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European leaders restate commitment to the sovereignty of Ukraine at Crimea Platform inaugural event

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It has been more than seven years since the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol on 20 February 2014 by the Russian Federation. European leaders met in Ukraine for the International Crimea Platform Summit to reconfirm their steadfast commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.

The European Union’s representatives reiterated that they will not recognize the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The EU has maintained sanctions and its non-recognition policy.

European Council President Charles Michel said: “The illegal annexation and the situation in and around Crimea must remain high on the international agenda. This is why the International Crimean Platform has our utmost political support. The illegal annexation constitutes an affront to the very rules-based international order in which we all have a vital interest in preserving. This is why we call for the broadest international support possible in addressing the annexation of Crimea, through non-recognition measures and advocacy in international fora.”

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The Summit was organized on the eve of Ukraine’s 30th anniversary of becoming independent. Michel and the European Commission’s Valdis Dombrovskis reiterated the EU’s unprecedented support and support for Ukraine through the EU-Ukraine association agreement and more than €16 billion in funding since 2014.

Concerns have been heightened by the increasing militarization of the peninsula by the Russia Federation, including multiple military exercises, the imposition of conscription into Russia’s armed forces on Crimean residents and efforts to change the demographics through settlement.

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EU support for reforms in Ukraine is ineffective in fighting corruption

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The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has found EU support for reforms in Ukraine ineffective in fighting grand corruption. EU Reporter spoke to the lead auditor on this report Juhan Parts on his conclusions and what it means for the EU’s continuing support. 

Where there is endemic corruption in a country or society, leading to widespread petty corruption, Parts says it is necessary to look at higher and more structural explanations. 

“Despite varied support the EU has offered to Ukraine, oligarchs and vested interests continue to undermine the rule of law and to threaten the country’s development,” said  Parts. “Ukraine needs a focused and efficient strategy to tackle the power of oligarchs and diminish state capture. The EU can play a much more significant role than it has done so far.

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“Grand corruption and state capture by oligarchs hinder competition and growth, but they also harm the democratic process. The court estimates that tens of billions of euros are lost annually as a result of corruption.” 

The EU is certainly aware of the problem and has made it a cross-cutting priority, channelling funds and efforts through a variety of sectors, including competition policy, the environment, and of course the judiciary and civil society. However, the auditors found that the financial support and measures put in place have failed to deliver. 

Despite being aware of the connections between oligarchs, high-level officials, politicians, the judiciary and state-owned enterprises, the report finds the EU hasn’t developed a real strategy for targeting this sort of systemic corruption. Auditors give the example of money laundering, which is dealt with only at the margins and where EU states could take a stronger lead. 

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The auditors acknowledge some of the EU’s efforts, for example, in its help for the creation of a High Anti-Corruption Court, which has started to show promising results and a National Anti-Corruption Bureau, but these achievements are constantly at risk with organizations still struggling to make their presence felt and the entire system remains very fragile.

Parts says that there is very strong support in Ukraine for reforms and that we should look at the changes in countries like the Baltics and other EU countries who have made major reforms and have experienced much higher levels of growth relative to Ukraine in the same period. 

The ECA has made seven recommendations. Parts says that there is a willingness to take on these recommendations and make the necessary changes.

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Ukraine seethes as Putin's party courts voters in separatist-held Donbass

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Russian and separatist flags flutter in the air as lively music blares and soldiers from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic sit listening to speeches. Members of the Russian nationalist Night Wolves motorcycle club mill around nearby, write Alexander Ermochenko, Sergiy Karazy in Kyiv and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow.

Russia will hold parliamentary elections on 17-19 September and for the first time, United Russia, the ruling party that supports President Vladimir Putin, is campaigning in eastern Ukraine on territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

Up for grabs are the votes of more than 600,000 people who were given Russian passports after a Kremlin policy change in 2019 that Ukraine decried as a step towards annexation.

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"I will vote for sure, and only for United Russia because I think with them we will join the Russian Federation," said Elena, 39, from Khartsysk in the Donetsk region.

"Our children will study according to the Russian curriculum, our salaries will be according to Russian standards, and actually we will live in Russia," she said, speaking at a United Russia rally in the city of Donetsk.

In 2014, after street protests ousted Ukraine's Kremlin-friendly president Viktor Yanukovich, Russia swiftly annexed another part of Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula. Pro-Russian separatists then rose up across eastern Ukraine, in what Kyiv and its Western allies called a Moscow-backed land grab.

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More than 14,000 people have died in fighting between separatists and Ukrainian forces, with deadly clashes continuing regularly despite a ceasefire that ended large scale combat in 2015.

Two self-proclaimed "People's Republics" run the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, in a part of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbass. Moscow has cultivated close links to the separatists but denies orchestrating their rebellions.

In Donetsk, election billboards with images of Russian landmarks such as Moscow's St Basil's Cathedral are dotted around. The Russian rouble has supplanted the Ukrainian hryvnia. Kyiv, meanwhile, is furious at Russia staging an election on separatist-held territory.

"There is a total 'Russification' of this region going full steam ahead," Oleskiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's security and defence council, told Reuters in Kyiv.

"The other question is why is the world not reacting to this? Why should they recognise this State Duma?" he said in an interview in Kyiv, referring to the Russian parliament's lower house that will be chosen in the vote.

Russia says there is nothing unusual about people with dual Russian and Ukrainian nationality voting in a Russian election.

Donbass residents with Russian passports were entitled to vote "wherever they live", Russia's TASS news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Aug. 31.

Kyiv and Moscow accuse each other of blocking a permanent peace in the Donbass. A mass mobilisation of Russian forces near Ukraine's border earlier this year caused alarm in the West.

Across Russia itself, United Russia is expected to win the parliamentary election, as it has never failed to do in the Putin era, despite opinion poll ratings that have sagged lately over stagnant living standards. Opposition groups say their candidates have been denied access to the ballot, jailed, intimidated or pushed into exile, and they anticipate fraud. Russia says the vote will be fair.

Although the Donbass is small when compared with the overall Russian electorate, the ruling party's overwhelming support there could be enough to secure extra seats.

"Obviously United Russia's rating there is much higher and the protest vote is much lower there than across (Russia) on average," said Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speech writer turned political analyst.

"That's why they are mobilizing Donbass."

Yevhen Mahda, a Kyiv-based political analyst, said Russia was letting Donbass residents vote not only to boost United Russia, but to legitimise the separatist administrations.

"Russia, I would put it this way, with great cynicism, is exploiting the fact that most of the people living there have nowhere to go to get help, nobody to rely on, and often a Russian passport was the only way out of the desperate situation that people found themselves in on occupied territories."

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Ukraine marks Independence Day vowing to reclaim annexed territory

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Ukrainian service members take part in the Independence Day military parade in Kyiv, Ukraine August 24, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivers a speech during the Independence Day military parade in Kyiv, Ukraine August 24, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Ukraine held its first military parade in several years, celebrating the 30th anniversary of its independence and declaring it would reclaim areas of its territory annexed by Russia, writes Pavel Polityuk, Reuters.

Units of the Ukrainian army, tanks, armored personnel carriers, missiles and air defence systems marched along the central street of Kyiv, while a parade of Ukrainian Navy units took place in the Black Sea port of Odessa.

"We are fighting for our people, because it is possible to temporarily occupy territories, but it is impossible to occupy people's love for Ukraine," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said at a ceremony before the parade.

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"People in Donbass and Crimea will return to us, because we are a family," he said.

Relations between Kyiv and Moscow collapsed after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and the outbreak of war between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people in seven years.

On Monday, more than 40 countries took part in the Crimea platform, a summit in Kyiv designed to keep international attention focused on the return of Crimea. Read more.

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