LIVY BEREG (Left Bank) is a Ukrainian news analysis and opinion website media founded by the independent Gorshenin Institute in 2009.
Photo of two men in traditional Tatar clothing and hats
Oksana Rasulova

How Russia Targets Crimean Tatars, Long Oppressed Muslim Minority

Seven years after Moscow annexed Crimea, arrests and trials of Crimean Tatars are used as weapons to repress this ethnic minority that has already suffered for centuries.

Persecution of Crimean Tatars has a long history, but the latest chapter began in 2014 after Russia's annexation of Crimea. And it continues to this day, in a systematic way that has largely gone unreported.

The ethnic Muslim minority of Turkic descent are indigenous to Crimea and today accounting for 13% of its population. Crimean Tatars had lived as Ukrainian citizens during the eras of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, before being caught under direct rule by Moscow seven years ago when Crimea became part of the Russia. Since then, Tatar citizens have been regularly detained and charged for being a "threat to the integrity and sovereignty of the Russian Federation and terrorist activities."

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The Stakes Of A Ukrainian-Russian Drone Arms Race
Anna Akage

The Stakes Of A Ukrainian-Russian Drone Arms Race

A recent unmanned attack could heighten tensions in the conflict zone and have broader geopolitical consequences.

Last week Vladimir Putin complained that even without accepting Kyiv into its ranks, NATO could place missiles in Ukraine near Russia's borders. Russian media was quick to help prove Putin's point, writing about Washington's current military aid to Kyiv, Ukraine's talks with London on obtaining British Brimstone missiles and Turkish drones in Donbas, which has been a disputed site of conflict since 2014.

Just days later, the Ukrainian military for the first time used the Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 drone in Donbas. The incident Tuesday could seriously change the situation in the conflict zone and have consequences for both Russian-Ukrainian and Russian-Turkish relations.

Turkey enters the conflict 

Russian daily Kommersant writes that the main threat now is the military friendship between Ukraine and Turkey. "We have a really special and good relationship with Turkey, but in this case, unfortunately, our fears are confirmed that the supply of such weapons to the Ukrainian military could potentially destabilize the situation on the line of contact," says Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Russian president.

Information about the use of the drone appeared almost simultaneously with the report that the Ukrainian military occupied the village on the line of contact, which means a full-fledged aggravation of the conflict.

Natalia Nikonorova is the minister of foreign affairs of the Donetsk People's Republic, a self-proclaimed quasi-state in eastern Ukrainian. She tells Kommersant that the use of unmanned aerial vehicles — whatever their production and whatever country supplied them to Ukrainian armed forces — was absolutely unacceptable, adding they were an acute factor in destabilizing the situation.

Representatives of Germany, which is involved in resolving the violence in eastern Ukraine, say that drones "are used by both sides of the conflict."

A Russian drone carrying a package

Ogorodnik Andrei/TASS/ZUMA

A technological arms race?

Russian expert Vasily Kashin believes that the use of drones in Ukraine "will necessitate a radical strengthening of the air defenses of both Ukraine and the Donetsk People's Republic. The balance will require either radical rearmament of the republic's air defense forces or direct participation in their air defense against the Russian armed forces."

But the evidence on the ground might be more mixed: The Ukrainian magazine Livy Bereg took a closer look at the number of Russian drones. Originally, Russia was far ahead of Ukraine in military technological progress. Almost simultaneously, the two countries purchased a tactical drone in Israel. However, while Ukrainian procurement was gathering dust in warehouses, the Russians had already established production by 2011. But then Moscow unexpectedly fell behind.

New information about Russia's unmanned aerial vehicles appeared during the forum "Army-2021." In particular, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that by the end of 2021 the number of drones in the Russian army will exceed 2,000 units. It is unlikely that Shoigu's statement is anything but banal propaganda.

What is known for sure is that Russian drones designed or developed for the military are man-operated and do not contain elements of artificial intelligence. Despite having publicly announced ambitious plans to create strike drones, Russia has not completed them. Thus, in December 2020, Putin ordered the Russian Defense Ministry to speed up work on the Hunter drone, which was to become the main opponent to the Ukrainian drone Bayraktar TB2 of Turkish production. But in February 2021, Russia had to admit that flight tests for Hunter will not end before 2023 and its serial production will begin no earlier than 2024.

The drone competition is a reminder that even as peace talks between Ukraine and Russia continue to stall, the local arms race isn't slowing down.

Photo of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Paris in December 2019
Anna Akage

Russia And Ukraine, The Meaning Of A Bad Status Quo

Despite being parties of one conflict and neighbors and comrades of the same historical events, it is now obvious that Russia and Ukraine — or at least their very different leaders, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky — are living in opposing realities.


The best we can say about the recent visits of U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland to Moscow with top European officials Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel to Kyiv was that these high-level meetings ensured the status quo in the longstanding Russia-Ukraine conflict.

But that is a status quo measured in dead negotiations in the Normandy Format over the simmering war on the border and the status of Crimea. It is status quo of the shared disapproval of the situation, and the clarity of the opposing directions chosen by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

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Photo of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a crowd
Iryna Lysohor

Zelensky's Ukraine, Where The Pandora Papers Hit Hardest

The global probe of offshore accounts around the world strike at the heart of Kiev's current government and power structure of a ruling class that rose to power on the promise of fighting corruption, including the television-star-turned-President Volodymyr Zelensky.

KIEV — Nowhere could the the revelations from the Pandora Papers investigation hit harder than in Ukraine. The discovery of offshore accounts strike at the heart of the current government and power structure of a ruling class that rose to power on the promise of fighting corruption, including the television-star-turned-President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The worldwide probe, prompted by a massive leak to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), has included work by journalists from the Ukrainian media Slidstvо.Info, which connected the shady financial dealings of Zelensky's television production company Studio Kvartal 95 to the Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky. Slidstvo found that the laundered money passed through the Cyprus branch of Kolomoisky-owned Privatbank, according to law enforcement officers.

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Destination Chernobyl? Radioactivity, Jobs And Tourism
Andriy Olenin

Destination Chernobyl? Radioactivity, Jobs And Tourism

Ukraine's leaders face toxic land-use challenges 35 years after the world's worst nuclear accident.

KYIV — What is perhaps the best-known — and certainly, the most dangerous — place in Ukraine is referred to as the "Chernobyl Exclusion Zone." And now, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky is promising major changes to the site of the worst civilian nuclear disaster in history.

More than 35 years after the tragedy, much has changed in what locals call the "Zone," but life continues. People who'd returned to their native villages after being forcibly evicted in the aftermath of the 1986 accident still live there. But life has been troubled in these specially designated towns and communities: contaminated areas are often located alongside their vegetable gardens, new infrastructure cannot be built, and there is virtually no work.

To change lives in these communities and to attract investment in the area, projects to transform the Chernobyl zone have already been designed, and are now up for approval before Ukraine's Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources.

Currently, the Chernobyl zone is divided into three zones, linked to the proximity to the reactors. The first one is 10 kilometers around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where the catastrophe happened. The "Shelter" object and the town of Pripyat are located there. This area is called "forever lost" because the radioactive elements that have accumulated there will need at least 20,000 years to dissipate.

The second zone is a buffer zone and a zone of unconditional (compulsory) resettlement. The villages there have been evacuated, while construction and cultivation of crops, fishing, gathering berries, and hunting are forbidden.

The third zone refers to guaranteed voluntary resettlement. It has the same prohibitions as the second zone, but people live there, both locals and those who work in the Zone on a rotational basis. Residents of these communities cannot renovate their own homes, plant vegetables, get land or inherit property.

There are 10,000 hectares of wasted land

The territory of guaranteed voluntary resettlement includes 800 settlements that fall into the third and sometimes even the second zone. There is practically no work here, and business activity and tax revenue is non-existent.

In the community of Naroditsy, there are 10,000 hectares of wasted land. But they grow crops on some of them, which is both illegal and unhealthy. According to the State Environmental Inspection, 5,000 hectares of contaminated land are being used to plant crops in the Zhytomyr region alone.

Community leaders explain their actions as follows: they don't know if these lots are polluted or not, because they have no corresponding maps. To know for sure they ask to carry out studies. According to the State Exclusion Zone Management Agency, $1 trillion would not be enough to study all contaminated lands.

The transformation of the exclusion zone and the unconditional resettlement zone was mentioned back in 2015 by the then Minister of Ecology Igor Shevchenko, but it went no further. Since the 2019 election of President Zelensky, three decrees have been signed related to the transformation of the zone. In April 2021, a draft law was registered that will allow regional state administrations to grant permits for the use of currently contaminated land, after expert evaluation, to build new infrastructure facilities and to expand existing ones.

The iconic Ferris wheel in the ghost town of Prypiat, Ukraine sits abandonedVolodymyr Tarasov/Ukrinform/ ZUMA Wire

Olga Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk, a member of Parliament and co-author of the bill, says changes and new building permits are needed for local communities to survive. "We need tourism and economic development. Tourists who go to the Chernobyl zone should have a place to eat or fill up their cars," she said. "

Caution, however, comes from members of the Parliament's main Scientific-Expert department, who say it may lead to uncontrolled use of lands and construction of new enterprises on the radioactively contaminated lands, which could of course lead to health problems.

The proposed project is divided into three phases. The first will last from 2021 to 2030 and provides for the restoration of the degraded ecosystem within a 30-kilometer zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant and the restoration of the natural barrier function.

During this time, it is necessary to eliminate dead wood and forest fires, which account for 30% of the total area of the zone, plant new trees and transfer water sources to the nature protection zone. The territory that cannot be used for living beings will become an industrial zone to dispose of contaminated wood.

The Shelter facility requires special attention: under its roof lies the ruined fourth unit, which continues to deteriorate. It should be dismantled and buried before it starts to collapse in unpredictable places and on an unpredictable scale.

The second phase will last from 2031 to 2050. The uninhabitable part of the Zone must be turned into an open economic zone, in particular, to build the infrastructure for the nuclear fuel of Westinghouse (the company that supplies fuel to a number of Ukrainian nuclear power plants).

The territory that cannot be used for living beings will become an industrial zone.

Also in the second period, environmentalists have proposed developing tourism, to create a museum-archive of folk culture to form a regional Chernobyl scientific-information fund of ethnocultural heritage.

The third stage will last from 2051 to 2071. During this time it is planned to transfer the restored land plots for economic use, to completely decommission three Chernobyl units, and create environmentally friendly and waste-free nuclear technology.

Instead of the remaining three power units, ecologists propose to install 12 NuScale Power modular reactors with a capacity of 50 MW. The technology for small power modular reactors itself is at the testing stage. The first such reactor in the world is planned to be launched in 2026 in Idaho.

Another plan for the exclusion zone is a proposal to build a plant to recycle lithium-ion engines and produce hydrogen energy.

There are proposals to develop multipurpose testing grounds for domestic and foreign scientists, to provide comfortable working conditions for scientists by establishing an innovative Chernobyl research hub of science and innovation.

But while officials are reviewing the plans, the Chernobyl zone continues to degrade, and the people who live there are forced to violate the law: they say it's for a different kind of survival in the face of joblessness and poverty.

Merkel and Putin know each other well
Alexander Demchenko

Putin's Blunt Message For Germany: Forget Ukraine

The Russian president's article on the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union can be read on multiple levels. But one thing is sure, his mind is fixed on the future.

KYIV — The title itself is catchy enough: "To be open despite the past." True, it had nothing to do with the War or post-War years. The article, printed in the German newspaper Die Zeit is rather a call to Germans to forget about the Ukrainian issue and to engage as soon as possible in real, profitable policies, such as the launch of Nord Stream.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to convince the Germans to be open-minded, regardless of the past. But the past he urges Germans to forget has nothing to do with Nazism. Here the Russian president understands that Germans are still bound by the politics of memory, and are unlikely to allow themselves to change history any time soon.

Putin is also aware that the thought viruses propagated by Kremlin propaganda are effective enough to bind the Russian population together in a single aggressive impulse. What he wants the German people to forget about is another, not-so-distant and yet also unpleasant past: the war in Ukraine and the occupation of its territories.

In his Die Zeit article, the Russian president once again recalled the so-called coup d'etat in Kyiv in 2014, saying that he considered Ukraine's breakaway from Russia a tragedy, that there was no occupation of Crimea, but only a split in Ukraine that led to the separation of the peninsula. He recalled many of the old tropes of Kremlin propaganda. The same lines that he has been trying to introduce into the information space of Europe for eight years now.

One could say that Putin's article is an ode to Germany's ruling elite

Yet Putin's current article is not only aimed at the German and Russian masses, but more particularly at Germany's current political elite. The Russian leader is sending them a different message: an offer to pay off the Germans today in exchange for forgetting about Ukraine in the future.

"Russia stands for the restoration of a comprehensive partnership with Europe. We have many topics of mutual interest. These are security and strategic stability, health and education, digitalization, energy, culture, science, and technology, solving climate and environmental problems," Putin writes.

One could say that the text is an ode to Germany's ruling elite, and especially to the Social Democrats, who were able to include a clause in the German government's coalition agreement committing to complete the Nord Stream gas pipeline. It is also noticeable that the Russian president is trying to influence the conservative part of the German electorate, which supports the ruling elite. He understands that Russia's economic projects in Europe can only succeed if the current political landscape in Germany remains intact.

"It was German entrepreneurs who pioneered cooperation with our country in the post-War years. In 1970, the USSR and Germany struck a deal of the century on long-term supplies of natural gas to Europe, laying the foundation for constructive interdependence and giving rise to many subsequent grand projects, including the Nord Stream gas pipeline," Putin writes.

Welders working on the Nord Stream gas pipeline — Photo: Bair175

Naturally, a large part of Putin's article was devoted specifically to Russian-European relations. It was a counterargument against the U.S., with the Russian president advocating for security-building without Washington, the freeing of NATO's expansion to the East, and further integration and cooperation in Europe.

In general, his speeches on further expansion of NATO to the East are not just a reaction to U.S. President Joe Biden's words regarding the possible integration of Ukraine into the alliance without Crimea and Donbas. It is a request to the German elite to guarantee, as in 2008, that Kyiv will not be able to move forward on the issue of rapprochement, or join the alliance.

Putin speaks of a deteriorating security system, of excessive tension, and mentions the risks of a new arms race. What is he suggesting: cooperation? Not if you can read between the lines. When he mentions the concept of a Greater Europe — from Lisbon to Vladivostok — he certainly remembers its founder. No, not General de Gaulle, but philosopher McKinder, who said that Russia is a European heartland, which should influence Europe and manage its geopolitical processes.

When the president of the Russian Federation calls on the German elite for unification, he recalls Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik, the course that the German chancellor chose to take in the 1970s to normalize relations between West Germany and East Germany, the Soviet Union and Poland. This was precisely what served to form Europe's single energy space when oil and gas transportation systems were built that linked the Western part of the continent with Soviet energy resources.

When Putin suggests cooperation, he means not a united Europe, but a Europe that depends on Russia.

"We are missing out on the enormous opportunities that cooperation gives us," he writes. "(It's) all the more important now that we are all facing common challenges: the pandemic and its dire socio-economic consequences."

When Putin suggests cooperation, he means not a united Europe, but a Europe that depends on Russia. This is the real point of his current article.

Vladislav Surkov, former deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, once said that Russia's main goal was to make Ukraine boring for the West. As Putin's current article showed, Russia's key goal is to make Europe actually forget about Ukraine.

Now it cannot be stated that the West has forgotten about Ukraine. Today's Europe, despite its economic ties, is to a certain extent afraid of further Russian aggression. It benefits from defending Ukraine for the sake of its security. However, this does not mean that Russia will stop trying to remove the Ukrainian issue from the European agenda. And this is why Kyiv needs to hurry up and figure out what its counter-strategy should be.

A protest against Russian aggression in Ukraine in front of Russian embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania
Alexander Demchenko

What Ukraine Has To Lose In Biden-Putin Talks

Joe Biden's Geneva meeting with Vladimir Putin cannot avoid the Nord Stream 2 pipeline standoff. Kyiv will be watching every step.

KYIV — Before the series of visits and talks, President Joe Biden wrote in a column for the Washington Post that he wanted to improve relations with Russia, but was also ready to work with Europe to deal with Moscow's undermining of security on the continent — especially the so-called Ukrainian issue. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin practically expressed hope that the United States would disintegrate.

Ukraine's hopes are too high for the June 16 meeting between Putin and Biden in Geneva, Switzerland. It is good that the U.S. President found time to talk to Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the phone before his talks with the Russian counterpart. This can only make us happy. It's a shame that our country has little to do here — and the White House has already shown this ahead of time by letting Russia complete the first section of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

The U.S. administration refused to impose strict sanctions against the gas pipeline operator, in large part a sign of Biden's unwillingness to harm relations with Germany and his fear that Berlin could impose additional duties on American goods at the European Union level. But an even greater reason Biden is softening the U.S. posture on the Russia-to-Germany pipeline is the desire to open a dialogue with Russia from a position of power, being able at any moment to block the construction of the Russian pipeline.

But this creates other problems, first of all for Ukraine. If Russia launches the pipeline bypassing Ukraine, it will simply have no need for any part of the Ukrainian transport system. The blackmail will begin even before the end of the contract on the transit of Russian gas, which expires at the end of 2024.

The German side is reassuring: Nord Stream 2 will remain in force if transit through Ukraine is preserved. The only question is what these supplies will be and whether they will exist at all.

Putin has already made it clear that he is ready to pump gas, give a discount on it and increase transit figures, but only on one condition — the restoration of Ukrainian-Russian relations. "We have a contract with Ukraine regarding the pumping of our gas. Within the next five years, we will pump up to 40 billion cubic meters. In the best years, we pumped up to 200 billion cubic meters," he said. "If we had normal relations, we would pump a significant part of it through Ukraine, but there are problems there, not in politics, but in economics."

"What can Russia do if Ukraine does not agree to the Kremlin's proposals?"

Translated into plainer language, this means that the Kremlin will use the Ukrainian GTS transport system only if Russian influence, which has been lost in some places, is fully restored in Ukraine. At the same time, the Russian president makes it clear: Kyiv will not be able to use the profits from gas transit to develop the Ukrainian army and counteract Russia in the contested region of Donbas.

What can Russia do if Ukraine does not agree to the Kremlin's proposals? It can destroy the infrastructure to deliver gas through the Ukrainian GTS. And there's no need to think that this is impossible. Moscow did it when it undermined the gas infrastructure in Ossetia in 2006 by blocking the gas supplies to Georgia; when it destroyed the oil corridor from Azerbaijani Baku to Turkish Ceyhan in 2008; when in 2009 it organized an accident on one of the sections of the Central Asia-Center pipeline (CAC-4) pipeline, preventing Turkmenistan from making a huge supply of "blue fuel" to Iran.

Moreover, the Kremlin does not always act directly: sometimes it uses the services of militants, saboteurs, mercenaries. And we should not forget that the Ukrainian gas transportation system was the minimum guarantee to prevent a full-scale Russian attack on Ukraine. Moscow simply did not want to accidentally destroy the infrastructure, which brings consistent profits, while angering the Europeans. Once the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is completed, Moscow's hands will be untied.

Minister-President of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Manuela Schwesig and Russian ambassador in Berlin Sergei Netsheyev visiting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline on April 29 — Photo: Jens Büttner/dpa/ZUMA

Of course, a lot of questions will remain concerning further European regulation of gas supply, and the situation with the elections in Germany, whereas Americans and Ukrainians hope, the Greens will come to power after Chancellor Angela Merkel's departure.

The situation will become more or less clear immediately after the talks between Putin and Biden. If the U.S. administration does not impose sanctions and allows the Russians to complete the pipeline, it will mean that the U.S. and Russia were able to agree that Washington is not interested in Kyiv's position. That it is more important for it to keep Russia from more radical actions, from rapprochement with China, and to keep Germany from aggressive trade actions against the United States.

In general, it seems strange to hear from Ukrainian politicians the phrase about betraying Ukraine's interests. If you look at the trade turnover between Russia and the U.S. ($24 billion) and Ukraine and the U.S. ($6 billion), you will understand how silly such statements are. Look at the level of investment inflows, at how American big companies develop Russian gas and oil fields, how they open large commodity networks, how they create hundreds of thousands of jobs by building various factories. American money (and interest) is in Russia, not in Ukraine. That's why we can't expect any breakthroughs in the negotiations.

So far, these are just words.

In his column in the Washington Post, Biden says that he was going to work with the Europeans to counter the security challenges that Russia was creating on the continent. And here he brought Ukraine to the forefront.

"We (the United States and Europe) are united in addressing Russia's challenges to European security, starting with its aggression in Ukraine. And there will be no doubt about the determination of the United States to defend democratic values, which we cannot separate from our interests," writes Biden.

So far, these are just words. It is unlikely that the U.S. leader will be able to convince Putin to get Russia to withdraw from Crimea and leave the territories of Donbas. Most likely, Biden simply needs to achieve two things. The first is to get guarantees from Putin that Russian troops will withdraw from the Ukrainian border and the situation will return to what it was before the escalation. The second is to agree on security on the northern border of Ukraine, where we have points of contact with Belarus.

This is the only possible positive achievement for Ukraine that President Biden can get in talks with Putin. And it is not a given that he will achieve it. But we must also clearly understand that there will be concessions from the U.S. side — and they will be painful for Kyiv. And we have only one thing left to do: to finally engage in the construction of a normal, strong state, instead of constantly complaining about those who step over the line. It's time to become adults.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine
Alexander Demchenko

Ukraine: Zelensky Doesn't Understand The Rules Of Realpolitik

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is delusional in believing that the U.S. and Europe will force Moscow’s hand, so long as Russia holds so many cards.

KIEV — While President Volodymyr Zelensky awaits NATO membership, he has released his own vision to assert Ukraine with its more powerful European neighbors: As Zelensky outlined in an interview with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, this "Plan B" is aimed at deescalating the conflict with Russia in the contested Donbas region in order to move toward a comprehensive treaty to guarantee Ukraine's military, economic and energy security through an accord with the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation.

The Ukrainian President argues that the ongoing Normandy Format (between Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France) will not be an alternative, but will be integrated into a broader process.

As Zelensky says in the interview, "Ukraine can have a Plan B once its territorial integrity is ensured." Such conditional agreements like the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances are insufficient because they've been regularly violated, the President added, noting that the commitment of the U.S. and EU to consolidate the status of Ukraine is crucial. Zelensky told the German daily that he was scheduled to talk to U.S. President Joe Biden about this plan.

Unfortunately, Zelensky's administration still has not understood that any agreements are impossible without Moscow's consent. And Moscow has very different — imperial — plans for Ukraine. The problem with the Budapest Memorandum (which aimed to protect the political independence of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan) was neither its quality nor its international legal status; the problem was that Russia did not give a damn about any agreements when it came to former Soviet republics, especially those intending to leave its orbit.

"What kind of treaty can you sign with a country that occupies part of your territory?"

There are no people in the halls of Kiev power who remember that from 1992 to 1994, before the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine signed a series of documents of varying legal quality that dealt with the dismantling of the country's nuclear capability in return for security guarantees from Washington and Moscow. A few months before Leonid Kuchma was elected president, the Ukrainian, American, and Russian leaders (Leonid Kravchuk, Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin) signed a general statement that became a prologue to the Budapest Memorandum. Both Washington and Moscow gave Ukraine security guarantees at the time. Then the Americans "helped" Kiev get paltry compensation from Russia for its enormous nuclear complex.

Most have forgotten that U.S. leaders came to the Ukrainian leadership with threats. They forgot that the Budapest Memorandum was not about the security of Ukraine, but about the security of the United States, which feared a possible uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons, or even the appearance of another ambitious member of the nuclear club. It was to Washington's advantage to concentrate everything in the Russian Federation.

Did the Budapest Memorandum alone provide security guarantees? The 1997 Partition Treaty on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet — which Ukraine, unlike Russia, has not denounced — appoints Russia as a guarantor of Ukraine's territorial integrity. It did not say that this guarantor would take from Ukraine the peninsula where its military base was stationed. There are few documents of this kind still in force, but it is possible to find them.

A lot of good international agreements can be written. The U.S. and the EU can even put their signatures on them, but these documents will be meaningless if they do not have the approval of the Russian President. And what kind of treaty can you sign with a country that occupies part of your territory?

Then U.S. Secretary of State Kerry speaks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Deshchytsia in 2014 — Photo: US State Dept

Volodymyr Zelensky also says that the Normandy Format will be an element, an addition to this Plan B. But as Zelensky points out, there is a problem: the position of both Russia and the two moderators, France and Germany.

In the interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Zelensky says that at the last meeting of the advisors to the leaders of the Normandy four countries, Russian representative Dmitry Kozak asked the European partners whether Russia was a party to the conflict.

"The representatives of Germany and France did not answer directly that Russia was a party to the conflict," says Zelensky. "They again included such ‘cautious' diplomacy, which Ukraine does not agree with, because Russia is a party to the conflict, and we understand that."

It is important to say here that the Normandy Format cannot be part of Plan B. Because this format is the stepchild of the poisoned Minsk Protocol, which Ukraine agreed to only under the threat of a full-scale invasion. Zelensky is outraged — and rightly so — that NATO countries, especially Germany, are blocking Ukraine's accession to the alliance and are not even providing arms. Instead, they pander to Russia, trading with the country and building joint energy projects that are detrimental to Ukrainian security.

By the way, it is telling that Konrad Schuller, the German journalist interviewing Zelensky, kept asking: If Ukraine joined NATO, could it guarantee that it would not ask the alliance for help in its war with Russia?

"All those Russian billions flowing into EU banks every year ... the Europeans can't do without them now."

Schuller incidentally forgot to mention that in 2008, the German and French leaders, despite U.S. support, blocked an action plan for Ukraine to become a NATO member. Six years later, Europe had a major problem: a war with Russia already on its borders. And this is just the beginning.

It is not Zelensky's fault that the NATO countries do not want to get involved in a confrontation with Russia. But it is important to understand their reasoning. This is not merely because Europeans are frightened by the military might of Russia. The EU, which is used to an expensive and measured existence, does not want to quarrel with the country that provides it with so much financial support. All those Russian billions flowing into EU banks every year, the common energy projects, the participation of European companies in mining operations in Russia, the corrupt EU politicians and officials – the Europeans can't do without it now. It is part of their lives.

It also seems that the U.S. needs a lot from Russia nowadays, such as giving up the alliance with China. And that the Biden administration may even agree to the status quo, to what it was before the escalation in Donbas. Yes, we should always hope for the best, but we should have no illusions.

Ultimately, there is no one to blame but ourselves for the fact that we could not properly build our state. Everyone has their own interests. Every country stands up for itself. As far as Russia is concerned, the Americans will be biding their time, just as they did in the days of the Soviet Union. Ukraine, too, will be waiting for a convenient moment — waiting for many years. At least, this time can be spent on creating a fully developed, European country. That is the real Plan B.

Guards on the premises of an entry exit checkpoint in Donbass
Alexander Demchenko

Minsk Or Normandy? Russia Prefers Impasse With Ukraine Instead

In order to circumvent French and German mediation, the Kremlin is leaking secrets to the press as a defacto policy of stalling in its seven-year-long conflict with Ukraine.


KYIV — Due to their sensitive nature, international negotiations come with certain requirements: first, don't disclose their details; and secondly, what has not been signed and agreed upon is not fit for implementation.

The Russian newspaper Kommersant has published details of what should have been confidential communications among the so-called Normandy Format negotiating countries (Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France) regarding new approaches to finding a peaceful settlement of the contested region of Donbas.

Since its creation in 2014, the Normandy Format has managed to ink several deals on prisoner exchange, yet has repeatedly failed to end the war in the eastern Ukrainian territory between Kyiv and pro-Russian insurgents. Ceasefire agreements are constantly broken and there are weekly reports about injured or killed Ukrainian soldiers who remain on the borderline of the occupied territories.

While Germany and France are clearly in the role of mediators, and Ukraine as participant, Russia tries to present itself as a mediator, even while clearly representing the rebel military groups. Yet, neither Ukraine nor European countries acknowledge rebels as lawful representatives of Donbas.

At the same time, there is another forum for trying to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian conflict within the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), dubbed the Minsk Protocol, after the capital of Belarus where the meetings between Russia, Ukraine, and OSCE were held.

Moscow doesn't need any progress on peace.

And while all sides continue to study the current written proposals of France and Germany, it looks increasingly as though the Normandy negotiations are frozen, with the center of conversation shifting to Minsk.

Still, for the past several months, there have been Normandy Four talks at the level of advisors to update the Minsk agreements and implement them in blocks. The Germans and French most likely intended to move contentious issues such as border control, elections, withdrawal of troops into a separate discussion, while trying to resolve other points around humanitarian and economic issues.

Kyiv has been trying to reverse some of the agreements that it had to accept at the time of catastrophic losses on the battlefield. According to the Ukrainian side, it was necessary to first solve the problem of the freeing of territories, the withdrawal of foreign troops from Donbas, and control over the common border with Russia; only after that does Kyiv believe they can move on to holding elections and temporarily introducing a special status of the territories. The Minsk agreements, on the other hand, are exactly the other way around.

At a meeting of the Normandy Four leaders in Paris in November 2019 — Photo: Eliot Blondet/Abaca via ZUMA Press

Here it is worth recalling that in 2016, after the summit of the leaders of the Normandy Format in Berlin, the parties signed a communiqué. There it was proposed to develop a road map for resolving the situation in Donbas, but Russia froze the process and no map was created.

On March 16, 2021, in an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Dmitry Kozak, a Russian negotiator and close ally of President Vladimir Putin, blamed the "very strange confidentiality of the Normandy negotiations' for blocking progress.

"Ukraine is in favor of confidentiality. Germany and France support it in this with references to diplomatic traditions. We are in favor of abandoning this tradition, which is harmful in this case, and for full openness of the negotiations," Kozak said. "If it were possible to change this principle, then you, and through the media and all interested citizens and states, would be able to assess for yourselves whose "creative ideas," "proactive position" or "strong moves' are the real reason for the lack of any progress in resolving the conflict."

In other words, this major Russian power broker was issuing a public warning to all sides of the Normandy Four that Russia would leak information about the talks. Why? Because Moscow does not need any progress on peace. It prefers to constantly hold Ukraine by the gills. It actually likes neither negotiations at the level of the Normandy Format nor the Minsk agreements. That is why it is very likely that the documents that were leaked to Kommersant were sent directly from the Kremlin.

Now, Moscow is pushing Berlin and Paris to freeze the Normandy Format indefinitely. But Russia's attack is also aimed at Ukraine, where public opinion is not necessarily in favor of negotiations. This all makes a long-awaiting peace deal seem even more impossible than before.

A train crash killed at least 48 people and left 66 injured in eastern Taiwan.

The Latest: Taiwan Train Crash, Gay Marriage Anniversary, Salty Mountains

Welcome to Friday, where a train crash in Taiwan leaves dozens dead, Niger has historic peaceful transfer of power and Egypt has a salty new tourist attraction. Ukrainian news website Livy Bereg also reveals why Russia is leaking secrets to the press about the international negotiations trying to resolve its conflict with Ukraine.

• Dozens dead in Taiwan train crash: A train crash killed at least 48 people and left 66 injured in eastern Taiwan. The express train, carrying about 500 passengers, derailed in a tunnel after hitting a construction vehicle that had rolled onto the tracks.

• Toll in Tigray: Nearly 2,000 victims have been identified by researchers studying the conflict since it exploded, last year. Those killed include infants and people over 90, the report says.

• Aung San Suu Kyi charged: Myanmar protesters call for "guerilla strikes' as country faces a new wireless internet shutdown and following charges filed against detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi for violating state secrets, punishable by up to 14 years of prison.

• Peaceful transition in Niger: Mohamed Bazoum gets sworn in as Niger president in the country's first peaceful transfer of power since its independence in 1960. The inauguration comes just days after the government says it thwarted a military coup attempt.

• Dutch leader Rutte survives vote of confidence: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte narrowly survives a no-confidence vote over accusations he lied about coalition talks.

• G7 to double help for poorer countries to cut CO2 emissions: Deputy secretary general of the UN, Amina Mohammed calls on the world's richest group of countries to double their financial support to poorer countries to help them cut their CO2 emissions.

• Egypt's salt mountains become a tourist attraction: Images of people sliding down "snowy" mountains of Port Fouad went viral on the internet. The salt mountains quickly became a tourist hit, attracting Egyptians from all across the country to enjoy the unique landscape.

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Andryi Yarovoi is being treated at a hospital since his release
Nataliya Shimkiv

Home Again In Ukraine: Dark Tales From A Donbas Prison

The New Year's Eve prison exchange between Russia and Ukraine was a rare softening of hostilities in the occupied region in eastern Ukraine. Here's the story of one of those released.

On New Year's Eve, 76 people returned to Ukraine as part of the exchange of prisoners negotiated with Moscow: 64 civilians and 12 military personnel. Under various circumstances, all these people had been captured by the pro-Russian militia of the self-proclaimed Donbas and Lugansk People's Republics (LNR/DNR). Here is one man's story.

KYIV — A tall thin man meets us near the hospital. He is 52, there is a small scar on his face, in his hands an electronic cigarette that he will smoke almost the entire time that we speak. He is now undergoing treatment in a hospital near Kyiv. The interview is conducted during a walk through the woods near the hospital. He smiles and says: "I dreamed of walking freely like this. You can't imagine what happiness this is!"

Andriy Yarovoi is a human rights activist for the Alliance of Public Health charity foundation, and was detained on August 26, 2018, at the checkpoint by LNR fighters, while he was traveling to the occupied Donbas area on a monitoring mission. Then the connection broke: the basement, the local pre-trial detention center and the penal colony. He spent 489 days in captivity. We will let Yarovoi tell his story:

The way to the hospital where Andriy is receiving treatment after detention, Feb. 2020. — Photo: Maks Levin/LB

The mission

It was not the first time I traveled to the occupied territory as a representative of the Alliance since 2015. I've been to Donetsk, Lugansk, and to small towns as well. My mission was to study the situation of HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, and tuberculosis.

The trip usually lasted three to four days. I obtain information from local health system employees and communicate with those groups that are high-risk: drug users, sex workers, LGBT. The main question is whether they get the help they need in terms of screening, contraceptives, treatment.

Every year it's getting worse in Donbas.

Monitoring of the uncontrolled territories is critical: Every day, thousands of people cross the contact line between Ukraine and the occupied territories of Donbas in both directions. Every year it's getting worse in Donbas: The local government doesn't consider these people there, and nobody helps them.

After my detention, no one from the Alliance wants to go to the occupied territories, and in 2019, all HIV prevention programs supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS in the Lugansk region were closed.

The detention

Why did they detain me? I had pharmaceutical pills with me. In the past, I used heroin, but since 2009 I went to an opioid substitution therapy program and quit. Since then, medicines have always been with me; there have never been problems with "crossing the border." I had permission from the Kyiv hospital with me. But that time at the checkpoint, LNR fighters explained that substitution therapy in LPR, as well as in Russia, is prohibited, my pills are just dope, and all the papers are not important.

They took my passport and told me not to worry, "everything is fine, we'll talk to you tomorrow." The next day they took me to Lugansk for a "conversation." As we arrived at the local government building, representatives of the Ministry of State Security of the LPR took away my phone, handcuffed me, and put a bag on my head.

Andryi in the forest near the hospital during the interview in Feb. 2020. — Photo: Maks Levin/LB

The basement

The next six months I spent in the "basement."

There are no windows, very bright light round-the-clock, many cameras and a very strict set of rules — you can't even talk too loudly. You understand what time it is only when the food is brought. And, of course, by the interrogations. They were carried out only at night. Those who were in the "basement" before say that the conditions are much better compared with the past.

If the interrogations night is coming — it's better not to eat in the evening, easier to go through that way: They handcuff you and put a bag on your head then they start to beat the information out of you.

They are all angry there.

At first, they suspected me of cooperating with the Security Service of Ukraine, asking what kind of information and for what purpose I gathered for the Alliance. Finally, they suspected that I worked for British intelligence. The parent organization of The Public Health Alliance is located in Brighton, UK.

The voices of those who beat us constantly changed. I only remember one, a young voice, always angry like a dog. They are all angry there.

Andryi in the hospital during the interview. — Photo: Maks Levin/LB

The investigation

On October 15, 2018, I first met with an investigator from LNR, the only face I'd seen. There was already a lawyer in the office hired by the Public Health Alliance. He lives in Lugansk and collaborates with international organizations.

The investigator smiled and asked if anyone had touched me? I calmly answered: "No, no one." They let me sign a document saying that the LNR security officers did not exert physical or psychological pressure on me. A lawyer sitting next to him with a serious face asked if this was true. Of course, what else are underground cells made for?

Besides "smuggling," they charged me with "possession and transportation of drugs," and no matter what I said, the prosecutor's final answer was that such a charge would be better for the exchange of prisoners. I have the feeling that I was seized to replenish the "exchange fund."

In February 2019, I was transferred to the "Lugansk pre-trial detention center," I was there for almost two months, before the "trial." After the basement, the detention center seemed amazing: There was a window, you could see the sky, walk, and there was even a TV with local and Russian channels.

Andriy hugging his mother on Dec. 23, 2019 in Boryspil, Ukraine. — Photo:

The trial and the colony

On April 19, there was a "trial." I did not deny that this is my medicine, but no one paid attention to papers with permission to use them. I got ten and a half years. I learned that the criminal code in Lugansk was 90% percent taken from the code law of the Russian Federation. I was sent to a high security penal colony.

Now there were barracks instead of the cells, 70-80 people in each, no free movement between the barracks. There is no running water in the camp, so it was brought in barrels, and five convicts pushed this one and a half tons to the barrack. There is no sewage, and toilets are outside; in winter, we'd heat stoves with coal. This zone was built in the early 1950s, and so it remained like it was in Stalin times.


I learned about the exchange just a few days prior, there were no expectations for this year, although I was in the exchanging lists from the very beginning. There were also talks that the Minsk talks broke down again, and I thought that I would certainly be in the camp for another New Year.

Now I need to get over what happened, get used to the world.

Even after the exchange, there are still many people left who somehow helped Ukraine. There is organized human trafficking going on there. When we were driving to the checkpoint for the exchange, LNR fighters were constantly asking if someone wants to stay in the occupied territory.

Near the hospital outside of Kyiv — Photo: Maks Levin/LB

In Boryspil​, my younger brother and mother came to meet me. While I was away, my father died of cancer.

It is very difficult to lose contact with the world. The lack of replacement therapy pills also affected my mood, and depression is constant. In the hospital, they offered a psychotherapist, but I have not yet talked to him. Now I need to get over what happened, get used to the world, and somehow forget everything that was there. I have a few more medical procedures and that's it, I need to return to work. Until now, I have not fully believed that I am home..

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on his Friday sermon
Vladimir Mesamed

Iran: How Weak Is The Regime?

After the U.S. assassination of General Soleimani and Tehran's accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet, rising economic and political pressures have put Islamic rule in its most fragile state in memory.


Iran has been shaken by major protests that undermine the very foundations of the Islamic regime. The assassination of the so-called "people's' general Qasem Soleimani, the second highest ranking leader in the military-political hierarchy of Iran has created vacuum in the regime's power structures, and at the level of decision-making, for both domestic and foreign affairs.

Soleimani was in some ways no less relevant than the supreme religious leader of the country, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Compared to the aging cleric, Soleimani's decisions reached wherever the Shia Crescent had interests — in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Palestine.

A year and a half before the next presidential election in May 2021, the late general had been boldly considered as a possible successor to the current head of the Iranian executive branch — and was indeed far superior in popularity to President Hassan Rouhani, considered by many to be too liberal and incapable of decisive action. On the international stage, Soleimani was also immeasurably more influential than the Western-educated and high-profile Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

All of this now leaves Iran in its most unenviable situation in 40 years of Islamic rule: introduction of new U.S. sanctions after the Islamic Republic withdrew from the nuclear agreement, the grave state of the economy as oil export operations drop toward zero, weakened national currency, unprecedented unemployment and runaway inflation.

The death of General Soleimani was, of course, followed by the accidental shooting down of a civilian Ukrainian airliner, killing all 176 people aboard. Iranian authorities initial denied any responsibility, and the government's actions ultimately sparked the recent rounds of student-led protests.

Iran is probably even ready to agree to different terms for a nuclear agreement.

Yet, neither the scope of the current wave of protests nor the tone of slogans demanding a regime change, have reached the point to create an immediate existential risk for the Islamic Republic. The swift repression is a sign that the regime understands the severity of the political and economic situation. It therefore follows that to help guarantee its domestic and foreign policy goals, the government will see that it needs to possess nuclear weapons — and according to experts, that will take no more than two years to happen.

Iran's decision to exit the 2015 accord sends a signal to the other signatories of this agreement that the regime would be ready to return to the Vienna agreements if they are helped to overcome US sanctions. In so doing, Iran aims to provoke a confrontation between the United States and Europe.

Iran is probably even ready to agree to different terms for a nuclear agreement, aimed at ending the constant domestic confrontation between fundamentalists and liberals. Yet, this will require unity around the Islamic regime, which is very unlikely to happen in light of recent events. For example, when the media wondered in November who initiated the introduction of higher fuel prices that sparked popular protests, the military-political elite almost unanimously blamed Rouhani's government. Only later it turned out that Khamenei personally approved the action, as he did with the violent crackdown on protesters. The protests at the end of 2019, in fact, were far more significant than those in 2017-2018, having touched all but two provinces in Iran.

Recent events also provoked hotheads in Israel to take advantage of the weakening of Iranian influence in the region to take decisive steps to eradicate the military presence of the Islamic regime in Syrian territory by bombing military targets on the Syrian-Israeli border. The Israeli news website Ynet declared that the liquidation of Soleimani is great news for country's security, and will undermine the Iranian military presence in Syria, as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Step by step, if Iran loses its foreign satellites in the region, it will be left to face the inexorable deepening of problems at home.

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