Hello this is Ukraine Calling. A weekly roundup of what’s been happening in Ukraine, with a focus on a main issue. I’m Marta Dyczok for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv, and here are the headlines that caught my attention this week.
Headlines: Olympics and War Rhetoric
While athletes competed for gold in Rio, Russia turned up the heat in Crimea. On Wednesday, Russia issued a statement that they had foiled Ukrainian attempts to conduct terrorist acts in Crimea, and that two Russians had been killed by Ukrainians. Russia’s President Putin accused Ukraine of trying to provoke a conflict, that there were no prospects for continuing the Minsk Peace process, and that Russia would hold war games in the Black Sea.
The story began on Tuesday, when Ukrainian media began reporting that Russia had closed the border with Crimea. Ukrainians living in Crimea and those who left but have relatives living there, had travelled back and forth since the annexation in 2014, although they had to go through various checkpoints.
Once Russia’s accusations hit the headlines on Wednesday, Ukraine responded. It denied any attempted incursions into Crimea, and called Putin’s claims preposterous. Ukraine’s President Poroshenko asked for immediate talks with Russia, the US, Germany, and France. He put all of Ukraine’s security services on high alert, and asked Ukrainians not to travel to Crimea for the time being. The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on the issue. The US State Department and the EU reportedly called on both Russia and Ukraine to reduce tensions near the administrative boundary between Crimea and Ukraine.
We’ll be bringing you commentary on this from Ukraine’s former Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko, two experts in Kyiv, and a voice from Brazil later in the show.
Headlines: War in Donbas
In other news, the OSCE reported a slight de-escalation in hostilities in the Donbas war this week. Ukrainian authorities said that there were four days when there were no casualties. But over the week, six soldiers were killed, 35 were wounded. And on Thursday two children were wounded near Mariinka.
A Kyiv judge was charged with taking bribes this week. Detectives of Ukraine’s Anti-corruption Bureau caught Mykola Chaous with $150,000 .00, which he had buried in a jar in his garden. The hon. Mr. Chaous did not appear in court to face the charges, but he will be unable to flee the country, since his passport was confiscated during the search.
And MP Oleksandr Onyshchenko has been put on Ukraine’s wanted list. Ukraine Calling listeners may remember that last month, we reported that Parliament stripped him of his Parliamentary immunity. He was then charged with embezzlement from the state-run company Ukrhazvydobuvannia during the previous government. He is accused of causing a 1.6 billion dollar loss to the state budget. Ukraine also asked Interpol to put Mr. Onyshchenko on their wanted list, since he is reportedly in London, England. What you may not have known, is that in 2012 he competed in Equestrian events for Ukraine during the London Olympics.
Headlines: Indigenous People’s Day in Kyiv
On the 9th of August Kyiv hosted a round table on the occasion of Indigenous People’s Day. Leaders of the Crimean Tatars, Karaites, and Krymchaks, all from the Crimean peninsula, gathered in the capital to discuss, The Past, the Present and Future Prospects.
Headlines: Ukraine’s Olympic Results
As of Friday, Ukraine was ranking 38th in the Rio Olympic games. They got their first medal on Monday. Serhiy Kulish won silver in Men’s 10meter air rifle. Oleg Verniaiev got the second silver in Men’s individual all round gymnastics. And Olga Kharlan got bronze in Women’s fencing. During the last Olympics, in London in 2012, Ukraine ranked 14th. The first time Ukraine ever competed in the Olympic games was in 1994. It’s first ever gold medal winner was Viacheslav Oliinyk from Mariupol, a city that today is kilometers from the front line. He became the world’s top wrestler three years after Ukraine became independent.
To discuss war, sports, and politics, Ukraine Calling spoke to Ukraine’s former Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko, two experts in Kyiv: Brian Mefford, a business and political consultant, author of the popular Ukrainian Political blog, Atlantic Council non-resident Fellow, and Michael Getto, who worked on the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, is an international development and elections consultant, ‘an encyclopedia of sports and politics. And Jairo O. do Nascimento in Brazil.
Former Minister Ohryzko gave an insider’s perspective:
Dyczok: Volodymyr Ohryzko was Ukraine’s Foreign Minister in 2008 when Russian tanks rolled into Georgia during the Beijing Olympics. So he has an insider’s perspective of how these crises are handled. We reached Mr. Ohryzko in Kyiv by phone. Thank you very much for finding the time to speak to us. I would like to ask you a few questions. This week Russia once again ramped up the rhetoric and aggression against Ukraine and Crimea during the Olympic Games. This is not the first time that Russia has chosen to act aggressively towards a neighbouring state during Olympic Games. What’s the significance of the timing of this?
Ohryzko: It is really very stable way of Russian thinking and Russian way of doing foreign policy. I do not say that we should say about some similarities on the account what happened in 2008. It is really stable manner of Russian foreign policy: to be aggressive, to be unpredictable, and to create problems for the neighbours, and, in fact, for Russia itself. I would say that today we are in a very different situation. First of all, because we have a completely new international surrounding. Remember in 2008 Western countries came back to business as usual very quickly, probably in two-three months. For the time, we have a very strong Western position saying to Russia directly, “Stop your aggression or sanctions will continue.” I do not think we should compare these two situations because Russia is much weaker, the West is much stronger and Ukraine is at least trying be military strong as well.
Dyczok: That was my next question. You as an insider saw how the crisis was resolved in Georgia. What should Ukraine be doing in response to the latest statements coming out of the Kremlin, what can Ukraine be doing?
Ohryzko: In my view, there are two simple issues on our agenda. The first is to make the Ukrainian army as strong as possible. In this sense we need, of course, Western assistance. I do hope that the new American administration will be much more effective in this sense than the current administration. Secondly, we should create an international coalition against an aggressive Russia, explaining to our colleagues in the West that this Russia represents an absolutely different way of thinking and a different way of doing business. This is a Russia that rejects Western values and style of life, of being a member of international community. The West should really wake up and remove these rosy glasses and understand that Russia, unfortunately, is not a partner. It is only a challenge and global threat.
Dyczok: And one more question. Where do you see this headed? Is this just rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin? Or is this a real threat?
Ohryzko: In my view this is another form of political blackmail. They use this instrument very often. Now we have, in my view, the same situation. Economically, Russia is very far form being an economic power. I do not know the exact figures, but it is little bit more than 1.5 % of world’s GDP. If you are looking at the Russian military capacity, they are also very far from being at least adequate [as compared] to NATO or to the United States. It is the only way how they can threaten Western societies by saying we will use technical nuclear weapons or we will attack not only Ukraine but also some of the Baltic States and you will never use Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Unfortunately, many people in the West are really afraid that Putin can do this. In my view, it is only political blackmail to show everyone in the West that he will do whatever he can do. We should stop this policy all together. Otherwise it will be a great threat to all of us.
Next we spoke with Brian Mefford and Michael Getto in Kyiv:
Dyczok: In 2008 during the Beijing Olympics Russian tanks crossed into Georgia and there was a very short but deadly war. As a result Georgia lost a part of its territory –South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Now it is a frozen conflict. The Rio Olympic Games started last week and in a few days Russia was making statements that Ukraine is sponsoring terrorism, attempting terrorist activities in Crimea, that two Russians have died. President Putin says that Minsk process has no future. To talk about sports, politics, and war we have two guests on our studio today. We have Brian Mefford who is a business and political consultant for 17 years based in Kyiv, author of Popular Ukraine political blog and Non-resident Fellow with the Atlantic Council. And Michael Getto who worked on 1984 LA Olympics and is an international development elections consultant in Kyiv, who reportedly is an encyclopaedia of sports and politics. Thank you very much for joining us. Mr. Mefford, I would like to start with you. We were planning to talk about politics and sports but with everything that has happened with Russia recently let’s talk about what’s happening. Many are focusing on the Olympics and Russia is making the statements, ramping up pressure, causing UN to have emergency council meeting. Is the timing of these is significant? Ukraine is about to face its 25th anniversary in a few weeks. And the Olympics. And the escalation. Why is this timing?
Mefford: There are two historical precedents. First of all, August 8, 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia during Beijing Olympics. And number two, the Sochi games in February 2014 when days afterwards Russia annexed Crimea. The third thing, Ukraine is coming up to the 25th anniversary of its independence. Something that Russia or Vladimir Putin does not like to talk about. He considers Ukraine to be part of Russia. Perhaps in an effort to spoil Ukraine’s celebrations on the 25th (of August) and remind of the Russian army on the borders to the north, east and south…That could explain some recent activities in Crimea.
Getto: I would agree with what Brian said. In addition, there is an on-going diversion by Putin from what’s happening in Russia. Economic growth is negative. Russia is an emerging market, which means it needs to grow significantly and the Russian economy did not grow for the last couple of years because of the variety of reasons. Even going before the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the hostilities and the war in Eastern Ukraine and Donbas.
Putin is a master at diverting Russian people from what’s happening in their own country.
Dyczok: and international attention…
Getto: Absolutely. And sometimes we easily fall for it. There are some other factors that may have played into the bitterness of Russia. The Russian Olympic team, which has been thinned down. Many people believe they should be left out the Olympics. That’s yet another grievance that Russia has and that could playing a role here as well. And just to back up what Brian said earlier. The 25th anniversary is something that really sticks in Russia’s craw.
Dyczok: You touched on the Olympics which is I really wanted to talk about today. You were involved in 1984 Olympics and they were very political games. Sports and politics are always related. The Olympic games are about politics as much as they are about sports because it’s nations competing against each other. Sometimes nations pull out the Olympic games as a political statement. What’s the political dimension that you see in the Olympic games of 2016. You started talking about the doping scandal. But is there more there?
Getto: I would say the Olympics, and I would say the global competition, is always political. As long as they run flags and medal ceremonies there is a certain amount of nationalism that goes with the Olympics and global championships and global sport. There is nothing wrong with that. Ukrainians should be proud to see their flag and their athletes doing well. As Americans, Canadians and anybody else. That is positive. But in Russia sport has become a part of the political hierarchy and the political system. It’s intimately involved. This doping scandal has hit hard at Russians because they like to think of themselves as a sporting superpower. In many respects Russia has been. The Olympic event is a crown jewel. But they basically defrauded it.
Dyczok: and the crown jewel being?
Getto: Sochi. They spent over 50 billion dollars on putting this elaborate show. It turns out that at least half of their medal winners were doped up. First there was a lot of denial and now they are trying to throw themselves at the mercy of the international sports community. They have admitted some problems but this is a part of the larger narrative that the world and the West in particular are against Russia excluding Russia from international institution whether it’s trade, security and in this case sport. There are some athletes participating in Rio but in the big sports, the name sports, Russia is not going to be in an equation.
Dyczok: When politics enter sports, especially when Ukraine and Russia are at the state of war, how does this affect the athletes?
Getto: I think there is some rivalry to be sure. Russians and Ukrainians have competed against each other before in past Olympics. There have been in Rio a couple of dust ups Ukrainian athletes and Russian news media.
Dyczok: Can you tell us about this?
Getto: There was a Ukrainian athlete… By the way, I should say that doping is not a Russian problem. They have massively institutionalised it but it is not a Russian problem. In the US we had some dopers. Specifically, there is one sprinter who will be participating and there are a lot of second guessing if he is going to win the gold medal. But it is not institutionally as it is in case with Russia. It will be like Central Intelligence Agency managing the US Olympic effort in Rio. CIA does not do it unless you are a conspiracy theorist.
Dyczok: You were about tell us about the dust up between the Ukrainian athlete and the Russian media…
Getto: There was a Ukrainian sprinter who had served a doping suspension. She was asked by the Russian journalist, “So what’s the difference? You are here and our people aren’t”. She said that I do not think it is quite fair that the Russian athletes are not here because some of them perhaps have not doped. She was missing the point that this is an institutional problem in Russia. And of course the Russian journalist, or “journalist”, went running Moscow saying “See, even this drug cheat in Ukraine admits that we are being treated fairly”. After that the Ukrainian Athletic Federation said “do not talk to Russian journalists. Stay away from them.”
Dyczok: Brian, back to you. We started with the timing of this. Are we likely to see further escalation of tensions between Russian and Ukraine during the Olympics?
Mefford: There is only one person who knows that and it is Vladimir Putin. That’s a ‘How deep is the ocean?’ kind of question. We hope and pray that’s not going to be a case. We hope and pray that worst of the hostilities are over. Unfortunately, it is always a question. Everyday Vladimir Putin wakes up, he makes a decision. The elements are there for an increase in hostilities, no doubt about that. If you look at the number of casualties that have taken place this summer they have actually escalated quite dramatically to the highest point since August 2014. That is very worrisome. There’s been a steady drum beat, the tension has been turned up all summer. That could be guns of summer. If you going to make war it is easier to do it in the summer, than in the cold of January in Kyiv. Without a doubt it is a worrisome sign. We hope that it is simply manoeuvres not going to be escalated to a full-fledged invasion or conflict.
Dyczok: Russian President Vladimir Putin likes to portray himself as an athlete. We know those images of him in a judo outfit or on a horseback. Is there a dimension here that president/athlete is waging further escalation during the Olympics?
Getto: It could be. It’s hard to get inside Putin’s head sometimes. Sport is a part of the Russian narrative because Russians during the Soviet days were very successful in sports. That could be part of that. The Olympic year is also the US presidential year. I also think this year is particularly profound given the fact that Russia has allegedly been involved in US political process. That could be a factor. I still do not think we know what exactly happened down in Crimea. It seems that the timing does seem rather strange.
Dyczok: Well, the UN’s Security Council is meeting over this issue and we will wait to see what if anything comes out this meeting.
And then we reached Jairo do Nascimento in Brazil:
Dyczok: Jairo do Nacimento is an active member of the Ukrainian community in Brazil. He has served numerous positions including the Director of Ukrainian Central Representation. He was very involved Brazil’s Euro Maidan. We have reached Mr. Do Nacimento via Skype in Curitiba. Thank you very much for joining us. You are in Brazil now where the Olympics are happening. Could you tell us what the mood is like when the games have started?
do Nascimento: Of course we are involved in the atmosphere of the Olympic games. People are very excited about the Olympics. It is also important to say that we are almost finishing the process of impeachment of the President. The day before yesterday the senators voted and it is almost the last step to kick off President Dilma (Rousseff).
Dyczok: With the Olympics and the political scandal how much attention is Russia receiving in Brazil’s mass media? The issue of doping of the athletes and the war in Ukraine broadly?
do Nascimento: I can say that for the press here Russia is too far from Brazil. It is almost on another planet. The tension over Russian activities including the invasion of Crimea…We can watch this on television but it is not very much. It is a little…
Dyczok: Not a lot of attention?
do Nascimento: Very little…About the doping scandal, the repercussions were more serious. We can see the athletes who could not come to the Olympics all the time on TV, on the headlines.
Dyczok: So that caught the attention… How about the latest statements that are coming out of Russia that Ukraine is planning terrorist activities and trying to destabilise Crimea and peace process is failing. Is this receiving attention given the Olympics and given your own political scandal in Brazil?
do Nascimento: No, almost nothing…Ukrainian community here in Brazil are about 500 000 people among 200 million Brazilians. We are not very big community. We are very active, especially here in the south of Brazil in the state Parana and Santa Catalina. Even in San Paolo, the biggest city of the country, there are a lot Ukrainians. So we here follow the news on what’s happening in Ukraine. But Brazilians in general are not informed and they do not have an idea on what is going on in Ukraine right now.
Dyczok: As you said, Russia and Ukraine are too far from Brazil. Perhaps it is one of the reasons…
do Nascimento: Maybe…The government of President Dilma was aligned to the Russian government. So this did not help much. For example, Brazil until now did not take an official position regarding what Russia is doing in Ukraine. We are complaining. We have requested an audience with new Minister of Foreign Relations. We have not received an answer yet.
Dyczok: Well. Let’s hope that the new Minister will listen to requests and more attention will be drawn to the issues on what’s is going on in this part of the world. Thank you very much for joining us and sharing the perspective on what the war in Ukraine looks like from Brazil.
do Nascimento: Thank you very much. Slava Ukraini.
Culture and Music
Crimea used to be a popular vacation spot for Ukrainians. After the peninsula was annexed by Russia in the spring of 2014, Ukrainians have had to look elsewhere. And they’ve been discovering other gems in their own country. The Carpathian mountains have always been a tourist destination, but now they’ve replaced Crimea as the number one choice for Ukrainians who choose not to go abroad for holidays. L’viv, the medieval capital of Western Ukraine is going through a tourism boom, so is the cosmopolitan port city of Odesa, which sits on the Black Sea coast, and has beaches. Both cities are full of tourists these days, and
And less known spots are becoming popular. Like Askania Nova in the Kherson region. It’s a biosphere reserve in southern Ukraine with flora and fauna from all over the world, including six species that have become extinct in their homelands. It also has ancient burial mounds and stone figures, as well as breathtaking views of the steppe, Ukraine’s prairies. https://discover-ukraine.info/places/southern-ukraine/kherson/58
To give you a flavour of the ancient and contemporary I’d like to play you a song by a band called Voanerges. It’s called 1000 years, and is on their new album Drum perehudy. http://hromadskeradio.org/programs/pora-roku/pora-roku-efir-za-7-serpnya
Athletes are competing for medals in Rio, Russia is raising tensions in Crimea, and Ukraine is preparing to celebrate it’s 25th anniversary of independence. Next week the new electronic income declaration for government officials will come into effect. We’ll be following these and other stories. Tune in next weekend for a new episode of Ukraine Calling. I’m Marta Dyczok in Kyiv. Let me know what you think, our e-mail address is: [email protected]. Thanks for listening.