities, and moreover, it cynically ignores them, leaving key stakeholders, on their own, with economic and environmental problems that are likely to result in receiving huge profits. What national interests in this case can be discussed?

What are the conseqences?

It is important to say that the use of the practices of shadow lobbyism has a bad impact not only on the forest-related issue. What you observe now can be used for any other spheres, which are connected with money or power in Ukraine. The further Ukrainians go, the more they understand about the negative influence of the preservation of rules and methods.

Now, European investors are ready to invest their money in the forestry (about 200 million euros), but observing the way in which laws are made according to certain business goals of the local oligarchs, the chances for the successful cooperation between Ukraine and EU do not look strong. Ukrainians should understand what they want and separate their true national interests from false ones. So, if the president Poroshenko is a guarantee of the Constitution of Ukraine and the one, who represents the interests of Ukrainian people, he should use the veto on this law. This scenario is obvious for me but who knows what our politicians are thinking about?

The story I told is just a little example of what is going on with corruption in the Ukrainian political system. Of course, such issues as the situation with forestry was not the main point in the agenda at the summit on the 10th of July, but however it was discussed unofficially. To sum up, I can say that the topic of corruption will be always one of the most discussed  in the dialoque between the Kyiv and Brussels, but what is more important, will be always the number one question in the dialoque between Ukrainian government and Ukrainian people.

 

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Refugee camps on the Greek islands: Situation and challenges

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The situation on the Greek islands following the destruction of the Moria refugee camp was the focus of a debate in the Civil Liberties Committee on Tuesday afternoon (27 October).

MEPs quizzed representatives of the European Commission and the German Presidency of the Council about the situation on the temporary Kara Tepe site, which houses most of the 12,000 people left homeless by the fire in Moria. They will also look into the challenges faced by the Greek authorities regarding reception of migrants and asylum-seekers and processing of their asylum claims.

Recent revelations about Frontex staff and resources allegedly being involved in illegal pushbacks of asylum-seekers carried out by Greek border guards are also likely to be raised during the exchange of views.

Check the full agenda of the committee meeting. You can follow the discussion.

The humanitarian emergency in Lesvos after the fire in Moria and EU aid to the Greek authorities was discussed in a plenary debate with Commissioner Johansson on 17 September.

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Budget 2021, Covid-19 measures, Gender Equality Week

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This week MEPs will decide on their priorities for the 2021 budget, consider how the pandemic has affected fundamental values and hold the first European Gender Equality Week.

Covid-19, rule of law and recovery

On Tuesday (26 October), the civil liberties committee assessed the impact emergency measures to tackle COVID-19 have had on fundamental rights and the rule of law.

The following day, Parliament’s budgets and economic affairs committees will vote to strengthen the InvestEU programme. This fund for 2021-2027 aims to ensure private investment for medium- and long-term priorities such as the digital transition and the Green Deal but needs to be reinforced to cope with the economic impact of COVID-19.

EU budget

The budgets committee will vote today (28 October) on Parliament’s priorities for the 2021 budget. Parliament has already said it wants more funding for young people, researchers, health workers, entrepreneurs, transport infrastructure and security.

Right to repair

In an effort to promote a culture of reuse, Parliament’s consumer protection committee called on Monday (26 October) for a “right to repair” for consumers. MEPs want to facilitate systematic and affordable repairs, encourage repair over replacement, and create a more sustainable single market for consumers and businesses.

Gender equality

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, Parliament will hold its first European Gender Equality Week. Taking place until Thursday, Parliament’s committees will host discussions on issues ranging from human trafficking and digitalization to breast cancer and reproductive health.

Internet access

The third in a serious of dialogues entitled Ideas for a New World takes place on Wednesday afternoon. This dialogue between Parliament President David Sassoli, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and former Commission president Romano Prodi will focus on access to the internet as a human right. There will also be interventions from inventor of the worldwide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee and activist Simona Levi.

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US Presidential election and Russia

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The US presidential election is just days away. Against the backdrop of a dramatic and unprecedented confrontation between Republicans and Democrats, which borders on paranoia, the anti-Russian theme is actively being promoted, writes Moscow correspondent Alex Ivanov.

It is no secret that in America, accusing Russia of all possible sins and, first of all, of insisting on interfering in the US elections, has become a favorite topic on which only a very lazy person does not speculate.

Especially zealous is the democratic candidate Joseph Biden, who at any opportunity threatens to punish Moscow in the harshest way for trying to influence the election process.

However, in Moscow, the upcoming elections in America obviously do not cause any visible excitement. The Kremlin keeps a silent distance and does not seek to show its preferences. Russia, as before, realistically assesses the election fever in the United States, realizing that most of the statements, slogans and even accusations made during this period have a very approximate projection on the real policy of Washington. In a word, the theatrical action and "high voltage" that occur in America every 4 years practically do not concern Russia in any way. In Moscow have already got used to the loud cries and pleas to "restrain Russia", which in reality have quite a limited impact.

“Competition in a great dislike towards Russia has already become such a constant, probably, of all electoral processes in the United States of America. We are well aware of this and we regret it,” said Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian president.

Paradoxically, during the administration of President Donald Trump, who, as everyone believes, was allegedly supported by Moscow during the last campaign, relations with Russia reached the lowest possible point. America has only strengthened its sanctions policy against Moscow in recent years, as evidenced by Washington's incredible attempts to stifle the Nord stream 2 energy project. Such insistence of the Americans has already caused a wave of indignation in the EU, while most of its members do not want to put up with the dictates of the United States, especially Germany.

Periodic outbursts of dislike for Russia lead to other consequences, in particular within the framework of NATO. America, against the background of Germany's desire to develop energy cooperation with Moscow, started a large-scale “happening” with the transfer of its troops to other regions of Europe.

The experience of past elections in the United States shows that sociology is deceptive and it is impossible to be sure of someone's victory in advance. As for the leader of public opinion - Democrat Joseph Biden -he himself recently said that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want him to win. "I had several very frank and direct conversations with President Putin when I was vice president and before that. I think one of the reasons he doesn't want me to be president is because he knows there will be more direct conversations like this," said Joseph Biden.

Joseph Biden himself is confident that relations with Russia will not improve under Putin’s leadership, at least he has repeatedly made it clear during his election speeches. So, recently, he said that the US intelligence services have already warned him that the Russian authorities will try to interfere in the November elections to undermine their legitimacy. According to Joseph Biden, if he becomes President, Moscow will have to "pay a serious price" for such actions. In addition, he promised to seek restrictions on imports of goods from China and Russia to the United States, as well as to counter the growth of Russia's influence in Europe and other regions.

According to Biden, Donald Trump does not take the threat from Russia seriously enough, which makes it easy for Moscow to implement its sinister plans to take over the world. As he seeks the Oval office, Joseph Biden hopes to correct this and other mistakes of the current President.

Joseph Biden and many of his supporters in Washington expect a tougher policy towards Russia. There, for some reason, it is customary to call Donald Trump a "Pro-Russian President" and a "puppet of the Kremlin", despite the fact that he did not actually do anything good for Moscow. An illustrative example of this attitude is a column published recently by the Washington Post staff writer Jennifer Rubin entitled 'Joe Biden would put an end to Trump’s policy of putting Putin first'.

Arms control and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are perhaps the only areas where Joseph Biden can be expected to make positive progress for Russia. First of all, this concerns the Russian-American Treaty on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms (START Treaty), which Donald Trump, apparently, simply intends to let expire in February 2021, instead of, as Moscow suggests, extending it for another five years. The current head of the White house made it a condition of extending the Treaty to involve China in arms control. However, the prospects for multilateral agreements in this area are not yet visible and are unlikely to appear in six months.

Joseph Biden has already promised to extend the START Treaty in the event of his election. The question is how to do this in the two weeks between the date of the inauguration of the new US President (it is scheduled for January 20, 2021) and the end of the contract (February 5, 2021). Russian officials have repeatedly warned that Moscow needs time for domestic formalities related to the extension of such an agreement.

Other agreements are more complicated. So, even the election of Joseph Biden will not prevent Donald Trump from withdrawing the United States from the Open skies Treaty on 22 November, 2020. This agreement allows its 34 member countries, including the United States and Russia, to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other's territories in order to strengthen transparency and mutual trust. On 22 May, Donald Trump announced the US withdrawal from this Treaty, justifying this decision by saying that the Treaty is being abused by Russia. If Joseph Biden wants to return the US to the Treaty, he will have to apply to a special Advisory Commission. Given the fact that there are also those among the Democrats who doubt the benefits of this Treaty for the United States, automatism in this matter should not be expected.

We should definitely not expect the parties to return to the Treaty on the Elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles, which the US withdrew from last year.

As for the Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the headquarters of Joseph Biden made it clear that he is ready to consider returning the United States to the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint comprehensive plan of action, JCPOA, from which Donald Trump withdrew in 2018). However, this will not be easy to do. First, because in the remaining six months, the current administration can ensure that nothing remains of the deal. And secondly, because Iran can put forward conditions to the United States that they will not agree to.

As for the possibility of placing American nuclear weapons in Poland, along with the transfer of part of the US contingent from Germany, these plans have already been promised by Joseph Biden's advisers to reconsider. In general, his administration will clearly try to make up for the damage done to Euro-Atlantic relations by Donald Trump. Joseph Biden will not demand an ultimatum from European allies to increase their defense spending, threatening to leave NATO. It is not profitable for Russia to strengthen relations within the Alliance, because Donald Trump recently openly admitted that the main goal of NATO's existence is to counter Moscow. While members of the Alliance are engaged in internal disassembly, they have less time and effort to implement this task.

Donald Trump likes to repeat: despite the fact that he is accused of excessive sympathy for Russia and almost collusion with the Kremlin, it was he who imposed the toughest sanctions against Moscow. This is not true: under his democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, more Russian individuals and businesses were added to the sanctions lists. In addition, it was Barack Obama who delivered one of the most sensitive blows to Moscow, arresting Russian diplomatic property in a number of US cities and expelling dozens of Russian diplomats from the country. However, Donald Trump is rapidly catching up with his predecessor: in the past week alone, the United States has imposed sanctions on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, blacklisted five companies allegedly linked to businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin (close to President Putin businessman) and demanded that European creditors of Nord stream 2 withdraw from the project, threatening to impose retroactive restrictive measures against them.

Moscow is waiting for one of two scenarios: either moderately negative or radically negative. At the same time, the personality factor of the US President will only indirectly influence the development of events in a particular scenario.

The presidential election has almost already begun: both Trump and Biden have already voted for themselves ahead of schedule. Moscow remains neutral and refrains from making any comments on the upcoming event. This may be the best way to avoid further unsubstantiated accusations about potential interference and meddling.

Nevertheless, Moscow is very sober and objective about the prospects for further development (or degradation) of relations with America. The eventual victory of any of the contenders is unlikely to bring Russia any tangible positive elements.

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