Ukraine 2018

Ukraine 2018

On Tuesday evening, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman took to Facebook to accuse Russia of murdering dissident journalist Arkady Babchenko in Kyiv. Hours later, Babchenko (pictured above) walked into a press conference to announce that Ukrainian security services had, in fact, staged his “murder” to flush out a Russian hit squad operating in Kyiv.


The government’s story makes little sense — did they really need to fake a murder to catch a would-be killer? — and media organizations have roundly condemned the Ukrainian government for this stunt. But the Babchenko story highlights the confusion, deception, and (often justified) paranoia that still make Ukrainian politics so colorful.

As it happens, your Friday author has just returned from 10 days travelling around Ukraine. A few trip highlights underline other aspects of life in today’s Ukraine:

Courting Europe: The Maidan, Kyiv’s central square, still features improvised shrines to dozens of civilians killed there during the 2014 protests that ousted then-president Viktor Yanukovych. But the battle-cries heard last weekend came from football fans in town to support Liverpool and Real Madrid at the UEFA Champions League Final. As with last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Kyiv continues to host major European events in hopes of strengthening tieswith the EU.

Urban Promise: We saw countless active construction sites in the capital, the well-preserved pre-Bolshevik beauty of Odesa, and the buzz of young people filling restaurants every evening in Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv.

Rural poverty and alcoholism: “Ukrainian Sheriffs” is an award-winning documentary that offers a sad and funny account of daily life in the rural village of Stara Zburyevka as Russian-backed militias wage war in the country’s east. Spoiler alert: poverty and alcoholism, not Russians, are the biggest threats. See a trailer here.

Corruption: Yanukovych’s Mezhyhirya palace, where the former president hid his stolen wealth and questionable taste, sits on an estate outside Kyiv. Visitors can enjoy Yanukovych’s hidden mansion, his ostrich enclosurethe reservoir where his men dumped damning documents during the protests, and the guesthouse sauna protesters used to dry them out after Yanukovych fled to Moscow. Unfortunately, corruption is a thing of the present. In 2017, Transparency International ranked Ukraine #130 in the world for corruption, just five places higher than Russia.

Internal tensions: We passed the trade union building in Odesa consumed by fire on May 2, 2014. Russia’s push into Crimea weeks earlier had begun with “spontaneous” pro-Russian demonstrations in Crimean streets. A similar attempt to stir trouble provoked gunplay in Odesa — and 42 pro-Russian protesters burned alive in this building where they sought refuge. Four years later, an investigation of the incident grinds on.

Nationalism: We enjoyed dumplings in an unmarked restaurant in Lviv, which you enter only with a password (Glory to the Heroes!). The maître d’ carries a machine gun, you dine inside a bunker that once housed Ukrainian fighters battling both Nazis and Soviets, and you pay extra to shoot pellets at a picture of Putin. The restaurant, open 24 hours, is pure kitsch, and everyone is smiling, but it reflects an underlying nationalism, particularly in Western Ukraine, that sometimes treats “others” as suspect.

This week’s phony assassination story helps Russians question the credibility of Ukraine’s government and security services, reinforcing a message I heard from Ukrainian friends during my visit: “The Russians want to carve us up, but it’s the corruption and ineptitude of our own leaders that really stand in our way.”

Bottom-line: Too many of Ukraine’s wounds are still self-inflicted.

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Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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Vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens before the rest of the world, has been effective for rich nations like the United States and Israel. But leaving behind so much of the global population isn't just a humanitarian issue. It could prolong the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization's Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, who argues that what the global vaccination effort most urgently lacks are doses, not dollars. In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, she calls for a large increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and suggests we may be seeing alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

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The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

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In two weeks, US President Joe Biden will be hosting an online "climate summit" to mark Earth Day. He'll ask China and India to sign up to America's ambitious new plan to slow down climate change. Will they go for it? China is the world's largest polluter, but Beijing is rolling out solar and wind power as fast as it's burning coal. India, meanwhile, is loathe to pick up the slack for rich countries that polluted their way to wealth and now want everyone else to agree to emissions cuts. No matter what happens, any successful plan to reduce global emissions will require buy-in from these three nations which, along with the European Union, account for almost 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions nowadays. Here's a look at emissions by the world's top polluters compared to everyone else over the last two decades.

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

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