Ukraine: Daily Briefing – June 19, 2018, 5 PM Kyiv time

Ukraine: Daily Briefing
June 19, 2018, 5 PM Kyiv time
Ukrainian Armed Forces training exercises. Photo – Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense

1. Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reported at 12:30 PM Kyiv time that in the last 24 hours, no Ukrainian soldiers were killed and two Ukrainian soldiers were wounded in action. In the last 24 hours, Russian-terrorist forces opened fire on Ukrainian positions on the Luhansk and Donetsk sectors of the front 28 times in total, including at least 6 times with heavy weapons.
2. United States calls on Russia to release all political and religious prisoners
The US State Department stated on June 18, “The United States is deeply concerned by the growing number of individuals-now more than 150-identified by credible human rights organizations as political and religious prisoners held by the Government of the Russian Federation.
           We are especially concerned about the welfare of four Ukrainians unjustly imprisoned who are currently on hunger strike-Oleh Sentsov, Stanislav Klykh, Oleksandr Shumkov, and Volodymyr Balukh. We are likewise troubled by the case of Oyub Titiyev, a human rights activist prosecuted on trumped-up drug charges in Chechnya, whose pre-trial detention was recently extended. In retaliation for peaceful religious practice, Russian authorities have detained Jehovah’s Witness Dennis Christensen without trial since May 2017. Five Church of Scientology leaders have also been subjected to detention without trial since June 2017, as well as over a dozen Muslim followers of Turkish theologian Said Nursi.
            We call on Russia to release all those identified as political or religious prisoners immediately and cease its use of the legal system to suppress dissent and peaceful religious practice. The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve equal treatment under the law and the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution.”
3. NY Times Editorial: costly sports show doesn’t wipe away Russian government’s crimes
The NY Times Editorial Board wrote, “In the midst of hosting the World Cup soccer extravaganza, the last thing Vladimir Putin wants to be reminded of is human rights, Crimea or Ukraine. That’s a good reason to raise the case of Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker who has been on a hunger strike for more than a month in a remote Siberian penal colony, to remind the Russian president that his costly sport show does not wipe away his government’s crimes.
           Mr. Sentsov, a 41-year-old native of Crimea, was making a name on the film festival circuit and working on his second feature film when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. He was arrested with three other Ukrainians on charges of ‘terrorism,’ which purportedly consisted of plotting to blow up a statue of Lenin and set fire to the door of a Russian political party. Mr. Sentsov said he was beaten into a confession; during his trial, the main witness against him retracted his testimony, saying it was given under torture.
           No matter. Following in the best tradition of the Soviet era, Mr. Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison, which he is currently serving in Russia’s northernmost prison. On May 14, he went on a hunger strike to demand the release of about 70 Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. The case has raised an international outcry.  […]
          The Kremlin has gone on its usual counterattack. It maliciously claimed that Mr. Sentsov’s bruises were not torture marks but a result of his “sadomasochism.” Kremlin-allied media have cast aspersions on his filmmaking and, of course, have claimed that Western protests over his incarceration are a ploy to undermine Russia’s World Cup tournament.
           No, no and no. Mr. Putin’s regime alone is responsible for the assaults on Ukraine, for Mr. Sentsov’s torture and phony trial and for whatever shadow Russia’s actions cast over the soccer games. Mr. Sentsov is risking his life to draw attention to all this. He and the truth he proclaims deserve the full support of the West.”
4. Herbst: Why Nord Stream 2 Will Not Be Built
Writing in the American Interest, former US Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst stated, “Despite the recent decisions, first by Finland and then Sweden, to permit the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to use their Exclusive Economic Zones, it is unlikely that the project will be implemented. The battle right now over the controversial project, which would allow Gazprom to circumvent Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland in shipping gas to the West by delivering it directly to Germany, has focused on getting the approval of governments for the transit of their territorial waters and of the European Union for the overall project. But those are not the only obstacles that must be overcome for construction to start on the pipeline.
           Over the past 10 months, the United States has introduced a critical new factor into the equation. In July 2017, in response to the Trump Administration’s dalliance with the idea of easing sanctions on Moscow, Congress passed a tougher sanctions bill that inter alia required the Administration to develop a list of individuals in Putin’s circle, implicitly making them subject to sanction for their association with President Putin’s aggressive policies. The list was compiled by January and used as the basis of initial sanctions on April 6, including sanctions against Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg, an unnerving warning shot to Moscow’s financial elite.
           These sanctions have the consequence of increasing substantially the difficulty of finding partners for the project. In part this is a result of the way that business is conducted in Russia today. The geopolitical goal of Nord Stream 2 is to allow Moscow to sell its gas in the West without relying on the pipeline systems in Ukraine. By design, this would deliver an economic blow to the government in Kyiv that Moscow is trying to destabilize, and would also prevent any interruption in the flow of Russian gas to Europe if it decided to widen its current war against Ukraine. […]
          The prospects for profit in Nord Stream 2 are dwarfed by the dangers of falling afoul of Congress’s sanctions legislation. […] What is more, the German position in support of Nord Stream 2 is hardly popular in Europe. Pipeline champions have been unable to establish a unified EU position against the sanctions legislations because there are many in the European Union who would like stiffer sanctions, and there are many who oppose the project.
           Some, like Poland and the Baltic states, oppose it because they recognize it as a geopolitical project designed to make it easier for Moscow to pursue provocative policies in Eastern Europe. […] The odds are growing that Nord Stream 2 will disappear, not with a bang, but with a whimper.”

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